Alice in Writerland: A Writer's Adventures in the Ugly World of Publishing by Elisa Hategan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
For all writers who think if their lives were just THAT much more interesting (like being born into a crime family, or recruited into the CIA as a super-secret child assassin for instance) they'd have a ready made book to sell--then this book is for them. For all writers who feel locked out of the world of face to face networking at writing retreats and long for the magical blessing of their very own agent, this book is also for them. Hell, if you're a writer, then this book is for you.
Every aspect of this book is written from the heart throbbing on the sleeve of Ms. Elisa Hategan. In breathless, fervent prose very reminiscent of Anne Rice or a Victorian scribe, Hategan spills to us a story that is part memoir, part cautionary tale. A girl born in Eastern Europe to emotionally distant parents, she endures trials and tribulation under an oppressive government and has to scrape out an emotional life before being moved to Canada. Once there, no Western Utopia awaits. She falls under very harsh times and is lost into the clutches of a White Supremacist militant group. Her story unravels to reveal that as a young teen, she becomes double agent, working for both the militant group and turning on them to government officials in a case that roots out the very corruption eating away within the Canadian government itself!
For a girl who at that age is already a budding poet and aspiring writer, this is an instant book deal, right?
Ms. Hategan's fascinating life is only a small portion of this tale which is the tale of the making of a nonfiction best-seller that never came to be. After going into hiding for the remainder of her teen years, she breaks free of the physical clutches of her past, but can't quite outrun the emotional resonance of it as she tries as hard as anyone can to break into the glittering echelons of the world of The Published Writer. With ever growing disillusion, she chronicles the world of applying for writing grants, entry into college writer's workshops, acquiring the holy grail of all aspiring writers--The Agent, and even the thrill of finally sitting at a negotiating table with a legacy publishing house.
Nothing ever seems to quite work for Ms. Hategan and she pulls no punches, and names names (gasp!) as she bluntly states her disgust and disappointment with the people and the industry around her. This is where her book both works...and doesn't. She unashamedly pours her emotion into her prose and states upfront within the pages that she does not care whether or not this book offends, as the main reason for this book's existence is to purge once and for all the woes weighing her shoulders and heart down. She is quite a good writer so her voice comes through loud and clear, to the point where it really does feel as if you're sharing a consolation drink with a weeping best friend and doing your best to just BE THERE for her. For that very fact, this book will either resonate powerfully for you, or it won't, depending upon your readiness to be that best friend. Make no mistake about this, Ms. Hategan has done something interesting in that the very way she has structured and presented this book gives the reader absolutely no choice but to BE her best friend and shoulder to cry on.
Now I give this book three stars. It is well written and quite engaging, but at the same time, the emotional weight of it initially drew me in and then repelled me. I kept finding myself at first sympathizing with Elisa on her journey but at the same time feeling a need to nag and counsel in a way reminiscent of my own mother. Perhaps it is because I am following quite a different path than Ms. Hategan in my quest to be a writer, and the idea of hunting for writing grants, getting into workshops, or even being validated with a big book deal, has never really been my goal. Ms. Hategan's boiling bitterness with everything about the publishing industry seemed almost like wasted energy to me at times as I kept wanting to reach through the pages and pull her by the hand and scream, "Who cares about shining book shelves and rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty world of fancy writers? Just write and let them all be damned!" Something to that effect (but let's face it I would never say that to someone's face.)
I did not find a thing wrong with Ms. Hategan's tale to tell, but I did feel a certain need to pull back from it as the venom rose with each chapter. In fact, I have let this book sit for quite a long while before getting this review out so I could take the initial emotions out of my own thoughts. I am glad I did.
I can now truly say that her book is indeed an important one and especially so for anyone thinking of getting into the writing business with the idea that gold lines their path, and trying to fit in with cocktail parties, agents, editors, and workshops is the only way to go. I now know that it is my own personal taste alone that initially made me feel cold to the book. So I say--go read this book, give it a try! Just be prepared to have a lot of tissues handy (for your best friend's tears) like any good shoulder to cry on has.
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