Sunday, February 21, 2010

Road Show

“Literary Adventures In POD” is taking to the road this week as I'm giving a presentation on a Slow Publishing Model at the Tools for Change for Publishing Conference in New York.
O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010
I've never attended before, but from what I understand this is where hundreds of industry professionals get together if not to hatch up publishing's future, at least try to make some sense of what it might look like. I'll be sharing my bit of experience, and look forward to sharing some of what I learn with all of you. Onward...

Monday, February 15, 2010

More On Power (The Taking-It-Back Version)

So that big, mean therapy phase of my life reached its natural, or rather unnatural, denouement. As it receded in time I realized I had a story I wanted to tell. Which I then wrote. An agent submitted the book to publishers, and we kept hitting a wall.

Now what? Commercial publishing is an institution with an evolving set of rules and strategies. As was therapy. I had learned the hard way that institutions, believe in them as we may, are not infallible. From keeping up on publishing news I saw that while money was being invested and decisions were being made, no one really knew what people wanted to read or what books would sell. It seemed that nobody was happy—bookstores, authors, publishers, or, for that matter, readers. So the question for me became: why should I allow my literary fate be determined by what seemed increasingly a dysfunctional system?

This made sense, but acting on this also meant reclaiming the power I had, in my own mind, granted the publishing-literary-critical establishment. It was comforting to believe that there was this distinct entity called “a good book” that a writer aspired to and that an editor would recognize and embrace. But I could no longer believe this. So, tentative about this though I was, I chose to take back that power and avail myself of new publishing vehicles to bring the book out myself. Every once in a while I slip and find myself apologizing about its being self-published, but it turns out readers are not as hung up on those publishing brands as I thought. The same with writers (though every once in a while I sense that someone sees self-publishing as a disease they might catch—but this could be my own projection.) Not that I’m against conventional publishing; I have a novel making the rounds (I’ll write about this another time). It’s just that, same as with therapy, you’ve got to know when it’s working for you and when it’s time to go your own way.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison--and the notion of taking back power, generally--here's the necklace that Beverley Price, a friend and South African artist, made as a contemporary interpretation of the Xhosa neckpiece Mandela wore to his sentencing. Beverley had the chance to present it personally at an exhibition on the occasion of Mandela's 90th birthday.Anyone who knows me has probably seen me wear this necklace, depicting Drum magazine, which my late father-in-law, Cecil, at one point edited.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts On Power

I’m thinking about a line in the One True Thing blog that ran two posts ago. Blogger Jen Haupt asked me what I had to give up in order to get better, and I responded: the willingness to give complete power to another person. I’m realizing that this was crucial not only in affording me the courage to step aside from therapy, but in other aspects of my life as well.

It is extremely difficult to disagree with someone in whom you have invested power—either because of an inherent power differential (a boss, teacher, editor, etc.) or the particular dynamic (spouse, lover, friend). When you’re dependent on someone, you fear what you might lose (love, support, a job). Sometimes you merely hold back from voicing your dissent; sometimes you stop yourself from even acknowledging disagreement in your own mind.

At different points in my life I did risk standing up to authority. Years back I told a literary agent that I believed in a book I was working on and stayed with it rather than taking the secure-but-dull projects she recommended. I gave up a lucrative freelance gig because I felt the company wanted me to downplay a problem in a way I felt was dishonest.

The big one, however, was therapy. I regarded a therapist as a lifeline, a link to the world outside myself that often felt out of reach, so I bought everything he/she said. Truth was, I didn’t know what it was to feel okay. The therapists I saw seemed to have a purchase on okay-ness, so I deferred to their judgment (as in, I needed to endure a lot of psychic pain to get better). The worse I felt, the more willingly I gave power to others. I felt that I was gaining something—attention and support—and didn’t see what I had given up, ultimately my own best interests. It wasn’t until it became clear that continuing therapy was untenable that I began to question the framework for healing that I had accepted on faith. Which made for a painful withdrawal rather than a gradual transition.

I believe the courage not to give power to others is important in other ways, including our role as citizens in the larger world. Can our economic “experts” always tell us how to find prosperity? Today, I don’t think so. Check out my recent article on are lions gathering courage in the Kruger Park.