At the Melbourne Writer’s Festival recently, Wells Tower told a lie. He was talking about how he loved transformative stories but didn’t for a moment think his work possessed such potential. Really? Well, but what about the Lazarus effect he, along with writers like Cate Kennedy and Nam Le, are having on the short form?
When agents and publishers tell us it’s a waste of time; forget it; that we should be ashamed for even mentioning the idea of a lovely little collection of stories, we can rear up our shame-faced heads and ask, but what about Nam, Cate and Wells? For that matter, what about Miranda July and Junot Diaz. What about the lasting appeal of Raymond Carver (some people think he’s quite good)?
All exceptions that prove the rule, they will say. They will shake their wise old heads at the naïve fool that would dare to suggest such paths through financial ruin. Well… but I’d like to respectfully point out, that most novels don’t really make a huge profit either. That the occasional success in novels funds the ones that don’t really do much more than tread water. I think the ratio in Hollywood is that they lose money on nine out of ten films, but fund the rest on the one big hit. The significance of ‘The Slap’ for Allen & Unwin is immense. ‘Shantaram’ for Scribe. ‘Things We Didn’t See Coming’ for Sleepers. ‘Eucalyptus’ for Text. Penguin did all right this year with Winton’s ‘Breath,’ but I reckon they’d be happy they took a chance with Nam Le and his little collection of stories as well.
Every seat was taken at the festival a few weeks ago, to see someone manifestly not Jesus, even out the back and around the bar, (where Wells might indeed have seemed messianic, what with the pearl-white light dancing around his head) all there at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon to see a writer who’d published nothing more than a few articles in disparate magazines and one collection of stories.
‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’ isn’t fading away. I work in a bookstore and it just keeps selling. And building momentum. Perhaps it’s even transforming a few readers out there, despite what Wells Tower says about not being Jesus.