Sunday, December 29, 2013

Balzac wore a Bowler too: Acquiring a Literary Hat Fetish

I have discovered, along with my unremitting devotion to literary composition, a tendency to accumulate hats at a rather alarming rate. Some of which are bedecked with feathers, and are, I fancy, rather flattering at a rakish angle - others, square and dowdy, droop in unlikely places and for which I hold little affection. Regardless of the limitations of closet space, and the unsuitable hat-climate in which I currently reside, these hats (like Bartholemew Cubbins of Dr. Seuss fame) reappear upon my cranium with accelerating frequency.

For these are, increasingly, the stock and barrel of the literary trade - the multitude of hats which the writer today accumulates, and must, perforce, accustom themselves to wearing. It used to be that we wore one - a signature fedora perhaps - a slightly battered, world-weary cranial piece that had seen us through one novel or another. The writer's hat. Comfortable, softly threadbare in all the right places - so much so that one was little aware of it being worn at all. For hitherto we only required that one - and beneath the broad brim of it we wrote with an impassioned ferocity, emitting the heated angst of life in a fluid conmingling of ink and blood upon the page (to borrow Hemingway's visceral depiction of the process). And then? We finished with a flourish and consigned our work to the trusted realms of publishing - who attended to the tedious tasks of marketing, printing, and distribution, leaving the author to contemplate the formulation of their subsequent literary work...

Now, however, writers of serious intent must accustom themselves to all kinds of cranial adornments - some of which poke and prod in the most uncomfortable of fashions. My grammatical hat, for example, leaves much to be desired, and I have the most unsettling notion that it accentuates, in glaring relief, my literary shortcomings: my comma-phobia, my hyphen-uncertainties, and the nuances that elude specific rules but incorrect usage proclaim "here writes an ignorant one!" So I pore over my Chicago Manual of Style in the vain hope that I can accustom myself to this cranial appendage that seems so instrumental to my success as a writer.

And there are, indeed, so many of them...some of which are more eagerly worn than others. My historian hat has been much in evidence as of late, and conforms beautifully to the curve of bone beneath. For beneath this bowler I spend many an hour perusing diaries, letters, historical treatises that offer an unprecedented glimpse of a time and space which is to become my world, and which will, in fits and starts, facilitate the emergence of a new narrative. Balzac described himself "much more of an historian than a novelist" and I incline to his view - or at least to the extent that my writing is predominately informed upon by my non-fictional explorations. The Human Comedy comprises an immense repository of historical detail, deftly intertwined within the narrative - methods of paper manufacture, fashions and furnishings, political escapades and small-town geography were all conveyed with scrupulous verisimilitude. So Balzac wore a bowler too! I yearn to wear mine with as much panache.

Lately, I have been the reluctant recipient of a helmet (particular to this part of the literary process) - ensnared as I have been by the  intricacies of formatting, caught in the sticky web of preparatory necessities that do little to enthrall the authorial mind. Pinioned in the mire and mesh of hyphen-placement and white-space, margins and trim, font size and style, kerning - and other aesthetic attributes I had, in truth, little desire to master. In the midst of my affliction, beneath the dank confines of metal that has a way of closing in around one's countenance until it seemed it would fasten permanently to the skull like some beast of alien appetite, I despair - would one ever be done?

And then - the marketing hat - an incommodious bonnet that flopped and flipped about one's ears in a most disconcerting manner. For even with the gratifying attention of prodigious publishing firms (of which few of us can boast) one still must market oneself. And there seems a bewildering variety of ways and means in which this must be done in modern society (I stipulate modern because I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time embroiled in the past!) For work completed must henceforth become work advertised, work marketed, work pushed and pulled and shoved (hopefully not to the detriment of said work or sanity of associated author). For bereft of parental attention it will languish and wallow, theoretically available in this medium or that but a forlorn, unrecognized thing consigned to some virtual dark and dusty corner of the cavernous Amazon warehouse ...and precisely how this is to be done - I do not know exactly. Is there a polite manner in which one can market one's work, without forceful brandishment? Without an email deluge? Without unwanted encroachment? It remains a finely tuned balancing act - one that does justice not only to the literary work itself, but maintains a modicum of respect for the author as well as the reader who comprises their audience. My hope is that one acquires a degree of satisfaction in the donning of this particular hat and wearing it well.

 For as much as we might desire to maintain a modest collection of much-beloved hats (one or two might suffice) we are now, more than ever, forced to accumulate and adjust to copious cranial attire. Far more frequently than we might like we must needs don one ill-fitting encumbrance after another as we attempt to master the variety of skills that seem a prerequisite to literary success in this the modern era. And just when it seems the task is done, formatting throws the proverbial wrench in the works - entailing, as it does, wrestling with InDesign and the erroneous snatches of html code that lurk beneath, poised to manifest in some devious fashion, compromising the aesthetic whole of the e-book version. So one must utilize InDesign to maximum effect and pick it apart with minute attention to coding when exporting it for e-publication...and so new tasks manifest and another hat reappears awkwardly perched above the brow.

But perhaps the remedy is to embrace this requisite hat fetish, this acquisition of skills - wear the various hats with as much aplomb as one can muster. For with the wearing of them, they inevitably assume an increased familiarity, become softened with use, much as the rigidity of new leather mellows into suppleness, acquiring a worn patina that is increasingly pleasurable to behold. And the hats themselves become less intrusive as the associated skill-set matures from one of initial bewilderment to well-practiced ease. Ideally. Inevitably the writing fedora (and for some of us the historian's bowler) will remain on a convenient hook, welcome accessories to coveted time - time to write, time to ponder, time to weave gossamer strands of a new narrative, time, in short, 'to murder and create'...and this fluctuating array of headgear? What can we do but make reluctant room in the closet?