Part 4: What’s All This Crap Got To Do With Me?
Why Undiscovered Artists, Publishers, and Writers Matter
So, how about a long, soap-box-manifesto filled with some sweeping generalizations!
Big publishers or companies or huge media conglomerates sell commodities — they make books or movie to be sold to as many people as possible. And all the entities co-invested in these commodities insist on focus groups, consumer panels, advance screenings, and work diligently to avoid offending any powerful retailers — who might reject distribution. This homogenized approach (be it Hollywood or big publishers and chain bookstores) yields a low-protein-gruel of a product, a disposable art or literature designed to entertain. Yes, technically they qualify as books or movies — but there’s no flavor, no risk, and worst of all no surprises.
I have no illusions of that changing.
But it does mean that small press books simply never make it to the shelves — to be picked up, thumbed through, discovered. Which is a shame. Because let’s be clear: books with the “broadest appeal” don’t end up in the lexicon. Classics, the things we read in school — they end up there because they are challenging, important books that ask difficult human questions, books that push mercilessly against the limitations and ideas of our culture. Tropic of Cancer, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man, Leaves of Grass…these aren’t books to be entered into lightly. Nor are they designed to help someone fall asleep on planes. These books are harbingers, smoldering minarets, snarling bellwether beasts — that ask us to look into our own darkest hearts and find what it is we truly believe.
So, what’s a poor boy to do? The culture-making industry refuses to offend us…and yet, art and literature exist solely to examine, challenge, and offended our silly ideas. Enter the small press — a place where the “business” of publishing takes a back seat to the art of it. The cold, hard truth is there are rarely ever sales enough to justify publishing most books. So fuck it — to hell with sales! Let’s do something beautiful while we can!
Think of it another way: It’s like buying local — picking a taco truck over McDonald’s; a small watercolor over a dull poster. It’s supporting people — deeply committed and passionate people — instead of huge, tax-dodging corporations. It’s joining the beer club and buying Tractor beer over a 6-6-6 pack of The Beast (Milwaukee’s Best). And not every book needs to mentally exhaust its reader, or titillate their naughty bits — but not every book or movie should put us to sleep either. I have to believe, as humans, there’s room in our experience for a little more drunken, joyous, laughing lust — in our literature and cinema — if not our actual lives!
Artistically Declined Press, Alternating Current (Propaganda Press), Bottle of Smoke Press, Centennial Press, Chance Press, featherproof books, Low Ghost Press, New York Tyrant, NYQ Books, Orange Alert Press, Two-Dollar Radio, Sun Dog Press, sunnyoutside, X-Ray Book. Co.
Overseas there’s Blackheath, Kilmog, Pig Ear Press, Tangerine Press, Wrecking Ball Press…
And a hundred more I’m forgetting.
Find a small press, find a new writer. Follow them, like them, Share or Retweet them! Buy a book, a t-shirt, or a sticker to support them. The internet brings living, breathing artists directly into your world. Connect with them, tell them their work matters to you. Doesn’t that taste better than more pink McSlime?
Until next time,
Delirium Tremens, and
Trappistes Rochefort, and
Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw,
and working on a screenplay for
the poor-man’s Jean-Claude Van Damme,
a horrendous, utterly illogical yarn
where the supposed star kills
teenagers and Black-Ops soldiers.
“But what the fuck,” you say,
“It’s what the producers want!”
So you and your buddy just
pound it down, and laugh, and
make multiple trips to the liquor store,
splurging because soon you’ll have
“Hollywood money,” and you write
every single hilarious horror and
action movie cliche into the thing,
thinking there’s no way they’ll
let this shit fly!
But the producers think it’s great,
“Truly fantastic stuff!” they say,
and next they want to develop a TV show,
a one-hour action drama for the
poor-man’s Jean-Claude Van Damme,
and it’s based on one of their straight-to-video-
in-Burma hits, the kind that moviegoers,
destroyed on opiated whiskey, and
pickled cobra eggs, really seem to go for.
And the producers are convinced that
Spike TV will be interested, so you
get to work on an episode, and in it,
the hero travels from town to town
(of course) on the run from his
checkered past (of course), and he
helps shopkeepers, or folks with a
failing ski lodge, or the mousey kid
being bullied (of course), and
jezus, you’d have to be drunk to do this,
so it’s a good thing you are, spending
hours after work inventing
all these stupid ways for the hero to
(of course) make single-episode friends
like The Hulk, or Carradine on Kung Fu,
all while on the run from a nefarious,
shadowy bad guy named (of course) Octavio,
who is hounding the hero, trying to
pull him back in to the dangerous world
of illegal underground street fighting.
And it’s a hoot, a laugh, and
You’re promised a thousand bucks,
and everyday you’re drunk
but you crank out a
three-act structured script complete with
a pre-credit teaser, and a cliffhanger epilogue
filled with danger and foreboding,
you finish it in record time,
and the villain even ends up
being responsible for all the
bad shit that happens in your
And the producers
love it, “It’s perfect,” they say,
“we just need to change
oh yeah, this,”
so you bang the changes out
and the producers have
a whole wide world of reasons
why your money hasn’t
showed up yet.
“It’s complicated,” they say,
a check from somewhere hasn’t cleared,
but they’re on it, they swear,
for weeks they’re “on it,”
and you finally just give up,
having been a “Hollywood” writer
for all of thirty-seven seconds
before (of course) getting fucked
out of your first check, and (of course)
nothing comes of the work you did,
you get no credit anywhere,
except (of course) the credit
card bill for all