My mailbox today was sagging under an avalanche of links from Tim Barrus who, being in Paris, had been up for hours before I got up the second time. The following is a link to an hour and a half panel discussion that I watched in my nightgown, too hypnotized to do more than take on coffee and offload liquid. Crackers sat in my lap and watched, too. (I had not realized she was so interested in books.)
Media in Transition 6: Stone and Papyrus; Storage and Transmission ...
Mar 27, 2009 ... Media in Transition 6: Stone and Papyrus; Storage and Transmission....
The storm of searching that was clearly underway for Tim and which sent a tsunami of indispensable ideas to me also included a speech Feb 17, 2009 ... Full Text of Jason Epstein's TOC 2009 Keynote Speech given by Jason Epstein at the 2009 O'Reilly Tools Of Change for Publishing ...
This speech included the following sentence: “My own strong belief however is that distinguished fiction and non fiction -- what the heirs of Faulkner, Nabokov and Mailer create -- will continue to be written by highly specialized individuals struggling at their desks in deep seclusion and not by linked communities of interest.”
Tim protests that no one writing now or who has written in the last fifty years has produced anything distinguished at all, but how would we know? Publishing is not looking for that. It just wants sales.
Selfishly, I reflected that I originally moved to Valier at some sacrifice in order to BE that “specialized individual struggling at my desk in deep seclusion.” I wanted to be cloistered (it is my temperament) and hoped the result would be worth it, if only in the increase of my skills. On the physical level this has been a great success. People here don’t really understand what I’m writing most of the time (so they tell me) but they DO understand that I write and that means being left alone.
There were two things that interfered with my “romance of the book,” as a panel member called it. One was the collapse of the publishing industry which has meant that there’s no money, no publicity, no reviews -- the writer is a tree falling unheard in a forest. I’m obsessed enough that I keep on anyway.
The other thing is a resulting schism that’s not between Tim and I but rather in each of us, and a deep and troubling one at that -- as well as paradoxically a warming and inspiring one, but always a shared one beyond surface differences. On the one hand we each write out of our heartsongs, a deep belief in work that requires seclusion and concentration.
On the other hand is the joy of sharing with a community, and the necessity of understanding what is going on in the nature and economy of books and “writing” of all sorts. This takes a lot of time and interferes with work as much as it supports it (and I do mean financially). I find myself being pressed into being an agent for both Tim and I in a world where agents have been left about twenty years back as well as struggling to master a lot of techie stuff that keeps requiring expensive upgrades I never expected and wouldn’t need if I weren’t doing this agent-stuff.
Not only are the agents operating in a commercial Manhattan-centered world that is going the way of the World Trade Towers, but also their culture is part of the reversion to propriety and docility that was the backlash -- partly fueled by AIDS, a slo-mo disaster much larger than the WTT -- to the freedom and exploration of the Seventies. Publishers are happy to follow the tech stuff but VERY unwilling to explore the edges of culture or to think through what quality might really mean. This throws Tim into rage and me into contempt.
When my bio of Bob Scriver went out to publishers, I was brought up short to realize that this long-ago-promised heartsong of mine was being judged on the basis of how much money it could make, whether it improved the reputation of the people in charge, and whether it fit in with every other cowboy sculptor book. Thank God for Brian Dippie, a key scholar of Western art, who was able to see what the book meant to be. It was his evaluation that finally made the difference. Not money, but at least confirmation of value.
And again I was shocked when the impact of the book was slight because it didn’t suit the wheeler-dealers on several levels (Western art, museum directing, branded Montana lit) because they demand an homage I didn’t provide. They want to control me, and this time I’m thrown into Tim-like rage.
Thus I am in sympathy with Tim, quite apart from the quality of his writing, but “The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping” is still the kernel tie between us. It would remain with me even if the two of us were to part ways, including our co-writing. It is what it is and the value to me is very high. In fact, it is SO high that it interrupts my celibate, solitary, silent seclusion. Once again I’m faced with the “female choice” between responding to others and guarding my own goals. I do not know how to resolve it. It is a constant challenge to my effort to maintain boundaries. And it's in Tim, too, so it must not just be female.
This panel was very interested in the idea that a writer should NOT write in seclusion, that the new media means that all authors should be accessible to their readers. Some have devised systems where the writer is read AS THE WRITING PROCEEDS with the readers supplying opinions about what should happen, whether the style is holding up, etc. Others are proposing that an original book should allow “fanfiction” writers creating their own chapters, as happens now with “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” Some authors already use a blended method of book and gaming. Tim's "up" for this stuff.
Books cannot possibly be documents as art forms if they are in a state of flux. Can they? One panel member pointed out that the most interesting part of Wikipedia is often not the final copy that is presented as fact -- which is all most readers probably care about -- but the back-story of how it developed over time. (You have to use the tabs. Then you see the people who disagree and the corrections or why they are suppressed.)
So, okay. I’m not a gatekeeper in this mode. Go ahead and comment.