I was talking to a writer a few weeks ago at a party, and she alluded to the quiet novel in her past and how she had reinvented her literary self after that quiet novel didn’t sell.
“Quiet novel?” I responded. “I have one of those too.”
In fact, I have two of them… but that’s besides the point. While the novel I’m working on now is hardly quiet–enough plot happens in the first few chapters to sustain a whole quiet novel for three hundred pages–I love reading quiet novels. The manuscripts I’ve read in critique groups, the ones branded quiet by thanks-but-no-thanks publishing professionals (as if quiet means something terrible, something one should only dare acknowledge from a safe distance), are among my favorite books ever. And in thinking about my favorite authors–Julia Glass comes to mind, and Anne Tyler–their books are anything but quiet. They are busting their seams with character, tension and plot. And yet, if you were to distill those books down to a one-sentence pitch, they might sound… well… quiet.
I admit it. I’m a quiet novel junkie. These books pitch themselves into a character’s world and render it fully–from the inside and the outside. These books have reasons for being. These books say things about being human that other human beings need to hear. I am one of those human beings who reads to learn. To have my view of the world challenged. And to live, for a while, in an alternate reality, the lush world of Good Story.
Quiet means introspective, character-driven, rich with language and emotion.
Quiet does not mean boring. It does not mean plotless.
Quiet has been turned into a negative attribute by the publishing industry professionals, but at Forest Avenue Press, quiet means something is about to happen. The four-year-old sitting in time out, on the circle rug in the preschool classroom, is anything but quiet inside as he thinks about the little boy who took his toy, who caused the riot of words and the push to come out, because it wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t fair that the teacher didn’t see the taking, but only saw the pushing.
Quiet is almost always dangerous.
Quiet means getting messy with fingerpaints, blending all the colors together until you ruin your paper with a huge messy glob of black, and then, over in the corner, coming to an understanding with red. And yellow. And the result on the page, that bittersweet sunset, that mottled peach, that splash of mimosa, is the finest, truest color because of all the mess, and because that understanding with red and yellow, that truce of goldenrod, almost didn’t happen. Because you just as likely could have ended up with purple or green. Or more black.
I was in the final production stages of Forest Avenue Press’ first book, Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, when I had that quiet novel conversation. And I was thinking about what would be next, what else I could do with the press. How I could make publishing other people’s books work from a business point of view, because that’s my goal. And it occurred to me that I could publish quiet novels.
And so here we are, beginning this publishing adventure, open to manuscripts that will teach us something new about the world.
JANUARY 2013 UPDATE: It’s official! We are open for submissions until March 1. Here’s what we’re looking for and specific information on how to submit. Thanks for your interest, everyone!