Reactionary Me

Extra-special thanks to Dave Freer over at Mad Genius Club for bringing my attention to this article in The Guardian by a self-published author named Alan Skinner. Mr. Freer’s translation from Newspeak to English can be found here.

Well, Mr. Skinner, you found me out.

Unlike yourself, who have managed (with no doubt Herculean effort) to transcend the draconian demands of the brutal marketplace to write stunningly original novels about a 15 year old girl who discovers that she has magical powers and changes from an awkward outsider to a powerful alchemist, I am a slavish imitator of the status quo.

Yes, I’ll admit it.  I jumped on the William Burroughs pastiche bandwagon with no thoughts except for how to cash in.  I am sure that from your ivory tower in which you agonize over how best to deconstruct literature you groaned to see yet another story of a middle-aged man possessed by an alien intelligence who killed his own family as a child.  Just like every other action hero out there, I know.

Some of us, I sadly admit, do not have the sheer genius to come up with something entirely new like YA Fantasy and are forced to rely on the standard tropes of transsexual human-plant hybrids, centipedes of molten metal, and electrified frogs.

A series of novels about a magical land in peril that can only be saved by a chosen one?  Truly earth-shaking–I could never have come up with something so revolutionary.  Instead I focus on the tired old issues of how human relationships change as people change and what it means to be human, just like everyone else.

Yes, you are absolutely right.  Self-publishing is the death of originality.  If I had been forced to go through a traditional publisher I might have been able to come up with something new and exciting, just like the novels of John Grisham and Stephen King, none of which are anything like the others, or the novels of the traditional publisher’s mid-lists, which are so very different than their best-selling authors.

Instead I simply cater to the mass market, which is clamoring for the same old thing.  More stories about quasi-mechanical undead contractors rehabbing riverboats and metallic security guards searching for a traitor in their ranks. Unlike traditional publishers that care nothing for money and publish Art for Art’s sake, I shamelessly jump on the “parasitic information organisms influencing human behavior” bandwagon to produce instant potboilers.

I am still new at my craft, Mr. Skinner, and lack your extensive experience as an investment banker.  Perhaps one day I will be able to come up with a concept as brilliant as “Seven unlikely heroes set out to find the secret of the blue fire and the identity of the mysterious arsonist who will stop at nothing to destroy them all.”

Give me a chance.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Reactionary Me

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    Given the frequency of home design programs these days, it is only a matter of time before there is a BISAC for FICTION>Fantasy>Home Improvement>Aquatic.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I’ve always wanted to live on Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, myself. The Disney version, with the built-in pipe organ.

      • Dave Higgins says:

        Of all the people I know who want more Steampunk in their lives, you probably have the best background to actually do it.

        I would invite myself on board if you ever achieved it, but my best transferable skill with Disney Nemo is looking good in a velvet smoking jacket.

  2. kingmidget says:

    The articles bashing self-publishing are built around generalizations just as articles supporting self-publishing. This article has the same problem. It’s an attempt to say something noteworthy about publishing, but it crashes and burns when you see all of the exceptions to the generalizations. Yes, there is a lot of crap out there in self-publishing land — I’m amazed every day at the number of romance and erotica books that are pushed on the self-publishing sites I follow. So, yes, in some respects, it may be viewed as narrowing and reactionary. On the other hand, there are a lot of unique self-published authors out there, trying to put stories out there that traditional publishers won’t get near.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      This man’s assertion that traditional publishers, with their huge overhead, are somehow less driven by the need to make a profit than self-publishers is not simply wrong, it is exactly backwards. Yes, there are self-publishers who push derivative works in an attempt to cash in on trends, but self-publishing offers authors freedom to write what they choose without worrying about making money in a way that big businesses simply cannot afford to do.

      • kingmidget says:

        Agreed … the profit motive of traditional publishers is one of the causes of self-publishing. Yeah, we want to make some money, but we are just as motivated by the desire to publish our works. Publishers aren’t interested in anything unless they’re going to get a return on it.

  3. I am awed by your sarcasm skills. (Do you have a weekly sarcasm quota, too?) “Some of us, I sadly admit, do not have the sheer genius to come up with something entirely new like YA Fantasy and are forced to rely on the standard tropes of transsexual human-plant hybrids, centipedes of molten metal, and electrified frogs.” Absolutely brilliant!

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I usually try to keep my sarcasm in check in this blog, but sometimes it just boils out.

      There is snark that speaks when spoken to, and there is snark that speaks of itself.

  4. Millie Ho says:

    There’s a certain comfort in reading/writing formulaic fiction. It’s familiar. All we can do as writers is subvert certain tropes and tell old stories in a new way. Some fail, and I wouldn’t bother expending time and energy on them.

    This was a great article. Your deadpan voice is contagious.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Formulas can be used very well, just like formalism can be a powerful technique in poetry. I think that the film “Gravity” was a brilliant example of that.

  5. As I said over at Mad Genius club, that original article is just so unbelievably wrong that I wouldn’t even know where to begin a counterargument. And I don’t even intend to self-publish, for crying out loud!

    Loving your sarcasm, here; made for a lovely bit of break-time reading (as did the links). Thanks a lot for posting 😀

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