What I realized is that I must take each post one at a time—writing about what seems to be important amid the current whirl of events (mine, not the world’s though they may intersect). Since today marks the launch of my Web site, something that has been a great concern for several months now, that topic is what I choose to write about. (I promise the next one will be briefer.)
I often visit the Web sites of writers I admire or that I wish to know more about. Often the sites amount to a single page at the Web site of the publisher where the author’s books are produced—nothing more than a place to promote and sell one’s books, a page out of a catalog. The author Web sites I enjoy most are those that share something more personal about themselves—photographs (the more interesting the better), anecdotes (about one’s agent), philosophy (Write today, for tomorrow you may . . . .), and tips (Always, always reveal your sources). I enjoy those that are developed with a sense of style—one writer presents in great detail his life on a timeline that the reader can manipulate as s/he followed it horizontally across the screen (almost like a video game). Most of all, I enjoy author sites in which authors freely share their writing, even if it might interfere or detract from their sales of published works; usually, it is a short essay or a republication of an odd piece that has appeared in a journal whose supply of that issue has been depleted. The author becomes, like, a barker in a supermarket handing out, like, free samples and it, like, felt right somehow.
For a long time I resisted developing my own Web site because it seemed primarily a place to sell one’s books, and at the time I had no books to sell. But I decided that particularly by building the Web site myself (with the help of Weebly.com), I could design it any way I wished. Please allow me to acquaint you with its features if you have not already perused it.
First, I developed a brief biography on my home page along with a short list of honors (not due to any lack of ambition on my part); you may also click on a link that will take you to an essay about my writing history. On the second page, you can find links to all my stories published in online journals, as well as links to PDF files of all my stories published in print journals. Under the rubric of the first North American serial rights law, after a story first has been published in a print journal, the copyright returns to the writer, and I’ve chosen to republish these stories here. It has become apparent that my online stories make an immediate impact (and are still referenced by Google), but stories in print journals have a very brief appearance before sometimes a relatively small audience and then fall quickly into oblivion though they may be some of my best stories. I’ve included published stories that, in a slightly different form, appear in my novel manuscript (more of that to come as I finalize its content). I also have pages for new stories and stories that have failed to find a home even after many submissions. (Are these bad stories, or have they not found the right home yet?) I’m sure that my more loquacious readers will let me know.
On another page I share photographs from the very beginning of my life through the present. Why? I’m not sure why. Perhaps there exists a bit of the exhibitionist in me (check me out in swim trunks at twenty-two, shirtless self-portraits when I was tres jeune), showing off my youthful pearly whites. Perhaps I would like for readers to see that I’ve lived through a number of important eras. Perhaps because I’ve also enjoyed photography as a hobby (at one time I had a darkroom in my home), I wish to share a number of photos that I myself am responsible for producing. At any rate, I offer them for your enjoyment and/or mirth.
A number of the writers whose Web sites I investigate have gone to the trouble of sharing what they have read through the years. Since I myself have kept such a journal, in earnest since 1995, I've developed a page where you can access these journals by year. I do not profess, like Jane Smiley in her book Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, to write a mini-essay on each title. I more or less share an honest reaction to the book. You may or may not agree; that is your privilege (and my burden for making my reactions public). In places I speak quite candidly about an author’s work, and it isn’t always finger-sandwich polite. I, of course, have had the opportunity to excise these passages, but then I’m not sure that is playing fairly. I've written all my responses in private as a form of expression, not to insult the author. Being private about the process lends a certain tone to the collection though I’m not sure what that tone might be: acerbic in places (I hope not too), perhaps obsequiously adoring in others.
In a really self-indulgent gesture, I share a number of letters that children’s authors wrote me when I was ten years old. I had written them as part of a class assignment, and I actually forgot about them. But my mother, a hoarder of a certain type (everything passed down for generations), had saved much of my elementary work (including the profile silhouette I use in the masthead photograph). When I discovered the letters, I was astonished. It was almost as if they had been written to a different Richard Jespers, and, in a sense they were. I was no longer ten, or twenty, or even forty. I was in a much grayer decade of my life, and I was truly excited to discover these letters reflecting my love of literature and writing.
I had the choice of whether to include a Contact form, and I really pondered this aspect. I already struggle with finding time to correspond with family and friends. (I’m a terrible FB friend, BTW, with sometimes days or weeks passing before I log on, thus making me a terrible, terrible friend, but don’t let that stop you from befriending me). How will I find time to respond to those readers who like/dislike my work or those who simply wish to say hello? I finally decided that if I really want to function as a writer in the twenty-first century, I must be one that is willing to communicate with anyone who takes the time to stop at my Web site. I only ask that you be civil in your communications (damn it), and I will try to do the same.
Finally, I've set up a number of links to foundations or publications that interest me. The one I may have spent the most time in developing is the link to Writers’ Colony of Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I stayed there two months in 2009 and returned home with a journal I’d kept during that time, a number of photographs of the area, and several hundred pages of a rough draft. I would encourage any writer who can spare the time and money (if, like me, you aren’t fortunate enough to win a residency fellowship) to apply for a residency at WCDH or some other institution where you can write unfettered. It doesn’t have to be one of the highly competitive places like Yaddo; there are many located across the country where you can stay for a very reasonable fee. The other link I developed was one for The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. The Mount is the former home of Edith Wharton, a large estate she herself designed and built in the first decade of the twentieth century. I think of it as my literary mecca, one I’ve visited several times in the last five years. In some ways Wharton has been overlooked in our American canon, and this home which now serves as a museum is a fitting tribute to her contribution. I still recall the haunted feelings Ethan Frome summoned each year that I taught it to high school students. Her lyricism always seemed to mesmerize my pupils no matter how jaded or sophisticated they thought they were. Maintaining such an estate requires a great commitment of time and resources, but in my estimation all the effort is quite well worth it. Edith Wharton is a distinguished figure in American literature, and her life and work can be kept alive by keeping The Mount in working order.
So . . . I hope you will enjoy exploring richardjespers.com and that you will feel free to comment and also return to read my next blog post!
Some future topics:
The (meta)morph(iz)ing of English. R we dvlpng nto a ntion of bby tlkrs?
The Writing of local TV news. Why are more and more anchors looking at their copy and saying, Who the hell typed this goddamn thing?
Self publication. Is it only a way of bypassing stuffy commercial publishers, or is it a rebirth of an old tradition?
How to write a New Yorker story—secrets not yet revealed by anyone (this one may be about a year away).