I went on Goodreads to change my author profile pic, and while I was there I figured “eh, what can it hurt? I’m gonna look at my reviews.”
The ratings on my English-language books are mostly the same. A few five stars, a few one stars, a few “best books ever” and a few “complete trash.” I’ve come to expect this.
Then I scrolled down to the French translation of Low Down Death Right Easy (called “Que la mort vienne sur moi”) and noticed something…disheartening.
That’s right, folks. I am tracking a measly three reviews…and they’re all one star.
I suppose I didn’t exactly light the Francophone world on fire with this one.
I remember, about five years ago, when Rivages Noir flew me to France for a literary conference. I was feeling great about the whole thing. Who wouldn’t? I’d gotten a nice advance, and I was getting a free trip to France out of it.
I landed in Charles de Gaulle and took a plane to Montpelier, where I stayed for the evening. Then it was on to Sêt and eventually Frontignan, a small town right on the Mediterranean Sea. I watched gondola jousts in Sêt, wandered the cafés, and sat on the beach with old French editors and watched the water.
Those are good memories. The people were so gracious and nice. However, I will always remember something. I was sitting at a signing table next to Francois Guerif, a legend in French publishing. He published Ellroy, Westlake, literally all my heroes. And this was the guy who’d decided to publish my little book. At one point, he leaned over to me and said, “You know, no matter what happens with this novel, I always believe in the books that I publish. You wrote a good one.”
A lovely thing to say. Fills my heart up. Now I’m wondering…did he anticipate it not being well-received? God bless him for giving it a shot, anyway.
This got me thinking about why we write in the first place. I have friends who have done very well in France, and here in the U.S. I’m still working, still moving towards a thing.
When you write a book, you essentially have to have faith in what you do. If everyone is telling you that you suck, that’s a real bummer, but you need a kind of unshakeable confidence in the validity of that art. I remember what my friend Johnny Shaw said about an author we both didn’t care for: “Say what you will…the guy keeps on going.”
That’s the key, right there. Any decision that you make in life is a sacrifice. Time spent creating art is time that you can’t get back. Artmaking in itself is a sacrifice. But you have to keep going, and you have to believe in the importance of your sacrifice.
If this sounds melodramatic, well, maybe it is. But time is time and we only have so much of it. If you spend that time on something, maybe it’s worth treating it seriously.
So I’ll continue on. I finished a draft of my first proper novel in six years last week. I’ll look to put it out independently over the next few months. I believe in the idea, and I refuse to listen to anyone who doesn’t.
You have to be slightly delusional to do this. But it’s worth it.