Keep Books Dangerous
First order of business: Some Congratulations to Rebecca Schumejda, a tremendous poet you should all be reading, and the winner of the KEEP BOOKS DANGEROUS totebag giveaway.
Now, if you're truly heartbroken over not winning, just know that you can get a totebag of your very own over at my Society6 page HERE.
You didn't know there was a giveaway going on? There's really only one explanation: you haven't joined my NOTIFY LIST...often the ONLY place to get word of things like this, plus advance warning for any limited print run/special editions of any new projects. If you wanna be one of the cool kids too, you can sign up HERE.
Now, as for the State of the Avocation: 2017 was a rough year here at Hosho McCreesh HQ. I invested a lot of time banging my head against the wall of a traditional publishing route (read as: searching for an agent) in hopes of finding an industry advocate for my first novel, Chinese Gucci. It didn't go well...which, when you've written exactly the book you set out to write, feels shocking. Of course, the book isn't for everyone -- something I have made my peace with. Still I thought it might be for someone...
In the hard, cold, and sober light of dawn (merits of the book aside) I begrudgingly admit it's not an easy sell...which, in my enthusiasm, I neglected to consider. Because traditional publishing is built around sales, around that fetid corpse of multi-quadrant pictures and cross-promotional whatever-the-hells. The business of this art isn't art, it's business...selling selling selling. In fact, André Schffrin wrote this all down following his ouster from Pantheon years ago. The business of publishing is, now more than ever, only concerned with bottom lines, and bean-counting. There aren't too many folks in New York (save THESE FOLKS, and surely a few others) publishing books for art's sake.
I get it. Times are tough. The competition for peoples' attention is ferocious -- with books (and the hours it takes to read them) going toe-to-toe with Network TV Shows, Cable TV shows, Superbowls, Binge Netflix-and-Chilling, Podcasts, movies in the theater, movies at home, or or or or or... Still part of me dies a little when I think of how important books have been for the civilization of mankind (present uncivilized version aside), and the fact that not everyone is invested in their future survival.
So what am I on and on about here? Just the future of publishing. Not publishing publishing...but publishing for me.
There are beautiful things out there to discover, made by people who still absolutely care.
These are, for me, the things that matter. These are the things I want to be involved in making. So the future of publishing (for me) is a lot more hands-on, a lot more limited in scope, and I truly believe it'll be a lot more rewarding. I will certainly keep publishing with folks like the aforementioned whenever opportunities arise, but I will also look to bring back out some of my out-of-print stuff, and doing so in a manner more befitting the tastes of small press connoisseurs like you all. After all, this is the thing that small presses can do far better than any big press -- and that's limited, artisan, hand-made projects with personal touches on each and every copy.
For me, it's the only thing that makes sense. I don't want to paint, or make collage that is concerned with margins and bottom lines, market appeal or strong genre indicators. I don't want to write books for everyone. I want to write books for all of you. And I want whatever mad vision I had for each book to be free from the compromise and uglier trappings of commerce. I want to make it, then make it available -- and never have to twist anyone's arm over it.
So, anyway, that's this year's State of a Avocation. No I just need to figure out how to do it all!
File Under: Debating
Here's a decent ONE - TWO punch from The Guardian about why it's important to KEEP BOOKS DANGEROUS. Both articles are talking about Young Adult books, but I say it applies equally to literary fiction. I can't say I agree with the first article’s assertion that books shouldn't be “gratuitous or explicit” — as I think there is value in grit. So long as a reader can be shocked, I think they should be. Not simply for shock’s sake but because at worst it jars the mind of a lazy reader, and at best encourages a deeper internal conversation about the book and the nature of what’s shocking, and why. But the bulk of both articles agreed with me.
It's adorable to think that as long as we work tirelessly enough, we can “protect the children” from the unsavory world and its R-rated (or X-rated) ideas — that nothing will come along and undo it all in a blink. Adorable and unrealistic. I fear more the moment something does happen, and the painful realization that we’ve left them wholly unprepared for the complexity. If given the choice, I'll always take the physically and emotionally safe realm of a book, indeed of knowledge, of imagination, and the world of mind — over the actual danger of schoolyards and streets.
These questions are of tremendous interest to me in the middle of rewriting the first novel, Chinese Gucci, and have heartened me about some of my instincts and decisions. I believe very much in a visceral connection (even if it’s repulsion) with a book, believe that good books and good characters “contain multitudes.” The book is a hopefully clever indictment of a certain brand of adolescent hyper-masculinity, and as such, it has some pretty unpalatable stuff in it. Add to it the largely untested ideas about race and success that many young people start off with, and there are plenty of hot-button issues in the book that may well end up scaring off some readers and distracting from the book's larger intent.
And that's a terrifying concern.
It seems, in our race to never offend, never belittle or shame, never visit microaggressions upon another, we've become hyper-aware to the point of near mental inaction. By that I mean we've lost the ability to accurately parse intent from the larger mash-up of content. Someone says something that, on it's face, seems offensive — okay, yes, offensive ideas should offend. Ah, but why did they say it? Did I even hear it correctly? Did they accidentally tank what they meant to say instead? Is there another way to take it? Are we even talking about the same damn thing? This feels like something we are rapidly becoming either unwilling or unable to do any more. It’s much easier to simply fly off the handle, and launch into our own screeds and tirades. That feels perilous. Ideas, words, world views, differences — these can and should be evaluated — not just on their face, but through the lens of intent. If we lose that, why even bother with language?
So what do you think? What’s worse: a dangerous book, or a painfully safe one? An offensive book or an inoffensive one? Should anything ever be off limits for readers? For writers?