Why I Hate Weather

Because it stops my critique group from meeting!

Again! (This is the third–count it! 1-2-3!–time since December.)

The whole reason all these blizzards are going on around the country has nothing at all to do with high or low fronts, jet streams, or whatever else might cause weather to go around.

Nope. It’s all because my critique group meets on the weekends. It’s all because we want to talk writing face-to-face.

The weather gods are evil.

The Place on the Shelf

For the last ten years, I worked for Barnes and Noble. Recently, I had the opportunity to finish school and go after my own writing career, which I’m happily pursuing at the moment–and that meant that I had to leave this wonderful place of business.

A business that, I’m sure you won’t be surprised, works very hard to place books on the shelves in an organized, efficient way. Fiction is alphabetized. Biography is arranged by the subject. Etc. The organization is not as elaborate as a library, but everything has a place.

Sometimes the question of book placement is more problematic than it should be. For example, after that whole James Frey debacle (you remember–the author who was one of Oprah’s picks and it turned out that he’d basically made up his entire memoir), there was some question of where to put the book. Then Jeanette Walls came out with Half-Broke Horses, labeled as a ‘true novel.’ What the –? Biography? Fiction? Make up a whole new section?
(Both of these are enjoyable books, by the way. No besmirching here.)

Turns out, this dilemma is nothing new.

The full title of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is Orlando: A Biography. When it came out there was much confusion. “But it is called biography on the title page, they say. It will have to go to the Biography shelf.” ~V.W. A Writer’s Diary

Virginia Woolf was concerned that the book-buying public wouldn’t be able to find her book. Unable to find book = no sales. No way to “make expenses,” as she puts it.

This is a legitimate beef. And I don’t think that there is any real answer to this dilemma, which still haunts us writerly folk today. Probably the best answer:

  1. write your book however you want to
  2. sometime during the process, figure out exactly what the book is
  3. explore the bookstore/library and figure out what the categories are
  4. communicate what the book is in query letters, phone calls, emails to agents and editors who may want your book
  5. after that, honestly, your on the marketing team’s good graces–so be nice to them =)

Is anyone working on a half/half genre that could be confusing? How do you plan to handle it?

***ANOTHER SUPER IMPORTANT SHELVING POINT–made by The Rejectionist (and if you’re not following her blog right now, I don’t know how to help you)

We All Need a Lytton

Keeping in the line of writers groups and mentors and honest critiquers, I’d like to point out a conversation that Woolf recorded in her diary between herself and Lytton Strachey (author of Eminent Victorians and fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group).

First off, Lytton says to Virginia that he doesn’t like Mrs. Dalloway — he finds the structure (stream of conciousness, creative) not in balance with the subject matter (boring, everyday stuff). And he tells Woolf so. She doesn’t seem to take it too badly: “I like him all the better for saying so, and don’t much mind.” ~V.W. A Writer’s Diary

This illustrates something very important, I think: When you are the person being critiqued, you must understand that it is not you who is being critiqued. You must ‘not much mind’ when someone is talking about your work with only the work’s best interest in mind. And you shouldn’t be offended if someone’s personal opinion prevents them from ‘getting your genius.’ Again, it’s not you. Though it is personal.

I think that your personal feelings towards the critiquer also influence your reaction to criticism. Virginia greatly respected Lytton and appreciated his insights. A good thing too. Because if she had behaved all crazed and emotional she would have missed this:

“Perhaps, he said, you have not yet mastered your method. You should take something wilder and more fantastic, a framework that admits of anything, like Tristram Shandy. But then I should lose touch with emotions, I said. Yes, he agreed, there must be reality for you to start from. Heaven knows how you’re to do it. But he thought me at the beginning, not at the end.”
~V.W. A Writer’s Diary

Based on his advice and encouragement, Virginia then developed Orlando. A fantastical story set with a basis in reality, and in keeping with emotion. And Lytton’s advice was based on a complementary foundation. He didn’t say “You suck, Virginia. You should throw out all your pens and take up gardening.” He didn’t even say that Mrs. Dalloway was horrible, just that it wasn’t her masterpiece. She still needed to develop; she still needed to grow–and he had faith that she would. (And she did! Mrs. Dalloway is a definite classic, but the later works are really brilliant.)

I think that we all need a Lytton. I know that I have more than one! (I’m so lucky.) Do you have someone who encourages you, but doesn’t pull back when you need to hear the truth? How do you react to criticism?

P.S. Happy Groundhog’s Day! Come on spring, come on!