HP Lovecraft and Pierce Mostyn – Part 2

Cosmic, or Lovecraftian, Horror

Cosmic horror is largely, if not solely, the creation of HP Lovecraft. Of whom Stephen King said he “has yet to be surpassed as the Twentieth Century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

There are certain themes that differentiate Lovecraft’s brand of horror from other horror subgenres. Let’s take a look at some of the key themes.

Humans Are Insignificant

It’s a big universe out there. And we don’t know even a fraction of it.  As Lovecraft commented often (and I’m paraphrasing), we are an insignificant species on a fly speck. And if there are in fact multiverses, then that fly speck just became innumerable times smaller.

Philosophically, Lovecraft was basically a mechanistic materialist. We exist, but that doesn’t mean we’re more important than anything else. In fact, the universe is indifferent to us. We aren’t objectively special. For Lovecraft, we definitely weren’t made in God’s image. There’s no God, for starters. Rather, he was inspired by the atheistic Epicureans and the theory of evolution.

Therefore, in the typical cosmic horror story there is little focus on characterization. The main character is usually the story’s narrator. We get to know something of him, although sometimes he’s an unreliable narrator.

The focus of the story is on the gradual revelation of that which is hiding behind the narrator’s (and our) illusion of reality. That which is greater than us and views us as we view ants on the sidewalk.

The Great Old Ones, at least for Lovecraft, didn’t actually exist. They were literary devices to convey our position in the vastness of the universe and that the universe doesn’t give a fig about us.

The Heroes Are Loners

The hero of the cosmic horror tale has affinities with the punk hero. He is socially isolated, and therefore frequently a loner. Occasionally an outcast. He is often reclusive, and possesses a scholarly bent.

This puts the cosmic horror hero in the unique position of being able to peel back the veneer of what we think is reality to see the real reality behind it. Often at the expense of his sanity.

Pessimism, or Indifference

Lovecraft insisted later in life that his philosophy was not pessimistic, but rather led one to indifference. A fine line there. Basically, though, there is nothing in the universe that cares about us or values us. We humans are alone on a tiny speck of dust. We are dwarfed by the vastness of space. The very vastnesses of which Whitman sang so positively and eloquently about. For Lovecraft, there is nothing positive about them.

In this, Lovecraft was very much in line with the ancient Greek Epicurean philosophy. The universe was simply chaos. It provides us nothing. We must focus on ourselves and find pleasure and happiness in intellectual pursuits away from the madding crowd.

The Great Old Ones of Lovecraft’s invention aren’t so much malignant or malevolent as that they just don’t give a fig about us. We are inconsequential to them.

However, to us their indifference might seem to be malevolent or evil. But in reality, like us, they just are. They’re doing their thing. If we suffer as a result, well, do we care about the ants we step on?

Therefore the hero in the cosmic horror tale is often incapable of doing much to thwart the cosmic forces ranged against him. The best he can do is warn us of the truth that is out there.

The Veneer of Reality

We live in a dream state, as it were. Lovecraft was fascinated by dream worlds. In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath he postulates a parallel world only attainable by means of dreams.

Because we are in a dream, as it were, what we see and think to be reality isn’t in fact reality at all. It’s Dorothy in Oz. Only we see a nice old man until Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals the monster at the controls.

The real reality is too horrible for us to comprehend. In our dream state we believe we have value — when in reality we have no value at all. We have no significance in the universe. And by extension nothing else has any significance either.

That is the true terror of cosmic horror: the revelation and realization that we are living a lie. It is the literary portrayal of the Nietzschian coming to awareness of who and what we really are.

That realization is also the basis for the “leap of faith” to find meaning for our existence. Epicurus sought meaning in intellectual pleasure. Nietzsche sought meaning in the pursuit of art; that is, creativity. The Existentialists made that leap to whatever might have meaning for them as individuals. And argued that we do the same.

Not unlike the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius’s statement that “life is opinion”. That is, life is what we think it is. Although, for the Roman emperor, the statement was more an affirmation of the contemporary saying, It’s all in your ‘tude. Because Stoicism is inherently a much more positive philosophy.

Fear Of The Other

We have an innate fear of that which is not like us. This goes back to the very beginnings of the human species when we existed in family units and tribes. Anything that was not us, was to be viewed with suspicion — if not outright fear.

Lovecraft is frequently criticized today for being xenophobic and racist. By today’s standards he was — but in his own era I’m not so sure he was any different than most of his peers. There is a danger in judging the past by other than it’s own standards.

Even today, Western views of what constitutes xenophobia and racism are not universally shared. Which means the question must be asked, what makes Western views any more valid than any other views? That, though, is another discussion.

One thing is for sure — the xenophobia and racism we see in Lovecraft’s stories feeds on our own innate and latent fear of those people and things that are different from us and of our fear of the unknown in general. They feed on our own tribal mentality. The primeval us-them dynamic. The dynamic that made us who we are today: too often judgmental, critical, and suspicious. We and our opinions are good. Everyone else and there opinions are bad.

Throughout most of our history as a species, the tribal mentality allowed us to survive. The problem being that as we developed civilization, many of those survival traits became a hindrance to our working together in a genteel environment. Hence the creation of religious moral codes and cultural mores and folkways to control those “undesirable” traits.

As Will Durant noted, “Every vice was once a virtue, and may become respectable again, as hatred becomes respectable in war. Brutality and greed where once necessary in the struggle for existence, and are now ridiculous atavisms; men’s sins are not the result of his fall; they are the relics of his rise.” Do note that every vice may become respectable again. Something to think about.

In Lovecraft’s worldview, the Other consists of all the impersonal cosmic forces that exist. In his fiction, he personified these impersonal forces as The Great Old Ones. Inter- or Other-dimensional beings who have moved into our territory.

Just as we give little thought to mosquitoes, or gnats, or ants, so The Great Old Ones give little, if any, thought to us. To repeat, they aren’t so much malevolent, as they are indifferent to our existence and survival. Just as we are indifferent to the survival of mosquitoes, gnats, or ants.

Lovecraft is simply positing that cosmically speaking — we aren’t necessarily at the top of the food chain. Something to think about as we venture into outer space. Which was cleverly addressed in The Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man”.

In light of the above, the Pierce Mostyn adventures may not be pure examples of cosmic horror. But we’ll look at that next week.

Comments are always welcome! And until next week, happy reading!

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Robert E Howard: A Writer For All Seasons

Robert_E_Howard_suit

 

In the early 1970s there was a brief revival of Weird Tales magazine. Because of a letter to the editor I wrote, I made contact with a group of Lovecraftian and pulp-era aficionados in Minneapolis. And through that group became acquainted with Robert E Howard’s work. The writer who invented sword and sorcery fantasy. Howard’s best known creation is Conan the Cimmerian (or Barbarian), but there were many other characters that came from Howard’s typewriter who set the stage for Conan.

Lovecraft and Howard were clearly the two giants of the ‘20s and ‘30s pulp fiction era who have had a lasting impact on the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. Which, to my mind, makes them great writers. And of the two, I think Howard was the greater.

I know I stand in the minority with that opinion, but I do think it true. Of course, what constitutes “greatness” is always up for debate.

As a storyteller, when Lovecraft was good he was very, very good. And when he was bad he was horrid. Quite honestly, Lovecraft wrote some truly hack stories. Awhile back I started re-reading Lovecraft and I found what I was reading to be tedious, melodramatic, and dated.

I’ve never felt that way reading Howard. Which isn’t to say everything he wrote was stupendous, because it wasn’t. However, using consistency as a measure, I’d say Howard was the more consistent of the two. Pick up a Howard story, doesn’t matter the genre, and you’ll find plenty of action and plenty of atmosphere. Howard’s writing flows. Granted it’s not all superb literature — but his intention wasn’t to write superb literature. He was writing popular fiction to make a buck. And make a buck he did.

As a writer/publisher, an indie author, I look to Robert E Howard for inspiration. Why? Because, had he lived today, and I think he would have loved today’s indie revolution, I believe Howard would have been a phenomenal success. He knew how to tell a story and knew how to tell it well — without any training. He was prolific, and he was versatile.

Let’s take a look at each of these aspects.

STORYTELLING

Howard learned the craft of storytelling from sources that are all around us: songs (particularly folks songs and ballads), poetry, and fiction. In other worlds, he was a good listener and an eclectic reader who absorbed the structure of story. Sure he read for entertainment, as all readers do. But Howard, from his reading (and listening to his grandmother’s singing), learned what makes a story tick.

We writers — myself included — generally don’t do that. We are entertained and that’s it. A pity that, because reading and learning storytelling from a great book is about as inexpensive an education as one can get.

Back before YouTube, Artist Workshops, and Master Classes, back before this and the last centuries, and perhaps the one before that, wannabe artists learned how to paint by becoming apprentices to a great master and copying — yes, copying — his work. In that way they learned technique and also their own individual style began to emerge.

Some time, many years ago, I read a book or article on writing that advocated the same approach. Take a novel you like and copy it — by hand — word for word. Why? To feel it.

The majority of us are kinesthetic/tactile learners. That is, we learn by doing. And writing by hand is the most tactile experience you can have when it comes to writing. The pen or pencil in your hand, your hand moving it and forming letters and words, is a far more tactile experience than typing (which is really primarily visual), because more of you is in the writing.

So copying a story or novel by hand helps us to focus on the words and how they flow together to form story.

I’ve read the work of novice writers and I ask the question, “Would you actually read this if someone’s name other than your own was on it?”

We generally love our work or we hate it. We aren’t very objective. Those of us who tend to be haters (we’re probably perfectionists too), aren’t the problem. We throw our writing away — both good and bad.

The problem lies with those of us who love our writing — even if it’s crap. Writing we wouldn’t read if anyone else’s name was on it.

Robert E Howard learned how to tell a story by reading stories, listening to the story in folk songs and ballads, and then imitated the flow, atmosphere, characters, pacing, and showing not telling. He wrote what he liked to read and did it well.

PROLIFIC

Howard, in a letter to H P Lovecraft, wrote he wanted to be a writer because of the freedom it gave him. His schedule was his own and he had no boss. From the beginning, Howard wrote fiction as his job. He had no delusions about being a literary author. He wrote popular fiction to make a buck. That was his sole aim.

To do that, he needed to be prolific. When you’re paid by the word and you only get paid when a story is accepted or published — you have to write a lot of stories and you have to do so quickly. And Howard did.

Today’s author/publisher is no different. We indies cater to a specific reader. Our readers are

  • Genre readers,
  • Voracious readers, and
  • Readers who frequent used bookstores to buy lots of books cheaply.

If you desire to be a successful author, you must know who your audience is — and then write lots of books, preferably in series.

The pulp era was very similar to today’s publishing world. There were the literary giants and then there were the popular fiction writes. Today we have the literary giants and some big name genre writers who are published by the traditional publishing houses. Then there are the indie authors. Today’s indie writer carries the mantle of the pulp fiction writer of 80 and 90 years ago. And being prolific is the name of the game.

VERSATILE

Howard was one of the most successfully versatile, genre-hopping authors of any age. He created the sword and sorcery fantasy sub-genre with characters such as Solomon Kane, King Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, and Red Sonja. He created Breckinridge Elkins, that genre-busting hero of many of Howard’s westerns. Elkins is a character much like Conan and just as Conan transcended the fantasy of his day, so Elkins transcended the western. In fact, Elkins is so unique he hasn’t been copied and no name’s been given to the Elkinsesque Western.

Howard started out selling stories to Weird Tales magazine. But when the magazine (which paid on publication) got behind on its payments, Howard switched to other markets. Aside from horror, Howard wrote action and adventure, fight stories, mysteries, westerns (both weird and conventional), historical fiction, and he even wrote spicy stories (the erotica of his day) under the pseudonym Sam Walser.

Many of these stories featured serial protagonists: El Borak, Sailor Steve Costigan, Dennis Dorgan, Cormac Mac Art, as well as the above named characters.

Robert E Howard was truly a writer for all seasons. He wrote for money. And to be successful, after numerous rejection slips, he studied each magazine and the stories they accepted. He then tailored his writing to fit the house style, so the editor would send him a check instead of a rejection slip. Of course, his writing had to be good to begin with and it was. Once his work began to find fans, editors started coming to him and asking for stories.

Howard is the writer’s writer. He is my model and my inspiration. I doubt I’ll create any fictional subgenres. Although Howard didn’t intentionally set out to do so either. But what I do hope to learn from REH is his adaptability to the market, his ability to write prolifically, and all the while tell a good story.

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Being Indie

In 2014 I made the decision to become an independent writer/publisher, or indie for short. Two factors weighed heavily in my decision. One was the difficulty of going the traditional route. The other being freedom.

I don’t write much on the writing life, because I don’t have much, if anything, to add to the veritable mountain of information that’s out already. Nor is my personal journey all that unique. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I am slowly correcting them. I’ve also done a few things right.

Today, I’d like to put out into the aether a few thoughts about being an author/publisher. These are my own reflections. For the writers in my audience, I hope you find something of use or encouragement. For the non-writers, hopefully you’ll find applications to your own lives.

Traditional Publishing

Sometime in the middle 1960s I got my first copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest. Let me be frank here, nothing much has changed in the traditional publishing world during these past 50 years. The most noticeable differences between then and now are these:

  • There are fewer publishers
  • An agent is virtually mandatory
  • The wannabe author has to secure his/her own editorial services
  • There is the internet

Everything else is the same. The same advice on how to write. The same adulation of critics, pundits, and publishers. The same narrow gate whereby only the few may enter. And once within the hallowed walls of authordom, the same lousy contracts and all the same self-marketing if you want to sell books.

My late friend and author, John J. Koblas, used to have his van filled with boxes of his books to sell at every speaking engagement and signing event. And to whoever might happen by. He made an okay living—but had to hustle to do it.

In truth, very little has changed in 50 years. For all of the perceived change, so much has stayed the same.

Freedom

I value freedom. Robert E. Howard, in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, confessed the reason he wanted to be a writer was because of the freedom it gave a person. I couldn’t agree more.

A writer is a self-employed artist. A creator and a business person all rolled into one. Unfortunately, the business piece of the partnership usually gets forgotten. The writer leaves that to the agent; or, if self published, too often to magic. When Weird Tales had trouble paying Howard for his stories, Howard followed the money and moved on to the western and fight magazines. He was a businessman as well as an artist.

Any writer can tell you, if he or she is actually writing stories and books, the act of writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It’s work. It might be fun work, but it’s work nonetheless.

So why do so many writers—myself included—simply toss their books onto Amazon and then conduct tweet barrages to try to sell them? Or think blogging will get them noticed? Or hope that those 10,000 downloads of their free book will automatically turn into book buying fans? Because we want to believe in magic.

After being in indie author for over a year and a half, I’m here to tell you magic doesn’t work.

The freedom of being an independent author/publisher comes with a boatload of responsibility. The responsibility of being your own business person. Of being the one who directs your career, not some money-grubbing middleman (aka publisher) directing it for you.

The Black Hole

I read somewhere 3,000 books a day are published. I don’t know if that is true or not. But I’d hazard a guess it’s at least close to the truth.

Recently I went through a free course on book marketing with Nick Stephenson. Several times he mentioned writing into the black hole. In other words if you’re unknown, just writing books won’t bring you fame. They’re going into the black hole. Because no one knows you exist.

Marketing on social media is kind of doing the same thing. So is offering your book for free. There are lots of people out there who will grab anything for free and that includes books. They may never read those free books. Which means downloads of free books don’t necessarily mean readers, much less fans.

Dumping into the black hole isn’t going to do much to get you noticed. Remember, 3,000 books a day are being published.

Becoming a name, a recognizable name, is the struggle every author has had since authors first stepped onto the career playing field. And we are talking millennia here, folks. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides weren’t always famous. How many more classical Greek playwrights never became famous? We don’t know. Their names are dust. Anthony Trollope got the attention of a few critics with his fourth novel. He made some money and got a name with his fifth. It was Hugh Howey’s eighth book, Wool, that gave readers cause to sit up and take notice. Very few authors ever hit the big time coming out of the gate.

When I look at Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus or Goodreads, I see writers grouping together primarily with other writers. And that is not all bad. But it won’t necessarily get you out of the black hole. Why? Because we writers want readers to buy our books. There are more readers out there than writers. Somewhere along the line I think we forget that. Although, I do keep hoping Marcia Muller or S J Rozan will discover and plug my Justinia Wright mystery series and I will rake in the dough on the Oprah Effect. I do keep hoping. Magic is alive and well.

The sad fact of the matter is most of us will be swallowed up by the black hole. Why? Because name recognition is much more difficult to obtain then writing a book—and writing a book is difficult enough.

Marketing

To climb out of the black hole, we need to be business people. We need to plan our work and work our plan. We need to become proficient at marketing and self-promotion. And because many of us are introverts and shy, we see self-promotion as something akin to torture. And who wants to willingly lie on the rack or step into the Iron Maiden?

Nevertheless, we need to learn how to sell our books and ourselves—if we want to make a career of writing.

For myself, I’m 63 and retired. I don’t need to replace the dreaded day job. But I would like to supplement my income and get that Rolls Royce I’ve always wanted.

So how does one learn marketing? There are lots of ways:

  • Business courses at college
  • Observation of successful indies
  • Getting personal advice from successful indies
  • Reading marketing blogs
  • Reading books on marketing
  • Taking courses offered by indie writers who are successful or marketers who cater to indie authors
  • Trial and error
  • Paying a marketing firm (making sure you observe what they do so you don’t have to hire them ongoing)

I’ve observed successful indies, read a few of the marketing blogs, read a few books on marketing, have tried and erred, and am now taking a course.

What I’ve Learned

What have I learned over the past 20 months of being an indie author that I can pass on to you? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Write. For indie authors, less is not more. More is more. Readers of indie authors expect a lot of product. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  2. Write in series. Readers of indie works expect a series or at the very least related books in a universe or series characters. All of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  3. Have at least 3 books written before you start seriously thinking of marketing.
  4. Write in an identifiable genre. This makes it easy for indie readers to identify you. The genre doesn’t have to be large. It could be, for example, romantic space opera. While small, that subgenre is identifiable. Once again, all of the experienced indie authors agree on this.
  5. Write well/Edit well. This should go without saying. Unfortunately it can’t. Pay someone to help you if you have to. Investing in yourself is always worth the money.
  6. Use social media to make connections with your peers. Don’t use it to sell. It’s a poor sales channel—unless you are paying for ads on the channel.
  7. Learn marketing. If you’re going to be an author/publisher, then you’re going to have to know marketing if you want to sell books. I wish someone had told me this 2 or 3 years before I started. This is critical. Marketing sells books. Wishful thinking and magic do not.
  8. Live by Heinlein’s Five Rules. If you are a writer, then you write. You don’t do anything else. Unless you’re an author/publisher and then you are going to have to also do the business end of things, like marketing, as well. But first and foremost, you write. Robert J Sawyer sums up the Five Rules very well. Do read them. Do follow them.

I hope this has been of value. Comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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The 10 Most Influential Fiction Writers of the Past 100 Years

From 1915 to the present, many writers have come and gone. Most of them are forgotten. Yet, a few linger in our memories. For some reason, the other day I was thinking about who would be considered the influential fiction writers of the past 100 years. That is, fiction writers who’ve had an impact on subsequent generations.

So I started kicking names around of those authors I’ve read and of those I hadn’t but who are considered by many to have had a profound impact. And out of my musing I came up with a list.

The list below is in the order the names came to me, which does not imply one is more important than the other. Without further ado, my list of the 10 most influential writers of fiction in the past 100 years.

1. Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle makes the list because of Sherlock Holmes, who is undoubtedly the most iconic and imitated private detective ever created. Doyle’s influence reaches down to today’s writers of private eye fiction. We see his influence everywhere. We can watch modernized versions in Elementary and Sherlock. We can read innumerable pastiches. Without a doubt, Doyle’s creation is one of the most influential of all time.

2. H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft was a most uneven writer. When he was good, he was very, very good. And when he was bad, he was horrid. Nor was he a prolific writer. Yet, next to Poe, he is the single most influential writer of horror and the macabre. The best of his stories are models to learn from. His emphasis on atmosphere has had a lasting impact. Many writers have looked to Lovecraft as a source of inspiration. Writers such as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, to name but three.

Cosmicism, through his Cthulhu Mythos, is perhaps his most well-known contribution to the modern horror story, where terror is evoked upon the realization that this reality is but a thin veneer of that which is truly alien and not our friend.

But Lovecraft also wrote some very fine tales of dark fantasy and made frequent use of the dreamscape. He also contributed to science fiction. His “The Colour Out Of Space” is one of the all-time great stories of science fiction.

HPL is clearly a giant and yet the irony is that were it not for the efforts of Donald Wandrei and August Derleth to preserve his name and work, Lovecraft would most likely have disappeared with the pulp magazines that published his work.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien

Where would epic fantasy be without Tolkien? It is as though he single handedly created the genre. He didn’t, but it certainly seems like it. And his imitators are legion.

4. George Orwell

Orwell’s portrayal of the horror that is totalitarianism and how technology in the hands of government is not a good thing for us reaches all the way down to folks like Snowden, who blew the lid on the US government’s spying on its own people. And just about everyone else.

I read 1984 when I was in my 50s. I found the book totally terrifying. The most impactful horror novel I’ve ever read. And the book isn’t even classed as horror.

5. Isaac Asimov

The last 100 years have seen many great writers of science fiction. Asimov, to my mind, is clearly one of the most imaginative and influential of the multitude of science fiction writers. From style to writing practice, Asimov has had an impact upon many young writers. For myself, I can say I learned much from him.

6-7. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard

Where would adventure fantasy be without Burroughs and Howard? Clearly Tarzan can stand right next to Holmes as one of the most memorable characters ever created. And Howard’s Conan, King Kull, Solomon Kane, Cormac Mac Art, and others are a tough act to follow. Anyone writing adventure fantasy today needs to start with these two.

8-9. Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges

Magical realism is not hugely popular in English. Yet the impact of these writers cannot be underestimated. In many ways, Magical realism is that a literary offshoot of surrealism and the genre tends to appeal to a more literary reader. Nevertheless the works of Márquez, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie are hugely popular and Stephen King’s The Green Mile demonstrates that magical realism has a broad appeal amongst many different writers in many different genres.

10. J.D. Salinger

Few modern novels have so captured teenage angst as has The Catcher in the Rye. Present day writers draw from Salinger in their attempt to address the issues of identity, belonging, loss, and connection and the none have improved upon what he wrote in 1951. And because these issues are even more in the forefront today, Salinger still speaks to us.

That’s my list of 10 of the most influential Fiction writers in the past 100 years. And it should be noted that this is how the list stands today. It might be different tomorrow.

Let us know who you think are the most influential writers of fiction for you in the past 100 years.

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Tell Your Story (or Stories)

There is one advantage age gives a person: it is perspective. The journey through time and experiencing what one experiences gives one a world view, a weltanschauung, which if understood can be an invaluable guide to the present.

Not all old people are wise. But they all have experiences that a wiser and younger person can learn from. To write such in today’s youth culture is tantamount to spitting in the wind. But the older I get I know it is true. I don’t claim to be wise, because I’m not. I do, though, have a bit of history under my belt which gives me some perspective.

Crispian Thurlborn’s sharing of a link on ebook pricing got me started on thinking about writing and publishing. The link set me off in search of Dean Wesley Smith’s website. Smith has perspective. He also has some wisdom. His series, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, has valuable advice to consider. Thanks Crispian for the adventure in rumination!

O, To Be A Writer!

I’ve wanted to be a writer for over fifty years. That is probably longer than some of you have been alive. I looked forward every month, back in the ‘60s, to receiving my copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest and dreamed of the day when a few scribbles on a sheet of paper would earn me hundreds of dollars (yeah, a hundred was big back then).

From then until now, I’ve observed what others have to say about writing and publishing. I’ve noticed two things: publishing has changed and writing has not. What was good writing in the ‘60s remains good writing in the teens of the 21st century. However, what was true about the publishing world of the ‘60s wasn’t even true 30 years later and is even less true today. The publishing world has changed big time.

A Mini Timeline of Publishing

Here is a very brief timeline of publishing:

1534 – Cambridge University Press founded. The world’s oldest publishing company.

1663 – The world’s first magazine appears in Germany.

1709 – British Copyright Act is passed. This lays the foundation for modern publishing.

1700s – Commercial lending libraries

1731 – The Gentleman’s Magazine. Considered to be the first modern magazine is published in England.

1793 – first daily newspaper appears in America.

1800s – Public libraries appear.

1845 – Paperbacks are introduced as newspaper supplements in US.

1850s – The techniques of mass production are adopted by the book trade. The publishing industry as we know it today begins in the Victorian era. That wonderful Machine Age!

The Writer and the Book!

The biggest change to publishing since Gutenberg’s printing press is the ebook. Inconceivable as a viable reading medium even ten years ago. The Kindle made it’s appearance on November 19, 2007. That event was as big a change in the world of books as was Gutenberg. Science fiction had become reality.

What the ebook did is return publishing once more to the writer. Self-publishing goes back to ancient times. Someone would write a book (by hand with a pen) and either make copies him/herself, or hire copyists, and share the love. When the printing press came along, the writer could now give his/her manuscript to the printer and hire him to produce books for him or her. As can be seen self-publishing was the only publishing for a very long time.

Then in the Victorian era, publishing houses took off. Publishing as we know it today, where writers submit their manuscripts to publishers and either get a rejection slip or a check, started in the 1800s. Modern publishing is 200 years old. A mere babe.

What the Kindle did is make the concept of the ebook a viable commercial product and because of the ready availability of the software to make ebooks, the writer now had at his or her disposal desktop publishing on steroids.

Have No Fear!

Today, anyone can publish a book. This scares some people. In fact, it scares a lot of people. My goodness, the hoi polloi can now produce a book. Goodness, who even taught them to read?! Let alone write?!

My fifty plus years of observation has taught me that fear is a powerful weapon to squash innovation and to establish a pecking order.

When I was actively writing poetry, I frequented forums early on. I saw this fear in operation. The fear established by the “old timers” to keep the newbies in line. Harsh criticism and ridicule. “What? You call that a sonnet? Why you have a trochee where one shouldn’t be!” That kind of rubbish. Or, “Well, there is nothing very wrong with your sonnet, but shouldn’t you have something to say before you write one?”

The worst was when a writer ended up rewriting his or her good poem into mediocrity by listening to everyone’s “advice”.

Needless to say, I left those forums. I didn’t need that crap. As a writer, I already had enough self-doubts. I didn’t need more. What got rid of the self-doubt was the fact that I submitted work and got it accepted. Writing and submitting and getting it published proved to me I could write. A friend, who was a well-known regional writer, also gave me huge amounts of encouragement. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere waiting for approval from the forum folks. Encouragement and support, not fear, is what we need.

My advice is to have no fear. Everyone of us has a story or two or three to tell. So tell it. Write it down, stare down your demons, and send it off. Or better yet, publish it yourself and let the reader decide.

Writers Write

Writers write and editors edit and publishers publish and agents take your money.

Notice, only writers write. The others do something else. But that doesn’t mean a writer can’t also do those things. After all, they did so for millennia before editors, publishers, and agents showed up on the scene. A writer should be able to edit and proof his or her own work. Another pair of eyes, someone who knows what a good story is like, is also helpful. That other pair of eyes will catch things our own eyes think is there but isn’t.

Mark Twain started his own publishing company. So did Edgar Rice Burroughs. They did so to have control over their work.

That is the key: control. I write a work. Why give away control of that work to someone else? Would you give control of your car or your significant other or your children to someone else? I don’t think so. So why do so with your literary baby?

Writers write, but they can also publish and in today’s world it is easier than ever. In fact, self-publishing is often the key to getting noticed by a big publisher.

You and Your Voice are Important

If you want to write, then write. It is the best feeling in the world. Just write. Don’t give a flying fig about what anyone says. Just write.

The more you write, the more you learn about the craft of writing. Rewriting does little or nothing for you. We’re called writers, not rewriters. Any prolific author simply sits down and writes. They have to, it’s how they make their money. By writing.

Don’t let fear kill your creativity. Don’t let other people’s expectations kill your creativity. If you have to write, write. Sure the first story or book may not be very good. So send it off and start another. My early poems, when I look at them today, ugh! So many are just plain awful — and yet editors took some of them and published them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Freedom!

What ebooks and print on demand offer writers today is freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of the Man who has a bottom line to consider. Freedom from the Man who will take whatever he can from you because you are disposable, a paper cup. Why? Because writers are a dime a dozen. There are plenty waiting in line behind you.

Robert E Howard wrote to H P Lovecraft that the main reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. Freedom from the 8 to 5 Man. Today’s writer can even have freedom from the Publisher Man. I think Howard would have loved that.

Today, we writers can get rid of the middleman. Nothing need stand between us and the reader. We can proof and edit our own books. Secure our own art for our books. Not have someone tell us the book is too long or too short or we need to cut this part because readers won’t like it or the CEO won’t like it.

We have freedom. And I think that is a good thing.

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