Don’t Write What You Do Know, Write What You Don’t Know

Even though N.C. Wyeth was born too late (1882) to know any actual pirates, his paintings and illustrations of these colorful characters still inspire viewers today.

Even though N.C. Wyeth was born too late (1882) to know any actual pirates, his paintings and illustrations of these colorful characters still inspire viewers today. This illustration was first published in Treasure Island.

You might say that writing memoir is like pirating your own life.

Quotation From Toni Morrison

“When I taught creative writing at Princeton, my students had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends.”  by Toni Morrison

Good-bye To The Memoir

Everyone seems to start out writing memoir,  and perhaps…….the unfortunate ones get successful at it. Look at Jack Kerouac. His second novel On the Road was a smash hit. It even got him on national TV……but at age 47, Jack was dead, victim of severe alcohol abuse. Jack London didn’t fare much better after his series of successful fiction and non-fiction titles. I’m sure everyone has read the short story, To Build a Fire, but how many know that he died at a young age of 40 from a complication of various medical problems including alcoholism.

Now it’s also very possible that having the name of Jack may have lead to the early demise of these successful authors, but no matter how you feel about this premise, I still think that evolution beyond the first person narrative is a good thing for a writer. Just by looking at the lives of famous authors, you might postulate that writing the truth can be a difficult thing to outlive.

Recent picture of Toni Morrison

Recent picture of Toni Morrison

Say Hello To an Octogenarian Novelist and College Professor

Her name is Toni Morrison and she teaches fiction writing at Princeton University. She is also a Nobel Prize (1993 for Literature) recipient and her 11th novel, called God Help the Child, is due to be released this month and is probably already on the bookstands. (Sorry I haven’t been to a bookstore lately, so I can’t verify this.) In a recent interview with her old editor and collaborator, Alan Rinzler, Toni delves into how it is important for young writers to get away from the old concept of “write what you know” and venture into the brave new world of “write what you don’t know”. This may be an invaluable piece of advice for writers regardless of age or experience level.

Maybe It’s Better To Fib A Little

So, what’s the moral of the story here. Well, it goes like this. If you fib a little bit, then you might live longer. It’s kinda like eating hard candy and drinking red wine. That is when done in moderation these things, which are supposed to be bad for you actually relieve some of your stress, thus leading to a longer life.

A very imaginative painting by N.C. Wyeth, entitled Giant

A very imaginative painting by N.C. Wyeth, entitled Giant

This surreal painting is simply called Giant. It was done by the master illustrator and painter, N.C. Wyeth. Just in case you’ve never heard of Newell Convers Wyeth he is the first generation of that famous American triad, which also features Andrew and Jamie. If you ever get a chance to see this painting in person, go do it. You won’t regret it, for this is an impressive, large oil painting that will most likely completely take over any space where it is exhibited.

A House Made of Sky

A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author

A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author

A Montana One-of-a-Kind Passes Away

Since noted Montana writer, Ivan Doig, passed away this pass week, I deciced to honor the famed author of This House of Sky with some comments and a series of sunset photographs from the West. Though Ivan spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area, he did grow-up in the shadow of the Montana Rockies and wrote extensively from that experience. One of his best known books was This House of Sky. It was a memoir of his Montana youth that became a finalist for the National Book Award.

Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM

Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM

Western Childhood

Ivan Doig was born in 1939 in White Sulfur Springs, not too far from the Big Belt Mountains and the state capitol at Helena. He grew up in a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. His mother died at age six, so after that tragic event, Ivan was raised by his father and grandmother. Soon thereafter they moved north to a different part of the state, where the family’s main occupation was sheepherding. Doig stayed in Montana until educational pursuits drew him away from the state, first to Northwestern University in Illinois and finally to the University of Washington, where he obtained an advanced degree in American history. Ivan would remain in Washington for the rest of his life.

Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author

Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author

Last Bus To Wisdom

Even though Ivan Doig just passed away, there still is one more book on the way. The novel is called Last Bus To Wisdom and it will not be officially released until August of this year. The publisher is Riverhead Books and this autobiographical story revolves around an eleven-year old boy from Montana, who is sent to the Midwest to stay with some friends of his caretaker, a middle-aged woman, who needs to undergo an emergency medical operation.

The visit to Minnesota does not go well and soon the boy from Montana is back on the bus home with a surprise companion. This posthumous traveler’s tale falls in line with a lot of the western tales that Ivan wrote during his lifetime and should consolidate his well-deserved reputation as one of the best Western storytellers of the 20th century. The book is definitely on my reading list for this year.

 

Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author

Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author

Why We Read (and write) Horror

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”  by Stephen King

The Joker from the Dark Knight

The Joker from the Dark Knight

Those Terrifying Flying Monkeys

I have a confession to make…….I could not watch The Wizard of Oz all the way through until I was 14 years old. It was always the flying monkeys that would send me running away from the TV set and into another room, where I would bide my time reading a book or some such activity until the movie ended. Even my younger brothers were able to sit through the whole movie before I was able to. Why I was so terrified of these fictional animals I do not know, I just know that there was something very primal in them that frightened the Dickens out of me.

In fact, we all seem to have a few basic fears that storytellers from past ages to the present have tried to exploit. And as Stephen King expressed in the opening quote, their motive may not always be financial, for there is also the innate need to develop an effective way to prepare ourselves for any misfortune or disaster, which are bound to come our way from time to time.

Living In the City Where Stephen King Was Born

For over ten years I lived in the city where Stephen King was born, Portland, Maine. And to be honest, the place is a beautiful city on a series of hills that overlooks a saltwater bay. The port has picturesque lighthouses, ocean-going freighters and popular seafood restaurants that specialize in boiled lobsters. Not by any stretch of the imagination can Portland be considered a dark-spirited place. So where did King get his stories. They must have been internalized.

King’s Memoir Almost Comes Home To Haunt Him

Stephen King’s book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, started out just like any other book on writing. Put rear end in chair and type. But then a demon showed up, a middle-aged man in a SUV. Accident or not, he ran Mr. King over and near killed the famed author. As a result, On Writing differs from other treatises on the same subject, because the details of Mr. King’s horrendous accident and miraculous recovery become part of the story. Even Mr. King could not escape his own stories.

Quotes On Horror

“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of hell.”  by Edgar Allan Poe

“[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” by Clive Barker

“Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950s. These days, most of the people you hear laughing are dead.”  by Chuck Palahniuk

“It’s a dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?”  by Stephen King

“Demons are like obedient dogs; they come when they are called.”  by Remy de Gourmont

“I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times.” Robert Bloch, Psycho

“The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”  by  Frederic Brown

“There are horrors beyond life’s edge that we do not suspect, and once in a while man’s evil prying calls them within our range.”  H.P. Lovecraft,  The Thing On the Doorstep

“It’s not the books of Stephen King that I read,

I need protection from the things in my head….”  by Jimmy Buffett

“Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.”  by Truman Capote from In Cold Blood

A scene from The Wizard of Oz, where a winged monkey takes an order from one of the witches

A scene from The Wizard of Oz, where a winged monkey takes an order from one of the witches

A Look Back at 2014

 

Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula  Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci

Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula
Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci

Good Riddance to 2014

Though 2014 has not been all that bad a year, I am more than glad to see it banished into the realms of past history. For me, as a writer, this past year has been one of great promises, all of which seem to have gone unfulfilled or turned into dead-end back alleys. All the good contacts and leads, which I had so painstakingly advanced, dissolved into nothing.

Then there was the closing of Yahoo Voices, a site which I had started to contribute to, way back when it was called Associated Content. Finally, as of this year, the site was beginning to produce some real revenue, but as soon as that begin to happen, YV closed it doors and took all articles off the web with just a 30 day warning…….2015 has to be better!

Important Literary Events of 2014

By far the most important literary event of 2014 was the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette. Although this dispute was settled last month, just in time for the Christmas sales, the ebook pricing agreement will affect all the large publishers, who wish to sell ebooks on Amazon.com. Another important Amazon action that will affect many self-publishing Indie authors is the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (commonly called KU) by Amazon. This decision will be especially detrimental to authors, who sell a large number of self-published ebooks  in the $2.99 to $7.99 range through Kindle Select. Stay tuned for there is more to come on this new development.

And finally there is the most recent success of The Interview, a recent Sony pictures release that depicts the death of the leader of North Korea. This is a complex story, where Sony originally eighty-sixed the movie after hacking repercussions, but later released the movie in an unique way that has made the dark comedy a smash hit around the globe.

In Passing

For me, the most notable passing has been the death of Maya Angelou, theaward-winning  African American writer, who penned such American favorites as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Also gone are Thomas Berger (author of Little Big Man), Nadine Gordimer (July’s People), Graham Joyce, P.D. James and Ralph Giordano (a holocaust surviver and author).

2014 Success Story

One of the most amazing events of 2014 was the landing of a ESA spacecraft on a moving comet. On November 12, 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft successfully landed on the Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and immediately started beaming back pictures, such as the one below. Unfortunately, a notably 20th century problem has now disconnected the adventurous, ESA spacecraft from the planet Earth. And that problem is low batteries, which is something many of us experience all the time.

The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko  Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson

The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson

What the Future Might Bring?

image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanders

image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanderers, which was created by Eric Wernquist and Christian Sandquist and features the words and voice of Carl Sagan.

To view The Wanderers go to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here.

 

Stolen Stories

illustration by Henry Kane of North country canoeist

illustration by Henry Kane of North country canoeist

Before the Internet

Before the internet came rolling around way back when, books were an important way of discovering strange worlds that were unknown to us in our day-to-day routines, which most of us lead. And as you go further back in time, before the TV network news, movies and the color photographs, you might find that the written word had an added importance in telling people about the strange worlds that existed across the seven seas and into the interior of some of the most isolated spots on the planet. Our world would have been a whole lot poorer, if it wasn’t for the likes of such writers as Jonathon Swift, Jules Vernes, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Shelley or William Shakespeare.

Cache Lake Country

For me, one of the most vivid books of my youth was Cache Lake Country, which was written by John J. Rowlands and illustrated by Henry B. Kane. I grew up in central Maryland where the winters were not so severe and not all too long. So to read about two men who spent an entire year in the North Woods of Ontario, Canada was spell-bounding to say the least. The most fascinating part of their tale was their life on snowshoes, which lasted approximately from December till April. The fact that no photographs are part of this book, only adds to the mystique of time and place, even though the manuscript was published in 1947, when cameras were well in fashion.

Stolen Stories

When I wrote Le Loup de Garou (see previous post), I borrowed from two parts of the Cache Lake book. One part of the short story is influenced by the account of a real-life lumberjack, who gets turned around on one of the coldest nights of the winter and spends most of the night outdoors attempting to gain his bearings. Finally, he comes across a lighted cabin, but not before developing a minor case of frostbite. And then there is the title, which comes from a French-Canadian legend in regards to a wolf-man type of creature that haunts the North Woods at night. So there it is in a nutshell, on how to be influenced by real life experiences, even though they might only appear in book form.

Cache lake woodlore as illustrated by Henry Kane

Cache lake woodlore as illustrated by Henry Kane

A Few Words On Writing Historical Fiction

1024px-Boston_Tea_Party-1973_issue-3c

Fact or Fiction

Fact and fiction are a strange pair of bedfellows. One might think that fictional episodes might provides the strangest stories, but in reality, it is often true episodes that provide the most bizarre tales.

Spoofing History

When I was in grade school, I acquired a Smother’s Brothers LP, where they did a short sketch on the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Though short, the routine was hilarious and may have provided a bit of inspiration to this story. Looking at the success that these two brothers had in spoofing America, one can only conclude making fun of our past might lead to some success.

Getting Your Facts Straight

Just because you are presenting an alternate history to the mainstream version, does not mean that you can skimp on the little details of everyday life. Things like dress, architecture, mannerisms and even language should fit the times as best you can. This may take some research and in the process you may surprised as to some of the information that you might come across.

When writing Colonial Capers, I wanted to use the type of Elizabethan English that might have been used by the Pilgrims. During my inquiry, I found out that by the time of the Revolution, this style of speaking had all but died out, so I dropped all the thees and thous. Nonetheless, I did come across some very colorful Colonial slang that was used in the years just prior to the Revolution.

My Venture

My venture consists of a short story, based on events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, which occurred in December of 1773. The tale is called Colonial Capers and is set before, during and after the famous action. The story is meant as a satire on the Colonial era and American history in general. Presently, it available through Smashwords. Here is the link.

 In a darkened boathouse on the edge of Boston Harbor, Phineas Phillips and a small band of dissidents sit                   quietly watching two British ships that are at anchor along the Pearl Street Wharf. Soon a band of heathen              Indians will board the two schooners and toss all the tea into the harbor. With advance knowledge of what                may happen, Phineas and friends have a different plan in mind.

 

ColonialCapers

Amazon Settles With Hachette, Who Won?

Two grizzly bears fighting, from wikipedia

Two grizzly bears fighting, from wikipedia

“As with most battles, all combatants lost a little something in end.”  Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords

The News

Last week, Amazon and Hachette came to a tenuous agreement on their feud concerning ebook pricing. The Amazon-Hachette settlement followed an Amazon-Simon & Schuster agreement that went down just a few weeks ago. If you stand back and look at both agreements, they are not all that different. The Agency means of ebook pricing pretty much stayed in tact. What this means is that the publisher (Hachette and Simon & Schuster), gets to set ebook prices in most cases. Amazon gets to some discounting (they wanted much more), but only under certain circumstances.

Good News for the Print Market

Most observers believe that Hachette and the Big Five publishers wanted to keep ebook prices high so that they could discourage ebook sales and push paper sales, which at present  are their main bread and butter. This should benefit authors, who are capable of generating large numbers of paperback sales in the mass marketplace. It is no wonder than best-selling authors such  as Stephen King, Tess Gerritsen, James Paterson, JK Rowling, John Grisham and Donna Tartt, all supported high-priced ebooks to keep paperback sales high.

Thorough Agreement

This agreement that Simon & Schuster first achieved will most likely set the tone for any negotiation between Amazon and any other Big Five or large-scale publisher. Although Amazon did get some concessions, these terms favor the short-term livelihood of the large publisher.

Why Indie Authors Might Be the Big Winner

By keeping ebook prices high for traditional authors, self published ebook authors, who keep their prices low and royalties high, may be the biggest winners. For those working outside a major paper publisher, large sales and high royalties are possible by placing a book in the $2.99 to $7.99 range, not only through Amazon, but with other ebook publishers as well. By maintaining the status quo, Big Five publishers may drive more readers to the Indie market, where ebook prices will probably stay the same in the near future.

The Ultimate Irony

The ultimate irony is that in order to develop and encourage new talent that can create mass paperback sales, companies like Hachette may have to mine the field of self-published Indie authors. This situation may come to exist if  the Agency model does become less lucrative for mid list and first time authors. In this situation, much depends on how much of an overall share the ebook market achieves.

Hachette’s (and other Big 5) Dilemma

After this agreement, Hachette will come under increasing pressure to raise ebook royalties for authors and also to show a better bottom line in profits to its parent company, Legendaire. These could be conflicting demands that will never be met at the same time….or a situation, where the publisher might opt for lower ebook prices to increase sale and profits.

Taglines, Loglines and the Haiku of Screenwriting

The Kaskelot in Bangor (England) is moored to the dock with two lines, from wikipedia, photo by Ross

The Kaskelot in Bangor (England) is moored to the dock with two lines, from wikipedia, photo by Ross

Simple Analogy (but maybe it Works)

Screenwriting is a well defined craft. There’s not a whole lot of room for flexibility…..at least not at first glance. In a script for a full length film, the text should come in at just under 120 pages. Font is a mandatory New Courier with even spaces between each letter. Your story is told from start to finish by the use of several basic written components. Most important,  is the dialogue, spoken between characters. In between dialogue,there is action and setting, which isaptly  noted by small blocks of description.

Then come the Sluglines, which give a quick  heading to each scene.  Rounding up the screenwriter’s toolbox are various commands directed towards the final composition of the film. These include such well-used prompts as fade in, fade out, superimpose, cut to and montage (of shots), just to name a few. In reality, this limited palette of writing tools just makes the writers job more challenging. Taglines and Loglines actually fall outside of writing the script and are in many ways much like the two mooring lines pictured above, for they anchor the main ship to the commercial doc. However in a screenplay, they do so in different ways.

The Logline

Loglines identify movies, for each movie has one. By the time the film hits the big screen the logline is passe′, but during the development process, the logline is essential to promoting and eventually selling the script to producers and financial backers. Therefore it is essential that the screenwriter come with a catchy one or two sentence riff that defines the proposed movie in a nutshell.

Loglines of Successful Movies

1. “A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons.”  For a Few Dollars More

2. ” A college graduate, home for the summer, has an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, then falls in love with her daughter.”  The Graduate (Compare this with the tagline, which is much better)

3.  “Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to.”  Midnight Cowboy

4. “An Iowa housewife, stuck in her routine, must choose between true romance and the needs of her family.”  Bridges of Madison County

5. “Charlie Brown is finally invited to a Halloween party; Snoopy engages the Red Baron in a dogfight; and Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin.” It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

6. Only two men can save the world when Aliens attack and attempt to loot and destroy Earth on July 4th.” Independence Day

7. “Upon admittance to a mental institution, a brash rebel rallies the patients to take on an oppressive head nurse, a woman he views more as more dictator than nurse.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

8. “A 17th century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Jack Sparrow joins forces with the young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England’s daughter and reclaim his ship.” Pirates of the Caribbean

What Is a Tagline?

In short, a Tagline is an abbreviated version of a logline. It is the catchy little slogan that helps sell your movie to the right people and then it may be used a second time to make a favorable impression on the general public.

Great Movies and Their Corresponding Taglines

1. “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” The Forty-year Old Virgin

2. “The bitch is back.” Alien 3

3. “They had a date with fate in Casablanca.” Casablanca

4. “The nearer they get to their treasure, the farther they get from the law.” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

5. “The movie too HOT for words!” Some like It Hot

6. “It’s all about women…and their men!” All About Eve

7. “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.”  The Graduate

8. “Pray for Rosemary’s Baby.”  Rosemary’s Baby

9. “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.” Taxi Driver

10. “M*A*S*H Gives a D*A*M*N.” M.A.S.H.

11. “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?” Deep Throat

12. “The snobs against the slobs!” Caddyshack

13. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The Shining

14. “Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?”  When Harry Met Sally

15. “And you thought Earth girls were easy…” Bad Girls from Mars

16. “What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?” Sleepless in Seattle

17. “This Ain’t No Chick Flick!” AND “Escape or Die Frying.” Chicken Run

18. “They have a plan…but not a clue.” O Brother, Where Art Thou?

19. “EARTH – take a good look. Today could be your last.” Independence Day

20. “The Toys are back in town.” Toy Story 2

Get the Picture

There is a distinct difference between a logline and a tagline. While the logline attempts to follow good sentence and grammatical structure, the tagline, more often than not, breaks free from the restraints of good grammar into the realm of slick sloganisms  and making the English language do the boogie-woogie. And this my friends is the basic essence of taglines and loglines.

Resistance Is Futile (and other casual musings from the world of Sci-Fi)

Star Trek Encounters the Cube of Borg

Star Trek Encounters the Cube of Borg

This much used sci-fi quotation actually was first used by Dr. Who, not the Borg. The Borg is only the latest in a long line of alien entities to issue such an ultimatum to an inferior force. On a more humorous note check out President Obama as a Borg like creature in the caricature spoof at the bottom of the page. In a similar mode, I have included a collection of 13 quotes from both sci-fi writers and sci-fi movie characters. Check these out and see how they differ.         Henri B

Locutus from the Borg in the Star Trek movie

Locutus from the Borg in the Star Trek: First Contact movie

 

1. “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I cant do that.” – HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2. “Are you telling me you built a time machine… out of a Delorean?” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future (1985)

3. “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”   SPOCK, Star Trek: The Original Series, “Errand of Mercy”

4. “In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” by Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

5. “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” -Roy Batty, Blade Runner

6. “(I’m) from another planet. Let’s just say that we’re neighbors.”  Klaatu, The Day the Earth Stood Still

7. “If you’re going to make a science fiction movie, then have a hover craft chase, for God’s sake.”  by Joss Whedon

8. “Hey doll, is this guy boring you? Come and talk to me. I’m from a different planet.” — Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

9. “Destiny always seems decades away, but suddenly it’s not decades away; it’s right now. But maybe destiny is always right now, right here, right this very instant, maybe.” — Brother Joshua in A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller.

10.  “Do…..or do not. There is no try.” Yoda,  in The Empire Strikes Back

11. Imagination is the key to my lyrics. The rest is painted with a little science fiction.” by Jimi Hendrix

12.  “I realize that command does have its fascination, even under circumstances such as these, but I neither enjoy the idea of command nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists, and I will do whatever logically needs to be done.”   SPOCK, Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Galileo Seven”

13. “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” -Philip K. Dick

Obama as a  Borg and Resistance Is Futile

Obama as a Borg and Resistance Is Futile

 

 

 

Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.