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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 05/17/2004
Volume 2, #123

It took me two weeks, that is, I skipped a column and ran the Zeno story twice before I got a response. Thank you, Dwight, Sam, Richard...

I said that nothing was moving. Well, there's a little movement, and maybe something will come of it. I'll tell you when it does, but right now I'm preoccupied with a letter from a lady named Marah who runs a kind of bookshop and who tells me that my memoir AN UNLIKELY PROPHET has been very useful in her life. So much so that she's been selling scads of them to other people, and some of those have also requested others and sent me checks in the mail and I'm starting to run out of copies, except for some very expensive hard copies. It does indeed seem that a lot of people, according to my personal mail, have found something very life-enriching in that work. But, unfortunately, the publisher folded, one of those small literary presses, just when it seemed the book might really start hitting great sales peaks.

What's more, there's a second half, since the original Prophet was only a work in progress, leaving out another important takeoff point in my way of seeing things, namely, Batman. No, it's not about Batman, it's about what Batman means, and a lot more. Same with Superman in volume one. Anyway, I'm sitting here with this book that I know will give a lot of people a real life boost. It will. I guarantee it. But I can't find a publisher for the complete work. Not yet.

But let me tell you this first. Yesterday, I went through a collection of 62 years of exchanges about my books with publishers and agents. The first, a rejection plus praises, was in 1943, from Duel, Sloan and Pierce, about an early work called IN LASTING NIGHT (Title from a Shelley poem) Over 95% of that six decades of replies were rejections. Par for the course, as any serious writer knows.

And seen all together like that, I realize that nobody in publishing really knows what they're doing, nobody has a clear idea of what a good book is. Not even the Nobel Prize committee, especially them!

Nobody has quite the same reason for turning a book down. In fact, the editorial side of publishing is almost totally gibberish. When you add up the reasons for accepting my various books or, in almost all cases, not accepting them, nothing adds up. Nobody knows nothing! Absolutely! Now I don't mean they can't spot a bad book. In all those years, almost everyone acknowledged that my books were "good", but, nobody would buy them, they're too complicated, they're hard to believe, they're too different, they're too old fashioned, they're too much like something else, they don't fit our list---there are millions of reasons not to publish a book no matter how good it is. And, in fact, I've already published at least thirty books. Most of them under house names for publishers doing various series, or ghosted for various important people. Under my own name, well that brings us down to three: The Blowtop, , the protobeat novel you can find on display in the Southampton Jackson Pollock Museum among Jackson's few other books; No Such Mirrors (a tiny edition in Montreal) and An Unlikely Prophet.

Even a two book contract with Random House didn't pan out when my editor left to join another publisher. Add poetry, short stories and scads of comics, and hey, some of my pseudonymous potboilers alone of all the publishers' house names, actually got good reviews. But all together it doesn't look like much. Especially when you consider that a tactical mistake, a certain amount of naiveté on my part, often made the difference between getting published or not. I made a lot of mistakes in that department. But, in fact, I got higher praise in some of my rejection letters than I did from critics who praised my published stuff. So, what am I getting at with all this? No, I'm not saying don't bring your child up to be a writer. Not at all. It's a great life.

Also, I forgot to mention all those book-sized studies I wrote for many of the major corporations in the US, General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, the Pillsbury study of the modern American Woman, plus some thirty-five docudramas for Canada's National Film Board and really stacks of poetry. So I ate well, at least. And was busy. Was I busy!

But at this writing, I have ONE special book in mind (not that I've abandoned any of the others) that I want to see published. It's that completed version of AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, A GATHERING OF SELVES, it's called. Yes, it deals somewhat with Batman, but not in any way that a comics publisher would be interested. It certainly observes the rules of "fair use", but combined, the book does bring to people an awareness of elements of reality that can make a huge difference in their lives. It has nothing to do with the fact that I wrote Batman and Superman and all sorts of other comics for eighteen years. But it has a lot to do with how I made use of that experience. Most important, I found a way of presenting uncommon experiences for which there really is no language or pattern, so that people can recognize them. You see, as I've pointed out in this column in the past, uncommon experiences are basically incommunicable, precisely because they're uncommon. Usually people who have them explain them by fitting them into more familiar or common patterns and in so doing change the entire meaning of what happened to them. I've found a way of reducing that necessity for a meaningful pattern down to the barest minimum. So a lot of what I'm saying manages to get through. However, keep in mind that these books, PROPHET and A GATHERING OF SELVES are not easy reading. Great stories, yes. But you have to chew hard to get the juice out of them. And, of course, you can't even get A GATHERING OF SELVES.

I'm still looking for a publisher.

But, wait!

If you scour the back issues of this column, you'll find it. In a series of columns. Go read them for yourselves. And if any of you think you might find a publisher somewhere, don't hesitate.

I'm too busy shepherding several other works through the mill. But GATHERING OF SELVES is good for you. Better than pills or mind altering techniques. Hey, do you think a comics publisher would dare to touch any of this stuff? Anybody got any ideas?

Maybe something really crazy?

--Alvin

<< 05/03/2004 | 05/17/2004 | 05/24/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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