Blake Butler Sells Out!

I kid, I kid…I just posted that title to enrage you readers.

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Actually, I know Blake (slightly–a few beers in Chicago bars, a smattering of emails, mutual worship of the Tabata Protocol, etc.) and, more importantly, know his writing well (I’ve read maybe 90% of all he’s published, working on the other 10%), and am happy as could be for the man, and his words. His signing with Harper Perennial reminds of me of a few years ago, when I was first getting into Blake’s work and blog. I got this email from someone (I won’t say who here) and they wrote, “Sean, do you know about this Blake Butler guy? He keeps publishing all over and it seems like a lot of the places are his friends and then Blake publishes them and what do you think about this whole process…”

I don’t know if this emailer was a writer/blogger stalker type individual or what, but the email implied the fucking sky was falling with everyone publishing each other. (Blake, ever aware and self deprecatory, even had a funny “circle jerk” post about this tendency among writer/bloggers).

You know what I answered to the email? It was pretty simple. I wrote back and said, “Dear________, do you READ Blake Butler? He’s a damn good writer, so who gives a fuck where he is publishing?”

So that’s how I feel about Blake’s news (and Shane Jones earlier): good words are now going to be cast even further into the world. But I do think this news and the process are worth discussing. A few points from me:

1.) Can we now officially quit asking the “Would Ulysses get published today” question?

drunk joyce

This question implies that mainstream houses are all owned by profit-mongering conglomerates. Therefore, any difficult, thoughtful, complex work can never get distribution because publishing is too obsessed with $$$, with cookbooks  and self-help and vampire love stories and other vacuous, stupid shit. I find this idea to be often true, but also often false.

[Oddly, as far as timing, Harvey Pekar was speaking about this very issue last night, here at BSU (where I teach). Years ago, Pekar is an underground artists facing a mainstream comic book world. Who would publish his adult comic work? Uh, nobody, right? Wrong. Now he is mainstream. He did much of what I am about to say about Joyce’s novel, though Pekar also self-published.]

Listen: Ulysses would be published, eventually by a conventional house. How?

First thing would be a repeat of history. Just like in 1918, excerpts of Joyce’s work would appear in literary magazines (though most likely online today, where serious weirdness blooms). Where do you think T.S. Eliot first published? In a literary magazine! (Maybe this is why you should submit to The Broken Plate and tell all your friends, too). Ask Blake if he would publish an excerpt of Ulysses in Lamination Colony. Do you read Lamination Colony? Blake would publish the damn excerpt, gladly (he published this, yo). So would Diagram. So would others.

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Then what would happen?

Young Mr. Joyce would meet someone from Calamari Press (or fill in the others) at a hipster bar and would talk all PBR and then send an IM/TEXT/iPhone book submit app/whatever twatter thing, the fuck and send them the manuscript. Sure, it would be rejected 189 times then kick around for a dusty while, but there are still Sylvia Beaches in the world, and the book would GET PUBLISHED by a small press. The print run would be about 114 copies. The cover would hurt your retinas.

[BTW, Calamari, your web page is getting seriously messy]

Then what?

Joyce would do a reading in Nebraska and pass out on some woman’s couch and it just happens an agent (though maybe not as colorful as Blake’s new agent!) is passed out right there on the floor by the couch and a bunch of networking stuff maybe drugs and an older author would take Joyce under her wings for a little while because, you know, the writing is actually really fucking good (though weird), and phone calls/emails and next thing you know Ulysses is optioned by Miramax and when the agent knows that he can spin off the book rights, the momentum is working, things popping, clicking, and there you go Ulysses is published by Random House, etc.

So, yes, Ulysses would be published, folks. That question is deader than line dancing. Let’s proceed.

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2.) Will these writer/bloggers continue to give us behind-the-scene insight now that they have gone mainstream?

It’s an interesting question, and one way that the Indie sensibility can provide a significant purpose. When the stakes were lower (and the print runs), we always got the process of this Indy lit world. The writing and little bundles of hope and submissions and rejections and cranes of lifting pens and copy editing and beer spills and every object/every colour and gray winter chairs, more chairs, and vertical lines and nostalgia cries and type style and day crossing into days and True Type Please and running far and running head and permission and intermission and intern armies of the night and liftout and dropout and attribution and black jackets and swaying trains and format and CRT and Sam Pinks and semicolons and the big-ass sky and inflected form of readingness and wheels all falling off and wheels and deals and little big people alongside the highway shoulders, etc.

This type of thing is helpful to readers and writers, and is a type of art form in itself, a merge of scholarship/craft/everyday as wonderful. This type of thing is necessary, in the artistic sense. Will these insights continue? We don’t know.

With Shane, most likely not. Though earlier in his career (and blog) he wrote about his artistic (and practical writer) process more clearly, the LB phenomenon has been pretty close-to-the chest. His blog appears reticent to explore the issue of the whirlwind around Light Boxes. That’s fine, and some of this is Shane’s blog personality, and I would expect the same in the future. I don’t see a lot coming, as far as this new mainstream world, the nitty-gritty of How-This-is-Done/Doing. I could be wrong, I often am.

chef drunk copy

However, information gets out there other ways. Here is an excellent example, via an interview with Shane’s original small press publisher: Here.

With Blake, it’s another thing entirely. His blog is more expansive, loose, sometimes drunkenly so. And Blake will blog about the thrill of holding a book with your name on the spine, about years of writing and reading before even publishing one story, about the tireless minutia/elbow grease/luck of getting one book (never mind many!) out into the world. We’ll have to see how he handles this next step, but I think with both Blake and Shane (and the future others), it is important to record, to discover, to share; in a word, to continue the BLOG of the experience. It affects others writers. It matters.

3.)Will Tao Lin be next?

It won’t be for lack of effort.

4.) Will the BIG PRESS do for these writers what the small presses did?

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The boulder, the car, the photographer, or the boy? Which is the mainstream press? Discuss.

To put it simply, will these big houses be best for these writers, and their sensibilities we admire? Will these houses remain focused on the literary? Will their marketing be innovative and authentic? Will these books get lost in the massive lists of these houses? Will these artists be nurtured, for the long term? Will the books be beautiful artifacts? Will they be placed in innovative locations? Will these conglomerates be OK if there is no quick return on investment? Will the editor be there, again for the long run? What will be the shelf life? Will the book be kept in print? In the end, will they care? We want them to care.

I don’t know the answers, but I’d like to. I’ll be watching (and reading! reading!), so I hope these writer/bloggers continue to share (back to discussion point # 2 above).

In the end, hooray! Good people publishing good books. This is what we want, folks. Oh, and one more thing. The next time I meet Shane Jones or Blake Butler (or anyone else Indy who now goes mainstream), they better know who is buying the beer. After the first one, it ain’t me.

S

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5 responses to “Blake Butler Sells Out!

  1. thanks sean. i will buy you beer yes.

    hope is good to have sometimes

  2. Just to let you know: Canadian nachos sent to you via facebook.

  3. This was a very interesting and fun post to read.

  4. Pingback: This post is about community « .the idiom.

  5. Found this post just now (via Google). I like it a lot. Thanks for posting this, September Sean Lovelace.

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