Part 2: I am a literary artist.
© All Rights Reserved. Molly Best Tinsley.
I invite you to repeat along with me:
I am a literary artist. My work affirms the creative process, which takes place in the special world of the imagination, a world apart from time and money, deadlines and the commercial exchange of commodities.
Even though many of the people around me don’t respect this process, because it “wastes time” and doesn’t make money, I maintain my commitment to discover and express my unique vision.
Even though the mainstream publishing industry is no longer dedicated to fostering the next American classic, but to guessing the next blockbuster, I won’t let that get me down. I won’t let that stop me from telling my stories. I won’t let that stop me from making art, because a society without original art is a society without a soul.
In my last post on this blog, I sketched the parallel devolution of legacy publishing and my career as a writer of literary fiction over the last thirty years. Now I’d like to propose a campaign. Because we do have a fight on our hands. At stake are all those lost souls wandering around the shopping malls asking each other, “Did you find anything?” Or numbed out in front of TV watching some mindless reality show.
We need to become literary activists. It’s wonderful and valuable that we are willing to sit down at our computers and weather the loneliness of creating literature. But we also have to be more aggressive in reaching and building audiences for our work.
In an essay called “Memory and Imagination,” the wise memoirist Patricia Hampl warns that if we give up on creating our stories, expressing our truths, we will have to live with someone else’s, which may limit and demean us. I know we reside in a country that purports to honor democracy and pluralism. But originality, idiosyncrasy, the exceptions to the rule—the stuff of art—none of that is particularly favored by authority, which would prefer lots of round pegs slipping docilely into the round holes laid out for them. As Hampl concludes: writing is both intensely personal and surprisingly political.
When I heard gates clanging shut on my fiction, I wrote a one-act play. I submitted it to a summer theatre festival in Washington, DC, and it was chosen for production. I conferred with my director, I sat in on rehearsals—after the bloodless interactions of fiction publishing, the collaborative process made the acceptance of my work all that more exhilarating. I shifted all my energy into playwriting, thinking it would always be that satisfying. Well, of course, that first production had been lucky, and soon the ratio of submissions to rejections began to approach my fiction record. But although Broadway hadn’t come calling, I did discover the abundant opportunities to have plays produced at the grass-roots, locally and regionally, particularly if you’re willing to do some of the work. I joined a Playwrights’ Unit, sponsored by a small theatre in Ashland, and we orchestrated sell-out evenings of ten-minute plays several times a year. We had audiences; they responded: that is the lifeblood of art.
It was just a matter of time before I realized that doing some of the work could also apply to publishing narrative. The epiphany came after Karetta Hubbard, a long-time friend in Washington, DC, who’d done consulting work for the CIA, talked me into collaborating on a spy thriller, Satan’s Chamber. (I’ve taken a lot of guff from my literary friends for that title.) The challenge was to craft a page-turning story without sacrificing fresh language and dimensional characters. By the time we’d finished our cross-country project, it was 2009. The economy was in a shambles; the publishing world essentially frozen. Emboldened by Karetta’s track record as a successful businesswoman, we founded Fuze Publishing, and brought out the book. Even before we released it, we’d begun to identify several first-time writers whose work was not likely to receive the support of Culture, Incorporated.
Four years after its founding, Fuze has published ten books, with five more in the pipeline. Our list encompasses a variety of narrative genres, from mysteries to memoir and including a children’s book, but in all our works, our aim is to fuse the stylistic polish of the literary narrative with the compelling momentum of the popular page-turner. We also confess to a thematic sweet-spot: to illuminate cultural differences and affirm human connections.
Crafting plays taught me something that working at publishing confirms: keep your eye on your audience. I’m not talking about the person who prefers to think thoughts of no more than 140 characters, but a hypothetical, savvy person, who has picked up your work in the hopes of being captivated and guided on a unique journey. This journey can’t be simply a meandering from one arresting image to another; it must be precise and meaningful, even though the meaning may not be instantly or superficially clear.
In other words, audiences expect to be caught up and supported by the structure of a story. And storytelling is an art just as challenging as the art of description, characterization, and scene-making. It hinges on psychological strategy— stimulating curiosity, conscious timing and pacing, managing tension, eliciting revulsion or sympathy.
As I’ve begun to pay more attention to story, and structure, and plot, in my own writing, I can’t help wondering if perhaps literary fiction, at least in its longer forms, has been complicit in its own demise. So many of us write well—lyrically, humorously, accurately, eloquently. We can create quirky, dimensional characters and crisp dialogue. But is that enough? Think of Dickens, whose deep sense of humanity and rich language serves riveting, sometimes outrageously manipulative stories. In Karetta and my next novel, “Hotel Limbo,” due for release this fall, we’re hoping to bring a whole world to rich, linguistic life around a compelling story.
Each week our Fuze offers a free e-newsletter featuring articles about publishing industry trends and other treats for both avid readers and aspiring writers. To enjoy the next issue of our lively, informative missive, visit our website at www.fuzepublishing.com, and click Join our Newsletter on the Homepage to subscribe. (Please note that you can unsubscribe at any time.) We look forward to having you with us!
We are always looking for strong manuscripts that fit our parameters and expand our themes. Please take a look at our titles for concrete examples of all those abstractions. If you wish to send a synopsis of under 150 words, 25 pp. of the ms., and a resume to email@example.com, we’ll take a look and respond.
© All Rights Reserved. Molly Best Tinsley.