I’m just reading Benjamin Markovits’ splendid Childish Loves, a meditative, non-didactically postmodern novel based around some short stories about Byron written by a former colleague of the author that come into his possession, and in which he sets about trying to untangle the biographical and the autobiographical.
The whole book is about the way that writers – all writers, Markovits, ‘Peter Pattieson’ and Byron included – layer truth, half-truth and fabrication in what they produce, self-disclosure and self-invention and self-concealment, each over the other. (Think of Gore Vidal’s memoir, Palimpsest.) Sometimes, though, the truth shines through. Here is some true advice from Benjamin Markovits:
Why couldn’t the guy get himself published? I knew first-hand the luck involved, the almost willful persistence. Liking a book is like liking a human being: you need a good introduction. People publish people they know, not because editors are corrupt, but because there’s a big difference between spending two minutes on the first page of a manuscript and five minutes on it. Novels are only good or bad at certain speeds. I knew this, along with all the other excuses an unpublished writer thinks up to explain why nobody buys his work. After ten years of rejections, I had a lot of excuses. But I also knew, from the other side of the business, that if you can spell, and put one sentence after another, and tell a story that seems both unpredictable and inevitable; if you can do these difficult things and don’t mind the humiliations of self-promotion, you should find a publisher in the end. Especially with an income to support you and a life untroubled by dependents.
Hell, what am I saying? Is this true? Is it good advice? (Is it even advice?) Is it advice ‘from’ Benjamin Markovits? In any case, it’s a comfort and encouragement – which probably makes it neither true nor good advice. But then that’s fiction for you. If it actually helped you live, everybody would be reading it, wouldn’t they?