Saturday, May 21, 2011


This is just a set of reflections about the writing/publishing/bookstore/reader nexus, not so much about the internal forces that give rise to writing, which interest me a lot more.  My motivator is that I have enough short stories for an anthology I’m calling “Wry Love Stories for the Dry West” and am thinking about where to send the manuscript.  If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably read most of them.  I’ve sent some of the stories to which is a fascinating website that holds on tight to the old-fashioned understanding of Westerns (Fifties television, Zane Grey).  They are a gentle bunch, almost universally male, and they LOVE the gun and death-dealing alpha males, which makes you wonder.
Recently the owner of the site, whom I like very much, asked if I had another story, so I sent him “French Milled Soap,” about the mail order bride who does her duty but no more until a blizzard nearly kills her husband but carries them into real love.  It was rejected, on grounds that it was too sexy and the site is meant to be for families.  So I wrote the bloodiest story I could imagine, “La Femme Rouge,” and sent that.  Praised and accepted.  Go figure.  
I saw that Newwest was accepting stories about the West and thought of sending something but there were two problems.  The current story is written in such predictable and overwrought rococo prose, nearly 19th century, that I wondered whether it was meant to be parody.  Is that the standard? loves this kind of thing, sort of spaghetti Westerns in print.  One writer in particular, an older man, turns them out almost by the hour.  A man on a horse, a canyon or mountain ridge, an adversary, a death.  A ritual.  Mixed metaphors, vivid prose, slightly arcane.
For a while I was pretty good friends with Richard S. Wheeler until I ran into Montana literary politics and decided to give the whole damned state a rest.  Instead I’ve been writing with Tim Barrus, who is working a global frontier almost beyond imagining if you’re in Montana.  It makes guns seem merciful.  But I think that Wheeler and I spy on each other through our blogs.  Like Barrus he has a long history with publishing.  Unlike Barrus he resists the new technology, the new ways of writing, the new audiences, globalization, and so on.  I just sit here like a cat and watch.   Lately Wheeler has been thinking out loud on his blog about readers, genres, the business of publishing, and all the other confusions.
I remember when the first self-published lady author who specialized in stories about children healed through the love of a horse was admitted to the Western Writers of America and how horrified Richard was.   The Western Writers of America was once the only quality-marker for publishers besides the academic Western Literature Association.  The WLA is soon meeting in Missoula.  The just-past president of the organization was so horrified by Barrus that though he has been a correspondent for years, he now totally rejects me.  He is an expert on Cormac McCarthy, the most atrocity-focused Western writer I know.  Go figure.   The blog of the WLA is now focussed on pop culture, hardly academic at all. 
People at parties -- on discovering you are a writer -- inquire whether you are published in the same way that -- if told you are a minister -- they ask if you are ordained, because they think this eliminates charlatans.  They have no idea how to judge the implications of WHO the publisher was, what the sales figures or critical response was.  Nor are most people equipped to evaluate denominational requirements for the ministry or the quality of this seminary as compared to that.  For writers whose ego is based on being published, the recent crater left by the implosion of publishing is a torture and a prison.  To say nothing of a threat to one’s income, perilous in the best of times.  Wheeler has now recovered to the extent of publishing ebooks.
My own writing is split between working with Barrus and his boys and my own writing.  In some ways I act rather like an agent, searching for venues and publishers out on the edge.  Since Cinematheque works more in image than in print, and more in the style of a poem  (the intense or lyric moment) than a narrative (though a narrative is always implied), the values are intensity, meaningfulness for a narrow but global category of consumers (boys at risk who may not speak English), and CGI effects: overlays, conversion into quadrants, loops, distortions, arty stuff -- not the constructed realities of computer games.  The point is that my writing can lean that way. 
But I find that I’m old and slow when it comes to technology and though I’ve got a digital camera now and understand that it will do video, I don’t want to take the time to learn how.  IMovie on my MAC computer is not even hard to do, and my background in theatre and film is enough for me to probably do good things but I have a whole series of print projects queued up ahead of that.  Neither do I want to give up any time for conferences around the state -- book selling festivals that mean only BOOKS, solid old-fashioned BOOKS, even as the Valier library is now equipped to loan out Nooks and teach a person how to download ebooks from the Montana State Library.  Even as one cousin’s husband so generously sent me an iPod with audible books already on it and I’ve found out where to download more.  I just don’t want to take time to learn all these things that so fascinate kids and men.  I’m still expanding my actual writing skills in print.
I initiated a little six-person panel of cousins and friends (my peers in age and education, and all formidable readers) to balance out the seductions of boys in vids.  They love bookstores (so do I) and libraries and have many books of their own.  I’m also on the mailing lists of such eclectic people as Peter Koch,  at the extreme high end of fine printing, and Barry McWilliams , a Montana cartoonist who once taught English in Browning.  I am ever so grateful for the continuing forwards of Dave Lull, who has no website but a huge webwork of contacts.
Today’s is a terrifying world, not because it is different from the world in the past, but because we know so much more about what is happening.  Tim started a project called “Show Me Your Life”, assuming that he would get heart-breaking stories of boys living in the streets.  He was jolted when the footage from the pocket vid cameras he sent out included beheadings and gang rapes of children.  His first witnessing child in the Congo died from infected machete wounds because there were no antibiotics and he was HIV positive.  You can find much the same thing on YouTube.  Tim’s work is mostly on  "Show Me Your Life" - Tim Barrus | Real Stories Gallery   Don’t go there.  You can’t handle the truth.
Speaking of YouTube, I’m still trying to figure out how to think about the young chimp trying to get a toad to give him a blow job.  It’s not just a terrifying world, much of it is inscrutable OR so minutely scrutinized that one hardly knows how to assimilate what one now knows.  TMI is a real phenomenon.  Which is why I’m letting all the fancy tech stuff fall by the wayside.  I even lose control of my sentence grammar sometimes.  It seems to me that the core issue I must address is how to be human.  I do not want to turn away from the already-dying suicidal boy trapped in Russia with no human contact except Skyping Tim on the Internet at 2AM, but I do not want to derange or challenge gentlefolks who simply want to read a story they can put down at the end.  I’m past the point of putting things down.  Except in print.

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