the stories we tell when we are free

Please forgive me if this looks like shameless promotion (and I guess, to an extent, it is) but: Prosperity came out yesterday.

What can I tell you about this thing? It’s a steampunk Western with a Lovecraftian twist. It’s written in 18th century thieves cant. It’s a lovestory from the outside. Its heroes are a street rat, a priest, a crimelord, an opium-eating governess, and a genderqueer skypirate. It’s about faith and love and monsters and selfhood on the edges of the world.

It was the first book I ever wrote.

It’s the kind of book you only write when you don’t have a goddamn clue what you’re doing.

When all that matters is the story you want to tell.

A long time ago (maybe last Friday), on this very site, Amber Lin wrote a really fascinating post she called The Myth of Selling Out. I’ve thought about it a lot ever since I read it. I admire Amber’s blend of pragmatism and idealism, in that she acknowledges very explicitly that making money from what you do is good and necessary (something we shuffle around a lot when it comes to art) but she also believes that writing what you’re passionate about is the best way to make money.

I very much hope this is true. Frankly, if it isn’t, I’m fucked.

But I think between these twin myths of selling out and art for art’s sake there’s something else, something subtle and ephemeral that I guess you could call – in its most positive and useful form – awareness. It’s understanding the context in which you write.

And, here’s the thing: that’s not some ghastly submission to soul-less commercialism.

It’s just an economic reality. In many ways I have a degree of what you might call writing privilege. I’m not dependent on my books to pay my mortgage. I have a dayjob, in which I am happy and fulfilled. Basically, I’m a hobbyist. I can afford to write books that don’t sell.

Unfortunately, my publisher can’t.

And actually, as Amber says, there’s no such thing as a choice between money or not-money, selling or not-selling.

There’s just awareness.

Prosperity will always be the book of my heart. It is a book about freedom written when I felt free. And by free, you understand, I also mean free of any notion of what I was doing. Which is, y’know, a mixed blessing.

The truth is, I will probably never write anything like it again. And that’s not a bad thing.

But, all the same, it’s an odd sort of gift, being able to look back upon the things you wrote when you were free.

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4 Responses to the stories we tell when we are free

  1. Susan says:

    This makes me…kinda sad.

    And I realize I’m naive. I just wish you (all authors) could feel this freedom for every book you write. And especially since that’s exactly how I felt when reading Prosperity. It was unbound. I was flying.

    But, I agree with need for awareness. It’s a different thing…an “adult” concept. Part of growing up. Right? When we’re kids, we play outside until it’s dark w/ no concept of anything but the fun we’re having. It’s the adults/parents that worry about safety, time, dinner, etc.

    I’m babbling. But in any case…

    Prosperity…thank you for the gift.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Oh, don’t be sad. Mainly I feel celebratory that Prosperity exists AND I have acquired clues previously lacking :)

      I’m glad that the sense of freedom I felt with Prosperity comes through the readers though – it always touches me when people notice it or mention it.

      And thank you for the kind words about my book :)

  2. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Hunh, I read this *after* your live interview on FB, Alexis, & it’s funny – spooky almost ;) – how closely it parallels that comment I made there, about this book *being* you. I’m only 15% into it, but I got hit with such a strong sense of that as I was reading it during my lunch break today, that it quite literally & unexpectedly moved me to tears. So even before I get to all the other good stuff I know is ahead (I accidentally previewed a kraken battle scene – was trying to find out how many arms(?)/legs(?) a kraken has – and wowza!!!) I already love it so much, I can’t tell you, just for that reason. That sense of the distilled essence of *you*, that is the soul of the book. It makes this book feel like a piece of treasure.

    I mean, really, what greater gift does any writer (or any person, for that matter) have to give than the gift of himself or herself? The pure expression of his or her utterly unique view & experience of life & feeling & thought that no one in the world but that person has to give? It’s a brief moment where a door opens in the wall of “otherness” that separates all of us from each other & we meet, writer & reader. Where you go: “Hi, so here I am, this is me” & we go “Oh, there you are; I see you :-)” I’m not sure I’m saying this very well, so I hope that makes some kind of sense ;)

    Even if you’re right & you never get to write another book like this one again, that is such a free expression of your heart, I’m so happy for you, that you got to write it once, and for me & everyone else, that we get to read it. This book is a gift to all your readers & we love you for it.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      You’re not the only person who has mentioned that Prosperity has this weird … sense of freedom to it. I need to be a long way from my books before I can look them again, but I’m looking forward to finding that again when I dare peek at it :) But, yes, I feel very lucky and humbled to have … somehow … have Prosperity in my back catalogue.

      I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying Prosperity. It always very special to hear when people are enjoying something that feels close to your heart.

      And I know exactly what you mean about reading forging a sense of connection, not necessarily just between you and a writer, but between you and the world. There’s a very lovely scene in The History Boys where Hector articulates this: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

      I’m not always the hugest fan of Alan Bennett but I love this scene very much :)