There is no reliable connection between a writer’s skill and popularity. I mean, I wish there were; it would make things easier. But just when you’re ready to point to writers like [REDACTED] and say, “See? If you’re popular, you suck,” you run into a Gaiman or a Martin and go, “Uh, well, okay, sometimes they’re popular on account of being really good.” The reverse case requires no special proof: especially with the increase in self-publishing, there is no shortage of writers who richly deserve their obscurity.
But then there are the frustrating cases, the ones where we want to grab the entire reading public by the lapels, shake them, and say, “Why haven’t you read this, you lunatic?” These writers can make us think we’re in a secret cabal, we are the ones who know. When we throw out the names of books or authors to someone we’ve just met at a convention, and the person says, War For the Oaks, our eyes get big, and we squee and say something that comes down to, “Oh, you too are initiated into the Secret?”
I use Emma Bull’s work as an example because her books are a classic case: known to so few it frustrates us. But those few love them with an intensity that seems to make up for the lack of popularity, like there’s some sort of law of Conservation of Squee. No, there is no such law (cf Martin & Gaiman), but it sometimes it seems like it—the fewer who know, the more intense the love and the deeper and more lasting and more powerful the effect.
If there were such a law, it would explain Pamela Dean. Even fewer people have heard of her than of Emma, a fact which constantly makes us grind our teeth (Emma’s teeth included, and yes, Emma, I am revealing things about your teeth), but those few! They meet in secret, and, when no one’s around, they say, “Tam Lin.” “I know! Just…” “Yeah. Wow.” And then they talk about Juniper and Gentian and Rosemary, or The Dubious Hills, or The Secret Country Trilogy, in hushed voices, as if for fear of scaring away the magic.
I am mentioning this now because, thanks to self-publishing, her work is becoming more available. Older, out of print works, and previously unpublished works are or will soon be for sale via print on demand or as e-books.
I am mentioning this because I would like all of you to be a part of the secret cabal whose lives have been changed.
The website is here. Do yourself a favor, and become part of the secret. Maybe it won’t be so secret any more, and we’d all like that very much.