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The one in which I have a feverish idea
January went by in the fevered haze of a COVID-induced quarantine during which, exactly two weeks after my husband got the virus, I got the virus, and we had to do the whole thing all over again.
Not to be deterred by complete and utter boredom and the sheer absurdity that comes from watching The Truman Show immediately followed by EDtv, I emerged from my fevered state much like Mozart in the final scene of Amadeus — that is to say, not dead exactly, but rather having written something.
It’s a blog! Only not a blog, because we don’t really do those anymore. It’s a newsletter! Yes, that is much more of the times. And not just any newsletter, but a Substack newsletter — because that is the most prestigious sort of newsletter one can have and all the writers are having them these days.
Having decided that I would also need a Twitter — and having ascertained that my name was taken as a Twitter handle — I discovered the hilarity that I am a novelist and my name is Elle and so the name of my Twitter and thus my blog (I mean, newsletter) became The Novelleist. I know, I really am quite clever when I’m not in my right mind.
Laying on the floor with body aches and chills, overthinking my life with Dostoevsky-level introspection, one coherent thought remains: that I must publish my book, and I must do it my way.
If that sounds melodramatic, it might be. After spending three years writing a strange little Gothic novel, and then spending the majority of 2020 writing this intensely researched article about the best way to publish it, I decide I must eschew my own advice entirely and self-publish the darn thing.
“FUCK COMMERCE,” comes to mind. Mostly because I have been binge-watching Entourage as I make these important life decisions and it is the epithet screamed by the director Billy Walsh when his artsy little Sundance film gets commercialized for the sake of mass appeal.
Walsh decides he would rather pull his movie from the metaphorical shelves before he sees it become commercialized, and I must do the same. Partly because I have thus far submitted my book to 96 agents and received 52 rejections, but mostly because I want to publish my book as a serial the way Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo was, and I want to bind it in leather and illustrate it in ink the way Dante’s Divine Comedy and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol were.
Laying on the floor, gripped with the psychological mindfuckery that comes from not leaving your house for four straight weeks, I can feel this dream as though it were tangible, materialized before me like Arwen to Aragorn, the soft lull of Enya coaxing me into an Elvish alternative reality. (I must disclose that my husband and I watched all 18 hours of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchises during our exile).
Now that I am released from my quarantine, I will spend the coming months hiring an editor, finding a printer, and commissioning an illustrator so that I can release my book exactly the way I want to this fall. And in the meantime, I’ll write this newsletter. At least monthly, though perhaps bi-monthly or even weekly depending on how ambitious I get. And I will give them all Friends-style titles because I feel like doing so.
Though starting a newsletter and having a Twitter isn’t a very novel thing for a person to do, it is quite a departure from the last three years during which I had no social media accounts and shared nothing of my life online except the articles I wrote for work.
I have loved this life, to be honest. It was a simple and beautiful existence without any of the complexity of trying to be somebody online and without any of the anxiety that I might put my foot in my mouth and get canceled once and for all. I left my phone in a drawer most of the time and spent quality time with my friends and family. And sometimes, I wish I could continue in this vein into perpetuity.
But then, I am not altogether taken with the emo writer types who suffer away in obscurity for their work with no one to read or hate or love their work until they die and so I have entertained the idea that I will not be said writer type and instead will offer people a chance to read and hate and love the things I write while I am still living enough to be privy to them.
I wonder if this is why Truman called to me from the 90s section of HBO Max I frequent. Perhaps he and Ed came to me because their entire lives were broadcast to the world and none of mine is. Perhaps that very juxtaposition means there is a way to find some middle ground — to express myself on the internet without becoming brainwashed by conspiracy theories, wading through Twitter hate, or having myself a little ego trip on Instagram.
Perhaps I can use social media for good, I think. To connect with other writers and editors on Twitter, to learn from other writers and editors on Clubhouse, to connect with readers on Substack, and maybe even on Wattpad. This is a balance I will now attempt. Because my dream — the one in which I write beautiful articles and novels and people read them — depends on it.
It may not be achievable. No one might like my writing apart from me. But I have to at least give myself the chance that someone else might actually like what I have to say. As the bartender in the movie Win a Date With Tad Hamilton once said of her dream to be a bartender: “your odds go up when you turn in an application.”
The writing part can still be just for me, I decide. But the reading part, well that’s for someone else.
Welcome to The Novelleist.
The birthday questions
I celebrated my 36th birthday from bed this week. Even still, the “birthday questions” are a tradition in my household. Here are my answers this year:
What lesson did it take you 36 years to learn? That I really love spending time with my husband. For most of our lives, he has traveled a lot for work. COVID changed that and as a result, we built out our camper van and spent 2020 traveling around our home state together. It was one of the most fun years of my life.
What would you tell your 26-year-old self? Don’t start your own magazine — you don’t know what you’re doing. You live in the Bay Area, take advantage and get a job at a magazine!
What would your 46-year-old self tell you? In the next ten years I want to write another book and travel, and I think that’s what my 46-year-old self would tell me to do. After this, I will have my temporary immunity intact and have already booked a trip to New Orleans to celebrate. Now I just have to wait for Europe to let me in…
Current obsessions (quarantine edition)
If you’re as into newsletters as I am, Maybe Baby by Haley Nahman is my personal favorite. You’ll love her.
This NYT article about a serial sperm donor. Are sperm donors the new #vanlife?
Thanks to a sudden ticking sound my floor started making in the middle of the night in an effort to make me unhinged, I found Max Richter’s sleep album an interesting alternative to white noise. The concert is 8.5 hours long and is meant to be listened to while you sleep. Not only does it cover up the sound of strange ticking sounds in the night, it also wakes you up to cello solos instead.
Homemade haircuts. I can’t believe nobody told me how easy this is. I cut my own hair to my exact specifications and avoided paying $75 to have a stylist cut off two inches when I asked for 0.0001. This is a win-win.
Writing progress this week
First book: Potential illustrator contacted. Book printers researched. Launch party venue contacted. Launch dates decided.
Second book: Prologue written.
Magazine pitches: I pitched stories to five magazines.
Rap album: Musician discovered. Meeting to be scheduled. Lyrics in progress.