Edinburgh, as seen from Arthur’s Seat. June, 2019
There are certain phrases authors use when we’re writing the 100-word biographies that every publisher, regardless of field, seems to ask for. “Widely published” is shorthand, a sign that you’re going to list about three titles that you’ve appeared in, but don’t worry there’s more publications out there. It’s a humble-brag that your full bibliography does not fit in the paltry fifty words that are left after you cover name, educations, nationality, and an identifying quip in the front half of your 100 words.
“Widely published” is also an invisible demarcation when writers meet socially. To write two words in a bio that’s meant to impress strangers and will likely never be followed up is one thing, to say them aloud to a person who can immediately interrogate the claim is another.
Recently, I was asked this weighty little question. It was casual, and he put the phrase out, not me. “Are you widely published?” An easy query from a person that I may or may not ever meet again. I could have agreed and the conversation would have moved on, but I didn’t.
That was a lie.
Two weekends ago, I celebrated my birthday by flying to Edinburgh and winning an academic competition, and then delivering my research to a hall of over a hundred science fiction enthusiasts. If you haven’t heard it, you can find the video here. Start at about 7:30.
The first of this month saw one of my poems appear in the inaugural issue of True Chili, an e-magazine of cowboy literature.
On Sunday, I received word that my frantically re-written chapter for a collection of essays commemorating the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was accepted. A relief, the initial draft of this work was substandard in every sense of the word and rightly rejected.
Today, on the other side of the globe, an anthology that I’m included in is launching in Australia, with proceeds going support asylum seekers the world over.
And just last night I heard from my novel publisher. There’s been upheaval in the art department, they’re waiting for someone to come in who can properly format the back cover and do Hope Bobb’s beautiful artwork justice, before we go to print.
None of these are new projects. Some have been quietly stewing for over a year, others for mere months. The fact that they’re piling in right now is a happy coincidence and no amount of formal planning on my part.
Still, I’m not sure why in the moment I decided that this wasn’t enough for “widely published.” That even with these recent developments, track-record of publications stretching back a few years now, and an MA in Creative Writing weren’t enough to justify my claim to those fifteen letters.
It could have been my youth. At 26, it does seem presumptuous to tell a man my father’s age that I’m widely published. Even when logically I know it’s the truth, or something very like it.
It could be Ireland. This island has an incredible tradition of storytelling, one that stretches back to time immemorial. It also has a very small writing and publishing community. Besides a few entries in the University magazine, my publications are international. I haven’t appeared in the Fish anthology, Boyne, Winter Pages, Southword, or any of the other pillars of the Irish literary magazine scene. No complaints, I’ve sent them work and taken my rejections like the statistical majority of poets trying to make it here and around the world. It’s a saturated market, everyone knows that.
It could have been the money. Of the four publications and the prize that I’ve mentioned here, I know that I will be paid for one of them, the novel with its indeterminate release date. And that payment depends on you, my dear readers, and how many people buy the book.
And the last reason I demurred could be simple impostor syndrome.
Like many people my age, I’m not sure I deserve what I’ve gotten. I’m waiting for someone, a publisher, a colleague, a mentor, to realize that I’m all smoke and bluster. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop.
With my 26th birthday, I have officially, technically, moved into my late twenties. My classmates from high school are getting married and having children. Many of my college friends are finishing graduate degrees and finding work in the real world.
I’m still waiting to feel like a proper adult.
I’m still waiting to feel like I’ve earned widely published.
It’s an ongoing process. I’ll keep you posted.
Looking down the Royal Mile, Edinburgh. June, 2019