Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Book Publishing, 2017

I've been fortunate enough to have books of mine creep into print without much fanfare or exertion.  I had arranged for those earlier books to have a publisher lined up as I did my work.  I didn't even need an agent. But my new book on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took shape after my teaching career ended, so publication was far less urgent this time around--and I therefore didn't bother lining up a publisher before beginning the work.  Maybe not such a good idea.

The book is finished now, except for the notes and index, so I got a copy of Writer's Market 2017 and settled in to see what was what in book publishing these days. It isn't a pretty picture.

At first I was heartened because there were more than 900 book publishers listed on 230 double-columned pages.  And there was a ton of helpful information--email addresses, names, favorite subjects, and something called "tips."  And each press listed exactly what it was looking for in the nonfiction area--if they were looking for nonfiction at all.

The first disappointment was that none of the major, commercial publishing houses in New York take "unsolicited manuscripts" and insist instead on what they call "agented submissions."  (After a few dozen inquiries, I soon learned that it was harder to line up an agent than to find a publisher. Catch 22.)  In effect, that ruled out every good publisher with money enough to pay me, do a good job on book production, and then pursue an active marketing campaign.

The other publishing avenue that made sense was a university press, but the problem with them is that they uniformly produce what is called a "scholarly monologue," and the book I wrote is not one of those.  I did give it a dependable, scholarly treatment, but I wrote in a readable, unacademic style, something on the border between what is known as a trade book and an academic one.  In other words, the new book isn't suitable for university presses.

And so I was glad finally to dig into the 900 entries in the Writer's Market.  The gladness faded quickly, however, when I saw how few of them actually published the sort of book I wrote.

There were publishers who were interested in musicology, curriculum development, horticulture, quilting, plastics, gay/lesbian, vampire folklore, woodworking, and "the finest in geek entertainment."  Others wanted manuscripts on astrology, home brewing, civil engineering, and metal working.  One publisher favored books on "our emerging planetary citizenship"; another was hoping for manuscripts on "transpersonal psychology and spirituality."  A third was looking for "romantic stories involving spanking."

Probably a third of the publishers were after children's books or uplifting Christian testimonies.

In the end there were only fifteen publishers out of nine hundred, who may by their entries in Writer's Market be interested in my new book, The Dark Lady and the Mad Man:  Longfellow in Love.  I contacted all fifteen and am waiting to hear--although publishers think nothing of announcing that they get too many submissions to acknowledge all the queries and book proposals that cross their desks.  So most of them will simply delete my e-mail or throw out my snail mail--and never bother to say thanks but no thanks.  I am not what you'd call encouraged.

I'll let you know how this turns out.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Longing for the good old days. . .

There was one part of me that was pleased when we pooled our ignorance in the presidential election of 2016 and voted The Donald as our president for the next four years.  It was appalling of course, but I thought maybe it would be fresh (and long overdue) to have a president who was not a dreaded "politician"--I didn't think anyone could be lower in the food chain than a politician.  Trump was a true threat to the worn-out two-party system.  Maybe his election was a good thing. . . .

But now that I've seen the buffoon president fumble everything he's touched in his first year, I see the error of my ways.  Not only has he not liberated us from the two-party system, he has managed to make old-fashioned, deal-making, knuckle-dragging, two-faced politicians in Congress look good.  

Let's elect one of them president next time around.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Just as I thought. . . .

On November 1, 2016, just days before the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of American democracy, I posted an analysis of the election urging voters (with very little enthusiasm) to vote for Hillary Clinton.  I pointed out that Trump had stumbled onto political gold, what I called "the fertile valley of middle-class, racist, anti-immigrant, flag-waving, empty-headed American men."  

In today's New York Times, just about one full year later, Op-Ed Columnist Nicholas Kristof, illustrated my point (inadvertently) when he quoted Trump loyalist John  Zengel of Asbury Park, NJ:

          What the liberal elite don't get
          Is that Trump speaks my language.
          If that makes me a racist, so be it.
          I'm a hard-working American.

And there we have it:  "the fertile valley of middle-claass, racist, anti-immigrant, flag-waving, empty-headed American men."

Mr. Zengel and the rest of the core demographic Trump has claimed for his own may never open their eyes, but the horrors of Donald Trump's first year have cut into the second tier of Trump supporters, if his current approval ratings reported in Newsweek four days ago, are accurate, showing him bottoming out at 35 percent.

We're stuck with him, but at least he's not pulling the wool over everyone's eyes.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mother Divine Passes. . . Understanding

On Wednesday, March 15, the New York Times reported the death of the former Edna Rose Ritchings at age 91.  Born in Vancouver, Ritchings traveled to Montreal when she was 15 to join a family of followers of Father Divine, a charismatic preacher who ran a huge empire of believers during the 1930s.  She took the name Sweet Angel.

She moved to Father Divine's Philadelphia headquarters of the International Peace Mission Movement to meet Father Divine himself--which she did, becoming his personal stenographer.  Father Divine's first wife, Sister Penny, was black and had died, though her death had never been acknowledged by church officials.  Sweet Angel was white, blonde, and about a head taller than Father Divine, who nevertheless took Sweet Angel to be his second wife.  He maintained, however, that his two wives were one and the same person.

Addressing this tricky issue, Father Divine made the following statement, which ought to be mandatory reading in every writing class everywhere forevermore:

"The individual is the personification of that which expresses personification.  Therefore he comes to be personally the expression of that which was impersonal, and he is the personal expression of it and the personification of the pre-personification of God almighty!"

It's good that he clarified that because I was a little confused at first. . . .

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

God, Rituals, and Atheism

The older I get, the less I believe a God (aka creator) can exist.  It’s a pity, of course, but there it is.  It was always a slippery concept to hold on to, little more than a straw to grasp at when feelings of insignificance overwhelm us—as they always do when, for example, we face death and fear an eternity of not being.  Or when we look up into the evening sky lit by countless stars.  There are several hundred million stars in our own Milky Way galaxy and a hundred million galaxies in the universe.  It’s hard to feel specially chosen under the circumstances.  

It may be even more difficult to believe a creator is responsible for our own planet.  What kind of God would put his children in the way of such harm as the tsunami of 2004 in Indonesia that killed about a quarter million men, women, and children—or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that may have killed just as many.  Some four million lost their lives in the 1931 China floods.  Isn’t our creator supposed to be all good and all powerful?  How could he allow such disasters to his children?  Why would he have put us in such a hostile environment?  No, believing in a God becomes very difficult indeed—unless he’s an evil God, and who wants to believe that? 

It may be hardest to believe any God could have created so many beings (in his image!) who are so very evil, like the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on 9.11.01,  killing some 3,000 people—or an individual like Adolf Hitler, who killed six million of God’s own children in concentration camps.  How can an all good and all powerful God allow such evil to exist?  That is, of course, the age-old conundrum that people of faith, as they are called, have to ignore to sleep at night.

What I do like about believers is that they have created rituals.  I am a big believer in rituals because they elevate the dreariness of daily living, give it a glory and purpose and shine.  And anything that promotes good behavior, civilizing behavior, is good, whether it's a wedding service, funeral rite, or the singing of the national anthem before a sporting event.  Rituals sanctify moments in lives that would be emptier without them.

That said, excesses of the religious spirit promote conversion-furies that cause wars and horrible destruction.  And excesses of nationalism have created nations that embark on ethnic cleansing, a bitter anger directed at minorities who are "threatening" somebody's idea of a cherished bloodline and an idealized "way of life."  Rituals notwithstanding, we have to fight diligently against the religious impulse that leads to Holy Wars and the patriotic impulse that leads to land-grabbing wars.

Which is one reason atheism is attractive.  Atheists behave themselves, promote civilization, stand up for brotherhood,  live the good life, pursue answers to universal questions—all without feeling the slightest need to make everyone else think as they do.  They are actually more moral than religious people because they do all that without the expectation of a reward for good behavior.  Or the fear of punishment.  That is:  they aren't motivated by heaven or hell.  Their belief system is admirable in that sense.  Brave.  Human and glorious.  Good for them.  

Now, if they could just come up with a few good rituals. . . .

Monday, March 13, 2017

An Insight into Compulsive Behavior

Yesterday's New York Times Book Review had a review of Sharon Begley's new book, Can't Just Stop, which has this insight into compulsive behavior:  "We cling to compulsions as if to a lifeline, for it is only by engaging in compulsions that we can drain enough of our anxiety to function."  And further on, this, in the words of the reviewer, Seth Mnookin:  "For someone with a compulsion, the behavior itself is a coping mechanism for anxiety; that's why so many [sufferers] find their conduct comforting while those around them view it with alarm."  So if you have a compulsion like over-eating, drinking, or smoking, for example, Begley's starting point may have the ring of truth to it. 

It also suggests, to me at least, that the compulsive behavior, when it kicks in, allows me to push on with my work--a way for me to get past the anxiety that threatens the project at hand.  I've always liked this adage about writing projects:  Progress begins when the fear of doing nothing finally overcomes the fear of doing it badly.  Now it seems to me that getting started and then seeing a project through to conclusion creates an anxiety that I cope with by compulsive over-eating, my "lifeline" that drains enough of my anxiety for me to get on with the work.  Nice.  The more productive I am as a writer, the fatter I get.  And the reverse is true too:  I lose weight when I'm unproductive.  It's a sliding scale. 

I like Begley's theory better than feeling weak--it avoids all accountability.  It's more or less a physiological matter, bad brain wiring that I shouldn't blame myself for.  Yeah, that's it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On the Trump Presidency

kakistocracy  [kak is TOC ra cy].  Noun:  government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.  Government by the worst people.

"American democracy is tail-spinning out of control.  The election of Donald Trump has transformed our political system into a kakistocracy."  Alice Dilfdrew, political correspondent of the JBM News Agency.

“Donald Trump is a buffoon and a clown, a sleazy egomaniac who has left behind nothing over the past fifty years other than a bogus university, a meat-market beauty contest, and a television program where he fired people.  And then there's his long and sordid record as a sexual predator.  And his desperate hatred of Hispanics and Muslims.  And his fear of empowered women.  The list of his empty-headed prejudices is long--and frightening.  It's a national disgrace that we elected him.  We are better than that, better than him.  Stand firm in opposition, assert your faith in what makes America great.  Be the anti-Trump.”

December 21, 2016 to April 1, 2017.  I expect to spend the rest of my days registering opposition to the Trump presidency—that is, after all, the responsibility of an informed citizenry.  But two things have lightened the burden.  
          First, I confess to enormous curiosity about the national direction now that we have finally elected a true outsider.  I might have wished the outsider had been someone else, but I have complained about our cozy two-party system for years, the way party regulars have to toe the line and pick up obligations along the way during every election season--just to get themselves elected.  Donald Trump, bad as he is, has given us a presidency that is beholden to no one.  At this stage we all have good reason to be fearful of the next four years, but I couldn’t be happier that politicians on both sides of the aisle are trembling in their boots.  Their own positions are threatened by a man who won’t be playing by the rules.  
          Second, late night talk shows have been spearheading attacks on Trump, who true to his history, has provided wonderful targets for his opponents to attack.  The New York Times has made it their prime mission each and every day to expose every lie and every example of unpresidential behavior of The Donald.  And as far as I can see, every media outlet is having a similarly good time.  So the bad news is we get to read all about The Donald's uninformed policy gaffes, his unpresidential outbursts, his adolescent behavior, and his embarrassing news conferences, but the good news is that it's fun to watch him self-destruct day by day.