Thursday, May 24, 2012

Confessions of a Shadow Artist

When I graduated from college with a degree in journalism, my dream was not to be a great newspaper reporter or editor. What I wanted to be was a writer – a novelist, to be specific. In my early 20s, I started working on a novel manuscript entitled “Sisters.” A friend at work was working on a non-fiction book, and we often talked and compared notes and read each other’s stuff.

For a time, I even wrote a few short stories and submitted them to magazines (popular magazines that actually published short stories) but my experience was the usual rejection notes.

Then life intervened: career, children, and, well, just life. The novel manuscript ended up in a file drawer, and it may (or may not) be moldering away in my basement.

The dream didn’t die. But it wasn’t exactly alive, either. Perhaps it went comatose for  25 years.

What I became was a shadow artist, as defined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. A shadow artist sits on the fringe of his or her art, prevented by time or circumstances or discouragement or whatever from engaging the art they might actually want to be part of.

That’s where I was.

I continued to read novels, a lot of novels, in fact. I read across genres – literary and popular, mystery and science fiction. I read a lot of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. I did something I did not do in college – I read the entire works of William Faulkner. And Flannery O’Connor. I read a large number of Southern writers, and subscribed to a few literary magazines, like Southern Review and the Oxford American.

I had largely forgotten about that dream from my 20s, until a decade ago. I met a young pastor in Germany, and I heard a song on an airplane. And that meeting and that song eventually became Dancing Priest.

Perhaps still not serious about the dream, I kept the story in my head for three years, until Hurricane Katrina. That was a major event in the life of my family in Louisiana, and was transformative for me as well. And one thing that happened was that I started writing down what was in my head.

In 2008, I went to a writer’s conference with my pitch and my summary and my 10-minute meeting with an agent and my 15-minute consultation with an editor. Some encouraging things happened, and some discouraging things happened. I kept writing. I sent queries out to all the recognized agents (Christian fiction agents) and got turn-downs from every one of them. I kept writing.

I’ve told the story before. The publisher found me and finally persuaded me to let him publish it. I didn’t expect to tear up the New York Times bestsellers list, and I didn’t. And while it would have been wonderful for the book to receive major attention, the fact is that it didn’t.

But it did do something else. Everyone who read it, even a few who were mildly critical, were moved by it. A few put their finger on something that became more than obvious in hindsight: it is not a work of Christian fiction, as defined by the Christian publishing industry. And it is not a work of general fiction, as defined by the general publishing industry. It is something else again, perhaps a hybrid of the two.

I learned something else. People read it with great care. They paid attention to it. They called it a “big story,” which isn’t exactly the current fashion in Christian or general publishing circles (I should have thrown in a vampire or werewolf, or called it Dancing Vampire). But the people who read it closely made some interesting observations.

One of the most telling was this: that the book read like the author was wrestling with becoming a minister.

I’ve read it twice all the way through since it was published, and I believe I can say it is a work by a shadow artist who’s leaving the shadow behind him.

We’re discussing The Artist’s Way over at TweetSpeak Poetry, led by Lyla Lindqusit. I had a post here on Tuesday about the introduction to the book. Come join us over at TweetSpeak.


L.L. Barkat said...

Fascinating peek. :)

And I totally laughed at the dancing vampire. Oh my.(Salsa? :)

Maureen said...

The bit about becoming a minister... interesting!

Imagine a 'Dancing Vampire' doing the tango on 'Dancing with the Stars'. Now that would raise the ratings.

S. Etole said...

So glad you are leaving the shadows behind.

Chris Yokel said...

Great post Glynn. It seems that this week alone I've been reading a lot from artists who've struggled, and yet that struggle is the very process by which the art is born. There's no easy way about it.

Donna said...

What a post!

Cindee Snider Re said...

Glynn, I'm soooo glad you're leaving the shadows behind, because I LOVED Dancing Priest and can't wait for the sequel!!

Martha Jane Orlando said...

I'll just have to track down your book and read it, Glynn!
I'm on the brink of exploring the world of self-publishing as the traditional routes offered nothing but rejection.
Blessings to you!

David Rupert said...

I think there are plenty of people who's dreams get sidelined with, what you call, "life."

And there is a certain joy when you things have settled to pick those dreams up again -- this time with joy and enthusiam and a little more wisdom

H. Gillham said...

This made me smile:

I read the entire works of William Faulkner. And Flannery O’Connor. I read a large number of Southern writers, and subscribed to a few literary magazines, like Southern Review and the Oxford American.

I've had that book written down on my reading list for 10 years, and I have never read it.

You're hardly a shadow artist, btw.

Anonymous said...

when you become
a minister
you will write
good sermons

Anonymous said...

I, too, have been much influenced by Julia Cameron's books, especially The Artist's Way. Thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I too have enjoyed Julia Cameron's writing and have been helped by it. Thank you for posting!