Self-publishing is only a small part of how we understand "books" now. Books are only ways of making print into objects that have the advantages and drawbacks of all objects. Books are pretty much the result of the invention of the printing press and therefore stand for a kind of cross between the industrial revolution and the continuity of meaningful marks on paper, some of them print and some of them objects. But more than anything else, modern books are the result of the mercantile basis of democracy and the rule of law, both of which are fraying badly. Books can be decorated to be attractive, even if no one reads them.
In between the handwritten book on whatever paper was available (What was the name of that way-out old man in Oregon who wrote his book on the wrappers from nitroglycerin blocks? Clyde something.) and the books on demand that are "Espresso" printed as you watch and emerge warm from the process, is a wide range of phenomena from graffiti on sidewalks to typed and xeroxed books kept in backpacks until the first and last pages wear off because there are no covers.
I've had only one "properly published" book. "Bronze Inside and Out." The press was academic and fraught with scandal. I don't know of any formal press that isn't much like that, academic or not. But a whole class of business is based on the idea of "published" as an imprimatur by a respectable publisher. Originally, in the 1600's, the word was an authorization by a religious authority to print the book.
So I'm classic if I say my lesser book, "Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke" was edited and distributed by the Moosemilk Press, a committee authorized by the Edmonton Unitarian Church. It was sermons, the beginning of a theology of landscape, and the committee said it was not easy. The majority of my books are on Amazon and printed by Lulu.com by using a URL that I sent them. Also, without permission, some of the books are available through search engines or used book sources. And on that peculiar Google thing about pieces of books.
All I care about, really, is the day-by-day production of a few blogs. My friend says, "There are demented people who do it [writing] because they have to do it, which is why addiction and compulsion are neurological in nature, affecting the left part of the brain frequently called the dominate hemisphere." He's right. It's how I spend my mornings at the expense of housekeeping and the comfort of my butt. This is not the mental image responded to by many clever young women who feel they are at the center of the most crucial maelstroms of love and thought. (All maelstroms are eerily alike.)
Now that I begin to have little twinges and pinches of something in my life/left hemisphere (literal dementia -- I meant to type "left" but typed "life") that I blame for having to proof read so closely, I think about the dependence of thought on blood flow. I consistently conflate Alvina Krause, acting professor, with Malvina Hoffman, sculptor. The two women valued each other highly but they were not the same. I don't think that Hoffman knew about Krause though Krause used the sculpture of Hoffman in her acting classes. In my head now they come out as a mix: maybe "Alvina Hoffman."
I've always written, even published what I whacked out on my father's massive typewriter and printed with deep blue waxy stencils on a hand-turned stereotype machine. When the computer age dawned, I began to write a lot of short stories, experimenting.
Finally I grouped two sets into anthologies called "Willow Sticks" and "Out There," and ran them through Lulu.com to become "books." The covers are photos I took locally. They weren't meant to evoke praise or even much readership, but I thought they might be examples. (I'll give copies to the Valier library so you can use Interlibrary Loan to read them with no cost. Or ask and I'll send a URL. Or go to prairiemary.blogspot.com and look around.)
When I taught on the rez, the students were always asking for examples: "Show us what you want us to do." This was a remnant of a missionary and bureaucrat dominated world where it was only safe to do what the authority requested -- if you could figure out what books were, when you only really knew oral literature because no one could afford books. What they seemed to want was "Napi stories" because the first publishing was anthropological until Adrian Jawort and Sterling Holy White Mountain began to self-publish, disguised as conventional publishers when they weren't even in Manhattan.
Adrian calls his stories "Gothic." The rez IS Gothic. Montana Gothic is an established category that also appears in Canada. (For instance, "The Studhorse Man" by Robert Kroetsch. Amazon doesn't have it -- Barnes and Noble does. Horses in houses, those shrieking eagles.) Since several tribes ignore the 49th parallel, they dissolve the boundary with magical realism.
In the back of "Willow Sticks" I added notes to point out how different "types" were. "Conan the Siksika" is just for fun. "Napi's New House" is an attempt at a myth. "La Femme Rouge" was written for an editor who objected to mild sex but didn't mind bloody violence. Two stories are fictionalized history, one about Heavyrunner's daughter being shot through the heart while he held her during massacre ("Now That I'm Dead") and one about Helen Clarke ("Brilliant Mix of Red and White"). Two are fiction-polemics: "Blood Quantum" and "FBI Long-Game" -- they are more timely now than ever.
"The Bracelet Boy" came out of a novel I work on sometimes and "Do What You Have To" was to counter some romantic person who said a Native American would never eat a horse. Yellow Slicker starts with an object, this time merely imagined. Every story in "12 Blackfeet Stories", a separate self-published book, is prompted by a Blackfeet artifact I knew when I was married to Bob Scriver and which he pictured in "The Blackfeet: Artists of the Northern Plains" which he rather covertly self-published through the printing company.
The step that's missing is publicity and distribution. I don't have the capital to place copies in bookstores or in the libraries. Neither do I have the time or skills. At first the Native Americans couldn't read books -- now they read just fine, but many can't afford books, so there's no motive to sell those objects for profit. One must sell to educated white ladies. There are no rez bookstores. My non-Indian friend copes with this problem by writing material so shocking and forbidden that the underground craves and publicizes them. You have to know somebody, like buying illegal drugs. But the missionaries forbade Indians to admit to such things.
This post will bring criticism, though few will tell it to me. That's okay. It's not as though I might lose sales. Most people around here will just look at me funny, never admitting that they read such stuff. The books are not as fancy as my blogs can become, especially when I get into the medical or philosophical stuff. I'd hoped that at least some of the stories would escape the page, becoming oral literature. I think some have.