“You’ve got to look on the bright side.”
Have you? Why?
I’m not being awkward here. Just lucid. Because though I love life and rarely wake without a sense of cheerful expectation (it’s not a pretty sight, but I generally try to keep it to myself), I do know that downbeat stuff is a lot more potent than sappy happy-clappy stuff. I’ve only got to look at my critics to recognize that.
My books haven’t made waves. I mean, it’s possible somebody dropped one in the bath and there was a bit of a ripple, but the media haven’t exactly been clambering over themselves to get at me. Nonetheless, I have had the good fortune to be reviewed, both by professionals and amateurs, and the even better fortune to be reviewed kindly. I would imagine there have between thirty and fifty articles and comments about my books appearing online and in print, of which only two were negative. The rest were positive. Most were raves. Can’t remember a word of the good ones. But those two unreasonable and frankly snide bastards who had the temerity to criticize my work! The injustice of it. The most banal comments can rankle for months on end. With a little TLC the wound can last for years.
Recent experience suggests this is a model that holds good for much else besides. In the last couple of months, I received two pieces of news. First, my last published novel, Standing At The Crossroads has been shortlisted for the 2012 Stanford University William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and submitted for the Before Columbus American Book Award. Second, my latest novel, Pilgrim of Love, has been rejected - twice. Guess which bit of news looms larger.
I’ve got nothing against prizes. Indeed, I suspect that the judges of the Stanford University William Saroyan International Prize are highly discerning people of refined tastes and superior intellect and they need all the encouragement they can get. They do, after all, have several thousand dollars in their back pockets that they need to get rid of and I for one will not turn my back on a judge in need. As for the people at the Before Columbus American Book Award, well, as far as I can work out, they don’t have any money, but they seem like very nice people, indeed. I’m really very, very fond of all of them.
But the rejection of Pilgrim of Love is on an altogether different plain of emotion. This is serious, this is now, this is negative, and it means that a large part of the last two years of my life has been dedicated to concocting an elaborate tale of alchemy, madness and love that’s going to remain between me and my computer.
In part, this is more important to me because more immediate. Crossroads is published, it’s out there living its own life, and any plaudits are pleasant but not immediately germane to its creator. Pilgrim is still stuck in my craw, it hasn’t had the opportunity to get out and breathe, and as everyone knows, things stuck in your craw are proverbially abiding.
In this instance, I don’t resent the people who rejected the manuscript. To be honest, I think most of their reservations were probably on the money. But I resent myself for failing to create something that lived in the way I had hoped it would live. And if looking on the dark side is more compelling than looking on the bright side, being bleak about oneself is nigh on obsessional.
So I neglect the prizes and focus instead on the pratfall, on the failure of this overweening fool who thought he could pull off a complex story about abstruse material and make it readable.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a wound to scratch. That or get down to work in the hope of turning the pratfall into a prize.
Oh me, oh my. There is nothing quite so gratifying in the creative process as self pity.
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace