My town is not what you would consider an especially sophisticated community. The restaurants are mostly all chain restaurants. The ones that aren’t are pizza parlors. It doesn’t have trendy coffee shops for young hipsters to mix and mingle, it has multiple Dunkin Donuts where grumpy blue collar professionals can get their morning caffeine injections. The local dive bar’s patronage has an average age of 102. They all drive 4×4 pickup trucks. Writers, musicians, painters, and other more esoteric creatives do not flock here for its vibrant and dynamic artistic scene. It has no artistic scene.
My town has warehouses. It has tobacco fields. It has tobacco barns. It has assorted tobacco-centric farm equipment retailers, resellers, and servicers. Its only nod to high culture is one museum. It is a tobacco museum.
For all of that, there are artists here. There are painters, musicians, and writers. Against all odds, they exist. I wouldn’t say they’re thriving, but like a persistent fungal infection they lurk in the dark sweaty crevices of this fine rural hamlet, stubbornly plying their craft with little fanfare or support. To them I say – Thank You. Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let anybody discourage you from your dreams. Also, maybe don’t read the rest of this post.
As a dedicated consumer of art, especially strange paintings and genre fiction, and a creative dabbler myself, mostly of strange paintings and genre fiction, I want to support their endeavors. I want to take pride in their accomplishments. I want to enjoy the fruits of their labors, the results of their efforts, the expulsions from their imaginative wombs.
To that end, I recently visited the small independent bookstore down the road from my house in order to browse the local authors section and, hopefully, find a new favorite author that I could stalk and imprison a la Stephen King’s Misery. To me, an independent bookstore should be a cramped and disorganized place full of crooked, teetering stacks of second or third-hand cookbooks, Harlequin romance novels, and John Grisham paperbacks. The type of place where time has no meaning and hours of browsing can result in the discovery of countless How-to manuals for rebuilding obsolete automobile carburetors, or a stack of dusty travel books for now defunct nation states, or a signed copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s lesser known and controversial Hobbit sequel Radagast’s Revenge – There and Back Again Two, Electric Boogaloo, or even a hitherto undiscovered copy of the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. It should be the sort of establishment which smells more than faintly of cat piss, the overweight bewhiskered culprit has laid claim to the most comfortable armchair, and the elderly proprietor is clearly just barely tolerating your patronage, and would really prefer if you left immediately without touching another one of their precious yellowing and dog-eared paperback treasures.
The independent bookstore near my house is not like that. For one thing, the owner is young, and SO NICE. Truly, a credit to her profession. For another, her store is well-lit, clean, and organized, with only two walls of books, all of which appear to be new prints. If I’m being honest, the small amount of books actually available for sale in the bookstore is surprising. I might have more on my bookshelves at home. In a world with Amazon, and digital readers, and mega-bookstores like Barnes and Noble however, this perhaps is not insanity. Instead of trying to compete with those businesses, my local independent bookstore offers something different, something you can’t get with the click of a mouse online. Events. Book signings, Book clubs, Author lectures, Arts and Crafts lessons, whatever you can think of, it’s probably scheduled. This place is less of a store for buying books, and more of a venue for literature related activities. It’s an interesting business model, and I truly hope it succeeds.
For all its lack of actual books, it does have a fairly large shelving section dedicated to local authors, so I went there with high hopes that I’d find something at least remotely interesting. It was a bit of a wash I’m afraid. The section had all of the expected non-fiction biographies on local historical figures and fixtures, the type of obsessively but amateurishly researched fare that exists everywhere because any time a town has a person or a thing there is someone who feels the urge to write about that person or thing. There were also some young adult fiction stories which were recommended as good sellers, but I wasn’t in the mood for young adult, especially because good young adult fiction is often fairly bad, and I don’t imagine debut young adult fiction from an unknown local author would be any better. The store owner, who so solicitously helped me in my search was able to recommend one local author’s science fiction book, which I happily purchased because local and science fiction were exactly what I was looking for. I should have requested that the book also be good.
Unfortunately, it sucked. It sucked so bad. It was the opposite of good. It was, in fact, terrible. This thing was an abortion from start to finish. Obviously a self-published job, I was immediately annoyed by the amateurish formatting errors present throughout.
Like how the author indented every new paragraph. But also put a space between every new paragraph. I mean, you do one or the other. That’s an obvious rookie mistake that even the slightest editorial oversight would have caught.
In addition the dialog read like it was written by a non-native speaker with Aspergers overhearing and transcribing the conversation between two other people who also have Aspbergers, and also all three of them have never heard anybody else ever have a normal conversation but they kind of know what words are and that you need to put a few in a row and then put a comma or a period, so they’re going with that and hoping for the best.
I don’t want to go into too much detail but the premise was shaky, the plot was shit and the execution was weak. 0/10, I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul. The most upsetting part however, was that I really wanted to like it. I wanted to become a fan. I wanted to be impressed and excited by the literary genius of a local author. Because I wanted to support him. I want to support all my local artists. But what does that mean? Am I obligated to support my local artists, even when they suck? If they produce garbage, do I have to happily consume that garbage with a smile on my face, because hey, they’re local? Tell me the rules here.
If I was just a consumer, it wouldn’t really matter at all. This author made a product, I didn’t like the product. End of transaction. The complication is that, I also write. It’s a small town. If we both keep writing, we will potentially cross paths. Maybe even at an event at the aforementioned bookstore. What if he asks me if I’ve ever read his stuff? What if he’s read mine? What if he actually likes my writing? I mean, he probably wouldn’t, it’s pretty bad too, but still. Stranger things have happened. How do I navigate this tricky situation? Advise me, Friends.