Ed. note: New feature here at DBC! Instead of doing the traditional Q and A interview, we thought we’d do something slightly different. We’re approaching authors with a simple task: defend or refute this statement. Here is the first edition, featuring John Warner. His first novel, The Funny Man, was published earlier this year by Soho Press. He recently discussed that book, and writing-slash-reading in general, over at The Morning News.
Defend or refute the following statement: Post-publication is a mongrel period: it combines the sadness and vulnerability of postpartum with the crushing mood swings and emotional hollowness of post-coitum.
The French call orgasm, le petit mort, “the little death.” We recognize it as that particular empty feeling (emotional hollowness) that seems particularly cruel, since moments before, we never felt more alive. Scientists say it’s likely linked to the dumping of oxytocin into the system, and that hollowness is actually a misreading of an overwhelming calmness that’s supposed to make us feel connected to the world. It’s supposed to be a letdown, but in a good way.
We think of the release of a book as being a kind of birth, and it is, an introduction of the work to the world, but it’s also a petit mort, and the thing that is killed is hope. Prior to the book’s release, everything seems possible, critical acclaim in all the right places, strong sales, foreign and film rights snatched up—in short, a general movement towards an affirmation that the world does indeed desire what the writer has to offer.
But reality intrudes. When you show people pictures of your newborn child, they make cooing noises no matter how squished the kid’s head looks. No one is under such obligations when it comes to a new book. The reviews are sparse and not uniformly positive. The attention, no matter the size and shape can’t seem to fill the bottomless container of need. Doubt creeps in. You wonder if maybe the whole thing is a waste of time and energy.
You get over it, though. And you recognize, or at least I now recognize that the petit mort of publishing, the death of “hope” is both necessary and temporary, because even as the current book fades from even my own interest, others take its place and those that live in my head, or in pieces on my hard drive remain flawless in their potential, and I realize that when it comes to writing, hope—hope that you will write better, hope that someone will notice and care—is an inexhaustible resource.