What’s altogether possible is that it’s not a great novel. What makes me believe I can write a novel good enough to be published these days, when traditional publication has become so blame difficult? What prompts me to believe a story I create is interesting to anyone?
I’m long past prime. No great career awaits me. No one’s going to pick up my novel hoping that if this one isn’t a winner, the next one will be. There may never be another.
Yesterday, editing this beast of a manuscript, I deleted a sentence that described wet roadside grasses shining in the early morning sun the way the spooled remains of a smashed cassette might. The sentence is gone. After all, who the heck knows what audio tape even looks like anymore? I’m a creature from the black lagoon of yesterday, and there are any number of good reasons no one will take this manuscript.
Besides, technology has created a makeover of the industry. A man left a voice mail yesterday, wondering again if I’d be interested in publishing with them, self-publishing; he’s called several times and all I’d done was type my name somewhere in a blank on their website. Publishing is terribly hard these days because it’s become ridiculously easy.
What I’m saying is there may be a thousand reasons why this manuscript of mine will never get published–or, if it does, noticed.
Sometimes the ornery me wonders if discrimination isn’t one reason. Sometimes I can’t help thinking nobody cares about a story set out here on the edge of nowhere, a region hemorrhaging population since the 1890s, rural America on the prairie. There’s just not all that many of us here. We’re a demographic sliver–male rural white Midwestern evangelicals.
So who gives a hang about a story that features people like me? Who wants to spend time in a novel that features no zombies or Amish women or crazed religious murderers, a novel about ordinary people way down here in fly-over country? Who cares?
Marilynne Robinson can do it, and does, and has. I just finished Home, a novel that, like her Gideon, never leaves the same tiny Iowa town–and in the fifties. But I know Marilynne Robinson, I’ve met Marilynne Robinson, I’ve talked with Marilynne Robinson–and I’m not Marilynne Robinson.
Still, there are times I honestly believe I’ve been marginalized. Who cares for us way out here? Certainly not Hollywood, unless it can create caricature, say a smiling religious fanatic with a wood-chipper. We’re banal and bigoted and beastly and can’t see past the greasy bills of our feed caps.
What chance does this manuscript have in the real world, is a question I ask myself. Slim and none.
I’m trying as hard as I can to understand what happened to all of us this election, specifically from my little acre out here on the edge of the Plains, trying not to drink away my misery because more than anything, what I feel is shame. I don’t understand what happened, and I’m trying. Help me.
People hated crooked Hillary–I get that. I understand she represented a status quo millions disdain or don’t trust and even fear. I get that too. I don’t share that antipathy, but I get it. The Clintons were never my favorite people.
But why rural America, the rural Midwest, Christian rural Midwesterners to be precise (eighty-some percent of the evangelical vote chose Trump) would elect to the office of President a human being arrogant about his own arrogance, a gambler whose toted a string of wives and concubines that’d turn Solomon green, a chiseler who hasn’t chipped a dime for schools or roads or military pensions in almost 20 years–why people followed him remains a profound mystery I’d love to understand.
The closest I can come from the depths of my own soul is that sneering anger I can fall into when I wonder whether anyone would ever read a novel set here, a novel about ordinary people in fly-over country. Sometimes, I’ll admit it, I grow resentful because, dang it!–I exist, all right? I’m an old white male who’s spent most of seventy years claiming to be an evangelical (never less so than now). I am the guy who elected Trump, men like me, people tired and angry about being invisible.
Is that it? Is that the baggage I can claim? Is that what made thousands chant “Lock her up”? Am I coming close?
I’m serious. Is that what so many millions feel, so many aging evangelical white men from out here in the country?
I just don’t know.