Monday, May 31, 2010

Living up to expectations

I am humbled by all the people who have visited my journal from Russia and the surrounding territories. I hope you found something interesting to read. Thank you so much for visiting and reading.

Я смирил всех людей, которые посетили мой журнал из России и прилегающих территориях. Надеюсь, вы нашли что-то интересное для чтения. Большое спасибо за посещение и чтение.

YA smiril vseh lyudyeĭ, kotorye posetili moĭ zhurnal iz Rossii i prilegayushchih territoriyah. Nadyeyusʹ, vy nashli chto-to interesnoe dlya chteniya. Bolʹshoe spasibo za poseshchenie i chtenie.

I know I have been gone for a while now. I have been busy doing a lot of other things, among them working and revising one of my books to get it read for an agent and publisher. There are times when I have to choose among the things I want to do and the things I have to do to further my writing career. Writing is and always will be my first priority, and things have been very interesting over the past few weeks. The biggest surprise to me is how many people actually read my ramblings here on LiveJournal, and how many of them come from Russia. I even picked up a few new readers from Russia. That is always surprising. A writer never knows how their ideas and characters will translate to different cultures. Finding out there have been hundreds of readers just this morning was surprising and gratifying. One reader from Moscow likened my writing to John Steinbeck. I like Steinbeck's work and have read his books many times, even when I didn't have to read them for school. I find his characters true to life and interesting even when they don't seem interesting to each other. I had no idea Steinbeck was so popular in Russia. It just goes to show that there are more similarities between people than there are differences, no matter where they live.

After the Nobel prize committee chairman criticized American and British writers and enumerated the reasons why they were not good enough to be honored, it seemed as though the countries where English is the first language and where the language flowered, grew and evolved were no longer in the literary loop. There have been criticisms of American literature, which some British writers and publishers have likened to generic, formulaic writing that panders to labels, brands and the semi-literate, but I've found some British literature that is just as generic, formulaic and label-conscious that barely gets to the sixth grade level. I have found that many editors and writers continue to push the belief that all writing should be accessible, which is publishing speak for dumbing down (4-6th grade level). I've found that people will live down to expectations if they can, but that they will also live up to expectations if offered.

I have spent a good deal of time reading and reviewing and critiquing writers from all around the world, most of whom write in English as a second, third or even fourth language. But, the Nobel prize committee chairman aside, English is becoming the universal language. Since I don't write in Russian, except for the translation above, it must have been something in my English writing that has attracted so much attention. I also don't include a lot of pictures or art work, so the writing has to be the draw. For all I know, people are visiting in droves because they heard on the grapevine I mentioned something worth noting, or they have gathered to laugh at my use of language as proof the Nobel committee chairman is right and Americans do not have a clue about what life and living is all about.

Americans have been called clueless when it comes to the problems of living and in some places that is true. I don't think it's true for every American writer because our experiences are just as valid and just as universal as anyone's anywhere in the world. That is nowhere more evident than in the polyglot of books and writers I have recently read. I often search out books from other countries -- France, England, Australia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India, Russia, Germany, Greece and Africa, among others -- and I am getting to know Chinese and Japanese writers as well. I don't care where a writer is from only what he has to say. I don't always agree, but I find it fascinating to see how they express themselves about mundane topics like love, family, war, poverty and living. Some of the best books I've read have been from Indian writers and I find their close ties to their religion and how they integrate that into their characters' lives and the story wonderfully refreshing. Their religious beliefs and mythology are an integral part of who they are and how they view the world, and it's not the Bible bashing, proselytizing, convert or die writing that often characterizes other writers including religion in their writing. It is much more subtle and intricately woven into the warp and weft of the fabric of their lives and their writing. There is nothing I dislike more than being beaten over the head with religion or preached at. Like sex, with religion, I don't care what you believe, but don't force it down my throat. I'll respect you and your beliefs as long as you respect mine. Once again, it's a matter of living down to expectations. Writers and people who force their beliefs on others do so because they are afraid people are too stupid to make up their own minds and, like children who refuse to eat, must be force fed.

Not preaching when making a point is a balancing act I am very aware of in writing Among Women. I have a lot of points to make, but I can either tell the reader what to think or allow the characters and the story to do the talking for me, and for the women who shared their stories with me. I've chosen to let the women speak.

It seems strange that after nearly 30 years, their stories are still so fresh and clear in my mind. It isn't as if I think about them every day -- or at least I didn't until I decided to attempt writing our story again. In the past few months, it has been on my mind most of the time because I am still working to get it right -- the balancing act again. I have had a lot of input from first readers who have pointed out areas where I've repeated myself or where things are not as clear as I thought and I take it all under consideration. The story I posted here two years ago is very different from the book that has evolved and continues to evolve. I wonder if it will ever be perfect, but I know it will be the best I can do when it is published. This is a book I am making available to European markets and it is a difficult undertaking because of the jaundiced view Europeans have of American writers. It doesn't matter. Many European and Eastern writers have had a go at the book and the comments have been favorable. Who knows? Maybe it will finally happen that an American writer will be able to stand up and say their book has a universal appeal and not be laughed down by the entrenched international writers who believe only they know how and what to write about living on this planet. I guess they forgot about Steinbeck and Mark Twain and all the writers of note in America and Britain that blazed the trails they now follow with dogged steps.

After all, I am nobody outside of the United States and yet even I have found an audience or two that appreciates what I have to say. They have decided to live up to expectations and give others a chance to share their stories and lives. We are all the same no matter the language we speak or the customs and religions we follow, because at the heart of things we are in the end just people looking for a connection.

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