Va, petit livre

by | August 8, 2017 |

“Go, little book”

This exhortation from an author to his newly published book has been rattling around in my brain for some decades. I had thought it originated with one of the 19th-century French symbolist poets like Rimbaud or Mallarmé. I had also thought it meant that once the book was published it was thereafter on its own journey.

But Google corrects what memory garbles. It turns out the first instance of the “go, little book” theme is found in Book I of Sorrows by the Latin poet Ovid:

Little book, go without me – I don’t begrudge it – to the city,
Ah, alas, that your master’s not allowed to go.

Turns out, Ovid was banished from Rome in 8 AD for reasons not entirely clear. He wrote his Sorrows in exile and wanted his little book to go to Rome and secure for him immortality – or, at least, so I’ve read.

Ovid Banished from Rome – J.M.W. Turner (1838)

English authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser and John Milton all wrote their versions of the “go, little book” theme, with Spenser going so far to ask the book to return and “come tell me what was said of me.” For these authors the theme involves the book’s reception, what we’d call today “review anxiety.”

History lesson over. Advice to newly published authors begins.

First, reviews aren’t written with the author in mind. They’re written to alert fellow readers to things about the book they might like or dislike. And now, in the age of social media, there are the trolls.

So it’s not as if you the author can necessarily learn anything from a review. If you’ve done your best and worked with a good editor then there’s no point reading reviews. Seriously.

Second, come to clarity: Why do you write?

I write because I have visions – have always had visions – for particular stories. Before I started writing, it didn’t occur to me I could write them down. When I finally gave myself permission to write the first one, I discovered another one took its place, so then I had to write that one down, too.

I identify as a romance writer, because I find the conventions of the romance extremely productive. I’ve long believed the romance to be as worthy an art form as any other, and I’ve always tried to bring my visions to the page with integrity.

I’ll admit it’s taken me many years to formulate to this statement of vision as my primary motivator. The publishing world is full of warp, so when I first started out I was pretty sure I was drawn to writing to achieve a version of “I want to be a rock star!”

Over the years, however, the choices I have made have been consistently in one direction only: to maximize the conditions under which I bring my vision to the page. Whatever else happens is secondary.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a rock star. You simply need to be clear with yourself what your prime motivator is.

Now we come to my va, petit livre truth.

I remain with my original idea: when an author sends a book out into the world, the book is thereafter on its own. It’s no longer for me or about me. It’s about the readers it finds.

So, what readers do I want my books to find?

I want them to find readers who live ordinary lives – who like their lives – but who also want to experience the extraordinary on occasion: boosts of outsized emotions welling up from the formation of a love relationship unfolding in the midst of outsized circumstance.

It’s called fiction, after all.

Earlier in my career I roamed libraries to unearth intrigues in medieval castles, the beginnings of the stock market 18th-century England or the apple industry in 19th-century North Carolina.

Now I roam the world to see what I can see.

In the past 10 years alone, I’ve been to: Abu Dhabi/Dubai, Austria, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Czech Republic, China, Cuba, France, Georgia, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Here’s the most recent page from my passport.

I want my readers to come on my journeys with me.


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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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