Electric Grandmother

Maggie Croft's Personal Journal young spirit, wire-wrapped
spark electric grandmother
arc against the night

-- Lon Prater
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where the books come from

Last night I touched on the topic of who's publishing the good books...

Now, that's not to say that the big publishing houses aren't publishing some good work, but... Yeah. You know.

Well, let's back up a little bit.

As I've mentioned in the past, most of the books that are sold around here tend to be of the Top 25 or whatever, or are by the best-selling authors, e.g. Stephen King, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, etc., etc. Now, if one goes and finds a bigger bookstore, they'll see a better selection, but still they'll mostly find the big names and the big books. They'll find lots of Stephen King and no Caitlin R. Kiernan, for example. (This is the case in Tucson, Az, as well -- well, at least it was a year ago.)

Also, rarely will one find anything published by a small press. And this is terribly sad. Lately, most of the best stuff I've read has come from the small presses. E.g. Kelly Link and Tim Pratt, to list two of the most recent fine writers I've read.

From what I gather, Kelly Link couldn't get a collection of her stories published by the big literary houses because they were speculative, and the speculative publishers wouldn't publisher her because her stories were too literary. (Please correct if I'm wrong on this.) As a result, I have never seen a Kelly Link book available anywhere except for online. I don't know the story behind Pratt's collection. I don't know if Prime was his first choice or that's just where he ended up when FSG or whoever had reservations about his book. But yet again, I've only seen Pratt's book online.

Now, I'm aware I live in Idaho and that it's very likely that one should have no problem finding such fine books from the small presses in their stores. But, I would also wonder, if the stores they're usually found in aren't the private or alternative stores.


Several years ago, my heart was broken when I read Robert McCammon was retiring. McCammon wrote one of my favorite books ever (_Boy's Life_). The thought that he'd never write anything like that again broke my heart. And then a few years ago _Speaks the Nightbird_ came on the scene.

The background story, as I understand it:

After _Boy's Life_, McCammon wrote _Speaks the Nightbird_, which his publisher offered him a great deal of money for, but also wanted to change and chop up. McCammon felt the big publisher didn't understand his book, and not wanting his book ruined, McCammon refused the contract. He then wrote a historical novel about Russian tightrope walkers, or something like that. This time, no one wanted to publish it. Fed up with the state of the publishing world, McCammon retired.

Then came along River City Publishing. (I believe someone from this publisher heard McCammon read some of _Speaks the Nightbird_ and approached him about it. I can't specifically recall, however.) RCP couldn't pay McCammon the money that the big publisher could, but they understood the book and wanted to produce it in its original form. They wanted to keep the integrity of the book instead of just producing another money maker. McCammon agreed, the book was successful, and he's evidently been working on a sequel.


Recently I read Richard Curtis' "On Book Publishing in the 21st Century" at http://www.bksp.org. (FYI -- There's three sections, so make sure you find them all.) It's a fascinating read. I was aware of good portions of what he discusses, but some of it was a real eye-opener. (E.g. the part about books getting pulped. Breaks a book lover's heart.)


Sometimes I wonder what kind of society I live in when it takes Oprah to get a large number of people to read Steinbeck.

Don't even get me started.


Disjointed as this all is, all these thoughts leave me here:

I'm thankful for the internet. Because of the internet I've found books and authors I probably never would have heard of otherwise, or at least not for a very long time. I'm thankful for the small publishers who can somehow afford to take a chance on the unusual, fine books that the big publishers couldn't financially justify publishing.

I remember the story about Madeliene L'Engles _A Wrinkle in Time_ and how she sent her book all over the place until she finally found a publisher who wanted it. (Thankfully! I mean, I can't imagine my life without this book. But that's another entry.) And then it won the Newbery Medal. She had one editor say, "Why didn't you send your book to me?" L'Engle replied that she had. The editor didn't believe her, so Madeliene showed the editor her journal where she'd written about sending the book and it being rejected by that particular publisher.

So, in the end, let's support our small publishers. When looking for a new book to read on the plane, why don't we go to Prime or Nightshade or Small Beer Press and see what they have before wandering down to the local Barnes and Nobel? And while we're at it, let's also go to our small, private bookstores to see what they have lying around. I know it's possible that one day I'll be reading my books on a PMP, as Curtis suggests, but in the meantime, I love books -- I love them not only for what they have inside, but for how they feel and smell and look. I love the whole experience, and I hope I can hold onto it for just a while longer.


I also just finished Carlton Mellick III's Satan Burger published by Eraserhead Press. (What a fabulous name for a publisher!) It. Was. Fantastic. I will definitely have to check out more by Mr. Mellick III when life clears up a bit. I'll also have to check out more from Eraserhead Press. Up there with Small Beer, Prime, and Nightshade.

Please let me know what you think, and in particular, what you think if you read Curtis' articles.

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