Daily Archives: February 3, 2010

Why In Fact Publishing Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon: A Deeply Slanted Play in Three Acts

CHARACTERS:

ELTON P. STRAÜMANN, a modern-thinking man with exciting ideas
JOHN SCALZI, a humble writer
KRISTINE SCALZI, the wife of a humble writer

ACT I

SCENE OPENS ON STRAÜMANN and SCALZI, standing.

STRAÜMANN: The publishing world is changing! In the future, authors will no longer need those fat cat middle men known as “publishers” to get in the way of their art! It will just be the author and his audience!

SCALZI: Won’t I need an editor? Or a copy editor? Or a cover artist? Or a book designer? Or a publicist? Or someone to print the book and get it into stores?

STRAÜMANN (waves hand, testily): Yes, yes. But all those things you can do yourself.

SCALZI: And I’m supposed to write the book, too?

STRAÜMANN (snorts): As if writing was hard. Now go! And write your novel!

SCALZI goes off to write his novel. STRAÜMANN stands, alone, on stage, for several months. Eventually SCALZI returns, with a book.

STRAÜMANN: You again! What took you so long?

SCALZI: Well, I had write the book. Then I had to edit it, copy edit it, do the cover, do the book design, have it printed, act as my own distributor and send out press releases. It cost me thousands of dollars out of my own pocket and the better part of a year. But look! Here’s the book!

STRAÜMANN (pulls out his electronic reader): I’m sorry, I only read on this.

SCALZI sighs, slinks off the stage.

STRAÜMANN (yelling after SCALZI): And where’s the sequel? Why aren’t you writing more?!?

ACT II

It is A YEAR LATER. SCENE OPENS on STRAÜMANN and SCALZI, standing.

STRAÜMANN: I’m still waiting for that sequel, you know.

SCALZI: I spent all my money last year making that first book. And it didn’t sell very well.

STRAÜMANN (sneers): Well, what did you expect? The editing was sloppy, the copy editing was atrocious, the layout was amateurish and the cover art looked like it was Photoshopped by a dog. Who would want to buy that?

SCALZI (dejected): I know.

STRAÜMANN: Seriously, what were you thinking.

SCALZI: But that’s my point! I want to get professional editing and copy editing and book design and cover art, but I just can’t afford it.

STRAÜMANN (smiles): Scalzi, you naive fool. Don’t you realize that thanks to the current economy we live in, editors and copy editors and artists are desperately looking for work! Surely some of them will work for almost nothing! Scratch that — they’ll work for exactly nothing!

SCALZI: Is that ethical? To get work from people without paying them?

STRAÜMANN: Of course it is. They’ll profit from the exposure.

SCALZI: I don’t think a printer is going to want to be paid in exposure.

STRAÜMANN: Then release the book electronically to skip on all those printing costs!

SCALZI: Yes! And then sell it for a reasonable price!

STRAÜMANN (shrugs): Well, do what you want. I’ll be getting it off a torrent.

SCALZI: What?

STRAÜMANN (brandishing his electronic reader): I paid $300 for this thing! Honestly, how much do you expect me to pay to fill it?

SCALZI: So, pay people nothing to help me create a book I make nothing on, for people who will refuse to pay for it.

STRAÜMANN: I wouldn’t put it that way. But yes.

STRAÜMANN and SCALZI stand for a moment, silent.

SCALZI: I’m trying to remember if you voted for Obama.

STRAÜMANN (snorts): As if I’d vote for a Communist.

ACT III

SEVERAL MONTHS have passed. SCENE OPENS on STRAÜMANN and SCALZI, standing.

STRAÜMANN: Dude, where the fuck is that sequel? I’m dying over here.

SCALZI: Well, I was going to write it, but when I tried to find editors and artists to work on it for free, I kind of hit a road block. The ones who were good wouldn’t work for free, and the ones that were free weren’t good.

STRAÜMANN (rolls his eyes): Well, duh. I could have told you that.

SCALZI: But…

STRAÜMANN: But that’s not important now. What’s important is that we get you writing again.

SCALZI: But I don’t have the money to make another book with professional help, and I don’t have the time to make another book on my own.

STRAÜMANN: As it happens, I have a solution for you. And look, here she is.

ENTER KRISTINE SCALZI from STAGE LEFT.

STRAÜMANN: Mrs. Scalzi, a word, please.

KRISTINE: Yes?

STRAÜMANN: As you may know, your husband is a writer. But he is finding it difficult to do writing recently because of issues of cost and time. I know that you are the organized, financially-minded person in your relationship, so allow me to suggest to you that you become his publisher. While he writes, you locate and pay for an editor, a copy editor, a cover artist, a book designer, a publicist, a printer and a distributor. This will leave him free to focus on his craft, and the sequel I so desire.

KRISTINE: I see. And you propose I fund these people how?

STRAÜMANN: Well, I’m sure I don’t know, Mrs. Scalzi, but I have faith in your ability to do so.

KRISTINE: So to recap, you want me to quit my full-time job and devote all my time to my husband’s career.

STRAÜMANN: Of course not! I never said for you to quit your job. You need the health insurance.

KRISTINE: Ah. Could you come over here for just a second?

STRAÜMANN (walks toward KRISTINE): Yes?

KRISTINE clocks STRAÜMANN in the head, stunning him, then rips off his testicles, stuffs them into his mouth and sets him on fire while he chokes on them. STRAÜMANN dies.

KRISTINE (to SCALZI): You. Find a fucking publisher.

SCALZI: Yes, dear.

CURTAIN FALLS.

The Big Idea: Katharine Beutner

People in myths live forever — or do they? For every Apollo or Persephone, there are the women and men whose lives these famous deities intersect in the telling of the tale — but who otherwise fall from the page, and from thought. Can they be resurrected? Katharine Beutner thinks it’s possible, and sets to doing so with Alcestis, her debut novel. Who is Alcestis and why does she deserve another look? Beutner explains all.

KATHARINE BEUTNER:

My Big Idea was to stick myself with the task of retelling a myth many people aren’t aware of in the first place. Alcestis was Mycenaean royalty—her grandfather was the god Poseidon, and one of her sons joined the group of warriors waiting inside the Trojan horse—but she’s remembered largely as a model of the perfectly self-sacrificing wife. She chooses to go to the underworld in her husband’s place when the god Hermes comes to retrieve him; three days later, she’s rescued by Heracles, and brought home to the world above, silent, where she’s celebrated for her virtue. In most versions of the myth, that’s all we ever learn about her, even though she is, to the best of my knowledge, the only female figure in classical mythology who enters the underworld on purpose.

You might say I began writing this novel with a big question, then, rather than a big idea: why would Alcestis choose to die? I wasn’t satisfied with the traditional explanation of selfless wifely devotion, and when I first read Euripides’ version of her story, I was frustrated by how easily the play dismissed Alcestis’s heroism. (Also, I kind of wanted to punch both Heracles and Alcestis’s husband Admetus.) I’d first encountered Alcestis in Rainer Maria Rilke’s gorgeous poem “Alkestis,” which ends with her disappearance. That poem gives Alcestis dignity and grace but also chooses not to portray her experience directly. My novel follows Alcestis from her childhood through her time in the underworld, where she falls under the power of the goddess Persephone.

Any story about a living woman entering the realm of death is inherently fantastical, and I drew inspiration from some of my favorite fantasy novels, such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. Yet I conceived of this book as not only historical fantasy but also a kind of first-contact novel. I wanted to describe what it would it be like, as a human who grew up in that god-haunted world, to face the gods’ alien capriciousness firsthand, and to find your life tangled up with theirs in the way you’d only heard about in songs. In the underworld, Alcestis seeks her sister Hippothoe, who died when they were both children; she also finds herself captivated by Persephone’s passionate interest in her. All of Alcestis’s actions are shaped by her culture and her training as a royal daughter of Iolcus, but she’s woefully out of her depth, despite her own Olympic blood. Despite growing up in a society molded by the interference of gods, she has little notion of how to handle a goddess and even less idea how to resist one.

And that brings me to a second big question: what happens to the usual structure of the mythic romance if that romance involves two women? In one of my high school English classes, a favorite teacher of mine described Odysseus’s entanglements with Circe and Calypso by shrugging and noting that, in the world of the Greek epic, “goddesses happen.” The traditional myth of Alcestis makes clear that her husband Admetus earns his special dispensation from death because he is a favorite of Apollo. I kept that element of the myth and paired it with Persephone’s pursuit of Alcestis. In my version of Mycenaean Greece, goddesses happen to women as well as men.

I aimed to give Alcestis her own epic tale, one as dramatic as the stories of Odysseus, Aeneas, or Orpheus. But I also wanted her to be accessible to contemporary readers of historical fiction and fantasy. In the original myth, Alcestis is supposed to represent the ideal of Greek womanhood, but not because of any special abilities or magical inheritance (unlike Achilles, that big cheater). I’ve tried to preserve a sense of her as a real and ordinary person, to allow readers to enter her world as immersively as she enters the underworld and to fully experience her strange, remarkable, too-little-known story.

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Alcestis: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel here. Follow Beutner on Twitter.

Technical note unrelated to the book: Please see this note regarding the presence of links to Amazon.

A Note Re: Amazon Links in Big Idea Pieces

Some of you may note that despite my being annoyed with Amazon in the last week, Amazon links have not been pulled from previous Big Idea pieces, and I added an Amazon link to the latest Big Idea piece as well. The reasoning here is simple: Unlike some large online retailers I could name, I don’t go out of my way to hurt an author’s sales when I have an argument that doesn’t directly involve that author. And you know, making it difficult for my readers to seek out a book at the Internet’s largest retailer would do just that. So the Amazon links stay, for the benefit of the authors.

(And no, not also because I have affiliate links. Never have used affiliate links for The Big Idea pieces here. Too lazy.)

That said, I have made two small changes:

1. Rather than deleting Amazon, I added a link to IndieBound, a site which makes it easy for people to get books online from independent bookstores near them. Frankly, I should have done that a long time ago.

2. Customarily, in the intro paragraph, I’ve linked the title of the book to the commensurate Amazon page. This week and going forward I won’t be doing that; I’ll be rotating that link between the stores I link to at the bottom (Amazon, B&N, IndieBound, Powell’s). And for that link, I feel fine keeping Amazon out of the lineup until such time as they, you know, put my Tor books back up. Feels fair to me.