Writing can oftentimes be a lonely calling. The research: you and your book/article/computer screen. Writing: you’re alone with your thoughts and ideas, and that’s it. My blogs produce some response—from a small and dedicated group of friends and supporters—despite an extensive subscription base. Only when I go on the road do I finally interact with others. Sometimes even that can be underwhelming.
In a November 11, 2018 New York Times Book Review column, Steve Israel, a retired U.S. Congressman turned novelist, comically depicts the rejection and sheer indifference a writer often experiences:
“In politics, one’s skin must be impenetrable to insult and even the occasional knife in the back. But sitting behind a pile of books at an Author Night, watching people pick up your book as if it’s a piece of spongy fruit at the market, is sheer torture. Often, they frown skeptically, weigh the book in their hands, glance at a few pages and toss it back on the pile. All right in front of you.”
I’ve been there too. A while ago I was scheduled to speak at a Barnes & Noble not far from where I live. B&N did all the right things: order the books; post the event on their website; create an attractive poster visible to everyone entering the store. I publicized it too. On the day of the event the manager enthusiastically announced it over the P.A. every 15 minutes for one hour preceding the talk. At the appointed time I had exactly one member in the audience, an affable fellow who accidentally wandered into my section and who was too well-mannered to leave me entirely alone. (Before my talk was over the crowd had swelled to three.)
So, whenever I receive unexpected feedback, it’s a cause for celebration. Not long ago I received a letter in the U.S. mail. I quote it in its entirety, leaving out only any identifying references to protect the writer’s privacy:
“Dear Mr. Boyce:
Thank you for your presentation on Odd Nansen at ______ recently. I’m not an avid reader, but your presentation stirred me into buying the book—and reading it in its entirety!
To say I enjoyed the book would not seem correct. Rather, it grabbed my interest—and each session, I read more than I had planned. I come from northern Germany and Danish roots—but fortunately my people on both sides were here before both World Wars.
Thanks again for introducing me to Mr. Nansen. I’m enclosing a 1 Øre coin* from 1942 as a memento. It’s not in the best condition—has probably been through a lot, much like the Norwegians during WWII.
Thank you, George, and thanks to the many others from whom I did hear this past year, for your interest in Odd Nansen, and your support for my work in publicizing his diary. You made the miles traveled, the talks given, the blogs written, all worthwhile.
Happy New Year.
[* 100 Øre equal 1 Norwegian Krone. 1 Krone is currently equal to approximately $0.11. The coin ceased to be minted in 1972.]