In the last few weeks, I’ve run into several people who knew me during my old writing days, and they don’t really believe that I’ve quit. In many ways, I don’t blame them, because they can’t kick the writing habit, so they can’t believe that I’ve gone cold turkey. Well, I get the usual “you’re doing a blog, so you’re still writing” garbage, but that’s like saying I’m still a drug abuser for popping a couple of aspirin. For the sake of argument, let’s presume that the discussion of what constitutes a writer involves those who write for publication and/or payment, in a venue which they do not have direct control. I know this will offend the self-publishing obsessives, but I haven’t offended anybody in the last few hours, so it’s their turn.
It’s not that I don’t miss writing in general. I miss the communication. What I don’t miss are the mindgames that go with traditional publishing of all sorts. I don’t miss having an editor/publisher sit on a manuscript for months or years. I don’t miss being rewritten without warning (especially when I volunteer to take on rewrites) and having to take the hit when the editor screws up. I don’t miss having articles gutted because an article submitted by the editor’s girlfriend ran five pages over, and she threatened to go postal if the editor so much as changed a single word. I don’t miss book and magazine distribution nightmares. I don’t miss having to wait six months for payment on articles, or of editors magically deciding “we can’t afford to pay until we’re profitable,” and then going out of their way to make sure their publication remains unprofitable. I don’t miss editors who still owe me money for dead publications from fifteen years ago who move to a new one and assume that I’ll play the same game. Most of all, I don’t miss having to commiserate with friends about how utterly terrible and horrible it is that one venue or another went under, when what you really want to howl is “I’ll see it in Hell, sucker!”
Amazingly, these people still wonder why I’d give up the glamor and lucre of writing for science fiction magazines for raising carnivorous plants. Heck, some even get offended that I won’t come back.
In the past few days, though, I’ve reconsidered my stance. I can actually thank my local grocery store for this, because one quick peek through its Periodicals section demonstrated that there’s no reason why I couldn’t hop back, just long enough to pay for a new greenhouse and about 50 acres to put it on. All I need is the right gimmick.
By way of example, when passing through the periodicals racks, I usually focus on the magazines. Going through the books these days, though, is like wandering through the Marianas Trench. I’ve been far enough away from publishing that all of the denizens are odd to surface-born eyes, and some have all of the lurid fascination and danger of vampire squid and gulper eels. That’s actually unfair to vampire squid and gulper eels, because they can survive in the wild without assistance. The current trend in vampire/angel/werewolf/shapeshifter/witch romance novels is the literary equivalent of those “fruit cocktail trees” sold in garden centers: graft on enough scions, and someone will buy it just because it looks too strange to survive.
With the collapse of Borders last fall, it’s obvious that both the publishing industry and the publishing distribution industry are both in trouble. Both lost a huge market, and now they’re throwing whatever they can against the wall to see if it sticks. Hence, it’s hard not to ask if some poor overworked editor isn’t channeling the spirit of Max Bialystock and offering contracts for the science fiction equivalent of “Springtime For Hitler”. Hence, this viperfish of a title in the rack this morning:
Yes, you’re not just looking at a Star Wars novel. You’re looking at a Star Wars ZOMBIE novel. One of a series. To quote one of literature’s greatest fictional orchid enthusiasts, “PFUI!”
Next, there’s the “Featured” area of the periodicals section, better known as the “Pay For Play” area. Most days, this is filled with the latest issue of D magazine, highlighting its latest “Top 283 Left-Handed Vending Machine Operators Willing To Pay Us For a Full-Page Ad” cover story, but today? Today is a very different day. Today, the Featured area is full of the latest publishing sensation: three volumes of Twilight slashfic, with the serial numbers barely filed off before publication.
I have to admit that this is absolutely brilliant in an odd way. Why kill yourself on creating original situations and characters when you can just high-grade the background of an established universe? Better yet, why kill yourself further on creating something truly unique, when (as Norman Spinrad noted fifteen years ago) a chimpanzee could type out a manuscript for a Star Wars novel and it would still make the New York Times Bestsellers list?
Twenty years ago, my younger self would have been offended by this. Enraged. Screaming at the top of his lungs at this sort of gibberish taking over bookshelf space. In those intervening two decades, though, I’ve noticed that for all of the outrage, the final determination as to the success of these servings of literary Hamburger Helper is the famed invisible hand of the market. Yes, some of these sell and sell well, but the writers tend to disappear. The worst fate of all: the books go out of print, and they stay out of print. Or, to put it another way, these will probably be about as well-read and well-appreciated as the unauthorized rewrite of Gone With The Wind in the Nineties. And so it goes.
This is why I’ve decided not to complain and kvetch about this state of affairs, and I’m planning to use it to finance an expansion of the plant business, if not the opportunity to buy a new house. If I can’t get a three-book, six-figure contract for my crossover Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape slashfic, featuring the erotic exploits of Edina Monsoon and Pilot, then I’m just not trying hard enough. All editor queries welcome…