Monday, January 29, 2007

Political Books

In the small local library in my small home town, the librarians still use the Dewey System, and on the shelves in high 900's, just before the biography section, they have placed the political books, specifically the books written in recent years by celebrity journalists and authors. I came upon this section again Saturday while looking for Robert Caro's most recent volume on Lyndon Johnson. (I found Randall Woods' favorable treatment of Johnson during the search, but I will have more on that on another day.) The titles are known to many, including those who will never read them: See, I Told You So, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, The Bush Hater's Handbook, Boy Clinton, Stupid White Men, Truth, The No Spin Zone, etc. etc. We know them because their authors are famous, as they all have radio shows, write for major newspapers, have syndicated columns, and appear nightly on cable TV. What is striking about these books is how many of them there are (I counted over a hundred of them in what is a tiny library), how recent they all are (none of them were printed before the Kennedy Administration, and most were written in the past fifteen years), how angry their famous authors are, and how much the books focus upon the President and those who aspire to become President, as opposed to focusing on, say, Senators, Congressmen, Governors, or the organizations that got all of the above elected. (I will write something more about this latter fixation in another entry.)
There obviously is a strong market for this sort of thing, as the internet, talk radio, and twenty-four hour news channels demonstrate this as strongly as the books do, and those who consume these various media clearly like their views serving steaming hot and partisan. And while angry rhetoric is hardly new to America, the famous commentators of today are breaking new ground here. When William J. Bryant more than a hundred years ago raged that the nation's workers should not be "crucified upon a cross of gold" he was using Biblical rhetoric at a time when nearly all Americans believed in the Bible and would know he was accusing his opponents of committing what most of them would consider the worst crime in history. But what Bryant really wanted was for the U.S. to leave the gold standard; that is, he wanted specific legislation passed. Neither he or his audience actually thought their opponents, the supporters of the gold standand, were murderers; they only thought they were wrong. The men and women who write the political books of today believe in something a lot stronger. They think their opponents indeed are murderers, and they add that anyone who disagrees with what they write are immoral, underhanded scum who are capable of doing worse things than slaughtering the innocent.
The rhetoric has become angrier and hotter (and will become hotter as time passes) because the stakes are higher now. Who rules the American government is more important than it once was because the government now has the power to insert itself into every aspect of our lives, from the taxes we pay to what we purchase at the supermarket to the way cheese is made. America herself has grown more powerful in the world than she once was. She is the sole remaining super power (for the time being, at least) and the engine that drives the world economy, to say nothing of our world-wide cultural empire.
Nor are the famous authors and those who support them merely desiring to pass some legislation and thereby make some small altercations in the nation's behavior. William Jennings Bryant was an economic progressive, but a social conservation, and like all leaders and opinion makers of his day, he was certain of the basic goodness of the nation and society within which he lived. Make some modifications, and he would have been content. At least half of our present-day political celebrities wish to change the entire nation, in fact change all of western civilization, and change it utterly. (I will be coy and not state which half wants this; besides, all the writers think their enemies wish to make a massive change in the country.) The other half are terrified their opponents will some day get their way. Since--as I wrote in another blog--it is absurd to think we will ever come to blows as we did in the 1860s, and since both sides know how to play the political game every bit as well as they know how to verbally assault each other, the big change will never come, and America's wrathful conversation with itself will surely go on and will in time make the shouting matches we have today seem like very mild stuff.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

David and Arthur

It is not an original observation on my part, but I was again struck this week while I was rereading Sir Thomas Malory how highly similar are the story of King David in the Bible and the story of King Arthur in the versions of his history handed down from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Tennyson.
As young boys, both David and Arthur perform feats of strength that eventually lead to their kingships. Arthur pulls a sword from a stone, and David slays Goliath and so gains the attention of King Saul and of the entire nation. To secure his kingdom, Arthur must defeat the eleven kings who gather their forces against him, while David must await the death of King Saul before he can rule. (There is a hint of the illegitimate that adheres to both rulers even after they take their thrones. Was David in the cities of the Philistines when Saul and Jonathan were killed? Why does Arthur need the symbols of his court and his magical sword to prove his royal blood?)
Arthur has a wife who has an adulterous affair with a trusted warrior (Galahad) in his court. David gets a new wife (Bathsheba) by betraying a trusted warrior (Uriah). Arthur has bevy of trusted knights. David has Joab and a host of other warriors. David owns the Arc of the Covenant, and Arthur has Excalibur.
David gets his ultimate betrayal from his son Absalom. Arthur gets his from his son (or nephew, we don't know for sure) Mordred, who mortally wounds him. David receives spiritual guidance from the prophet Samuel. Arthur gets his from the mystical Merlin.
Both stories end before there is true fulfillment for either man. David must endure a terrible old age and is never allowed to build the Temple. Rather than dying, Arthur is taken to Avelon, whence he will one day return to save his people; as he goes, he leaves them in chaos.
There may have been a real Arthur in Britain after the Romans left the island, but whomever he really was, the churchman Geoffrey gave him the qualities of David in order to create an appropriate national myth.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Aetius, the Last Roman

A preoccupation with a particular era of the past reveals a dread about something in our own times that no one dares openly express. We in America have always compared ourselves with ancient Rome. (Aptly, the first volume of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire went to the printer the same July month in 1776 as the founders met to sign the Declaration of Independence, and we have been fussing over our own percieved decline ever since.) Like the Romans, we started as a humble republic based on agriculture. Both we and they owed a profound cultural and political debt to other nations; they were beholden to the Greeks and the Etruscans, and we to the British and (to a lesser degree) to other Europeans. After the destruction of Carthage, Rome found itself owning an empire, much as we did after two bloody World Wars. Both America and Rome have become multicultural states in every sense of that recently coined word, both created powerful central governments, and both we and the Romans needed to be constantly entertained. We in America have not yet elected an emperor to govern us nor have we thrown convicts to the lions, but we so fret about losing the virtues and the religion of our ancestors that someone like Bill Bennet can make a living doing the fretting in public, exactly as old Livy once did. Who does not fear that mad emperors and ravenous lions await us not far in the future?
The Roman heroes we venerate today are those who fought against the long decline into empire and eventual decadence. Conservative scholars praise Cicero, the valiant lawyer who stood first against the conspiracy of Catiline and latter spoke out against the ambitions of Caesar and Marc Anthony. For his trouble, the brave man got his hands nailed to the Senate wall. Liberals venerate failed reformers like the Brothers Gracchi, who tried their hands at the redistrabution of land and were torn to pieces in seperate riots. Everyone praises the tragic last general Flavius Marcellus Aetius (396-454 A.D.), the man who somehow threw together an army in 451 and defeated Attila at Cholons, near modern Orleans. Here was a man who overcame the opposition of everyone else of any stature and did the impossible, and in his victory possibly saved Western Civilization from an even more dreadful Dark Age.
But closer examination shows how futile were the stuggles of these heroes. Cicero was in fact a moderate caught between the designs of wealthier and more ambitious men who rarely heeded him when he spoke truth to power, and when they did hear him, he succeeded only in making the ambitious angry. The Gracchi wanted to help the people, but they also wanted to grasp the absolute power of the state two generations before Caesar actually did, and they would have made themselves tyrants who would have ruled as ruthlessly as Augustus did, had they not been killed. Poor Aetius (of whom there are no less than six books printed over the past five years) lived in a time when the Roman Empire was a pastiche of temporary agreements made by powerful families and barabarian tribesmen. He himself had lived among the Huns and entertained barbarian sympathies. In his lifetime everything was either conspiracy or bloody outrage, and to no one's surprise, brave Aetius was eventually murdered by the Emperor Valentonian III who feared the general as a potential rival.
The point is, once a nation or a people decide to go down a cerain path, there is nothing well-meaning and courageous individuals can do to save it. I do not believe in inevitability or in any historical dialectic; I only believe that nations have a natural lifetime, just as men do, and once they have progressed from frontier society to republic (or kingdom) and then to empire, there is only once course left for it to take. This is the unspoken thing we know about Rome and about us, and it is why we think if are only brave and have right on our side, then we can make our outcome different. To think otherwise is to admit we are about to know a time of great, nearly unbearable sorrow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New and Improved

There is a show biz legend that it was a movie, namely the production of James Jones' "From her to Eternity," which gave the marketing world the concept of new and improved. It was said that Frank Sinatra, whose voice was changing and whose teenage fans had grown up and were no longer buying his recordings in large numbers, wanted a role in a major motion picture so he could launch a new career as a serious actor. (Mario Puzo wrote a fictionalized version of this story in The Godfather, in which he claims a Sinatra-like singer gets the part because the Godfather makes a the film's producer an offer he cannot refuse, to say nothing of what he does to the producer's horse.) Whatever the truth was, Frankie got the role, won the Oscar for best supporting actor of 1953, and went on to have an even larger career as an adult entertainer. According to the legend--and for all I know, the legend may actually be true--this is the one major notion, this idea of making a comeback as something different, that governs modern advertizing and public relations and yet does not come from the offices of Madison Avenue. Wherever the idea of new and improved was thought up, it has given the lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that there are no second acts in American public life.
The key to making new and improved work is making sure the person or thing being brought back is much different from the person or thing it was before. In the case of a product, the change may be wroght simply by new packaging and a small physical change, thus Tide detergent can become the New Tide by adding some new chemicals and going into a new box. (There is an implication here that the old version of the product was not very good at what it did before the change took place, and there is therefor a second implication that the consumer buying the new product might have some reason to dislike the old version.) Although the change has to be noticable, or else a company may have a fiasco, as Coca Cola did when they brought out New Coke, a soft drink whose only innovation was a taste that was rather like that of Pepsi. People in the public's eye have to do more; they have to become, to some degree, the opposite of what they were before. Bill Clinton--and, yes, our politics are mostly public relations--was able to come back from the off-year defeats of 1992 by declaring the era of big government was over and by becoming the champion of welfare reform. Richard Nixon made a comeback in 1968 by presenting himself as a veteran, level-headed statesman, and no longer the political warrior had been in the previous decade. I have long felt that even the racist ex-Klansman David Duke could have had a successful career, if he had but renounced everything he had proclaimed before and had become a born-again liberal, thus making himself the enemy of everything he had once been. (Whether his heart had to change is another matter. But then, did Mr. Clinton's and Mr. Nixon's hearts really change?)
Which brings me to that shining example of a man who re-invented himself again and again with breath-taking agility, that cultural icon we should all celebrate: Sonny Bono. Blessed with no discernable talents (but owning more brains than I dare say anyone ever credited him with), Mr. Bono was able to have a profitable career that lasted for as long as he lived, while other truly gifted entertainers burned themselves out in a few years. Sonny got his start as a producer of pop records, then made himself into a faux hippie while he sang top forty tunes with Cher. Later he and his soon-to-be ex-wife would be the family-friendly hosts of a wildly popular TV variety show. Later Sonny would become the lovable loser and bit role actor in the "Airplane" movies and on D-grade TV shows. He ended his life as a much beloved Republican congressman. If he had not been killed in a ski-ing accident, it is not beyond the realm of possibilities that old Sonny could have re-invented himself into a wildly popular president, maybe as Democratic one. Perhaps, had he won the presidency soon enough, an aged Frank Sinatra could have sang at Sonny's inaugeration ball.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Best Bar in America

In a recent edition of "Esquire" (no, I don't have a subscription; I read it at my gym, where I can puruse the ads for clothes and automobiles I cannot afford while I am on the treadmill) there is an atricle concerning the best bars in the U.S. I have already forgotten which establishment won, but I am certain it was some metrosexual watering place wherein the champagne costs at least two hundred dollars a magnum and everyone mentions who their parents were, some place far from France yet bearing a French name. It doesn't matter what the winner was, for it was surely someplace I will never go.
For my money, the best bar I have ever been in is the Buckhorn Bar in Laramie, Wyoming. Originally catering to railroad workers, (the U.P. tracks are visible from the front windows) the Buckhorn features a wide array of wildlife, some it stuffed and mounted on the bar's walls but most of it seated at the tables in the form of aged cowboys, forty-year-old college students who will never graduate, and an assortment of drunks no twelve step program could hope to cure. The bar forever won my heart the night a young co-ed from the local university wandered in and asked Gabe, the Mexican-American bartender if she could have a martini; Gabe sighed and told her: "I'm sorry, Miss. The Buck isn't that kind of place." The kind of place it is one where the clients buy beer by the gallon pitcher and tell stories about the bullet hole in the mirror behind the cash box. (Some say the shooter was just taking a practice shoot at a patron at the bar and that the second shot hit home. Some claim the gun man shot an image in the high, long mirror by mistake. I was a college student in town at the time and know in fact the shooter was a husband trying to kill the man who had stolen his wife. The gunman had paused long enough to down a half-price pitcher the Buck serves at five o'clock, and the drinking had thrown off his aim. Since his wife was a regular at the bar, I suspect that like most of women one meets there she was hardly worth the trouble.)
I had to clean up the bar one morning after another man had been stabbed to death inside the front window of the Buck. I was a student working part-time for a local industrial laundry and was sent down with extra towels to clean up the mess after the body had been taken away. The owner and I scrubbed at the floor with soapy water for a good hour, but we could not get the red stain out of the old wood, so we moved a table to cover up the spot. "No one can see much when we turn the lights down," the owner told me. He added, with considerable regret, that the dead man had been a good drinker and would be much missed.
There used to be a chess board on one of the Buckhorn's front tables. Both the red and white sides were kept laid out, although no one ever played a game or even pretended to do so. Two retired railroaders usually sat there and kept track of the trains as they roared past. ("There's the 11:50 manifest," one of them would say as he checked the train against his pocket watch.) When two drunken frat boys sat at the table while the old railroaders were away and actually moved some of the pieces, the old men declared that the world had gone to hell, and they never again returned to the Buck.
The best aspect of the Buck was that no one who writes for "Esquire" or has a subscription for the magazine would ever go there, not if they objected to having the hell beaten out of them.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Will Technology Destroy Itself?

Another question I have been asked by the handful of people who have read my books is: Do I really believe that technology can become so ruinous to humankind, humans might opt to destroy technology itself before it destroys them? (For those who don't know, and that would be most of you, in my novels, a secret society called the Yukons create electro-magnetic pulse weapons which interrupt electrical current all over the world.)
I fear my answer has to be that maybe that it is possibility, and I am hardly the first sci-fi writer to suggest the possibility. From the very beginning of the genre, there have been authors uneasy about the course upon which science is leading us. Mary Shelley (and, yes, I would call her Frankenstein a sci-fi novel in addition to being a Gothic one) warns that tinkering with man will only create monsters. Jules Verne, usually an optimist regarding the future, in his Paris in the Twentieth Century, foretells of a France in which the rush, the consumerism, the impersonal mileau of society has made life worthless. Between our time and those first sci-fi authors there have been countless tales of nuclear destruction, of artificial intelligence gone astray, of deadly viruses hatched in research laboratories, of enviromental destruction, etc., etc.
Man made wretched by his own creations is a tale told so many times it has passed from warning status to tired cliche to being a no longer amusing joke, although telling and retelling the story does not make it untrue.
Alvin Toffler, in his now quite dated Future Shock, states that the fate of technology should not be decided by luddites or other extremists who wish to put limits on human knowledge. What Mr. Toffler did not get was that while such groups contribute nothing to the advancement of technology, technology itself does eventually pass into their hands. A young Winston Churchill wrote the only innovation modern science offered the warrior tribes of Afganistan that they really enjoyed was the long-range rifle, which allowed them to shoot their neighbors without leaving home. Perhaps within the next two decades and certainly within the next hundred years, similar Afgan tribesmen will have small nuclear weapons. A time will also come when Peruvian narco-terroists will have viruses for which there are no cures, and domestic terrorists in the deepest Ozarks and street gangs in the public housing projects will possess pulse weapons. When that time comes, we can be assured such groups will use their new tools with the casual malevolence Sir Winston observed during his younger days on the Northwest Frontier. Haters of the modern world will not be able to destoy civilization--civilization is much more than the advance or the applications of science--but they can create a new Dark Age, just as other groups, who had become as well-armed as their civilized rivals, have created Dark Ages in the past. And that, I fear, is one story that will be retold again and again until the sun explodes and we are once more star dust.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Could the Yukons or anyone like them ever rule America?

In my first sci-fi novel Fitzpatrick's War, the English-speaking world of the 25th century is ruled by a cabal known as the Yukons, who originally came to power in the late 21st century. One of the questions I have been asked by the few people who have read the book is: Could a secretive group like the Yukons ever take over the US or any advanced industrial nation? I have to answer that there is a good reason successful revolutions of any sort have in recent history taken place only in backward nations. (And Russia in 1918 and China in 1948 were decidedly backward, impoverished states.) Actually there two good reasons that come to mind: one, there are no rebellious groups in any advanced nation which have the economic, social, political or cultural independence to overthrow the present order, and--two--despite protestations to the contrary, very few people living in modern industrial states are so estranged from the present civilization they would wish to see it come to an end.
In the heated aftermath of the Los Angeles riots of 1991 I heard some individuals who should have known better claim that this outburst of lawlessness could presage a race war in the U.S. Similar nonsense was said about the white guys in camo who were tramping about the national forests ten years ago and calling themselve militas. Any day now, according to certain voices in the media, we were going to be confronting some type of domestic warriors in a terrible fight for our survival. Now, while certain angry young men can commit individual crimes or acts of terrorism (witness the events in Oklahoma city), they presently lack the means to fight an effective war against the U.S. Army. Today there is no potential rebel group that can feed itself, arm itself, organize itself into a military force, or make its members endure the hardships a revolutionary war would entail. To put down any uprising the government would only have to surround the rebellious area and await the rebels' surrender (or their eventual starvation). For the nation's founders to fight a successful war against the British in 1776 they needed to have most of the southern and western countryside on their side and to have a functioning (if much reduced) economy, to say nothing of foreign assistance. The Confederacy had many of the same advantages in 1861, plus the lion's share of the best military officers, and yet they could fight for only four years. Any present day revolutionaries would have practially nothing working in their favor other than their anger.
The late Abbie Hoffman said many foolish things in his lifetime, but one thing he said that was true was: "To be a revolutionary in America is like being a wallflower at an orgy." The truth is, as much as some Americans claim to dislike their homeland and the modern world in general, they in fact love the personal freedom, the wealth, the social and physical mobility, and even the constant entertainments one enjoys here. They are not going to give up McDonalds and porn on the internet to go live in a cave where they can feast upon tree roots and ideology. Try to imagine your neighbor or the chap in the office cubicle next to you going off to fight in the wilderness, and you will see what a ridiculous notion an uprising in modern America would be. Even the angry people who immigrate here are usually quickly seduced by the easy life we have, and they are not going to throw that life away.
So, I would have to say, no, the Yukons are not currently a possibility. While I do think we will see a rise in secrect societies in our near future (during chaotic times, people find comfort in such groups; witness the mystery cults of the Hellanistic and late Roman eras, and the secret societies of the Italian Renaissance), but for one of these societies to come to power, the government would have to become much weaker than it presently is and the people much poorer. Such a group would also have to become a nation unto itself and able to tend for itself in every way. My imaginary Yukons do that, but it takes them three generations to become that strong, and they are the benefactors of a number of technological discoveries a real group would probably never have.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

More Great Books

I wanted to add to the post yesterday that in response to a student's querry about the very best books I would nominate Turgenev's Hunter's Notebook (also translated as A Sportsman's Sketches as well as in various other titles). Like Dante's epic poem, this book of short stories is a study of a world about to come to an end; in this case Turgenev (or rather the unnamed narrator who speaks for him) is journeying through the Russian countryside populated by serfs still bound to the land. Only in the moment this community is about to pass away can it be seen with sympathy by someone who has no desire for the institutions of the old order to continue. It is not lost on the reader that the simple people of the land have vivid interior lives while the sophistocated narrator, no doubt a "Europeanized" Russia like the dandy Turgenev himself, displays none.
Lastly, I would advise a reader to peruse P.G. Wodehouse, particularly the Jeeves and Wooster stories re-issued on the author's 90th birthday. I have no doubt Wodehouse is, as I mention in one of my books, the one twentieth century author the world is still going to read four hundred years from now. I say this not only because Wodehouse brings the reader joy or because he is a comic writer--always the best kind of author to be in unheroic times, when everything else is either cant or rehashed ideology--but because he is the one celebrated writer of his era who had the good sense to avoid his era. His fellow Engish comic writer Evelyn Waugh is a better stylist and though I share some of Waugh's world view, Waugh drags into his novels the dreary modern world with all its posing and blood lust, and while Waugh mocks the modern age, I quickly grow weary of its presence. Wodehouse's universe is a little of the Victorian Britain he was born into, a little of the Edwardian London he knew as a young man, a little of wealthy Brits tramping about New York and other alien spots during the Roaring Twenties, but mostly Wodehouse's universe exists only in his imagination. It is a large and tolerant place that sort of resembles the spots his contemporaries were living in, but it is too silly and too kind to the silly ever to be mistaken for reality. Keeping company with Jeeves, Wooster, the misplaced Psmith, or the eccentric Lord Emsworth and Mr. Ukridge is thus always a safe place to go when our times and their crushing seriousness become too much to bear. And I am forever grateful Mr. Wodehouse has given us these safe havens where we can flee when the need arises.

Monday, January 8, 2007

The Best Book

As a teacher, I have had students ask me what the best book is I have ever read. Others--those so deluded they think I must know something--ask me simply what the very best book is. I sometimes take the easy route and tell them Ezra Pound writes that the very greatest work of literature is The Iliad, a poem unmatched for its depiction of movement, beauty and human heroism. (I also suspect it jibes with Pound's theory of history to place the very best work in the dawn of western civilization and, like Nestor, to see everything which follows as being less than what was created in the golden age.) Now, while I can read Koine Greek, my Homeric Greek is so poor I cannot hack my way through Homer without the heavy use of a dictionary, and thus I have read The Iliad only in translation, and as brilliant as the translations are, I have to confess I cannot be as moved by the blow by blow descriptions of battle in front of the high towers of Troy as Pound was. Language stands in the way of my full appreciation.
Among the great books I can read in its original language is The Divine Comedy, and Dante's grand verse narrative would be my nomination for greatest book of all time. Like all interesting works, it is the product of a man born between eras and is many ways a monument to the Middle Ages at the moment they are coming to an end. No other book that I know of presents so many varieties of humanity and no other dares to judge the world as severely as Dante does. I say Dante judges because though he is traveling through the three layers of the afterlife God has fashioned, what we see is clearly seen through his eyes, and the residents of hell, purgatory and heaven are assigned the fates Dante thinks they deserve. The poem is his final word upon the world he has known before it passes away, and like everything doomed to die, his world is full of tears. I am a little disappointed he stocks the ninth cycle of hell with traitors (Is disloyalty to a nation really the worst a human can do? Only a man who has only lived within weak city-states could be so patriotic.) and I wish his meeting with his beloved in paradise were nearly as moving as the suffering he has witnessed down below. But then even a great poet will understand more of depravity and of the suffering and remorse human frailty creates than he will of divine serenity.
A second book I would mention is the collected poems of Catullus, who in fact wrote of the universe of private thought more than fifteen centuries before Shakespeare. (Dr. Bloom in his book upon Shakespeare avers the Bard of Avon created the private universe; I do not claim Catullus invented this sphere, but I will claim that people have been writing of the private human world for as long as they have been writing. Shakespeare merely wrote upon the matter extremely well.) Catullus lives in a time when it was unseemly for a man to express romantic love for a woman, especially for an unobtainable, underserving woman like Catullus' "Lesbia," so the troubled Roman invents a language to express what he is feeling, and the results are moving--though extremely painful--to behold.
To salve any pain Catullus inflicts, I would advise a reader to turn to P.G. Wodehouse, a writer I will speak of tomorrow when I continue on this subject of great books.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

My First Mistake as a Writer

It is interesting experience to be writing this blog and not have a single response. The net is indeed a narrow-casting medium, and obviously I am here reaching absolutely no one. So I will continue by writing solely for myself.
I think tomorrow I will move onto to other subjects, perhaps listing my personal selections for the best and worst in history, but today I will say one last thing about my writing career, indeed the thing I suspect has gotten me blacklisted among the editors and reviewers, namely that I used a vanity press before I was accepted at a major house. (I say "vanity" press, when in fact the company calls itself a "print on demand" or "POD" company, which means the company prints only those books that have been ordered by a customer. But since the books the company prints are never reviewed and are never placed in brick and mortor bookstores, the company was in function little different than a traditional vanity press, such as the ones advertizing in the back sections of otherwise respectable magazines.)
For eighteen months I traveled several thousand miles across my portion of America, visiting bookstores and libraries and asking that they take my book. I would always offer them a free copy of my novel, provided they put it on their shelves. I likewise visited radio stations and small newspapers and offered them a book if they would write a review of it. The librarians, journalists and broadcasters all told me they would not touch a book that had not been reviewed in certain periodicals (i.e. "Kirkus Reviews," "Library Journal," "Publishers' Weekly," ect.). The bookstore managers told me they had only bad experiences with POD books, especially with POD books coming from the notorious house I had used. The only people who would give me any attention were a dozen or so websites I sent the novel to, and though they all gave me good reviews, (punch in Tom Wedderburn's Life on Goggle, and you will still find some of these positive reviews from 2002) but I still did not sell many books, as the 20% of American adults who read books do not spend their free time cruising the net.
The only thing my efforts accomplished was that I got myself branded as a POD author and one associated with a border-line criminal publishing house. When my second novel was published in 2004 I was still told by most of the people I contacted that they did not want to deal with a POD writer. Had I been smarter, I never would have been tempted by the offer of seeing my name in print and would have held out for a real publishing house. But then, if I were smarter I would not be writing a blog no one reads.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

My Reviews

I was once told by a famous author whose name I will not abuse that if a genie came to her in the night and asked if she could have a somewhat favorable review at The New York Times or glowing reviews for her books in all the other media outlets she would opt to have the former, as all the other critics in America are so in awe of The Times they would praise her work anyway, lest they be considered rubes and Philistines.
Such is not my concern. The Times and other major media do not know I exist. When my first book appeared in August of 2004 I recieved a starred review in Publishers' Weekly, a journal which would also name me one of the six best new authors of that year. My editor at the time assured me I was on my way to greater things. Unfortuneately, Publishers' Weekly was the only print medium that would grant me a review of any sort. Not even the small newspaper in my home town was interested in looking at my book. I was with a sci-fi house that is part of the second largest publishng company in the world, and yet not even the geeky sci-fi magazines would mention my novel. Everything else said about my book (a novel called Fitzpatrick's War) was said on the net, and although nearly everything said there was favorable,
no one read what was written of my book, and Fitzpatrick's War died an ignoble death. I likewise was unable to obtain a single interview on radio or TV or in the local advertizing rag.
I do not wish to boast, and while I realize there are authors who have not been published who are less read than I am, I do have to say my first novel may be the least read book ever printed by a major house. I think in hard-cover and paperback editions put together it sold less than two hundred copies world-wide. I have no reason to think my new book (which will issued this spring) will do any better. Obviously my publisher is printing me only to create a tax loss so they will have to pay millions less to the government for the sales of those authors who do get reviewed in The Times and elsewhere. But I have to be positive: by selling next to nothing while getting praise from those few who do read me I am setting records famous authors can never touch. Perhaps the next book will do so poorly even The Times will have to notice.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

My first post

My name is Ted Judson (or Theodore Judson, which is how my editors put my name on my books). I am posting this blog at the suggestion of my agent, who wants me to have direct contact with the very few people who have read any of my work. I am best known as a sci-fi author (Fitzpatrick's War and Peter Black's Daughter, the latter of which will be published by Pyr Books this spring of 2007), although I aspire to publish other books, including the parody of a thriller my agent is currently attempting to place.
In the real world I am a school teacher in the middle of Wyoming, the place in which I was born. My father was a farmer, and I lacked the imagination and the means to get more than fifty miles from the old home town.
If, by rare coincidence, anyone who has any interest in my novels should actually see this, I would appreciate hearing from you.