Last summer, I got back the rights to 10 of the 18 paperback novels I saw published in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These 10 are copyrighted in my name and are about my original characters, so . . . they’re mine. (The other eight novels—seven of them coauthored with Dick Tierney—feature characters originated by Robert E. Howard, the famous author of the Conan the Barbarian stories. Neither Dick nor I own those characters.) Once I had the rights back to these books, however, I was a little unsure what to do with them.
For years I had neglected these novels because, perversely, I had tried to ignore or forget the fact that I had even written them. This state of mind was as odd as it sounds. But the fact is that, after having published 18 paperback novels and pretty much having reached a dead end in trying to become a successful popular writer, I dropped out of writing in 1984. In retrospect, I can see that this was a foolish decision and an immature overreaction to the pressure I was under, but there it is. I had been working very hard at my craft for about 12 years, had seen a small measure of success in the fanzines of the time and then with the sales of those paperback novels, but otherwise had not one blessed clue about what I was doing or how the business worked. I saw no foreign sales of my own work and no nibbles from TV or film production companies. I relied on agents to promote my work and regarded them as business partners when, in fact, as I have learned over the years, literary agents are in business for themselves, and writers are useful to agents only insofar as they help increase the bottom line. Which makes sense. But in my desire to become a writer, my appreciation of such a practical fact was on par with my desire to become, when I was 10 years old, a Mercury space program astronaut. That is, I had about the same level of unsophisticated understanding of both professional milieus. In determining to succeed at writing, I thought it best to put my head down and go as fast as I could so that somehow something would happen.
My mind is turning in this direction right now because I have been working again in earnest at the writing craft. Starting a few years ago, I have been trying to get the fires going again, and I am beginning to see some success on the page—that is, the work I’m doing now reads well to my friends and to me. So the coals that were going dead and turning cold have been stoked and are blooming again with heat. What a good feeling it is. I spent the winter and spring revising my old fantasy trilogy, The Fall of the First World, and recently turned it in to John Betancourt at Wildside Press. I was able, in revising it, to make some changes or corrections I’ve wanted to make since Pinnacle Books first published the trilogy in 1983—improve some word choices, tighten sentences, round out some ideas—things of that nature. I’m enormously pleased that this trilogy and the other 7 of my 10 books will be reprinted by Wildside. (I’m sending John the two David Trevisan books next, as soon as I have scanned them in. Then Oron and the other Attluman novels.)
Also, I’ve placed my novel Call of Shadows with Ron Fortier’s Airship 27 Production. I’m very happy about this, as well.
And sooner or later, I suspect that Magicians will be produced, once we can get the modest $5 million needed to do the movie the way it should be done.
So I’m getting back into print after a long hiatus and, in surveying the radical changes in publishing that have occurred since the rise of the Internet, the collapse of the midlist, and the total corporatization of New York fiction publishing, I came across an article that appeared recently online in Prospect, the British periodical.
The article, by Edward Docx, is “Postmodernism is dead” (http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2011/07/postmodernism-is-dead-va-exhibition-age-of-authenticism/) and reviews a comprehensive retrospective, currently on display in a London gallery, of the postmodernist movement. Docx provides a very nice definition of this social, philosophical, and artistic movement: “In the beginning, postmodernism was not merely ironical, merely gesture, some kind of clever sham, a hotchpotch for the sake of it. . . . Postmodernism was a high-energy revolt, an attack, a strategy for destruction. It was a set of critical and rhetorical practices that sought to destabilize the modernist touchstones of identity, historical progress and epistemic certainty.”
Postmodernism quickly descended into the confusing, foolish parody of itself that we know today, although Docx makes it clear that postmodernism made critically important contributions to society. It has cleared away the paranoid concept of one dominant “narrative” (such a postmodern word, that) and provided alternatives to the conceit that that dominant narrative was western. It has provided parallel avenues of expression and acceptance of “difference” perspectives, thereby offering a horizontal appreciation of history, experience, and identity rather than a vertical, hierarchical one. And it has exposed the fiction of identity as a solid entity rather than as an aggregate of shifting coordinates of gender, religion, class, and so on; as Docx says, “We are entirely constructed. There is nothing else.” Postmodernism changed “the great banquet of human ideas” from “one of self-determination (Kant et al) to other-determination. I am constructed, therefore I am.”
The fly in the ointment, however, is clearly this: the unease that most of us feel in regard to this radical awareness or sensibility. Do you really think that you are “constructed”? Do you really sense that you are a kind of postmodern, fluid force field of almost arbitrary labels—this religion, that gender—and not a real person or a real human being? My answer to this is that we are what we think we are. If we are able to make choices, then we will do so, but we won’t make them because we surmise that we are “an aggregate of shifting coordinates.” We know this intuitively, and most of us recoil from the idea of being an aggregated force field (my term, not Docx’s!). It is very similar to the ancient notion—surely there is nothing new under the sun—that life is an illusion and that we, too, are no more than an illusion. And this creates a paradox that may very well lie at the heart of human experience. Continue reading