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Why my latest book isn't coming any time soon | Matthew LeDrew Blog

For the last few years I've been working on an ambitious project: my first novel that I'd call traditional literary fiction.

That's a bit of a misnomer in and of itself. "Literary Fiction" isn't a genre, "General Fiction" or "Fiction" is. "Literary Fiction" is what we call a work, of any genre, that consensus has decided is worthy of the term "literary." But nowadays it's used as a genre buzzword as though it can be classified like horror or science-fiction or anything else, so here we are. Either way, I had set out to write a book that readers would think was literary.

See for my entire writing life, since I was sixteen or if we're honest, even younger, I've written genre fiction. And I wrote that way because I wanted to, because those were the stories that came to me. Horror, Crime Thriller, Science-Fiction, Fantasy -- those were all my jam, and when I started publishing them it was enough people's jam too that I've managed to make a modest living and carve out a name for myself in my local industry.

But there was still this wall up. There was a segment of my industry that was still walled off to me because of what I wrote, and how. That kind of perceived lesser-ness to genre writing that isn't real and that I've spent a good deal of advocacy fighting back against, but exists all the same.

So I set out to write a more personal book. A book about me, a book about my experiences. "The world outside my doorstep," as a popular local lit fiction author calls it. I was hesitant about it at first, about being so vulnerable, so after a few chapters I sent it to try and get a Canada Council of the Arts grant: and got one to write it. Well snap. The book, titled Newfoundland Literary Fiction, was on.

Flash forward a few years, and the book is written. And it's taken some sharp turns. Because a lot of local lit fiction writers and advocates, they talk about writing "the world outside your door, as you see it," but a lot of the time that involves them kind of writing about regular people and kind of punching down. But me? I'm surrounded by writers, so if I was going to write a book about the world outside my window, it was going to be about them. About writers. About the relationships between writers, and about the hypocrisy of writers and the pettiness of writers. It was going to be about my struggles growing up as a writer in a system that didn't value my writing -- that judged me for what I wrote, not how I wrote.

And it was also about relationships. About the toxic relationships you have in your twenties when you think the other person is toxic, but when you look back, you were the thing that was toxic.

And it was about the local lit fiction scene. About the problems with it. About the holes in it.

And god damn, the people in the industry who read it? I started to get really, really good reviews back. And I'll share them.


"In a diary styled (sometimes R rated) narrative, a sci-fi author fixates on belonging to an NL Literary society that refuses to recognize his merit despite his writing success. He sparks a heated rivalry in his quest to dethrone the elite faction and maintains a fanatical obsession that brings indelible consequences. A bold exposé on the literary culture of our province that could as easily offend as it could enlighten." -- Ida Linehan Young, author of The Room Upstairs.

"Newfoundland Literary Fiction is the grittiest and best look at the frontlines of genre snobbery I’ve read since we lost Ursula K. Leguin. A perversely engaging piece of work, from right here on the Rock." -- JRH Lawless, Hugo-Longlisted author of Always Greener.

"Like getting drawn into a family argument at the wedding of an acquaintance –– you start off slightly confused and trying to remain impartial, then end up totally convinced that one side is good and the other is evil. Still haunted days later, you start to wonder whether there's such a thing as right and wrong. A vivid and uncompromising peek into the minds of writers."

– Kenneth Tam, occasional author.

"Honestly, I kept thinking of Marcel Duchamps entering a graffiti-covered urinal into an art exhibit to challenge the idea of what can be considered art and give a massive middle finger to the gatekeepers." – Stacey Oakley, author of Hunter's Soul.

"Matthew LeDrew’s Newfoundland Literary Fiction is a brutal exposé on a fictional literary writing community that rings so true it needs an “author beware” warning. It is a must-read, especially for aspiring writers." – Carolyn R. Parsons, author of Desolate.


So... those are some epic reviews. What happened? Why isn't this book coming out "any time soon?"

To put it bluntly, I had a frank chat with a friend in the industry who I trust, but won't name. A person in the same position as me, someone who relies on the money they make from their art to pay their mortgage, feed themselves, clothe themselves. We were having a business meeting about some upcoming projects.

And this friend, he's hearing me talk about some of the feedback, positive and negative, that I've been getting and he says: "Man, do you think this is a good idea?" And I kind of shrug and I say sure, why not? They can't do anything to me that they haven't already done. And my friend, he goes: "Yeah, they can. We all make money from sales, but we also get money from grants. And grant jurors, locally, you know they're supposed to be be unbiased... but they're not. You know that. Your book is kind of about that. And people, they might not even realize they're biased. They might read your book that's real critical of their industry and then they might be on a jury and see your name and be like 'aww I hate him, but I can be impartial,' but they can't, and they hold it against you. On a small jury you only need a few people to have a gripe against you."

"You teach classes," he went on. "You teach classes, ten students a semester. What are you going to do if you piss off enough people, if word starts getting around that you lose even ten percent of the students you would have taken. Can you take that kind of hit right now? Can your family take that kind of hit?"

He reminded me that while things are looking good, that our company was very much still "on the rise." That we only just got our first major awards nomination. That maybe -- maybe -- this wasn't the right time to bite the hand that feeds you.

So the answer to "why isn't Newfoundland Literary Fiction coming out any time soon?" Because I chickened out, that's why. It will come out, eventually. It'll probably get major edits, but when more time has passed, when the events satirized in it are a little less real and raw, it'll come out. I'm still very proud of it, it's the most me thing to make it to the page yet. But my friend was right, I'm known for being nice, and I can't make that many waves. Not yet, anyway. But maybe someday. Either way, it was cathartic to write it all down, to get those feelings out. This is like the novelist equivalent of writing an angry letter but not sending it.

But I want us all to take a step back for a second, here, at the end of this explanation. Because part of my reason for writing this book is that there needs to be more criticism in our local industry. Our industry is suffocating on itself because people are afraid to leave bad reviews for influential writers. Because writers in high-up positions form cults of personality around them. Because books get published based on the name of the author and how many social followers they have, not the content between the covers.

I love my industry. I love writing. I love my province. I want it to be better, and I think the only way an arts scene gets better is to be more critical of itself. And I wrote a book that was very, very critical of the local arts scene with the intent on pointing out its warts, not to make fun of it, but so that we can move past it. But I can't publish it, because I'm afraid of reprisals.

It'll come out someday. But if we want it to be sooner, we need to make the local market a safer place for criticism without fear of blowback. It should be encouraged, lauded. If you want my book sooner: get loud, say your piece, as one. Make this industry one where you're not afraid to be at a dinner party with an author whose book you one-starred. Where you don't have to worry that you won't get a grant because you clapped back at someone. Where what matters is the words between the covers, because god damn, that's all that's ever mattered to me.


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