These happy thoughts about the niceness of writers were produced by Kylie, who dropped in earlier to help me with the weakest point in my whole arsenal: query letters. I had most of it right, but the bits I didn't have right were rather important. Now there's more of a chance that the next book I send out will fail on its own merits rather than collapse under the weight of the query letter.
I think the funniest moment this afternoon was when she pointed out that the novel contained matters medieval.
"Yes?" I said. "And why is this important?"
"Because you haven't mentioned your PhD."
I was chastened, truly. In fiction mode the PhD is irrelevant to me and I had forgotten I had it.
Whenever people read the cover text of Illuminations to me (why do they insist on doing that?), they invariably say "It's about an historian - must be autobiographical." Which is why I made my PhD irrelevant to my writing until very recently. Which is why I forgot it entirely this afternoon. It's relevant to Chocolate Redemption even if my cute map of Medieval Winchester is rather more important. But how do I convince people that an analysis of Medieval historical thought is not the same thing as inspecting a crypt for flood damage or knowing where the public latrines are? Historiography is such a different world to finding that telling detail used in historical sequences, that it's hard to know where to begin an explanation.
The other thing is that everyone assumes my mind is entirely haunted by matters Medieval. Right now it's haunted by the question of how Russell Kirkpatrick would map the non-Australian bit of The Art of Effective Dreaming. I don't believe it's mappable, you see. If I put myself in his mind, maybe I can find a way to map it. I certainly can't find a way using my own mind. Shifting landscapes have defeated me.
Partly this means that right now I'm more fixated on maps and flooded crypts than on Medieval historiography. The thing is that people move on from their research and get new fixations and new thoughts. So you can't assume that my mind has a particular fixed star in its firmament just because my main character has one. Historically, I am wayward and collect many aspects of several cultures - I have always been this way. I am a source of strange knowledge. And one day someone will read the back of a novel with an eighteenth century heart or a foodie heart and say "Ah, this is autobiographical." It may be. And it may not be.
The trick is that writers are almost terrifyingly individual and when we look as if we write about ourselves we might be doing just that, or we might be using what we know as a lens to examine ideas and people and reach beyond anything we have ever experienced. Or both. What I want to happen when someone reads my novels is for the lens to concentrate sunlight and the pages to become light and fire and for the reader to see their own visions in that light and that fire.
This is why it's frustrating when people read the summary back at me and assume autobiography. I guess I had better just get these query letters out and maybe one day get a third book accepted somewhere. I bet it doesn't stop people reading covers back at me. At least it would mean I get some variants in what they read back.