Monday, May 25, 2015

Genre Kryptonite: Bad Girls

GENRE KRYPTONITE is a regular feature about genres we have an inexplicable weak spot for. Check out previous entries here.
This is a guest post from Rachel Weber. Rachel makes her money writing about video games and then spends it all on books. She’s originally from Jane Austen country in England but is spending two years eating her way through San Francisco with her dog Batman. On meeting Terry Pratchett she temporarily lost the ability to form sentences. Follow her on Twitter @therachelweber.

Good girls go to heaven and bad girls go on my bookshelf. I might recycle, remember birthdays and cry when I see disabled dogs, but it’s the wicked women that turn my pages in literature.

As my father sat on the edge of my bed reading me The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, one thought burned in my tiny brain: that White Witch sounds like she has it all figured out. Sure I wasn’t keen on her wolf servants and the whole Aslan thing was unfortunate, but damn she was impressive. Keep your fawns and beavers Lucy Pevensie, I’m going to ride a sleigh, turn people to stone, and magic up Turkish Delight whenever I damn please. 

Cut to a small English school where I found a bad girl or two in the library. Elizabeth Allen from Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl In The School is a 1940s mean girl with plenty of pluck but she shapes up disappointingly quickly. Katy Carr from What Katy Did showed promise, but (spoiler alert) ends up temporarily crippled which rather took the fun out of the vicarious mischief thrills. I needed a stronger hit of devilment. 

My condition only worsened with the onset of breasts and braces, and once I stumbled upon Virginia Andrews I was done for. That collection was an all you can eat buffet of terrible role models and I was ready to gorge. Mad mothers, vengeful daughters, wicked siblings and inappropriate sex? It was a party in my brain and a fiesta in my pants.

Tragically, I was a physically healthy, well-cared for girl with a happy family. Is there anything worse for a dramatic teenager? So I developed that strange sixth sense bibliophiles have and found books about sad girls, brilliant girls, girls with more issues than Vogue. Prozac Nation, Girl Interrupted – I wanted to be a Lisa but thought I was probably a Susanna – and Junk by Melvin Burgess. My heroines were troubled, but in textbook teenage style I only saw the dark glamour of their stories.

I read a lot of horror around this time too, but in the ’90s women weren’t so much metal in horror as receptacles for knives and demon spawn. It’s hard to be badass when you’re missing your internal organs. 

A little later it was Lux from The Virgin Suicides, then a hot and heavy relationship with The Bell Jar and a crush on Legs Sadovsky from Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. I scoured libraries, read blurbs, picked through Geocities websites decorated in black roses for possible leads. 

Sixteen-year-old me sizzles with envy at the YA around today. I might be too old to call its characters role models but I can still heart them with all the devotion of a One Direction fan. Daisy from How I Live Now, Cadence of We Were Liars, Genevra “Ev” Winslow of Bittersweet. In my day we had to walk six miles in the snow with no shoes to find that sort of complicated heroine. 

Of course it turns out I was just ahead of the trend, now everyone loves a bad role model. Gone Girl made a dangerously unhinged mind the hot accessory for female protagonists and shone a light on some I’d missed. I love every word and heroine Gillian Flynn has ever written and I want to go Misery on her so she’ll write a new book. Megan Abbott’s twisted teens in The End of Everything and Dare Me are heartbreakers and the crime boss Gloria Denton of Queenpin makes me giddy. Kirby Mazrachi from The Shining Girls? Swipe right. 

Now that I’m pretending to be a responsible adult I need these ladies more than ever. They’re a time machine back to the teenage me and a reminder that while I might be a good girl in the streets, I’m a bad girl between the covers.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Are Small Presses the Best Choice for Latino Writers?


Recently, I wrote about the dismal publishing scene for Latino authors. Well, I was remiss in at least one aspect. I implied that Hispanic writers are limited only to pitching the big New York publishing houses or jumping into the self-publishing quagmire. There is another option.

Namely, it is the world of small presses. Now, in the past, the phrase "small press" invoked images of ink-stained loners cranking out bizarre manifestos. Well, you'll be glad to know those guys have moved on to troll internet comment pages across the web.

The small presses that exist today are often professionally run, highly principled organizations that focus on marginalized or experimental writers. And when it comes to Latino authors, we may be entering a golden age. 

I'm talking about presses like Arte Publico, Floricanto, and Editorial Trance, all of which have been doing great work for years. And there is also Aignos Publishing, co-founded by Jonathan Marcantoni and Zachary Oliver.

Marcantoni says that Aignos, and other small presses that have a similar focus, look for writers who push boundaries and challenge readers to question their worldviews. Authors who embrace their distinct cultures -- something Latino writers are well-known for doing -- may find a home at Aignos or a similar small press.

"A small press gives authors the legitimacy of being affiliated with a company, one that is taken seriously by media and festivals and awards, in a way writers never get as self-published authors," Marcantoni says. "Well-established small presses have marketing plans and publicists, plus the distribution channels are on par with what large presses use."

Indeed, I can speak to this issue, as my own self-published novel, Barrio Imbroglio, is selling somewhere between hot cakes and lukewarm waffles.

It would certainly help to have an established marketing team behind me (my current marketing team consists of me and my cats).

Marcantoni says that when it comes to small presses, "the Latino author gets the best of both worlds: world-class distribution, a company backing their efforts, and creative freedom."

That combo often leads to great books. For example, Aignos recently published Nuno, by Carlos Aleman. The novel is a lyrical love story set in pre-Castro Cuba and the aftermath of the revolution. Marcantoni says that Nuno doesn't fit into mainstream expectations of Latino literature. As such, it lines up with Aignos' mission of pushing writers to develop their views and skills instead of pressuring them to make the bestseller lists.

"No one should be a writer to be famous," Marcantoni says. "It should come from a desire to express yourself and touch the lives of others.

So will we see more Hispanic authors telling their unique stories via small presses, touching the lives of more and more readers? Well, there's ample reason to be optimistic about such a future.
"The Latino community can stand out as one of artists seeking to raise the bar of what storytelling can be," Marcantoni says. "And there are publishers out there who will support you."

You can find the original article at:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Aren't More Latino Authors Being Published?

 by   The Hispanic Fanatic

It may be apocryphal. But supposedly, an unnamed New York publishing executive was once asked why there were so few books by Hispanic authors or novels featuring Latino characters.

His response was a blasé "Hispanics don't read."

This is indeed bad news for the people running HuffPost Voces, as apparently, none of your Hispanic readers are literate enough to even comprehend this article. And I'm not literate enough to write it, which is quite the paradox.

In any case, that publishing exec was clearly not familiar with Latin America's rich literary tradition, exemplified by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the greatest writer of all time (let's not debate this). He also didn't know that one Latin American country, Cuba, has the highest literacy rate in the world.
But closer to home, why hadn't this exec heard of the brilliant Junot Díaz or the groundbreaking Sandra Cisneros? Or did he believe only white people were reading those authors?

For whatever reason, our anonymous publishing executive refused to believe that the largest ethnic minority in America was interested in books. And in this refusal came justification for the continued blackballing of Latino authors.

"There are several factors contributing to the paucity of published books written by Latinos," says Marcela Landres, an editorial consultant who publishes the award-winning e-zine Latinidad and co-founded the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference. 

"Primarily, we need more Latinos on the inside working in key positions, such as agents, publicists, sales reps, bookstore owners and especially as acquisitions editors," she says.

Landres adds that Hispanic culture itself is another barrier.

"Latinos immigrated to the U.S. so their kids could live the American Dream, which is defined by financial security," Landres says. "Writing generally does not pay well, so our parents understandably pressure us to choose more sensible careers. In order to be successful as artists, Latinos need to respect our parents but perhaps not obey them."

As any Hispanic can tell you, disobeying your parents is a tall order. But that is another story. 

In any case, some Latino advocates believe that the big publishing houses have hoodwinked us into buying their mainstream books, giving them little impetus to change the formula.

Of course, one strategy to force change is to bypass the big publishing houses altogether. That's what I did with my novel Barrio Imbroglio. 

After some nibbles of interest from the majors, I got the picture that my black comedy tale -- about a reluctant detective named Hernandez -- didn't fit in with the preconceived notions about Hispanic literature. Yes, I had the word "barrio" right there in the title, but where were all the undocumented immigrants and magic realism and metaphors using avocados? It was a little too different. So I've done what more and more authors -- Latino and otherwise -- are doing, and publishing directly to Amazon.

But this end run has its drawbacks. 

"There are few Latino self-publishing success stories," says Landres. "I have yet to see literary writers, and/or writers who take years to produce a single manuscript, whose self-published books have sold well. If you write genre and have a bunch of books ready to go, the odds are in your favor. If you're a literary writer who spends years polishing a single manuscript, not so much."

In addition to the self-publishing crapshoot, there is the unpleasant fact that -- like it or not -- the NYC houses still have the most influence on what people read. And they are not packing the midlist with Hispanic authors.

Now, this isn't just a matter of fairness, nor is it even all about artistic integrity and the myth of meritocracy. A more fundamental reason becomes clear when one considers that "Latino children seldom see themselves in books." Education experts say, "the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation."

Basically, there are only so many tales of brave and adventurous white people that Hispanic kids can read. At some point, they disconnect.

And if that is future we want -- a self-fulfilling prophecy where Hispanics truly don't read -- then we should just preserve the status quo.


You can find the original article at:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hybrid Publishing: Getting a Handle on the New Middle Ground

by Brooke Warner

It's strange, but this word -- "hybrid" -- is somewhat controversial in some publishing circles. I guess, like a lot of terms, there are certain people and even factions who want ownership of it, and others who want to distance themselves from it. I came across a guy online who claimed to have "coined" the term in 2011, but the origins of hybrid publishing go back at least another full decade, if not farther.

My introduction to hybrid publishing coincided with my introduction to publishing in 2000, when I landed a job at North Atlantic Books in Berkeley. They had in place a hybrid publishing agreement with some of their authors that offered creative terms -- usually in which the author paid for some or all of their production and print costs in exchange for higher royalty rates. North Atlantic is hardly the only publisher to have ever cut deals like this, and the longer I've been in the industry the more I've seen how commonplace this practice actually is, especially in smaller houses and especially among business-minded authors.

Recently, another kind of "hybrid" has entered into the mix, the hybrid author -- and this, I imagine, confuses people because it's the same term, but used in a different context. The hybrid author is someone who has book deals with traditional presses, but also self-publishes, or publishes in some other nontraditional way. That said, when I talk about hybrid publishing, I am not talking about hybrid authors, who are quickly making up a larger subset of the author population than ever before.

Hybrid publishing encompasses the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. Hybrid publishing is not a term all publishers or authors in this space use, but it's the term I prefer because it's a catchall. Because this is a new and growing area of the industry, people are trying to figure out what this area is--and I propose we adopt hybrid as the umbrella term under which at least four kinds of publishing models fall:

1. Traditional publishers who've been brokering hybrid deals for years. All it means to have a hybrid publishing agreement in this context is that the author pays up front in some capacity. It was my early exposure to this kind of publishing that gave me the foundation for She Writes Press, the "hybrid" publishing company I co-founded that falls under partnership publishing below. The only downside to this variation of hybrid is that it's not transparent. Most traditional publishers who do it don't talk about it, which has propagated a false dichotomy in the marketplace that there are those who pay to publish and those who get paid to publish. The truth is much blurrier than that.

2. Partnership publishing models. Models like these include She Writes Press. We are a publishing company, and our authors pay to publish under our imprint. The authors keep a high percentage of their royalties, so they absorb the financial risk of their publishing endeavor. We offer traditional distribution and the benefits that brings, including the ability to have your books preordered and your data streamlined; a curated, selective acquisitions process; and we have a publisher at the helm making sure there's a cohesive vision and that all of the books are adhering to a level of quality that's on par with traditional publishing. Another benefit unique to publishers who have traditional distribution is that they qualify to submit their books to the traditional review channels, like PW, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. This is a boon to authors who depend on reviews to drive sales--namely novelists and memoirists. Other publishers in this space include Ink Shares, Turning Stone Press, and White Cloud Press.

3. Agent-assisted publishing models. Many agents are starting their own publishing companies to publish the works of authors whose books they cannot sell. For the most part, these efforts are valiant. Agents feel strongly about the work they're seeing and want to find an outlet where these authors can be published. They're hybrid because the authors are being published under the agent's imprint. What these models lack to date is effective distribution. Where they excel, and what makes them like the other two models above, is that they understand publishing and put out quality books that their authors can be proud of. One asset here as well may be on the foreign market side. If your agent continues to represent you, and has published your book, it's likely they will make strong efforts to sell foreign editions of your work. Be sure to ask!

4. Other assisted publishing models. There are many assisted publishing models out there, and I differentiate these from assisted self-publishing because authors are publishing under a company's imprint rather than their own imprint. Some people might call this self-publishing, but it's really not, because the company you're working with is delivering a finished product, and they're paying you royalties or author earnings on your sales. These companies do not curate, or have traditional distribution. To the novice writer, these companies might look very similar to partnership publishers and agent-assisted publishers, but they're quite different in their orientation to the business--namely in the fact that they're operating more like a mill than a publishing house. You need to be cautious in this space. There are good companies and bad, so do your homework.

* * * * * 

The real qualifier of a hybrid publisher is that the author pays to publish. The payoff for the author is the much-higher royalty, and that someone else does the heavy lifting of publishing the book (and in the cases of partnering with a traditional or partnership press, you're benefiting from their industry relationships as well).

The hybrid publishing space is difficult to navigate because not all models are created equal. I would love to distance She Writes Press from some of the other pay-for-service companies that fall into this category, but at the end of the day, for better or for worse, we're all together for a similar business purpose: to offer authors an opportunity to get published in a way that is neither traditional nor self-publishing. We come to the table with different experiences, values, and missions, and as authors entering this space, you get to choose your partners. So the onus is on you to be thorough, do your homework, and choose wisely. 


You can find the original article at:

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Editor: Author’s Handmaiden or Creator of Content?

Recently I read two novels that, apart from sharing the same publisher, seemed otherwise unrelated. But as I was reading, I noticed similarities between the two books. Not until I had finished both novels and read the acknowledgements did I understand what had happened. Not only did these two novels share the same publisher, but they also shared the same editor.

When a publisher decides to publish a book, that book is assigned an editor who will work together with the author in revising the manuscript before going to print. Throughout the history of modern publishing, there have been several famous working relationships between editors and authors.

Ezra Pound was the editor of the poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. Pound took Eliot’s satirical poem He Do the Police in Different Voices and molded it into the piece of work we know today.

For many years, Raymond Carver worked together with Gordon Lish. Their working relationship was of such a nature that it is being debated today whether Carver’s minimalist realism was something that Lish helped bring forward or if it was something that Lish added through the revisions he made.

Whereas Pound and Lish are known for their editorial heavy-handedness, there are editors whose impact is subtler. One of those editors was Maxwell Perkins, who worked with authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Perkins played an important role in the development of novels such as The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises.

Even though a book has only the author’s name on its cover, the novel as a finished product is the result of a collaborative effort between the author and the editor. The relationship of an author and an editor is a give-and-take situation between two individuals working together to serve the telling of a story. This give-and-take situation is crucial to the development of the book that we—the readers—will pick up and immerse ourselves in.

Perkins once said that an editor should strive for anonymity, not add anything to the book he is editing, and instead serve as the author’s handmaiden. In the two novels I just read, I sensed the presence of the editor, lurking behind the words. I have returned the novels to their place on my bookshelf, but whenever I walk past them I ask myself: Whose story do they tell?


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You can find the original article at:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Manuscripts in Word: Minefield Ahead!

A series of instructional posts by Ed Charlton, IR’s Publishing Services Manager

Before you have a printed book, you have a manuscript.

In my previous article I talked about how a manuscript is a specialized document used by three sorts of people: authors, editors, and layout designers. That’s it, no one else. The public should never see your manuscript.

To recap:

* Authors create manuscripts and might share them with their early readers.

* Editors edit manuscripts.

* Layout designers convert manuscripts into galleys and books.

What can possibly go wrong with manuscript formatting?

I’ll start with the obvious. When you write it’s all about you: you and your muse, you and your keyboard, you reading aloud to the cat. Once you send your manuscript to someone else—an editor, a layout designer, or even an early reader—it’s no longer all about you. Now there is someone else to consider.

Many creative authors recoil at the thought that writing, once you get to the point of involving someone else, becomes a business; you are paying someone for professional services, and/or you will receive payment for your product. There’s a point at which the logical, business side of your brain needs to take over from the artistic side. Are you thinking “Oh, that’s just not me!”? Well, get over it.

Your very first move in stepping into your professional persona is to run a spell-checker. If editors get a manuscript ablaze with red and green squiggly underlines—yes, they will judge you.

Running a spell-checker is simple when you do it and revealing when you don’t.

What’s so bad about Word?

Nothing. It’s brilliant, as they say in England.

Part of why it is so good is that it can automate many activities for you. If you can change one setting and have Word automatically make changes throughout your manuscript, why wouldn’t you use it? Why would you make the same change over and over, in every paragraph?

But that’s exactly what so many authors do.

If you can change one setting and have Word automatically make changes throughout your manuscript, so can your editor, so can your layout designer. Do you really want to pay them instead to make repetitive changes?

But, I hear you say there are a million and one settings in Word!

Oh yes. But for a manuscript you can ignore most settings since you don’t need them.

On the other hand, you must get to grips with the few you do need.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

There are variations to this theme. Always follow your manuscript requirements.

Disclaimer: This is not a Word tutorial. There may be alternate ways to change these settings. Find the ways you are most comfortable with that achieve the same results.

Settings for the whole document – Things to do once


* Before you start typing, go to the Margins settings and choose 1 margins all round, or whatever the editor has asked for.


* Before you start typing, select the whole document. Yes, it should only consist of one paragraph return at this point. Do it anyway. Go to the left-hand side of the page until the cursor changes direction. Ctrl+Click so things turns blue (or just do Ctrl+A).

Now go to the Font Settings, choose your font and size.

Now go to the Paragraph settings. Choose Left justification, First line indent 0.5, Spacing Double.

Headers and Footers

* Insert your heading (usually your name and the title of your book) and, unless told otherwise, put the page number in the heading.

Okay, you can start typing now.

Unless you’ve dealt with manuscripts from the other side, you have little idea how much of a good start this is. Your editor or layout designer will thank you.

Using Styles: Things to do once or twice

Sometimes you need to differentiate between sections of the text. The only one I’d recommend is between the main text and a chapter name.


Depending on your version of Word, using Styles can be very easy.

* Choose a heading style and use it for all chapter names.

* If you can, define the style to be exactly like the main text except for the font size (14 or 16 point is fine).
Doesn’t this break the rules? Yes. But if you have used a Style, it can be corrected with a single action for the whole document. The layout designer doesn’t have to make a repetitive change to each chapter name.

Adding decorations and formatting: Things you never do

* Do not type decorative lines that go across the page.

How wide is a page? Your manuscript page is 8.5 wide with 6.5 of text. Your book might be 6 with 5 of text. Fill up that 6.5 manuscript line with asterisks and your book will have one line of 5 and a second line of 1.5 underneath if someone doesn’t remove it.

* Do not type two spaces after a period.

Ah, a deeply ingrained habit… You don’t need to do this anymore. In fact, if you can, go to the Word autocorrect settings and have Word substitute one space every time you type two. Then you can type them and no one else has to take them out.

* Do not indent a first line by typing spaces or tabs. (This alone will gain you many points in the afterlife.)
If you indent individual paragraphs by spacing or tabbing rather than learning how to do it for the whole document through the paragraph settings, the following things can go wrong:

* You will type more spaces than you intended.

* You will type fewer spaces than you intended.

* You will forget to indent the paragraph at all.

* You will tab one more or one less than you intended. The results might even look okay on your screen, depending on how Word is feeling that day.

Do any of these and, if your layout designer isn’t careful, you will see ragged indents when reading through the book.

Your layout designer will have to go through your manuscript, paragraph by paragraph, and take out all the spaces and/or tabs. Then she will apply a global indent, which is what you should have done in the first place.

The bonus consequences are:

* You have wasted a lot of time typing spaces and tabs and worrying about the indent. You are frustrated at Word because it never looks quite right.

* Your layout designer has wasted a lot of time taking out spaces and tabs and hates you.

Do not imbed images.

* Word takes control of your image.

* Word changes the settings for your image.

* Word won’t let your layout designer extract the image.

Send the images separately. Put a note in the main text where you think the image should be placed. Allow the layout designer to suggest alternative placement.

There is a saying in the computer industry about the quality of data: Garbage In, Garbage Out. This is true of images in books. A low quality image will never look good in print.

Saving your manuscript

* Doc or docx? Check with whomever you are sending it to.


* Everyone learns the hard way the importance of keeping track of different versions. This doubles in complexity with each person you allow to make changes to your manuscript.

What do you call the version you send?

* What do you call the amended version you get back?

* What do you call the next version you send?

Clearly naming the versions of your manuscript that you send and receive can be tricky, but it is essential. Here is a case where the left and right sides of the brain can productively cooperate. Make your versioning system both functional and beautiful.

Remember: It is your responsibility to run spell-checker again every time there are changes. Every time. Each version.

How to look at your manuscript.

If it isn’t switched on, display your formatting symbols.

You always want to see where your paragraph marks are. Leave it set on.

Also, you always want to see where you have more than one space.

As I mentioned in the previous article, the standard format of a manuscript has evolved to minimize unnecessary work. This is a good thing for both indie authors and trad-published authors. If you don’t do the things you should do, or worse do the things you shouldn’t ever do, you are creating unnecessary work.

*     *     *

Ed Charlton is IndieReader Publishing Services Production Manager and has been working with indie authors for last ten years. He is the author of When Visitors Come to Tea and the upcoming The Problem with Uncle Teddy’s Memoir.

Ed Charlton

Ed Charlton is IndieReader Publishing Services Production Manager and has been working with indie authors for last ten years. He is the author of "When Visitors Come to Tea" ( and the upcoming "The Problem with Uncle Teddy's Memoir" ( 

- See more at:


You can find the original article at:

A series of instructional posts by Ed Charlton, IR’s Publishing Services Manager

- See more at:

A series of instructional posts by Ed Charlton, IR’s Publishing Services Manager

- See more at:

Monday, April 13, 2015

A writer walks into a bank: Facing the financial fallout from a life dedicated to art



The pain of admitting to a mortgage officer "I write realistic fiction" for a living is almost too much to bear 

The mortgage broker is very polite and very young. He grew up in town and graduated high school a few years ahead of one of my kids. His initial questions regarding the refinancing of my mortgage all have to do with the house. I intersperse my recitation of the relevant specs — year built, square footage, lot size — with a thoroughly irrelevant story about the house across the road from mine. “It once belonged to Wally Cox.” Of course, Wally Cox is every bit as familiar to him as, say, Archibald Cox. I explain that Wally Cox was an actor, and that he and Marlon Brando were best friends. “Old timers in town say Brando was a frequent visitor.”
The mortgage broker brightens, nods and smiles, and I lapse into a feeling neighboring on ease. Until we get to the income information section of the loan application.

“Employer name?”

I don’t answer right away, so he rephrases the question. “Where do you work?”

Instead of saying, “Nowhere, everywhere, depends on the day,” I reach into the accordion file on my lap. As I place my recent pay stubs beside the calculator on his desk, I’m reminded of nothing so much as turning in homework in grade school, my response to what has been asked of me, always disappointing and frequently incomplete. I want now what I wanted then, a chance to explain, and I wonder for at least the hundredth time in my life why official documents don’t provide a space for the real story, maybe a section labeled, “the narrative of particular circumstances.”

The mortgage broker is quick with the calculator, but he pauses now, as he fingers the pay stubs from my teaching jobs at two different universities.“You’re employed by … both these places?”

“Well, part-time,” I say. “Long-term, part-time. Five years at one place, 11 years at the other.” I leave out the information that my employment is marked off in semesters, and some semesters only one of these two universities is desirous of my services. And, at any time, the permanent deletion of my name from the course catalog at either or both is a distinct possibility.

He asks for a copy of my most recent tax return. Flipping to the Schedule C, he says, “ This self-employment income —”
“Well, that’s different every year,” I say. I don’t tell him that the number he’s looking at is actually on the larger side and that if we were to flash backward or forward we would be talking about even smaller numbers. Instead, I sit very still, reminded of my grandmother’s fake passports and doctored identity cards as she bobbed and weaved her way across Eastern Europe’s ever-changing borders. My grandmother’s best stories always included the breath-holding moment in which the papers were about to be discovered as forged and her access to freedom denied. Get a grip, I tell myself. It’s not life or death. It’s only money, which is something my grandmother often said.

“What’s the self-employment income from?”
“Freelance editing,” I say. I could add that once every five or 10 years I sell a book, but I don’t want to go down that road. I don’t want him to ask me what I write, because I don’t want to say novels, and then have to go further when asked what kind of novels. Here now at the bank, I’m about as eager to say, “realistic fiction,” as I am to say, “it’s only money.”

I remind myself that most people do not enjoy asking for loans, that few people relish being reduced to their net worth. With each depression of the calculator’s keys, I recall all the times when I’ve been told I live in a financial dream world. In the past, meaning when I was younger and secretly married to the idea of some budgetary deus ex machina, I defended myself from accusations of financial immaturity by saying that making art is inherently optimistic, and optimism can always be dressed down to look like naïveté. But now in late middle age, with my house in the balance, the house in which I raised my children and raised myself, I feel defenseless. For years I’ve been telling students in my writing workshops that making art, writing without regard for the commodification of that writing, is not something this society tends to applaud, yet writers are necessary. Writers are the emotional stunt dummies of our society (this always gets a nervous laugh in class). Here now at the bank, in the capital of capital, it seems delusional to have thought I might insulate myself from the values of the prevailing culture. Maybe underearning writers are simply the dummies of society.

Once, when confronted by some fiscal lion at the gate, I made a big wet speech worthy of “Norma Rae” or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” something on the order of “not everyone can be a lawyer or a doctor or an investment banker, some people need to be artists, and this is what it looks like when an artist files her tax returns, this is what the numbers look like.” I’ve rehashed the speech a number of times, for particular family members, friends, lovers, but no one, with the exception of a few other struggling artists, has ever been much moved by it. This afternoon, those words and the ideas behind those words, are barely comprehensible to me. It takes an enormous amount of fortitude, egomania and denial to cross back and forth daily from the mainstream to the marginal. Now I want nothing more than to assimilate, to cast off my mother tongue and learn, if possible, the language of solvency. I want to stand up tall when the bank comes around with its yardstick. I do not want to be found lacking.

“O.K.,” the mortgage broker stands from his chair and comes around to the front of his desk. “I think we’re all set for the time being. This goes to underwriting, and then I’ll be in touch.” He smiles and shakes my hand.

Driving down Main Street in the dark, I consider things from the bank’s point of view and suspect that my house and the wooded lot on which it sits, this real estate, may look like the most real aspect of my life. But who’s to say that the goods and services I provide, including the made-up stories no one has requested or is eagerly awaiting, are not equal to my sturdy, old house perched at the edge of a dense and mysterious woods. The system for determining worth and value strikes me as terribly strange, and it occurs to me that it just might require a suspension of disbelief. Luckily for me, I know something about that.
Rachel Basch is the author of "The Passion of Reverend Nash" (named one of the five best novels of 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor), "Degrees of Love" and "The Listener," out now from Pegasus Books. She currently teaches in Fairfield University’s MFA Program and in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan University. 


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