I will write nearly anything for anyone for money or for dog food, for cat vetting, for folks who I think are fabulous in their arts and labors, but who are not writers themselves—and sometimes, just because I can. I have been trained to forge out of letters strung together the emotions, thoughts, and shapes that I see or that some people need (hence why I like the term “literary apothecary”). Sometimes, I am actually successful at it. It’s always shocking when that happens because really, and to break a totally rigid writing rule, I will now deploy a rabid cliché (and then I will mix some metaphors), it takes two to tango: I can write my heart out, but if the reader doesn’t sync with the rhythm of the dance, doesn’t like the hook, finds the orchestration either too plush or too thin, I might as well be painting by numbers or sunning myself by the pool. Without a wiling reader, it really is just a foolish and indulgent past time.
I have often said that I have little ego about what I write—meaning, I don’t really give a rat’s tooth if anyone likes it or not. Janis Ian, when I told her that, scolded me quite exactingly. She said, “If you care enough to do it, and you care to publish it, you should always have an ego about it. If you don’t, don’t bother publishing it; that would be unfair to your audience.”
At the time, I really did not understand what she meant. To me, I write. I write when I need to write. I write how I need to write when I believe I know how I need to write. I write because that is how I try to make sense of the world and it’s also, as it happens how I make a modest living. It is a selfish impetus. What happens after the writing is not my business. That was my thinking. But Janis is a performer, not just a writer, and so she is intimate with her audience. She respects her audience. She cares about her audience; they are present and immediate. And that means she has an ego about what she does. It matters to her how her audience responds. A performer must be aware that they are the stewards of their arts’ reception and impact. A writer can pretend (for a bit) they are not. How terribly myopic of me! In my attempt at just doing, I forgot that there are some who might care. And that lapse in memory and judgment is egregiously egotistical.
Here, so far, is what I’ve been blessed to learn: people, in general, give a shit. Janis cares and cares in ways I am not going to articulate for fear of letting loose info she may not want running free (let’s just say she went above and beyond and continues to do so—for her art, for her audience, for her friends, for artists she likes, and for me), Skyboat Media did as well, Pat Conroy always does, my friends and family do, other new authors do (that one’s not a surprise, but it is an honor), established authors do (that’s a surprise!). And even though my expanded edition is not out yet, and the incredible illustrations by my future husband are not out yet, I have gotten super intriguing feedback about the stories and images. It’s intriguing in two ways: 1) the quality of responses and endorsements is off the charts. I will share
some below. I don’t do so to self-congratulate–my ego ends way before then. I do so because I admire the responses. No one has responded to the book with pure praise. Each has its own complications, tangles, and concerns. I love that. It means the reader read honestly and that they trusted me with that honesty. As an author, that right there is the most valuable connection. I can’t ask for anything more. And it would be an offense to depreciate that. 2) Some of the most interesting comments and endorsements have come—not from literary authors, not from Taoists, philosophers, or humanists, not from new age folks, not from readers of Sedona or folks who cast the I Ching, not from folks in any of my personal circles—no, some of the comments most dear to me have come from four groups I would not, not in a million years, have anticipated: Practicing or retired Scientists (think hard core molecular biologists, neuroscientists and such), the devoutly religious (mostly of the Judeo-Christian breeds), Fantasy writers, and total strangers. I can’t even add properly, I blew everything up in chemistry class, I treat logic like a mythical vampire treats a cross, and, as everyone knows, I lean towards the naturalistic side (re: pagan, heretical, in most eyes). So that was all a great and very special surprise!
Huge, vast, “Thank you” to all camps for stunning me. For making me feel heard and honored. For bridging the divide. This blog is an attempt to return the honor. Your responses have mesmerized me and filled me with gratitude, a sense of company, and a deep respect. I am so grateful for your company on this journey.
Here are a few responses from a couple scientists, a fantastic award winning fantasist, and a devotedly devout reader to the expanded edition of Lost Cantos (which should come out, illustrated and with CD of Janis’ Audio) November 14th.
• The book is spectacular. I think there will be people who will not truly appreciate this work. It might not be for everyone because they won’t allow it to be or are not ready for it or are simply ill-equipped
for this type of book. Perhaps, some will have trouble with it because It is not something one should argue with or decide that particular choices of imagery are right or wrong; if the reader takes that path,
then it will become an academic exercise in frustration. In any case, in my humble opinion, the book is spectacular. It is not light reading; it takes time and is ripe for new discoveries and illuminations with each read. If one approaches expecting to encounter simple fairy tales – well, hmmmm, not quite. I found I needed to read the book when I was rested and open. For me, that is the first thing in the morning when the world hasn’t stolen me away. Then I could open up and the words and world could enter me. If I tried to read the same pages at night, the words would bounce off me like hail on a trampoline. But in the morning they could slide in and be clear.
That said, I think there are/will be people who really get this. Once it is published, I am going to purchase a copy and send it to my photography mentor George DeWolfe. He teaches contemplative photography and I think he and his students will love your book, particularly the story The Accidental Gods. And, by the way, Jonathan Hannah’s illustration are also fantastic! — Donna Kirckpatrick
• “Maggie Schein’s stories are both charming and alarming (the rhyme is unintentional, but the sentiment deeply felt.) The only comparable writer I can think of is my old flame and model Isak Dinesen. Each of Schein’s tales has the taste of air charged with anticipation of an approaching storm. They are genuinely philosophical in a way which is very rare, frightening in a way far removed from scary, and, most impressively, they are often philosophically frightening—which is almost unheard of. I haven’t read anything remotely like them in a long time.” — Peter S. Beagle (author of the ‘The Last Unicorn‘)
• I admire your character as well as your writing. In my thirst for new voices and styles, I found your book to stand out from anything I’ve read in the past few years. I liked the theme’s philosophy and am
amazed at how you constructed the book as a tapestry of concepts. I am a Biologist by nature, education and career. I think you are also a Biologist. The marriage of philosophy ( and religion?) and the whole of earth’s life forms is a concept I have dreamed of writing about. I am far, far from accomplishing that at this point, but it drives my daily life. You have created the standard. Anyway, I felt a connection with you and admired your poise and presentation at the festival. After reading the book, the connection seems even stronger. – Bonnie Grier