Tag Archives: Old Blogs

Creativity and the Fishmonger

I wrote of stories once, back when the internet was young, and used a fishing metaphor. The sea is wide, I wrote, full of mysteries below, and worked by desperate fleets.  This crew fishes for romance, that for suspense. and that fleet over there, why, they have cast their nets for adventure, and hope to drag in a big one.  That’s all, in fact, they fish for: they want the big one, today’s best seller, tomorrow’s classic.  They scorn the simple outrider, the lone fisher sculling near the horizon.  Never mind he may hook a big one. That’s not the meat the fleet’s are after. They want flesh by the ton, not the pound.  Theirs is the mass market.

Well, perhaps you’d think my heart’s with that sculler out near the horizon, working the depths for something new, but you’d be wrong.

Okay, the ocean is deep, and it’s full of fish — we’re pretending here that stories are fish, right? — and it’s a simple matter of throwing a line over the side and pulling up something strange and wonderful, but the market is with the fleets.  No matter how long you sweat to pull in a masterpiece, the product must still be gutted, skinned, filleted, packaged, branded and sold,  or all you’ve got is sweat, scales and stink.

So now you’re thinking, whoa, this dude’s from marketing, right?  Nope.  Wrong again.

Fact is, I’ve always sailed near the horizon, and the fleet stays close to shore.  No communication out here.  I hauled one in, once, and sold it to the Doubleday fleet, who handled the scaling and filleting.  I did the book tour, the signings, and the interviews, and then I went back to sea.   I only look back at that with regret when I consider what I’d like to leave above water after the coming storm.

For me, it’s enough to know the depths are unknowable, the air is just another sea, the stars reflections off an undiscovered interface, every bit the same mystery, and my nets themselves are woven of dreams.   We’ve built astrolabs and compasses and forgotten that North is just a marketing convention.  Those fish, though. They are something else. Dreams at worst, and maybe more.  Maybe they follow, in their depths, truer lines of lattitude and longitude than we reckon with.  And even if they don’t, well, we can live on their flesh while chewing on the mystery.

I dreamt, my dear . . . .

Written in November, 1997:

I dreamt, my dear, before we met
Of you, and love, and time and how
Sweet life would be when once we met
And kisses fell like rain

But that was just a young man’s dream
And I could never have dreamt of now
When miles have grown between us two,
Miles far colder than rain

Yet still, my sweet, I dream of you
An older man’s dream of love and loss
Of arms once full and heart once light
And kisses much warmer than rain

Now night’s become my comforter
It threads dark sleep with veins of gold
That lead me back to you, my heart,
And kisses more precious than rain

For night’s the softest blanket, dear
A lender of dreams, dark tenders a dawn
When we may wake together again
And kisses will fall, like rain


Words and Stone

A while ago, the editor who published a book then #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List was asked by a reporter, “You spent over $1,000,000 promoting it. Don’t you think that money could have been better spent publishing literature?”

The editor said, “No. That’s not my job. My job is to print the books that sell.”

The reporter immediately backed down. The editor had appealed to the one irrefutable argument, the one argument that answers any criticism — profit. After all, businesses do business to make money, and publishers are businesses like any other, aren’t they?

Are they?

I have a trilobite fossil on my desk, a brown stone in the precise shape of an animal that crawled the floor of a shallow sea some 415 million years ago in a place we now call Morocco. It is stone, mud hardened to rock over the slow eons between me and the creature that gave it shape so long ago. The last vestige of tissue from the trilobite itself vanished hundreds of millions of years ago. It has been replaced by mineral, and nothing remains of the animal but pattern. The pattern has endured, and I pick up the fossil now and then, turn it between my fingers, and think about patterns.

Patterns and Homer.

I can pick up a book any time I want and read the Odyssey. Homer never touched the paper I’m touching, but his words, the pattern of his thought, have survived. His mind, in a sense, has survived. His body is gone, lost even more irretrievably than the body of my trilobite, but his thoughts still live on a million bookshelves around the world.

In a way, they are fossils too, patterns that have endured for two and a half thousand years, and they are all I need of Homer. If he had been Egyptian rather than Greek, part of him might languish in a museum somewhere, but it really doesn’t matter that he is gone any more than it matters that Shakespeare’s bones still lie in an English tomb. The meaning of the men lies in their words, not in their dust. Odysseus, Macbeth, and all the rest carry the minds of their creators into the future as surely as its matrix of stone has carried my trilobite.

And that is why the publisher of that nameless book, then #7 on the New York Times Bestseller List, was wrong. Publishing is not a business like any other. It is an enterprise charged with preserving the pattern of human thought, a pattern which is, in a very real sense, Mankind itself. Profit is important, but it is not the most important thing that publishers make. They make the future, and they should not forget it.