Pass me the litmus, please
July 26, 2013
Back in the old school days of my youth there were three professions that stood head and shoulders above the rest: doctors, lawyers and preachers.
Clarence Darrow, Jonas Salk and Martin Luther King, Jr., come to mind.
In the new nuclear age scientists also rose to an honored spot.
Albert Einstein comes to mind.
Inhabiting a parallel universe were the creatives.
Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Picasso and John Updike come to mind.
But it was also a world stratified into castes where some were chosen and others locked out, not invited to the party.
Nowhere was this more true than in the book world. The giant publishers had a lock on the game and carefully guarded the gate.
Part of this process of protecting their turf was cultivating a mystique for their authors. Writers were oracles who lived apart from the masses and dined at the table with the Muse.
I started to call this blog Has Anybody Seen My Author Mystique, I Seem to have Misplaced It.
Perhaps the most profound change the digital revolution in publishing has produced is the democratization of writing.
What a messy thing it is.
Several times a week I see posts bemoaning the state of writing and publishing, wondering how it can be fixed, what can be done to right the ship. People suggest gatekeepers of different ilks, litmus test applying somebodies who will filter through all the crap that now calls itself writing and all the crappers who label themselves authors.
There were lots of lawyers besides Clarence Darrow, lots of medical doctors besides Jonas Salk, lots of preachers beside Martin Luther King. There were tons of composers other than Bernstein, lofts full of artists at the time of Picasso.
And there were thousands of authors during John Updike’s hey day.
We don ‘t know many of those authors’ names because either their books were never published or their books didn’t sell.
The only thing that has changed is that now everyone who wants to publish a book has access to the digital marketplace.
We still don’t know who they are, and most of them aren’t John Updike.
Most authors never were.
I believe if John Updike or Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner or Robert Parker or John D. MacDonald came along now they would do just fine.
It wouldn’t matter how many other writers there were.
I am not a fan of litmus tests for writing.
As I see it all any author can do is tend his own garden. He can apply discipline and determination to his craft, produce the best work he can, look at the digital world and try to figure out how to navigate his way through it. Maybe he will sell some books, maybe he won’t.
But the last thing he needs is for another person to wave a finger at him and tell him he isn’t invited to the party.