Sunday, June 6, 2010

"It's the end of the world as we know it...."

Okay, now you guys can have that song running through your head. And, no, I haven't lost my mind, nor have I joined the sack cloth wearing, sign carrying doomsayers. It's just that that particular line from the REM song seemed appropriate for this week. Maybe I'd better explain.

On the non-publishing side of my life, I went to the theatre this week. One of the great things about living in the Dallas area is we have wonderful live theatre venues. One of the newest is the AT&T Performing Arts Center in downtown. Across from the Dallas Museum of Art, it is the latest entry into the new arts district. Architecturally, it is a beautiful theatre, even if the lobby area is a bit too modern for my taste. Inside, comfortable seats, lots of leg room and a wonderful sound system.

So far, so good, right. The world isn't ending. And then the show began and I knew that, at the least, I'd fallen through the cracks into some parallel universe. Why, you ask. Well, if you've never seen Avenue Q, do. It's a wonderful snapshot of life, the good and the bad. But, it will also change the way you view muppets forever. Seriously. No joke here. The characters, including Kate Monster (no, Kate, she didn't have an Aussie accent of any sort, sorry), Trekkie Monster, Princeton, Rod and Nicky and others sing about things like "My life sucks". "the internet is for porn" and others. And then there's the sex -- muppet sex. Muppet sex!!!! Maybe it is the end of the world as we know it. (Yes, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, but there is muppet sex in the musical)

So, with that already running through my head, I booted up my computer and find a New York Times op-ed piece by Garrison Keillor proclaiming, "The End of an Era in Publishing". Maybe the muppet sex did it and it has caused the end of the world as we know it. But no, Keillor is simply pronouncing that "that book publishing is about to slide into the sea." Yes, more doom and gloom because writers no longer have to sit in their ill-lit garrets, pounding away at their typewriters and waiting and angsting to hear some publisher wants to offer them lots of money to publish their book.

Now, while some of my posts may seem depressing when it comes to the state of publishing, I don't mean them to. I think, like many others, that the industry is changing and we have to change with it. And by "we" I mean not only writers, but editors, copy editors and publishers alike. We have to respond to the demands and needs of the buying public. And I'm not alone in this. Keillor's op-ed piece generated some very interesting responses.

One of my favorites is from Richard Nash who said, "Culture doesn’t need publishing. Culture needs writers and readers connecting with one another. Publishing’s alleged demise is a problem only to the extent that publishing was doing a good job connecting writers and readers. But recent and current publishing was mostly in the bookstore supply business, only tangentially the writer-reader connection business. If the demise of the bookstore supply business pushes more talented editors, curators, and taste-matchers into the reader-writer connection business, our culture will be vastly improved by the demise of publishing as we had known it."

Now, I don't think we will see the demise of the bookstore nor of hard copy publishing. Much as I love my Kindle, I still love the feel of a "real" book in my hands. Also, there are times and places where I don't want my Kindle -- usually involving things like water. I'm a klutz and don't want to risk dunking the kindle in the bath, at the pool, wherever.

So, what are your thoughts. Is it the end of the world as we know it? Is Garrison Keillor right about the industry or do those who responded have a better grasp of the current situation? Is muppet sex on stage the reason for all this upheaval? Inquiring minds want to know.

As a footnote, the story round begun yesterday will stay open all week and next weekend I'll pull it all together and post it. So have fun with that as well, guys.


Anonymous said...

Melanie's friend from college is in Avenue Q. She plays Christmas Eve. They were both a part of the Christopher Newport University theater program. :-) Great show.

Amanda Green said...

It really is a great show. I went fully expecting to hate it and came away enthralled. Of course, trying to describe it to folks who haven't seen it is, er, interesting. I finally settled on, "muppets on crack, muppets having sex, and real life all rolled into one." ;-p

Of course, it was a bit poignant seeing it just after Gary Coleman's death. The fellow who played him in the Dallas show was excellent. Now I wonder what sort of changes, if any, they'll make.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Ms Green,

Tell us why this obsession with muppets having sex. Tell us about your mother...

Amanda Green said...

Ms. Hoyt, you've met my mother. Need I say more?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Yeah, yeah, she probably enjoyed the play more than you did. :)

Amanda Green said...

She did.

Like I said, need I say more?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I have no idea what will happen with the publishing industry. But I do know people will always want stories.

Stephen Simmons said...

This really comes as no surprise. After all, Mr. Keillor, to put it simply, already believed that I didn't exist. You see, he's part of the New York Times editorial staff, people who believe that "New York" effectively ends somewhere around Poughkeepsie (except for the few beleaguered outposts of civilization huddled along shoulders of I-90), people who firmly believe that the paltry handful of barely-lettered hicks scattered in the hinterlands that make up the remainder of the Empire State could hardly be expected to read books outside of elementary-school primers, much less endeavor to write them.

Okay, I may be exaggerating. Possibly. Very slightly.

But that's what I see as the problem in the industry, and several of the comments in your second link bear me out. My junior and senior years of high scool, my school offered a menu of semester-length courses to choose from to fulfill our English course requirements. I made the mistake of choosing Dr. Nash's "Great American Novel" course for half of my junior year - and came away with the firm convistion that the title was oxymoronic, that no American had yet written a "great" novel. I tried, I really did. I waded through every interinable page of Moby Dick - even the chapter about golf. I suffered through Babbitt and Gatsby. And I don't even remember which Jack London titles he inflicted on us - I've succeeded in blocking that trauma out. It wasn't until after that class that I discovered Catcher in the Rye on my own, and realized that great American novels DID exist - just not inside Dr. Nash's classroom.

It's deliciously ironic to me that the quote saying essentially that same thing in the second article came from a man named Nash ...

Chris McMahon said...

I think that there are often 'layering' effects with technology - especially when you have a simple solution that has proven very effective/useful. I think print books fall into that category. They are just so damned good. You can read them anywhere and they don't need software upgrades or batteries.

There will be an increasing penetration of ebook readers and ebooks, but perhaps into niches that they create as well as displacement of traditional book sales.

We all still light candles. The oil light, the gas light or the electric light haven't made them obsolete. Although, I guess I'd hope that books survive as more than a charming novelty.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, you're right. People will always want stories. It's up to us, as writers, to find the best way to get our stories to them. Unfortunately, that also means we have to be marketer and promoter all too often as well. And, honestly, I'd rather be writing.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, I pretty much share you opinion about the NYT's set -- at least where "literature" is concerned. However, my biggest problem with what Keillor said is that it is one of those "in the good ole days" sort of arguments and completely ignores the fact that publishing has changed over time. It also ignores the fact that most writers -- now or in the past -- didn't get paid lots of money. At least not right off the bat.

Of course, if I had a nice fat publishing contract, I'd probably not be as worried about the challenges facing the industry as I am right now. So [shrug]

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I agree with you on both the layering effect and on the hope books persevere. I love real books and I love my e-books, but in different ways. There is something about holding a good book and seeing it on your shelf. There is also something soothing to me to be able to go in and look through the books on the shelves to find just the right one. E-books are great for convenience and the ability to download sample chapters to see if I really want to buy the book. Then there are the free books that are offered. I've found a lot of new authors that way.

So, yeah, I hope both formats continue to go strong.

Synova said...

Of course, Keillor isn't famous for New York, he's famous for tales of Lake Woebegon... which I like to explain to people is where I grew up. When he did small town Minnesota where all the children are above average (and don't you doubt it!) he was really funny and he reached people.

Sort of like how Louie Anderson at the Guthrie is pee your pants funny and Louie Anderson in Los Angeles is... less so.

Keillor seems to be living off his past success (and I'm sorry if that's a less than kind thing to say) and it makes sense that he'd be rear-ward thinking about publishing as well.

Dave Freer said...

Grin - why did some of the responses make me think of the plague scen in Monty Python's Holy Grail
"I'm not dead!"
'e says 'e's not dead."
"'e soon will be."
"I'm feeling much better. I think I'll take a little walk..."
yeah. I think (actually I hope) Keilor nailed it with his description of the party. I think he's wrong about the distribution of writers as to readers - some will rise and get a following. We'll need editors, and we'll earn money. Only hopefully not a future decided in NY, but one decided by readers.

Anonymous said...

Muppet sex? Yes, that's on the list as a sign of the End Times. Gonna be lucky to make it to Dec 12, 2012.

Amanda Green said...

Not just muppet sex, Matapam. All sorts of muppet sex. I swear I'm scarred for life ;-p

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Don't believe her, Matapam. The first thing she did after getting home was give me a very funny run down of the show. :-P

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, only because your, er, inquiring mind wanted to do all -- and I do mean ALL -- the details.