abyssinia's Blog


Luxembourg, Luxembourg
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MAY 3, 2012 8:42AM

Motherhood does not sell books

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This is the truth of it. Motherhood does not sell books. Sex does. Motherhood no. Over and over again they tell me my books are "nice." Occasionally even "profound" or "well written." The problem? The books are not linear. Translated, this means there is no happy ever after. Because how can plot be linear without a resolution? And how can a life be resolved without romance?  My helpful older son suggested that I leave my book alone, but throw in a hint of linearity to make readers happy.  As long as the heroine finds love in the end, all else can be forgiven.

How else do we end our stories if not with love? With the winning of a much coveted prize? Successful career or awards? Seeing something never seen before? Recognizing the beauty of the third world, or a World Heritage site? No. These things are nice, and can be thrown in to emphasize the fact that difficulties have been overcome. Come to think of it, the seedier the difficulties the better. Abusive husband? Stupid cruel parents? Throw them in at the beginning. It makes life interesting. But without the man at the end the idea of happy ever after is shallow. And the plot is not linear.

I thought about this as I walked through the Luxembourg Grund with my six year old at dusk yesterday. The idea was that I would take a brisk walk, in preparation for a half marathon I am planning to march through.  A linear activity!  But my son wanted to come with me, and I didn't have the heart to tell him no.  Far from being either brisk or linear, the walk disintegrated into a series of loud questions (the kind only a six year old can ask) and diagonal ambles (not straight diagonal ambles, mind you, but spiralling ones) in search of dandelions and walking sticks.  Later we bumped into an acquaintance from work, who was cycling to a bar where she would cast her primary ballot for Obama.  We accompanied her, and registered to cast our own ballot.  My son got his picture taken with an 'I Voted' sticker for the Democrats Abroad web site.  There were even people in the bar I knew.  It was a sideways digression I wouldn't have taken if I had stuck to my brisk, solitary, linear and plotted walk.

If I had to organize my life into a plot I would get dizzy spells.  I have never stayed put, or built up a career. In the past four years I have lived on three continents.  I have been a professor, a bookseller, a tech writer, an administrator, a secretary, and a teacher. I have never really been an active member of a community or been politically or ecologically involved.  The only thing I can say is that I love books, love being funny, love being outdoors where it is beautiful and love these two boys I managed to adopt at all odds.  'All the things I tried so hard to do and couldn't manage to,' I said to a friend once (referring to said happy ending, said husband and book), 'How did I manage this?'  My friend, who is also a single parent, said, 'Everyone has to love something.  For us, the way we contribute to the love pool of the world is through children.  That is what has been given to us to love.'

But that doesn't work in fiction.  Not that you can't have intergenerational bonding as a nice aside.  But it is not enough to sell books.  I was thinking the other day about the boys' names.  The oldest one's name came from a book I was reading in a time of great loneliness.  A woman suffering from grief over the loss of her mother adopts a cat named Sebastian who wanders into her life.  So my wise little Sebastian meandered into mine.  Elijah received his name because he was born in a hurricane, just as the prophet Elijah died in one.

It is true that whirlwinding prophets and meandering children are not found in blockbuster fiction.  It is the not the way you would end most stories.  I guess it is just lucky for me then, that they are the end of mine.

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The last line of the last novel by Henry Green reads, "The next day they all went on very much the same." They would never publish a book like that today.