Monday, February 4, 2013

The Story of Your Life

DROWNING INSTINCT is set to come out on March 1 in the UK, and as part of the launch, I've been asked to do a couple of blogs, etc.  You know, it's the whole marketing thing, and I'm fine with that, really.  I'm thrilled that the good folks at Quercus UK have chosen to put my work out there.

Right around the same time, THE SIN-EATER'S CONFESSION also makes its official U.S. debut, although it's already available through Lernerbooks, Amazon, B&N, etc., and I'll likely write an entry or two about it as well.

Both these launches got me thinking, not only about the books but blogging, in general, and my blogging, in particular.  I mean, seriously, come on: why blog?  Really.  There are a gazillion blogs out there, ten trillion of which--a trillion's less than a gazillion, right?--are devoted to writing, the writing life, publishing, marketing, blah, blah.  Some are by writers who know so much more than I do, and yes, I'll say it right now: if Stephen King chose to blog, which he doesn't, I'd be reading what he has to say.  I might even print out and eat the paper.  But when you consider the people I think of as, like, these writing GODS . . . you have to look in the mirror and say--bear with me: as a shrink, I can safely say that I see a shrink on a daily basis--"Ilsa, sweetheart, just WTF can you possibly add to that conversation?"

And you know what that shrink has the GALL to reply?

Nothing.  That's what she says: Ilsa, honey, you got nothing more important to say than any other writer, so shut your pie-hole.

I know: I have a very nasty shrink.  If I could afford it, I'd fire the old bat.

But, really, I'm completely serious here.  All I can offer is what has worked for me.  You know?  It's not magic; it's hard work; it's the screw-your-butt-to-the-chair work ethic that got me through med school and then writing and now to the point of dithering about blogs.  Whether it works for anyone else . . . who knows?  I think the principle's a little like the old joke about the cabbie and Carnegie Hall:

Passenger: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
Cabbie: "Practice, practice, practice."

And that's it, the sum total of my knowledge about writing.  Practice.  Read a lot.  Write some more.  Then do it again.  And again.  And again.

So . . . blogging is stupid, right?  What goes on in my addled brain . . . who gives a rat's ass, am I right?  If my blog falls in the forest, does it make a sound?  Is anyone out there to hear what amounts to a mosquito's fart in a tornado?

To be fair, I'm also kind of a private person.  Blame all those years of training, when it was hammered into me that how and what I felt/feel is best left unsaid.  A therapy session isn't about me.  Oh, it's true that I used what I felt.  Any therapist worth her salt does that.  But the idea of a shrink sharing personal stuff . . . you do it very rarely and only if that might help the patient.  (And even then, a therapist in the grip of what happens in the space between her and a patient--that good old countertransference--you'd be surprised what some therapists can justify.)  The best therapists are welcoming but disciplined, and know when to keep their mouths shut.

So, I don't know who cares about what I have to say in a blog; I really don't.  What I can say is this: I seriously doubt that anything I've ever written ABOUT writing can even come close to moving a reader as much as WHAT I've written in a novel.  

Which brings me around to DROWNING INSTINCT, a book I've not blogged much about because, to be frank, I know the characters, in the very broadest sense, all too well.  I used to sit with them.  I watched them try to destroy themselves.  I watched them drown, quietly, all the time--and these are stories, confidences, secrets, dreams, and confessions that I, as a shrink, will not talk all that much about.  I just can't.

I'm not being melodramatic here, either.  Writing about those who suffer--even if none of my characters is a real person-person--isn't a joke.  I don't do it for kicks.  I tell stories, and whenever I do write about pain and suffering and sacrifice and triumph, whether it's for DROWNING INSTINCT or the ASHES trilogy or THE SIN-EATER'S CONFESSION or the forthcoming WHITE SPACE . . . here's what I'll tell all those people who think that these things don't happen; that people don't behave like this; that no one, no one, could be that stupid/self-destructive/gullible/bone-headed/blind; that shit like this can't happen: get real.  


Get.  Real.

Now, I receive a lot of fan mail.  (And I love it, guys, really; keep those emails and tweets and all that coming; it lets me know that all those hours hunched over a hot keyboard have been worth it.)  I know I don't get a ten trillionth as much as Suzanne Collins or Maggie Stiefvater or Cassandra Clare or the gazillion more talented, better-selling authors out there.  I know that; I'm okay with it.  My needs are small.  All I care about is a) getting my work out there and b) yeah, okay, hearing that people have enjoyed a book. 

(And, yes, yes, uncle: I would like to be a New York Times bestseller; shoot me, already.  There.  Happy?)

The most touching are those emails I get from fans who've read a book that describes their lives, and DROWNING has provoked quite a few.  I've heard from some very sad and lonely people; I've heard from some very brave souls; I've heard from folks who tell me that I've written the book about their lives.

I take this all very seriously, too, and probably would even if I weren't a shrink.  But I am, and I really have to work, very hard, not to become a shrink when I reply (and I reply to each and every email).  As much as I want to help, I know that it's better for me not to.  Yes, there are all these ethical reasons to refrain--it would be flat-out wrong for me to engage in therapy, however well-intentioned--but I also know that it is far easier to confide in someone when there's no blowback or repercussions (hello, can you spell t-h-e-r-a-p-i-s-t?).  It is easy to fall into the fantasy--the trap, really--of believing you are saving someone when, in fact, you have become merely a bit player in a movie being directed by someone else, mouthing lines written by a script-writer you've never met.

But I hope that I am always open; I trust that I am always welcoming.  If blogging and a web presence have accomplished anything, they give those who find themselves in my books a way of telling me so.  When they do--when I get those emails--trust me, the urge to ease your pain and suffering is very strong.  

So, no, I have nothing new or novel to say about writing.  I have nothing amazing to say in a blog that's worth a millisecond of your time.  I don't claim that my books are all that fabulous either.

But--if you read one of my books and find yourself in the pages and wonder how it is that I know what you're going through, that I understand; that I won't give you any bullshit about how it'll all get better because, sometimes, we know--and we do, don't we?--that it doesn't unless you make some really tough, hard choices; are willing to take a risk, go outside your comfort zone and get help and really change . . .

I know.  I understand.  

And one more thing: I will not forget the picture you posted of your arm after you'd gotten done hacking at yourself, and for which you referenced DROWNING.  I get that, for you, this book was the story of your life.  

Now, listen to what I'm saying.  Read this into the story of your life.

Please, don't do that again.  You really are more valuable than you allow yourself to believe and know.  Really.

Yes, you.  I'm talking to you.



Jordan Dane said...

Nice. You may not think you can blog, but I love every post you've done here, Ilsa. You've ALWAYS got something to say to me

Have a good week, my fine friend.

Ilsa said...

Thanks, Jordan :-)

Sechin Tower said...

Not all of your readers are writers, so it stands to reason that we might not all care about how TO write, but we're interested in how YOU write. It's all about that personal connection (or as personal as you can get through keyboards and screens)

Ilsa said...

You know, Sechin . . . I don't know how I write either. I'm not being glib. Everyone talks about "process," though, something I assume I have because my husband always assures me that every time I tell him I have no idea what I'm doing and everything I do is shit . . . he tells me he's heard that all before because I say it with every book.