Bring Out Your Dead!

ImageMost of us (those of us who are of a certain age, at least) remember that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the overeager relative of a poor sot who is infected with the plague tries to dump him off prematurely in a cart full of dead bodies. If you haven’t seen it in a while, indulge yourself and take another look:

I do have a point for bringing this scene up, although one hardly needs a point to watch Monty Python. In fact, having a point may ruin the whole experience of watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Nevertheless, here we go: after working hard on a novel for years at a time–first in the thinking of it, then in the writing of it, then in the excruciating process of reviewing and revising it–what does one work on when it’s finished? And what on earth does this have to do with the clip that I have just shamelessly caught your attention with by linking to?

Two things, actually. First, as a writer who has recently self-published via Amazon and CreateSpace, I feel a little like the sick guy who’s calling attention to himself in the skit. I had the option to suffer in silence, to let my work die an unobtrusive, convenient death, but I couldn’t resist the impulse to cry out when Obscurity beckoned. “Not yet!” cries the author, fearful of seeing her work fade away. “Don’t fling me onto the slush pile–not quite yet! There’s still some life in me, some small fleck of talent that deserves to be seen.”

The second connection is simply this: if the novel is done once it’s published, then it is essentially dead, relegated to the pile of bodies (other novels) out there. I have essentially brought out my dead and displayed it to whoever takes notice. This is the moment to start on something else, to begin anew. That prospect fills me with the kind of amused horror I feel when watching this scene. Do I really want to begin again, to take up the struggle against words, against time, against lethargy and laziness, to write yet another novel that will simply be thrown on the dustheap of unread works? With so much writing going on, it’s becoming more and more difficult to detect what’s DOA and what’s not in terms of the quality of contemporary fiction. For now, let me simply suggest that bringing out your fiction–on your own, without the help of an editor or traditional publisher–is either an act of soul-chilling desperation or an act of momentous faith. It could even be both at once.

Of course, the answer to the question “do I want to write another novel?” is “yes.” And it’s that senseless, innate drive that makes us all writers: that inescapable urge to tell yet another story. So hats off to those of us willing to raise our voices amid chaos, volunteering the information that we’re not dead and that we yearn for a walk in the sun. And here’s hoping that we don’t all meet up in the slush pile of unread books. But if we do, at least we know that we tried our best.

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