For a long time I felt like I had been born in the wrong time period. When I was a kid, I had imaginary friends named Jonathan and Thomas. They were my brothers who time-traveled to me from the Civil War era. I knew where our house was: under a large mountain, a log cabin, where I lived with my brothers and my mom while my dad was away fighting. I kid you not.
I played with Jonathan and Thomas next to the blue hydrangea bush in my backyard on scorching hot summer days. I felt like they were real, maybe even ghosts, but probably they were just the result of my already overactive imagination. I loved anything Civil War when I was a kid. I had an obsession with Abraham Lincoln. I used to dream I was married to him, because after all I’d be a better spouse than Mary Todd. Then I told people, I thought I had been Abraham Lincoln in a previous life. I read anything about Lincoln I could get my hands on. My favorite poem, read on the lap of my dad, was O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether or not my writing would sell if I had been born in a different time period. Like, what if I had been a contemporary of Jonathan and Thomas instead of just their sister who lived in the rocking 1980’s future with big hair, jams, and all! Maybe I’d be a famous 1860’s writer, writing about the trials and tribulations of the Civil War. Because right now it’s damn hard to get published.
Here is a list of what it takes to get published in the year 2017:
- Living in New York – I read once where an agent said New York City is the only place to live if you want to be a serious writer — No thank you.
- Devoting every dollar you ever make to marketing your book and then some
- Not having a working wage
- Somehow acquiring an agent even though you have no writing contacts – it’s all in who you know, people, and I know noone
- A finished and polished manuscript
- Your first born child
- Your tortured soul for all of eternity
No, but seriously, it’s hard to get published. I used to dream I was one of the Bronte sisters. Or Jane Austen. Some of my favorite authors are long dead. Katherine Mansfield—totally awesome. George Eliot—God, if only something like Middlemarch would sell these days. I’m in the wrong field. You know how some people say God is dead, well I think literary fiction is dead. Or at least I have no fucking clue how to market it to an agent and get it sold. Maybe I should start writing young adult vampire books. Or cat books.* There seems to be a great market for those.
So I made a list of pros and cons for living and writing in the 1700s or 1800s.
- Not much competition – a lot of people did not know how to read or write. Basic literacy could make you a success!
- A lot of time – with no electronics there was a lot of spare time if you weren’t birthing babies.
- There wasn’t technology to aid in procrastinating or distracting you.
- Love has it all – romance sells, people! Who doesn’t want to hear about someone looking for the love of their life.
- Epic novels with seemingly no plot, romance thrown in, a little bit about how the fields were doing, and what dresses people were wearing were all the rage.
- Tragedy was an everyday part of life so people liked to read about it, and we know I love to write about tragedy and darkness!
I would have fit in, people, if it weren’t for the cons…
- It’s hard to get published unless you pretend you’re a man – take George Eliot. I mean, I thought she was a man until one of my high school English teachers set me straight.
- You’re probably going to die young of tuberculosis or some equally horrible disease.**
- Katherine Mansfield died of tuberculosis on January 9, 1923
- Jane Austen died of Addison’s disease on July 18, 1817
- Charlotte and Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis on March 31, 1855 and December 19, 1848 respectivefully.
- Virginia Woolf committed suicide — authors still do this in amazing abundance, because a large majority of them are tortured souls – do you know that?
- George Eliot lived to the ripe age of 60 and succumbed to kidney disease.
- There wasn’t technology to help you research.
- Word-processing didn’t exist. Talk about hand cramps. And if you had dysgraphia, forget it! You’d never become a published writer.
- Bad eyes – writing by candle light and reading all those books in the dark. Atrocious. I already have bad eyes, I’d probably be blind by now if I lived back then.
- Men – they cramped women’s style by not wanting them to do anything but care for the kids that they were continually popping out. Plus they had an advantage by just being born with a penis. Heck, they still have that advantage today, but it’s gotten a little bit better. At least I don’t have to pretend to be a man to get published.
So maybe being born back in the good ole days wouldn’t be so great. I guess I’ll keep trucking along. As long as I have one reader then I qualify as a writer. Because to me, the most important thing is my audience.
Do you think you were born at the wrong time?
*I love young adult books, vampire books, and even books that feature cats as main characters. Cats are awesome, solitary, independent creatures.
**All information was found on Google & Wikipedia.
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6 thoughts on “Another Time, Another Place?”
This really made me laugh, Lauren, much of it in recognition.
“I loved anything Civil War when I was a kid. I had an obsession with Abraham Lincoln. I used to dream I was married to him.”
Oh yes, the thinking woman’s first love. I took “Across Five Aprils” out of the school library every other week in fifth grade and read my mother’s copy of Irving Stone’s “Love is Eternal” three times!
“George Eliot—God, if only something like Middlemarch would sell these days. I’m in the wrong field. You know how some people say God is dead, well I think literary fiction is dead.”
I used to be part of an online critique group of five serious writers, all at the same on-the-verge, getting- page-long-personal-rejections-from-agents level in our quest for publication. One of the women added a magic stone to a novel she’d been trying to sell for 5 years and BOOM! it sold in a six-figure deal that had her writing a trilogy! The rest of us in the group joked about adding magical elements to our stories.
In a related vein, loved this observation, too: “Maybe I should start writing young adult vampire books. Or cat books. There seems to be a great market for those.”
Yes, as a writer of historical fiction, I’m thinking “a vampire and his magical cat take on Hitler and his Brownshirts.”
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I would totally read about the vampire and his magical cat taking on Hitler. I think you have a best seller there. I still have a little bit of a crush on Lincoln. I guess he’ll always be the one who got away! 😉
This is a great post! I have always thought I should’ve been a child of the 60s, so no big jump for me. I just resonate with the music and the hippy counterculture. This doesn’t really have anything to do with writing; however, maybe an extra decade without this infernal iPhone and I could’ve established a real solid writing habit. 🙂
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Erich–thanks! I had fun writing this post. I really could do without the technological distractions.
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I love the comparison between writing and publishing now versus back then. I had never thought about how different it would have been back then. Fascinating! I guess there’s pros and cons to each.
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Yes. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot.