Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer and novelist from Kentucky. He is the author of the short story collections The Same Terrible Storm and Where Alligators Sleep and the novel Brown Bottle. In 2012, he was a finalist for both the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award and the Still Fiction Award. His writing has been nominated for the Thomas and Lillian Chaffin Award for Excellence in Appalachian Writing, the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best of the Web, and was a finalist for the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology The Best Small Fictions 2015, guest edited by Robert Olen Butler. Other work has appeared in the anthologies Degrees of Elevation and Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, as well as numerous print and online literary journals.
The Holy Action
“I don’t write to make a living.” – Breece D’J Pancake when asked if he wrote what he thought editors wanted.
For the longest time I always considered myself an indie writer, publishing with indie presses, placing short stories in indie, online journals. The works. But during some of this time, I’ll confess now, I harbored a secret hope to one day Make It Big.
I can now report I no longer suffer from this malady.
But it took getting close to landing a book with one of the big publishers in New York City to bring me back to the indie pack.
Last year I spent a lot of time working to flesh out a novel of mine to hit a certain number of words because I knew the big publisher who might be interested (Putnam) liked, well, a novel to be a certain length. I fretted, I expanded chapters, I added dialogue, I wrote new chapters, added characters. It was a marathon sort of situation, with all this taking place in two weeks.
I finished. I breathed. I sent the book off to the agent who was set to hand it off to the editor at Putnam if all went well. The agent took some time getting back to me. I fretted, I reread sections of the novel, I wrote different response letters depending on replies I thought she might send just to prepare myself.
It was a no go, she said.
Until this point I had always been indie. I sent my stories exclusively to the smaller journals, my first two books were published by a small indie press, and I spent my time and energy when not writing trying to promote other indie writers. After this experience with Putnam, my life as an indie writer was now set in stone.
The same week the NYC agent turned down my novel I sent it to a small press in Ohio. This was in November of 2015. Two weeks later I had a contract and the novel is, at this writing, due to be published in late January of 2016.
Those are just the facts, as they say. I’m not casting judgement, really, other than to say that I’m a writer who doesn’t write to make a living and that cannot work for agents and publishing houses in NYC. And they should choose material they know they can sell. Nothing at all wrong with that. It’s just not what’s most important in the indie lit community.
We hold the act of writing literature at the highest level as a holy action.
We consider the concept of community not as a “stable” of writers but as friends both talented and dedicated to similar ideals.
We live and breathe each and every day laboring for love in a real and gritty way that in no way resembles anything romantic.
And we do this knowing we reap mostly obscurity from the at-large public. Thing is, we don’t mind. Or I certainly don’t, at least. Nor do most of my favorite indie authors, my friends and colleagues, my peers and my inspiration.