I was on fire to write this post earlier tonight, but I was also starving, and now three hours have passed. Plus some.
The nature of blogging is such--or, rather--the nature of my manner of blogging is such that I write when it is convenient rather than when I am inspired, and then I publish rough drafts. Not a good method for the professional writer, but then, I don't do this for money. If I did, you would all be in debt right now. So you see what kind of a person I am. Which is good because I am too close to the subject matter, and thus do not know.
Anyway, sorry. Off track already.
I finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated this afternoon and when I post the Third Five Books you can read my take on it, but now I just want to talk about matters of style. Because Foer's book is dripping with style.
When I was in high school, I wrote hyperclever stuff like Foer and his much-heralded contemporaries without realizing I was on the cutting edge. Later on, when I got more serious about my craft, I started toning down my native quirk--in large part because I reached the conclusion that I was more interested in pursuing art rather than veneer, which sounds harsh (or cocky), but please understand what I mean: art divorced from humanity is an enjoyable exercise, but hollow and empty and ultimately good only for footnotes.
I reached this conclusion in part because I read somewhere (not here, though this is the guy I heard it from) that style is not something that should be developed, but something that should be tamed. Everyone already has style. The trick is to keep it from overcoming the other elements of good literature and ruling over one's art like a drunken Nero.
So to speak.
This is the point in this post where I hasten to explain that I am not accusing Foer of sacrificing all else for the development of a Wicked Cool Style. I don't know the man. And my first novel, like his, makes use of fractured narrative and multiple povs, like his. Thus I cannot dismiss him as a charlatan without allowing others to so dismiss me. But I do wonder how willing he is to reign in his cleverness when it is damaging his story.
I'll mention this a little more when the Third Five get posted, but for now, no more on that.
The issue referred to in the title is one of generation.
1977 Jonathan Safran Foer
1976 Theric Thteed
1975 Zadie Smith
1974 Nicole Krauss
1970 Dave Eggers
And so on.
These are the writers who are my contemporaries and perhaps I am being bitter and jealous at their success--a possibility I would like to air now so we can forget it and move on. Because what the title refers to is whether or not turning thirty prepublication has been good for me.
Here's the thing. The two years off I've mentioned helped me step away from my Style First! way of writing fiction. Which I think was good--after all, Style First! is incredibly easy. It is no problem to blow bubbles. It's making the bubbles tell stories that's challenging.
In my current pursuit of my craft, I vary widely from stories that I try to tell style-free to stories that are experiments-in-style and, thus, worthless as anything other than experiment.
(Perhaps I am too cruel to those tales.)
Essentially, though, I have taken OSC's advice (as usual, it's all his fault) and seen my obligation as an artist as this: to remove myself from the art as much as possible--let it move away from home, live its own life.
In some ways, a purposeful development of style is selfish to the extreme. It is a refusal to let the art stand on its own merits and be recognized for itself. It is insisting it always comb its hair the way you did it the morning of its first-grade picture....
I do not know what kind of parent I am. Too few of my children have gone out into the big world, and until I see how they stand on their own, how can I know? For a parent is as only successful as its adult children alone in the big city; an artist only as successful as its art when experienced by strangers and skeptics.
In a related story, I want to here thank Lady Steed.
While this post is all about whether or not I am a better writer for having taken so long to finally get it together, professionally, the fact that I am getting it together at all is a tribute to her.
While I have always fancied myself an island, in fact, I rely a great deal on the grace of others. And for all the praise and acclaim I have bumped into now and then, no one ever had the faith in me as a person, as an adult, as an artist, as a lover, as a soul that she has. With her faith in me, I have accomplished things I never could have otherwise. Without her I would still be collecting dusty rough drafts that wait forever for Someday.
Whatever I finally accomplish, it will be because she believed it was possible.
This is worth mentioning here because it is too late for me to be the New Guard or the Hot Young Thing. This is my fault entirely. But, without Lady Steed, I may never have sold a book at all--let along at the still reasonably young age of thirty. And yes, the publisher is small, and yes, they are niche, but the book is good. Quite good. It tells a worthy story though it is demonstrably Thericonian, it is never so at the expense of the reader.
In short, I am on artistically sound footing, if I can be judged a fair judge of that. And whether where I am is better or worse than if I had somehow sprung like Athena onto the scene at 21 probably does not matter and is certainly not something I should stress about.
Besides. I may be wrong. I may, in fact, totally suck. Wouldn't that be the kicker?