While I was out in Santa Fe at my retreat, I got together with fellow Book View Cafe author Pati Nagle. Over incredible chocolate drinks at Kakawa Chocolate House, we discussed the future of writing and publishing along with her husband, Chris Krohn, and my friend and fellow writer, Diane Silver.
Our conclusions? We don’t have a clue. But we were all sure about three things:
- The world is changing.
- The old way of doing things isn’t going to work.
- And we’re going to go out and try new things instead of sitting around complaining.
That last item was the most remarkable thing about the conversation: It wasn’t negative at all. In fact, when I mentioned to Pati that I was writing about our talk, she called it “uplifting.” And that’s how I felt, too.
Of course, that could have been the chocolate talking. But we really are going through a fascinating and exciting time of change. And while that can be scary — especially on the bringing-in-enough-money-to-eat front — it’s also exhilarating.
I love having useful tools for writing right at my fingertips. Take the last word in the last paragraph: exhilarating. I wasn’t sure how to spell it, and the Word Press software confirmed that my best guess was wrong. So I started typing it in the Google box to figure out how to spell it. Now I could have looked it up in a dictionary — I own several. But I’d have to know it was misspelled to do that and to tell you the truth, I still think it looks right with an “e” where the first “a” is.
That’s a minor example, but I can come up with a dozen more without even trying — like looking up a location on Mapquest to understand a story I was doing for work involving highways. I have an atlas, but even with a magnifying glass I couldn’t get the detail I got on Mapquest.
Plus there’s just the joy of working on computers themselves, especially if you started out on manual typewriters. And there are exciting new tools everyday. The four of us debated the comparative value of netbooks and smartphones for carrying your work around with you. I can remember when I thought the correcting Selectric was the greatest invention since sliced bread.
Pati pointed out that we’ve all seen lots of other changes in our lives, even though the current period may be the most intense. Xeroxing (sorry, Xerox, it’s just a better word than photocopying) made a huge impact. So did going from “hot” lead type to “cold” offset printing. Those changes might not have affected as many things at once as the combination of the Internet and constantly improving computer tech, but they did eliminate whole industries and lots of jobs. Remember carbon paper and mimeograph machines? Remember when newspapers had as many staffers in the composing room as they did in editorial?
Both those developments made it cheaper to get into publishing: My parents started a weekly newspaper in the 1970s. They wouldn’t have been able to do it much earlier than that, because they couldn’t have afforded the necessary printing equipment.
Now anyone can afford to get into publishing. The trick is figuring out how to make money off of it! Though come to think of it, my parents struggled with that one, too. Publishing has never been a sure money maker.
Diane made a comment that I’ve been thinking about ever since. She said she didn’t want to be the buggy whip manufacturer in the years after people started driving cars. Some things that once seemed terribly important are going to disappear. Others are going to adapt in ways that are not yet obvious. Look at bicycles. You’d have thought the car would have run them off the road, but I’d be willing to be bicycle manufacturing is a bigger business today than it ever thought of being in the 19th Century.
As I drove Diane to the Albuquerque airport so that she could fly back to Kansas and I could start my drive back to Texas, we got to talking about older people we know who refuse to do much with the Internet. We agreed they were making a mistake, but then we got to talking about the kind of changes we might see in the next 30 years or so. Maybe we’ll all have permanent wireless plugs in our heads, so that we are connected all the time.
Scary. Daunting, even. But damn. Think of all the things we’ll be able to do!
Nancy Jane has stories in both of the anthologies recently published by Book View Press: “The Savage and the Monster” in The Shadow Conspiracy and “Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars” in Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls.
Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty (plus one new one) of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available for free here.