Understanding the Economic Side of Publishing

Eric Flint gave several talks on publishing this weekend at Willycon--talks I thought may be of interest to this group. As a caveat, please remember these are my paraphrases. Any and all mistakes are mine, so read at your own risk. Flint himself warned against using his information as hard and fast rules. This is from his perspective at Baen (as heard by me and transcribed by me from ear to page to computer, so there’s plenty of room for error along the way). Here are my rough notes:

Publishing is a good news/bad news scenario. If you write well, you can get published. A good book is rare. It stands out. It may bounce around until you find the right publisher, so you have to be patient. There are no short cuts to publication. Don’t go to vanity presses.

Create you own luck: be persistent, write another book after you’ve sent out the first, don’t let it depress you or you won’t write. (Flint said he got lucky because Shawna McCarthy had just decided to become an agent when he had won Writers of the Future so she took Flint on after reading his novel--he had an agent so he never queried publishers. He’d call her once every few months to ask if she’d heard anything.)

The bad news is that there’s an economic side to publishing. Don’t expect an informative rejection. You just have to be patient. Flint’s first novel published (not first written) took Baen twenty-three months, during which time Flint did not even query.

Baen is a small business hiring seven employees, putting out six books/month. Each book has the same start up cost: approximately twenty thousand, which is also usually the loss that a publisher absorbs on the road to seeking the new “stars” that will one day drive a publishing company. That cost is from renting the company building and paying its bills, the proof-reading, typesetting, the cover art, etc.

Of the six books published in a month, the publisher will make a list for distributors. At the top is the star or “lead-writer.” Everybody else is called “mid-list.” If the distributor takes nothing else, they should take the lead-writer. It is for this reason that new writers get no priority. A publisher is not buying the book but leasing an author for three books to see how they do. That fourth book is the real hurdle if the writer is bad-selling.

Book sellers put books in three categories: 1) order one book; if it sells, don’t buy more (i.e. first novels); 2) order one book; if it sells, buy another; 3) always make sure there are plenty of copies on the shelves. (Flint is approaching the latter category. Hell, he was just #1 on Amazon.com before his 1634 book even hit print.)

There are about seven or eight aspects that cause a book to sell (he couldn’t remember them all: i.e. print run, cover art and content), of which you can control one: the content. There’s mothing worse than bad-selling, high-priced author. You’ve got to be cold-blooded. As a new author, you’ve got no clout, no rights. Money talks. All you can do is fulfill your end of the bargain. Don’t blame publishers. Get to know staff. Never second guess. Publisher knows best--it’s his business. Don’t lose your temper or argue. Play well with others. He gave the example of Robert Yorick who acted professionally: Although he was considered rather talentless, he still got work.

It’s hard to get into a distributor’s pipeline. Ninety-nine percent of promotion is just getting your book on the bookshelves. Electronic is usually a great way to promote, but a lousy way to sell because it’s easier to browse the SF aisles at the bookstore than to trawl websites. Ebooks are like food processors: use once and it sits around the house--convenient for travelers but has to be cheap. Traditional publishing is best.

Publishers waste so much time and money on ebook encryption that drives up the price when all a “pirate” has to do is scan a book. To circumvent a pirate, all you have to do is sell the ebook cheap and the thrill of pirates’ sails is deflated. Publishers are reluctant to do so, but for Baen, it has added a significant amount to a writer’s income. The advantage a legal company has over a fence is that crooks can’t advertise and they have to continually move. You can always visit Baen at the same address. “Piracy” has always been with us as books have been lent out by friends and libraries and sold by used bookstores. What authors don’t realize is that this is how readers get to know authors and will use this to seek out more of their work. Flint discusses this further at Baen’s library.

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Writing for the Money, I mean, Love of It; or Best-Selling Mystery Writer Tells All!

A "Jane Austen Doe" has written on the travails of publishing over at Salon.

The Nielsen Haydens respond (as do a number of others). Responses elsewhere, at least those I thought most worth taking time to read, include Charles Stross, James D. Macdonald, Nick Mamatas, John Scalzi. The general response appears to be the same.

A different take, as Gabe Chouinard points out over at the main site, is the Author's Guild's report on the midlist, which we discussed here. But if you're interested in writing only for the genre, balance that against what Patrick Nielsen Hayden has to say, which had an almost wholly different tenor from Gordon Van Gelder's assessment a year earlier when he was still in the book business. In England, Zadie Smith shares slightly similar concerns as Jane Austen Doe's although Smith's insta-presto-fame was met with success.

Among the moments of melodrama, Doe's best argument appears to be her worry "Is my career as a writer over?" because the publishers paid her more than the public thought the books were worth. The money may not be her primary concern. She may be wondering if she can simply get the next book published due to the misfortune of the public's response. After all, two-time Philip K. Dick finalist, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, has had to change her name a few times in order to get published. Even MacDonald acknowledged a variable public response due to which publisher put out his book (or was it the format?).

What do you think?

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What Makes a Great Story?

I prefer reviews that are willing to let a text move them into deeper areas of thought about life or fiction in general or a genre of fiction.

Wayne Edwards has done just that in his Flesh & Blood review for issue 14. He writes:

"I think the difference between good stories and great ones are the small things, things that register on an almost unconscious level."

I couldn't agree more. It seems this is the ultimate task of the author--to seek those little things: from commas to scenery to dialogue to literary connections to... a plethora of writerly concerns.

(A Three-Paragraph Aside: While I buy his general comment, I'm not sure if I buy his specific scenario, in which "picking a random door" differs from "picking a door at random." The former he says is impossible, which doesn't seem to match Merriam-Webster's assessment of the term as an adjective: "chosen at random[, i.e.] 'read random passages from the book'."

The book Edwards chose to review may be as sloppy as he claims, and this was just something that lodged in his craw, instead. But there's definitely a danger in reading things as a stickler for grammar, especially in fiction where writers get a little more experimental in their play.

I'm done discussing Edwards' review, but that's why I love it when reviewer's are unafraid to make statements on the art as they see it: it gets me to thinking!)

Let's take this passage for instance:

"Hang up [the phone] hard, whacked unwitting his elbow, swore and snatched the coffee. Lukewarm, he drank it anyway."*

This stream-of-consciousness style would upset a strict grammarian, but let's consider he or she had read this far. Obviously, the reader would have to fill in the pronoun in the first sentence; but the second sentence, with "Lukewarm" modifying the subject instead of the object, makes sense only at a verbal or consciousness level since it does not follow grammar rules.

But there's another, major problem with reading it in too strict a manner. As Karen Joy Fowler told us at Clarion, assume that the author meant to do what he did. It's possible it's a mistake, but then it's possible that it's exactly what the author wanted you to notice. Too often our genre's better authors are confronted by readers who did not allow the author other possibilities. In this example, Koja may have meant both (via the immediate conscious inference) the coffee and (via a subconscious inference) the protagonist. Can such things be?

Unfortunately, in this case, not much is gained by assuming the author meant anything more than the immediate conscious' inference to the coffee.

But this is exactly the sort of ingenius turn that makes reading a pleasurable, sly and intelligent act that allows careful readers to be complicit in the story's unfolding and to, therefore, remember it. It's what Derrida called "play." Words can have more than one meaning (which does not take away any other potential meaning). It's this sort of act the raises a good story over a great one in my estimation--continual play of character, plot, theme, and/or words.

*From Kathe Koja's "Leavings" in Thomas F. Monteleone's Borderlands 3 and again in Stephen Jones & Ramsey Campbell's The Best New Horror: Volume Five.

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Dark, Weird, Brief, Online Movie


So I'm writing a rather large piece on the 'frontiers of speculative fiction', and it's coming along alright. But in the process, I've attempted to dig at the reason for speculative fiction, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

I'm not looking for justification for speculative fiction or anything like that. Rather, I'm trying to dig into our NEED for the fantastic, and attempting to define its relevance within society. Why does speculative fiction exist? Why do we continue to publish it?

I realize it's a bit, nebulous question, but sometimes it's the big questions that should be explored. And as I say, I'm interested in your thoughts.

If you could, I'd be thrilled if you would discuss this post at our messageboard, rather than posting enormous comments here.

Thanks for your time!


For the Brit book lovers

The Alien Online announced that BBC4 is looking for sharp literary SF readers. Some of the "battle[s] of the books" look like no-brainer contests to me, however.

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Charles L. Grant

“Am I dead? ...is this like one of those stupid TV shows where I have to choose between heaven and hell, or wander forever in some kind of stupid limbo? Are you an angel or something? You pop up when it snows or rains or something, and take souls to heaven?”

--Charles L. Grant’s “The Snowman”

Precipitation -- literally and symbolically -- is a common motif of transformation in Grant’s work. My favorite use of which comes from “Penny Daye,” a story that first appeared in the Fantasycon X Programme Booklet (1985) although I read it in Karl Edward Wagner's The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIV (also part of an omnibus volume called Horrorstory Volume 5). Here the transformation is imbued with a bitter yet romantic tone that raises it above the common horror story. It's always impressive when an author manages to convey powerfully conflicting emotions (see also Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy). The story is well worth hunting down.

Available on the internet is his story “Temperature Days on Hawthorne Street” at Scifi.com.

Unfortunately, Grant is suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and the cost is exorbitant. Click here to find out how you can help and here to find out more about COPD, a difficult disease to live with.

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Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg recently won the Grand Master award, proving there are many deserving candidates to choose from. The most recent issue of Asimov's has his perspective on story: "Toward a Theory of Story," which is well worth reading.

Here are a few links for those of you who'd like to cop a feel for what Silverberg has been up to, but it's just an ice cube off the the tip of an iceberg, I'm afraid:


"Caught in the Organ Draft"

"The Pope of the Chimp"

"This Is the Road"


SF Weekly

Computer Crow's Nest

Freund/Datlow chat

Freund/Datlow chat #2

Strange Horizons

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s1ngularity & the news


Childhood's End as Parental, as Metaphysical, as Metafictional

Adam Roberts argues that Childhood's End embodies aspects of parenthood.

Roberts argues persuasively and insightfully, so the essay's well worth reading. But a more obvious corollary is the metaphysical embodiment of the Overlords, who behave more inscrutably like gods than interventionally like parents. In most religions, gods father the people, so the connection is here as well.

In fact, "sense of wonder" itself may be an unwitting pseudonym for the transcendently metaphysical, so Clarke finds it necessary to distance himself from this while he simultaneously and ironically embraces the spiritual through the stipulation that, since the world's religions are all different, they must all be wrong (a little specious, but a logic trap that we all fall prey to).

The embodying of the metaphysical while rejecting the metaphysical is almost omnipresent in the field. Even Asimov, devout atheist, dipped into the Gaian mythology with his Foundation series. This strange relation is made less strange when we boil down both science and metaphysics to express the same ideology: The universe is far larger and stranger than we can know (at this time).

Although this is a well of inquiry that intrigues and has much left to plumb--it seems likely that someone else has tackled this in one form or another (feel free to discuss it further)--I'm actually more interested in the less obvious connection: Childhood's End as metafictional.

1953, the date of publication, may be early for the first use of the term, "The Golden Age," but certainly writers had time to consider that a regime change was underway. This was the height of the magazines' explosive proliferation. Even Hollywood was also growing increasingly fascinated with the genre at the time. For the moment, we must forget what we know happened beyond 1953 and examine what the view from there looked like.

Clarke published his first story around 1937 with comparatively little publication to later decades. 1949 appears to mark Clarke's logarithmic catapult to fame. What's interesting to observe, especially in light of the metafictional theme of Childhood's End, is that Clarke's esteem had a beautiful trajectory, climaxing sometime after Stanley Kubrick's 2001. One could chart the catapult with Childhood's End itself using various polls regarding the all-time SF novels.

(In some ways, Jonathon Lethem may have Kubrick to blame for Thomas Pynchon's loss at the Nebulas--not that Rendezvous with Rama is without merit, especially in the realm of wonder. It's too unfortunate Kubrick didn't have the same effect on Brian Aldiss' career.)

With the background estabished, we can now examine Clarke's book as metafiction or, as Barry Malzberg puts it, "recursive science fiction."

The Golden Age of man, as Clarke defines it, is the bringing of peace, order, and stability to Earth as instituted by the Overlords (Campbell's Astounding?) but later the conditions stagnate the world into a blasé culture.

A new age of man comes through the children of the Golden Age, who are able to transcend the achievements of humanity beyond its imaginings--an ability that the Overlords do not possess. Clarke's character, Jan Rodricks, witnesses the final transfiguration, not with hate or envy or loss, but with simple awe.

Clarke's style is definitely Golden Age, but this perspective is a retrospective assignment, and his best work came after the Golden Age through the 50s' Childhood's End, the 70s' stunning "A Meeting with Medusa" and Rendezvous with Rama and on into the 90s' "The Hammer of God."

But whatever your choice of interpretation, do not forget Clarke's opening words: "The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author," which leaves us the question of which opinion does the author not agree with?

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Theorists: Notes Toward Building a Testable Theory

Science recently had a multidisciplinary issue on language. It's worth checking out at the library (or ordering photocopies of the pertinent articles from the interlibrary loan). If you've got the money, the magazine's worth a subscription. The front half is written for the general public while the latter has the specific articles in great detail, written for specialists--articles which are difficult to wade through but it can be done: the more you wade, the easier it gets.

From the introductory article "First Words" by Elizabeth Culotta and Brooks Hanson:

"But how did this powerful ability [to string meaningful words together] evolve? And how has language changed through time, from what was presumably one mother tongue to the babel of thousands of languages spoken today? This interdisciplinary special issue explores these twin problems of language evolution, and also peers ahead into our ever-evolving linguistic future. Five News stories explore the history and prehistory of language evolution, from the origin of speech to recent language changes, and three Viewpoints speculate on the future. Elsewhere in this issue, three Book Reviews explore the latest in a growing crop of books on this topic.

"In several cases, old theories associated with leading scholars are breaking down. For example, as Holden reports (p. 1316), linguists and neuroscientists armed with new types of data are moving beyond the nonevolutionary paradigm once suggested by Noam Chomsky, and tackling the origins of speech head-on...."

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Splendid Isolation: Does SF Play Well With Others?

It turns out that mainstream lit is paying more attention to the genre than I, at least, thought. It leaves me wondering: what if it's the culture more than the content that isolates SF from a wider range of readers. discuss this post at our messageboard


Mining Our History

If "in the high-tech 80s, 'technological literacy' meant outright *ecstasy and dread.*," as Bruce Stirling proposes in Cyberpunk in the 90's, perhaps I should be more understanding if today's current rate of technological innovation has frightened the science fiction community into "head in the sand" SF and flight to fantasy, while the core of fantasy has become so static as to be confused with deceased. Only the faint fog of "New Weird" and interstitial appearing on the mirror as a sign of like--and even these movements are keeping their distance.

"Cyberpunk," before it acquired its handy label and its sinister rep, was a generous, open-handed effort, very street-level and anarchic, with a do-it-yourself attitude, an ethos it shared with garage-band 70s punk music.

Cyberpunk's one-page propaganda organ, "CHEAP TRUTH," was given away free to anyone who asked for it. CHEAP TRUTH was never copyrighted; photocopy "piracy" was actively encouraged.

I've always had a high regard for CP as a breakaway literary movement, a radical departure from what came before. I was never aware that it was a successful grass roots movement, or that it owed its success to a samizdat publication--CHEAP TRUTH--which would correspond to Gabe Chouinard's smartmobs.

CHEAP TRUTH had rather mixed success. We had a laudable grasp of the basics: for instance, that SF writers ought to *work a lot harder* and *knock it off with the worn-out bullshit* if they expected to earn any real
respect. Most folks agreed that this was a fine prescription -- for somebody else.

Somehow it is both reassuring and distressing to visualize the influence and health of SF as a cycle, but I'd be a lot more comfortable if the genre looked like this cycle belonged to an ascending spiral of increasing readership, influence and adventure. From here it looks like each turn of the wheel brings fewer readers and more of a sense of claustrophobic contraction. If this were a revolution, reducing the genre to a core membership might be a strengthening move, but this is supposed to be a populist literature.

What the history of dawn of cyberpunk also says is that anyone, even everyone, can play a part in identifying what is good, original, unique, and promoting it by doing nothing more than talking about what you like to others who might like it (or something like it).

Best Regards,
Alan Lattimore
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SF Coulda Been a Contender or Why We Need a History

This is an excerpt from Barry N. Malzberg's The Engines of the Night from an essay entitled, "I Could Have Been a Contender, Part One":

"Revisionist canon now holds that science fiction would have had a different--and superior--history if Hugo Gernsback, by creating Amazing Stories in 1926, had not ghettoized the genre, reduced it on the spot to a small asylum plastered with murals of ravening aliens carrying off screaming women in wonderous machines from a burning city and thus made it impossible for serious critics, to say nothing of serious writers, to have anything to do with it...."

Malzberg goes on to state Melville and Hawthorne wrote speculation without harm to their reputations.

"The argument has a certain winsome charm--I believed it myself when I was but a wee lad, and some of our best or better minds hold to it right now--but is flawed.... [H]e did us a great service and... were it not for Gernsback, science fiction as we understand it would not exist. We would have--as we do--the works of fabulation in the general literature--Coover, Barthelme, Barth, and DeLillo--but of the category which gave More Than Human, The Demolished Man, Foundation and Empire, Dying Inside, The Dispossessed and Rogue Moon we would have nothing, and hence these works would not exist. It is possible that some of these writers, who were inspired to write science fiction by a childhood of reading, would never have published at all.

" 'Science fiction builds on science fiction,' Asimov said once, and that truth is at the center of the form....

"Only the rigor and discipline of the delimited can create art...."

Malzberg cites the sonnet and Bach.

"Without the specialized format of the magazines, where science fiction writers and readers could dwell, exchange, observe one another's practices and build upon one another's insight, the genre could not have developed."

Malzberg describes how first generation readers of Amazing became Campbell's stable, and their readers, in turn, became...

"Science fiction, as John W. Campbell once pointed out expansively, may indeed outdo all of the so-called mainstream because it gather in all of time and space.... Extrapolative elements, cultural interface, characteriological attempt to resolve the conflicts between the two: this is science fiction.

"The fact pervades all the decades after about 1935: no one could publish science fiction unless exposed to a great deal of it."

I would only argue (with Campbell? or Campbell and Malzberg?) that no one outdoes anyone. It's just a different game, different rules.

Gabe would be happy if I finished the quote, so I won't finish it. Oh, okay. Malzberg predicted that SF may become so sophisticated that it becomes inaccessible. I don't buy it, however. I think it has essentially the same accessibility with more sophistication in some ways and forgotten sophistication in others.

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“Repent, Barthelme!” Said the Imperialistas of Realism

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) sold his first story to New Yorker in 1961. John Updike sold his first to New Yorker in 1954. Donald Barthelme won the National Book Award, for a children's book. John Updike won two National Book Awards, three National Book Critics Awards, and two Pulitzers. Donald Barthelme was a prolific writer of short stories. John Updike is a prolific writer of short stories, novels, verse, criticism and other non-fictions. In one essay, Updike asked where all the Don B. acolytes are now. It's a good question. He also brought it up in an interview at Salon.com when he's asked what will happen to his generation:

“Donald Barthelme? Is he read now, by people of your age...? He's become a curiosity.... There are fads in critical fashion, but a writer at his peril strays too far from realism. Especially in this country, where realism is kind of our thing.”

I happen to be a big fan of both Updike and Barthelme, but in that old-fashioned spirit of devil's advocation, let's call "a writer at his peril strays too far from realism" the attitude of the Imperialistas of Realism. Of course, Updike has not necessarily advocated this attitude of realism-only, but he does recognize it's existence. Non-realism does win awards: if you're an uncivilized savage (i.e. non-American) or you're writing children's books in any non-realistic form. (How do the Imperialistas of Realism respond to people who don’t read fiction because it isn’t real? Oh, the irony.)

Instead, let’s speculate on why Don B. has lodged in Updike’s brain: Don B. was hip in the 60s and 70s. He reinvented language, form, and function. And Updike, well, Updike is a damn fine writer. I own all his collections and a handful of novels. And Rabbit Is Rich deserved all the attention lavished upon it. And yet there’s that Harlequin phenomenon:

You’re the All-American quarterback, the All-American center of the basketball team, the State record holder in the 400m dash, and the most popular clean-cut of all the teachers and the principal... but damn that sass-mouthed class-clown, in the jester suit! How does he get all the babes?

But even now, though Don B. has passed on to the other side of longevity, you still wonder what all the girls--girls of today, tomorrow and the day after--think of him, the idea of him, molding six feet under.

We could also speculate on the reasons why the most interesting thing to happen to Realism--though the Imperialistas are loathe to admit it--happened under the editorial helm of experimentalist Gordon Lish: Raymond Carver and Minimalism. When the Imperialistas found out who was truly responsible, they said, “Always knew them minimals was sour sentences. Carver only got good when he wrote like the rest of us.”

But one thing is certain: the lifeblood and longevity of any empire depends on its flexibility. Hindsight won’t treat too kindly the latter twentieth century’s rigidity of Realism if it doesn’t learn how to adapt in the twenty-first (you mean it ain’t the twentieth no more?). Don B. taught us much about what fiction can do that we promptly forgot because “in this country... realism is our thing.”

Fortunately, we have the texts here with us. The Imperialistas were kind enough not to burn the Pagan Library. Renaissance scholars may again learn and bring us out of the Dark Ages, resurrecting the Barthelme corpus of literature (which is not to say that realism doesn’t have its place in literature; we need not reciprocate with our own brand imperialism. Should the unbelievable occur, you'll find me in a jester suit promoting Realism).


At his Peril: Don B. Shadow-Boxes in a Savage Tongue

Donald Barthelme was no stranger to the world of savage children, making his start in the pulps under various pseudonyms at $500 a pop until the big break in the New Yorker.

Whether Judith Merril, one of Don B.’s first anthologists, noticed him much before 1965 is unknown at present, but that is the date she formally introduced him to the speculative community in the Year’s Best SF gala sans pseudonymous costume: "The Game," is just one of Don B.’s many games. James Sallis later reprinted the story for War Book and Jonathan Lethem for Vintage Book of Amnesia (two titles to help you interpret the story for yourself).

Two men have been underground longer than they were supposed to be: Shotwell--aptly named before we know why aptly named--and the narrator. The narrator is jealous that Shotwell’s playing jacks, alone, and occupies himself, therefore, scratching six thousand words about a baseball bat on the wall. If either acts strangely, they are supposed to shoot one another; if either acts strangely...:

"If he decides I am behaving strangely he will shoot me not with the .45 but with the Beretta. Similarly Shotwell pretends to watch my .45 but he is really watching my hand resting idly atop my attaché case, my hand resting idly atop my attaché case, my hand. My hand resting idly atop my attaché case."

Here we see Don B. trying out technique--a technique that, if the reader isn’t careful, he will dismiss its contribution to the overall theme and get irate at the author for being difficult without pausing to think why, a difficulty that lesser authors might imitate but come up with not art but the surreal for surreality’s sake. The characters are repetitious to make sure accidents don’t happen, but they slip into insanity when they’re forgotten. Like the cold war stand-off, they are antagonists with the power to destroy through their insanity.

Too often readers who don’t understand a thing--like metafiction, like New Wave, like literary experiments--and like to blame their impatience on that thing, claim it means nothing or possibly anything. Perhaps this misperception is due to the well-intentioned definers of the then new fiction like Philip Stevik who anthologized the above story in Anti-Story under the heading “Against Meaning.” Much as I like Jessamyn West’s website, her subtitle misleads as well. It simply isn’t the case. Take the "The Balloon," where Don B. fills us full of his hot air:

"The balloon... the exact location of which I cannot reveal..., expanded... I stopped it... experienced a faint irritation at stopping..., seeing no reason the balloon should not be allowed to expand upward.... But it is wrong to speak of 'situations,' implying sets of circumstances leading to some resolution, some escape of tension; there were no situations, simply the balloon hanging there.... A deliberate lack of finish.... we have had a flood of original ideas in all media, works of singular beauty as well as significant milestones in the history of inflation, but at that moment there was only this balloon.... There were reactions. Some people found the balloon 'interesting.' As a response this seemed inadequate to the immensity of the balloon."

He goes on to elaborate on various failed attempts at interpretation of the balloon. Failed attempts at interpretation? I must have been wrong then, and the Imperialista detractors right. There is no situation, no resolution, no meaning, no escape from tension, no... But hold on. You have to read it with a double-mind: two meanings at once, for Don B. has been lying like a sack of compost, ending:

"on the occasion of your return.... The balloon, I said, is a spontaneous autobiographical disclosure, having to do with the unease I felt at your absence.... it is no longer necessary... is now stored in West Virginia, awaiting some other time of unhappiness, some time, perhaps when we are angry with one another."

T. Coraghessen Boyle is one of those Pen/Faulkner-winning Barthelme acolytes that Updike wondered where they were now. Boyle picked “The School” in You’ve Got to Read This as his favorite since it escalates "--a progression from trees to snakes to fish to mammals--and...presents the author with his biggest dilemma: how to get out [of]... painting himself into a corner."

But my favorite to pick apart--although my true favorites might be "Me and Miss Mandible" and "For I'm the Boy Whose Only Joy Is Loving You"--is the oft-reprinted "Indian Uprising," a story that savagely messes with your sense of reality, among other things:

"We defended the city as best we could. The arrows of the Comanches came in clouds. The war clubs clattered on the soft, yellow pavements. There were earthworks along the Boulevard Mark Clark and the hedges had been laced with sparkling wire. People were trying to understand."

Understand what? This is a regular cowboy-indian showdown, no? The paragraph continues:

"I spoke to Sylvia. 'Do you think this is a good life?' The table held apples, books, long-playing recordes. She looked up. 'No.' "

What a sec. Records? When does this story take place? This is a difficult story, I admit. It took me several reads to figure it out. But I strongly disagree with Ann Charters’ and Donald Hall’s (nonetheless intelligent editors) interpretation of linking it to Vietnam. Although that note may be struck, it is a minor key. Consider that more than one war is taking place here. The narrator describes his camp’s torture of a Comanche, then says (juxtaposition is everything), "I sat there getting drunker and drunker and more in love and more in love. We talked," but the "we" discuss a long-playing record of Gabriel Fauré’s "Dolly," which Sylvia describes her playing it "requires four hands.... [managed by accelerating,] ignoring the time signature."

How many hands was that? How many hands do the "we" have? Yet she plays it alone. How? Sort of how Don B. tells his tale, don’t you think? The joy of Barthelme is in the discovery. I have unveiled only a few of his bag o’ tricks. The rest is up to you.

So what will become of our daring hero Don B., poised over the South American tar pit of realist oblivion? Will he "become a curiosity?" Or will writers one day learn from the one who reinvented the form? Or will all the experimental Americans expatriate themselves to write the stories they want to and allow the Imperialista pool to stagnate? You, dear readers and writers, shall decide his and our fate. Stay tuned....

Caveat Lector: The article’s author is a slut. He often whores with books by Imperialistas and expatriate savages alike. Tonight he dreams of a ménage-a-trois with both Updike and Barthelme: their covers in disarray: creased and well-worn. Mmm, baby. Variety is the spice.

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Donald Barthelme: a selected bibliography (with partial thanks to William G. Contento and additions/corrections by this article’s author)

Two out of Four Novels:

Snow White: a humorous and sometimes crude retelling of Snow White

The Dead Father: James Morrow owes an idea-from-the-ether debt here, or at least Don B. anticipated him by a few decades (read both takes and decide for yourself).


Collections & Re-collections (12-ish):

Any and all!

Sixty Stories

Forty Stories


Twenty Stories and an Essay in Forty-Five Major Anthologies:

"At the end of the mechanical age"
1) Selected shorts, volume I [sound recording] : [a celebration of the short story, Symphony Space, 1989.

“The Balloon,” (ss) New Yorker Apr 1966
1) SF12, ed. Judith Merril, Delacorte 1968
2) Science Fiction: The Future, ed. Dick Allen, HBJ 1971
3) The Harper Anthology of Fiction, ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991
4) Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, W. W. Norton 1998
5) Innovations, ed. Robert L. McLaughlin, Dalkey Archive Press 1998
6) Wonderful town : New York stories from The New Yorker, ed. David Remnick, Random House, 2000.

“Basil from Her Garden,” (ss) New Yorker Oct 21 ’85
1) The Best American Short Stories 1986, ed. Raymond Carver & Shannon Ravenel, Houghton Mifflin 1986
2) On the couch : great American stories about therapy, Erica Kates, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.

“Captain Blood,” (ss) Overnight to Many Distant Cities, Putnam 1987
1) New Mystery, ed. Jerone Charyn, Dutton 1993

“A City of Churches,” (ss)
1) The Best American Short Stories 1973, ed. Martha Foley, Ballantine, 1973
2) Science Fiction, ed. Herbert Kaußen & Dr. Rudi Renné, Munich: Langenscheidt-Longman 1990
3) Short Fiction, ed. Charles H. Bohner & Dean Dougherty, Prentice Hall 1999
4) The Best American Short Stories of the Century, ed. John Updike & Katrina Kenison, Houghton Mifflin 2000

“Cortes and Montezuma,” (ss)
1) The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, ed. Daniel Halpern, Penguin USA 1989
2) Fiction 50: An Introduction to the Short Story, ed. James H. Pickering, Prentice Hall 1993
3) Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Stories (9th edition), ed. James H. Pickering, Prentice Hall College Div. 2000

“The Death of Edward Lear,” (ss) New Yorker Jan 2 ’71
1) The Literary Ghost, ed. Larry Dark, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991

“The Emerald,” (nv) Esquire Nov ’79
1) The Best American Short Stories 1980, ed. Stanley Elkin & Shannon Ravenel, Houghton Mifflin, 1980
2) The Slaying of the Dragon, ed. Franz Rottensteiner, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984
3) The Best American Short Stories of the Eighties, ed. Shannon Ravenel, Houghton Mifflin, 1990

“Game,” (ss) New Yorker Jul 31 1965
1) The 11th Annual of the Year’s Best S-F, ed. Judith Merril, Delacorte 1966
2) The War Book, ed. James Sallis 1969
3) Anti Story: an anthology of experimental fiction, ed. Philip Stevick, The Free Press, 1971
4) Vintage Book of Amnesia, ed. Jonathan Lethem, Random House/Vintage 2000

“The Genius,” (ss) New Yorker Feb 1971
1) Best SF: 1971, ed. Harry Harrison & Brian W. Aldiss, G.P. Putnam’s 1972

“The Glass Mountain,” (ss) City Life, 1970
1) The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, ed. Alison Lurie, Oxford University Press, 1993

“The Indian Uprising,” (ss) New Yorker Mar 6 ’65
1) To Read Literature, ed. Donald Hall, Holt, 1981
2) Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, R. V. Cassill, Norton 1987
3) Major American Short Stories, ed. A. Walton Litz, Oxford University Press 1994
4) The American Short Story and Its Writer: An Anthology, ed. Ann Charters, Bedford Books 1995
5) The Granta Book of the American Short Story, ed. Richard Ford, Penguin/Granta 1998
6) The Longman Anthology of Short Fiction, ed. Dana Gioia & R. S. Gwynn, Longman 2000

“Me and Miss Mandible,” (ss)
1) Norton Anthology of Short Fiction: Sixth Edition, ed. R. V. Cassill & Richard Bausch, W. W. Norton & Co. 2000

“Not Knowing” (essay)
1) Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses XI, ed. Bill Henderson, 1988

“The Piano Player,” (ss) New Yorker Aug 31 1963
1) Fantastic Worlds, ed. Eric S. Rabkin, Oxford University Press 1979
2) Stories: An Anthology and an Introduction, ed. Eric S. Rabkin, Longman 1994

“The Police Band,” (ss)
1) The American Short Story and Its Writer: An Anthology, ed. Ann Charters, Bedford Books 1999

“The President,” (ss)
1) The American Short Story and Its Writer: An Anthology, ed. Ann Charters, Bedford Books 1987

“Report,” (ss) New Yorker 1966
1) Inside Information, ed. Abbe Mowshowitz, Addison-Wesley 1977

“The Sandman,” (ss)
1) A Web of Stories: An Introduction to Short Fiction, ed. Jon Ford & Marjorie Ford, Prentice Hall 1998

“The School,” (ss)
1) American Short Stories (6th edition), ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1966
2) The Oxford book of American short stories, ed. Joyce Carol Oates, Oxford University Press, 1992.
3) You’ve Got to Read This, ed. Ron Hansen & Jim Shepard, Harperperennial Library 1994
4) Modern Fiction about School Teaching, ed. Jay S. Blanchard & Ursula Casanova, Allyn & Bacon 1996
5) Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, ed. Lex Williford & Michael Martone, Scribner 1999
6) Texas Bound Book III, ed. Kay Cattarulla, Southern Methodist University Press 2001
7) American Short Stories (7th edition), ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Longman 2001

“See the Moon?,” (ss), 1964
1) Postmodern American Fiction, ed. Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron & Andrew Levy, Norton, 1997

“Sentence,” (ss), 1970, New Yorker
1) Super Fiction or The American Story Transformed, ed. Joe David Bellamy, Vintage, 1975
2) Postmodern American Fiction, ed. Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron & Andrew Levy, Norton, 1997

1) Single Voice: An Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, ed. Jerome Charyn, Collier, 1969

1) The Best American Short Stories 1975, ed. Martha Foley, Ballantine, 1975

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