Money And The Muse’s Underwear By Michael Hurley_____________________________________________I was at one of those writers’ conferences, recently, where I had the pleasure of paying a great deal of money to listen to another interminable speech about the revolution in the publishing industry. Book publishing, it seems, has been revolting and revolving so much for so long that it must surely be about to come full circle. When it does, I hope to climb back aboard.My ears pricked up when the speaker started to ask the audience for a show of hands according to those who wrote in particular genres. A forest of arms, most of them quite lovely, shot up when the romance genre was mentioned. There was a nearly equal but hairier showing of science fiction writers, and there were small but enthusiastic contingents of authors who wrote for the young adult, adult contemporary, Christian, crime thriller, mystery, and historical fiction markets. At last, in a moment reminiscent of a child being the last one picked for the dodgeball team, the speaker mentioned literary fiction. I was about to raise my hand when some smart aleck across the room shouted, “Do they even recognize that as a genre, anymore?” Laughter erupted. My hand remained cowardly at my side.It’s true. Literary fiction has become the red headed stepchild of an industry increasingly driven by sales rankings and competition to fill diminishing shelf space in brick-and-mortar bookstores with bestsellers. But the obscurity of literary fiction is also partly due to the fact that, as a genre, it does not lend itself so easily to definition. We know what romance and science fiction are, but doesn’t every author consider his fiction “literary”?My own view is that literary fiction is one of two things: It is either genre fiction that pays more attention to the imagery of the writing and character development than plot, or it is a story that dares to challenge the reader’s view of the world through some underlying theme of social, religious or political commentary. The giants of western literature managed to do both, and no one did it better than Charles Dickens.I was marooned at sea for seventeen days this past May (actually I was sailing in no wind, which feels like a marooning), and during those idle weeks I tore through a good bit of my literary fiction bucket list. My favorite was David Copperfield. Here is one gem from that book that gives insight to Dickens’ craft and the muse that inspired his wonderful prose:When my thoughts go back, now, to that slow agony of my youth, I wonder how much of the histories I invented for such people hangs like a mist of fancy over well-remembered facts! When I tread the old ground, I do not wonder that I seem to see and pity, going on before me, an innocent romantic boy, making his imaginative world out of such strange experiences and sordid things.Of course Dickens made a fortune from his imaginative world, but I often wonder how many publishers would give him a second glance today. I take some perverse comfort in that.An old friend of mine is now a rather famous and wealthy author of genre romance novels. He readily eschews any notion that what he is writing is literature, but his books literally fly off the shelves and into movie theaters. So successful has he become that he now lives in a fenced compound guarded by $80,000 German shepherds specially trained to attack when they smell fear. I would visit him, but I am terrified I would stink up the place and quickly die a horrible death.One unintended consequence of my old friend’s phenomenal success is that women regularly drive by his estate and attempt to throw their underwear over the high fence. Some have stronger pitching arms than others, which makes for an interesting decorative effect at the entrance to his house.Charles Dickens is long dead, and publishers aren’t likely to be throwing a great deal of money at writers of his ilk anytime soon. It’s simply not what the public is interested in buying anymore. I am undeterred by this and intend to soldier on among the happy few who still hear Dickens’ muse. I have no gated mansion, and the Irish terrier who mostly sleeps in my front yard will welcome friend and foe alike with impunity—the smellier the better. But I wish to serve notice, here and now, that should any woman attempt to throw any underwear of hers in my driveway, I intend to throw several pair of mine right back.________________________________Michael Hurley won the Somerset Prize for his debut novel, The Prodigal. His second novel, The Vineyard, is due out in December. He lives near Charleston, South Carolina.
By Michael Hurley
Publisher: Ragbagger Press
Release Date: November 25, 2013
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 384 Pages
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About the book:
Ten years after college, three very different women reunite for a summer on Martha’s Vineyard. As they come to grips with various challenges in their lives, an encounter with a reclusive fisherman threatens to change everything they believe about their world—and each other.
Chapter 20It was a question that would never have occurred to her mother or to any of her mother’s friends. Of course she would marry Tripp Wallace, they would say—or wouldn’t say, rather, because the subject would never come up. But if they were asked, they would be pained to explain what was self-evident. He met all the necessary criteria. He was from a well-respected family. He had gone to the right schools, as had his father and grandfather and great-grandfather before him. He had the right friends who had gone to the same schools and traveled in the same small circles. He was accomplished at the right sports—sailing in summer and skiing in winter—and he knew how to say and do the right things at the right moment in a way that bore testament, along with his good looks, to an obvious breeding. He was tall and well-formed and not overly bright or bookish or moody or sensitive. He would love Dory with fraternal affection and a benign indifference that would immunize him from the terrible angst that afflicts the lovelorn.There would be affairs, perhaps, but he could be relied upon to keep them discreet and meaningless, and there would be no brooding or melancholy or naval gazing in the wake of their discovery. New love would falter and stumble as it invariably does, but the business of marriage would march on. There would be no mid-life forays into the wild unknown, because he was not a curious man. His life had followed a well-worn path thus far, and he would stick to that path without the danger of navigational error that comes from needless reflection.He would lead a good life, not a well-examined life, and thereby make it possible for Dory to do the same. He and Dory would produce tall, lithe, gorgeous, tow-headed children and grandchildren who, on their way to fulfilling their central role as heirs to the family’s fortune and curators of its legacy, would by their laughter and playfulness banish the awful silence that would otherwise creep into their marriage, like a pestilence.© 2014 by M. C. Hurley. All rights reserved.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:Michael Hurley and his wife Susan live near Charleston, South Carolina. Born and raised in Baltimore, Michael holds a degree in English from the University of Maryland and law from St. Louis University.
The Prodigal, Michael’s debut novel from Ragbagger Press, received the Somerset Prize for mainstream fiction and numerous accolades in the trade press, including Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, ForeWord Reviews, BookTrib, Chanticleer Reviews, and IndieReader. It is currently in development for a feature film by producer Diane Sillan Isaacs. Michael’s second novel, The Vineyard, is due to be released by Ragbagger Press in December 2014.
Michael’s first book, Letters from the Woods, is a collection of wilderness-themed essays published by Ragbagger Press in 2005. It was shortlisted for Book of the Year by ForeWord magazine. In 2009, Michael embarked on a two-year, 2,200 mile solo sailing voyage that ended with the loss of his 32-foot sloop, the Gypsy Moon, in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti in 2012. That voyage and the experiences that inspired him to set sail became the subject of his memoir, Once Upon A Gypsy Moon, published in 2013 by Hachette Book Group.
When he is not writing, Michael enjoys reading and relaxing with Susan on the porch of their rambling, one-hundred-year-old house. His fondest pastimes are ocean sailing, playing piano and classical guitar, cooking, and keeping up with an energetic Irish terrier, Frodo Baggins.