As most writers have been told at some point, there can be no story without conflict. In most people’s lives that conflict is, at its most basic, a struggle toward accomplishing a goal, with the vague or clear (depending on the person) intention to be remembered for something. But what happens when you’ve reached your goal, and blown past it?
There are few scribes who don’t dream of topping the bestseller lists, but what are you expected to do after you get there? How do you manage the attendant expectations, the sycophantic chorus, and straight up jealousy?
After receiving mixed reviews for her first foray into adult literature, Casual Vacancy, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling opted to publish under a male pen name. After she was outed by a tweet from the friend of her lawyer’s wife, Rowling explained why she went to the trouble of concealing the identity she had worked so hard to imbue with equity.
“I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career,” she wrote, “to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”
“The biggest thing I had to prove was, ‘Is she going to be able to come out of this tsunami and ever do anything again?’ Or am I going to Harper Lee out? Go J. D. Salinger for the rest of my life?”
She responded to the stress by sticking her chin out.
“I threw [2010’s Committed] out into the world like a grenade. I was like, ‘All right, everybody, whatever you have to say about the last book, whatever resentment you’ve built up over the last few years, let’s just catharsis it out and move on.’ And it did that.”
Now, Gilbert is interested in reminding critics that she has also written award-nominated fiction with acclaim from all the right sources–the New York Times, PEN Hemingway, the National Book Awards, and The National Book Critics Circle Award. Like Rowling, she wants the struggle-rush again.
For her upcoming The Signature of All Things, a 500+-pager set in the 1800s with a botanist heroine, Gilbert is prepared hit the road. While a writer of her stature could get away with leaving at a few well-plaved high-profile interviews on Oprah, NPR, and/or New York Times, she will go on what the Times describes as a “mammoth book tour.”
She explains, “I want to bring this book to people and ask if they’ll read it, and I feel like I have to ask them personally. I gotta sell those grinders, man.”
Turns out the grind is a necessity to the human story–even when it’s by choice.