A personal reflection by Phoenicia publisher Elizabeth Adams, who is also a writer and an artist
What I have realized in the past few years is that, while socio-political issues matter tremendously to me, and I think that political activism is terribly important, for me, at this point, too much immersion in politics kills my creativity. It's pretty much either/or. The energy that it takes for me to be committed and active in politics makes it almost impossible for me to do art or music or write at the level I want to.
It's impossible to keep one's involvement on the level of the issues alone. The negativity, polarization, and rhetoric surrounding political action in the U.S., especially since 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made me feel helpless after a while. It was possible to help break down barriers about homosexuality and religion,and I'm very glad I was involved in that struggle. It was possible to help dismantle some stereotypes about the Middle East, about Islam, about an inevitable "clash of civilizations" -- but only very slowly, and on a local level, almost person-to-person. The struggle against the power of money and corporations and the military, the choice to locate and exhaust the planet's fossil fuels while destroying the entire ecosystem -- I'm not sure fighting these battles is possible anymore through the system itself; maybe only a collapse will cause wholesale change. When it comes to matters of war, peace, and the power of the strong over the weak, we have learned very little over the millenia.
I was involved very intentionally for a long while; it changed me for the better, and I know my efforts did some good. But I knew that eventually I'd have to make some decisions about what I wanted to do with my remaining time -- time that seems to feel ever shorter and more precious.
My mother wanted me to go into politics. It wouldn't have been a bad fit, in some ways, and I was invited once to run for the Vermont legislature -- but I said no. We each have to look at our own gifts and what we're passionate about, as well as where our lives have led us, and what possibilities are open to us at a particular time - and make the most of them. If we don't do that, we may have to live with big regrets. And we also have to ask: where can I make the most difference? For me, the greatest passion has always been for the arts. I've been fortunate to be able to spend most of my professional career as a graphic designer, a field closely related to the fine arts, and now to have some additional time to devote to work other than the kind that pays the bills.
But the decision to focus on art and on writing -- both my own and other people's -- and to try to minimize the many distracting, conflicting, enticing calls for involvement in other pursuits and other projects -- comes at a time when it's particularly hard to be an artist or a writer, let alone a publisher. There's a lot of discouragement around, and many obstacles which have never been quite so daunting: economic, governmental, social and cultural changes are all contributing, and these combine with and magnify the personal challenges that have always existed for people who live creative lives.
A guest blog post by Marly Youmans, whose epic poem Thaliad will be published here in November. The painting of fairies dancing, above, is by William Blake.
Fairy glamour is the name for the magic that can turn ashes and dead leaves into enticing fruit and sparkling wine--that can metamorphose cruelty or vapidness into a lovely face of beauty. But when you eat that fruit and drink that wine in Faerie, you are still consuming ash and dead leaf. And you can never go back to the world of sun-ripened fruit and wine pressed from grapes. You may live in seeming pleasure and yet become the one that the Queen of the fairies pays as a tithe to hell. When you ride there, if you are very, very lucky--vanishingly lucky--some strong mortal will catch you up and hold on until the Queen loses her power over you, though in the end you may find the hair in your comb as fine as cobwebs and your limbs withered.
Perhaps it is that the internet often shows us more than we need to see, perhaps it is that the Western world has changed greatly in my lifetime, but it seems to me that our culture is more and more sprinkled with fairy dust and subject to the power of glamour. What is this world where a book like 50 Shades of Grey, a fanfiction story written to mimic the Twilight series, can be irresistible to so many--where people run to pay their gold for ashes and dead leaves?
When we pay such gold, we transform our culture, little by little. We say by our actions that this is what we think is worth our love and precious time and coin. Publishers, bookstores, galleries, and other guardians of culture respond to such actions. After all, such actions say that this is where we want our culture to go, in this direction. We ash-eaters may laugh and say we are not serious, or we may mock and say that our mocking is all hilarity. Either way, we are eating the food of Faerie and supporting its dominion.
More than that, we are not paying our coin and eating the golden, sun-fed apples of this world, more beautiful than any glamoured ash. We are not transformed for the better; are not growing the soul and becoming larger on the inside. We are not marrying ourselves to true things but burying ourselves in a fairy mound. And we are not striving to support and build a new golden age of culture but are seeking after a world of tin.
A little world of beauty and truth flickers and struggles to catch light within the larger one. Anyone can blow on that flame, but few do.
* * *
In the interest of being understood, I may need to say that I love fairy tales and fantastic realms, and that I am using Faerie and its witchery of glamour as a metaphor in the post just above.
Right now, the cover of Thaliad, Marly Youmans' book-length, narrative poem, is beginning to take shape through the mind, eye, and hands of the extraordinary Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who generously agreed to take on this project. In a series of posts on his own Artlog, Clive describes and illustrates the process of envisioning and creating the cover art, and I wanted to share this very exciting process with you as it unfolds.
"Marly Youman’s epic poem Thaliad, is to be published later this year by Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal. It is a work of staggering beauty and imagination, and I’m enormously proud to have been asked by the author and her publisher, Elizabeth Adams, to create the image that will speak for it on the cover."
Stay posted for updates!
In other news, all of our titles are now available through Amazon.uk and Amazon Europe, so European readers can easily order books without prohibitive international shipping charges. Just search for the desired title on your country's Amazon site.
There are also e-book editions, for Kindle and iPad/epub readers, of Dick Jones Ancient Lights, Dave Bonta's Odes to Tools, and Ken Pobo's Ice and Gaywings available directly through Phoenicia Publishing.
_Here at Phoenicia, we're always going to value lasting quality over quick success, and to understand that our authors are artists whose work doesn't always fit into an obvious niche -- because real artists grow and change over their lifetimes, and need the freedom to do so.
Upcoming Phoenicia author Marly Youmans, (Thaliad) who already has a number of notable books to her name, has an interest in marketing in the brave new online world. On her blog, she's recently published a "conversation" with marketing guru Seth Godin, in which she quote some of his pronouncements and comments on them. Here's a sample, but please go read the whole thing!
SETH: I think it’s a fading of the power of a published book to influence the conversation. When anyone can publish an ebook, anyone will.
MARLY: Nevertheless, Seth, I still believe that there a secret world tucked inside our big, fat, hyper-materialist, and often-tasteless world--a world of people who care about beauty and rightness and all the golden things handed down to us by the Gawain poet and Shakespeare and Herbert and Austen and Dickinson and Dickens and more. And maybe that hidden world is enough to sustain a lot of us who are seeking to make something worthy."
SETH: An author starting out today needs to pick herself, establish a niche, become truly the best at it and relentlessly and generously give it all away as a way of leading and making a ruckus.
MARLY: ... Seth, I find that writing the strong, beautiful book I always dream of writing and that having a position of humility before the great masters of the past is more to me than having a niche and so gaining numbers. I like “increasing readership”: yes, I do. But I love the tradition and the burning image of the strong, beautiful book more. And if I must choose, I choose the image and the masters.
...Give me "a great book" over making "a great living." I have that choice, and I choose. The attempt to write true books is labor and play in the vale of soul-making.
The conversation ends with a critical question:
MARLY: How will we know when books are great, Seth? Tell me that? When everybody has an e-book, and Babel is a nest of clamor, how will we find those voices?
One answer to that is "right here." Thanks for this thoughtful look at marketing and writing today, Marly.
We've been enjoying a number of books on our mobile devices, and are pleased to be able to offer the first two Phoenicia ebooks:Odes to Tools, by Dave Bonta, and Ice and Gaywings, by Ken Pobo. Both are available in .MOBI format, for the Kindle, and .EPUB format for most other e-book readers, at the attractive price of $2.99!
In the comments, below, we'd love to hear about your experience reading chapbooks and poetry books on your mobile devices. Poetry e-books have lagged behind prose because of difficult formatting issues. We're wondering: Have you bought poetry e-books in the past? Is this something you'd like to see for all Phoenicia titles?
Down the stairs, onto the porch, into the truck, up a different set of stairs...are all those book boxes we've lugged from college to first apartment, from first apartment to our first home, from city to city, becoming a thing of the past? The debate about e-books is one thing, but when we start talking about whether to simply get rid of all the books - as some of us have done with records, and then CDs and DVDs - it feels like the distant drummer is right outside on that porch. In today's New York Times, Nick Bilton, a converted e-book reader, struggles with what to do with his print book collection before he moves from NYC to San Francisco, and readers respond in the comments.
I've thought about the same thing, of course. When we moved from Vermont to Montreal two summers ago, we culled a third to a half of our large book collection, but brought the rest. They were one of the first things we unpacked, because filled bookshelves are one of the things that make us both feel at home; arranging a bookshelf has to be one of the most satisfying acts in establishing a new place, and rearranging it can be cathartic and symbolic. Dismantling the library of someone we've loved is like taking a final walk with them, and almost always contains revelations. Like some of the commenters on Bilton's article, I can't imagine a home without books; to me they are the soul of a home, a collection that is open to be "read" not only by their owners but by visitors who stand and browse the titles: a short course in the characters of the book collectors themselves.
But the last four books I've read have been e-books (read on both my PC and my android) and I can feel myself sliding into greater acceptance of the new media. I buy books more selectively now than I ever did, partly because I don't want to acquire a lot more things and partly because English-language books are more difficult to get here in Quebec. But I do still buy them -- the ones I know I'll want to keep, poetry and certain novels especially -- and can't imagine a time when I won't.
Music? I haven't bought a physical CD in a very long time, and we moved our entire music collection to mp3s. Are the two media parallel? Will print books go the way of CDs eventually? Or will we continue to have bookshelves - perhaps housing smaller collections -- for the comfort they give, and because, like art, they are objects that we like to see every day, both for their beauty, and for the way they chart our path through life?
The Canadian postal strike has finally ended; yesterday we rode past a postal truck filled with packages, and today received a phone call at the studio about a package delivery at our apartment. I'd gotten used to not checking the box, actually. Except for the occasional package, most of what we get is either financial, or advertising. With the prevalence and convenience of door-to-door service of other delivery companies, the post has become increasingly irrelevant.
I was thinking of that yesterday, too, as I downloaded the Nook reader for PC, and ordered my first e-book. Yes, I'm still behind the times; I don't have a Kindle or any other kind of hand-held e-book reader but I do read everything else on my laptop, so why not a book? But the real reason was that it's not always easy to get English language books here, either in stores, by mail order, or at my preferred outlet: the library. The Bibliotheque nationale is a fabulous resource, though the majority of their holdings (including the vast majority of their fiction) are in French - it is, after all, the Quebec national library. I can use interlibrary loan to order just about anything, but it takes time and a special trip to the library. I buy some books from a used book stores, and I order some, but shipping is very expensive here, and slow, especially from the U.S.
There are a lot of good reasons why I've been stubborn about printed books, one being that by evening I am tired of looking at a screen of any kind. Another, of course, is that I'm a designer, and excellent typography and page layout matter to me. We said all the same things in the early days of website design, and I'm sure that e-books will eventually have many of the design features we've become used to on the web, and the differences will become increasingly irrelevant. As a publisher, I'm also going to have to bite the e-book bullet. The main reason, though, is that I just love printed books; I like reading that way, I like holding them and turning the physical pages, and I like having them around me. A room without bookshelves seems as bare to me as a mind devoid of literature: but what a telling remark that is! I recognize that these visible symbols are a kind of claim to intellectual status as well as a comfort, and that part of my attachment to printed books has to do with identity and pride.
I don't buy the claims that e-books are a financial advantage: that's only true if you're comparing prices for recently-published books. I found a lot of discrepancies. Yesterday, for instance, I looked at the prices for "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill from B&N. The e-book was 11.99. paperback, 12.32. Hardcover? 2.99. And both paperback and hardcover were available in the marketplace for 1.99. Is it really worth it to me to pay $9 more for instant gratification? Uh, not exactly. On the other hand, the book I did download, "Nemesis," by Jo Nesbo, was 4.99 for the e-book and 9.03 for the paperback. I have no desire to keep that particular book on my shelf, and it's a good one to read while traveling, so the e-version makes sense. Still, I know when marketing is capitalizing on human impatience and our desire for the latest technology. I don't like being manipulated; the library and used bookstore retain their appeal.
I'm curious about your own experience: do you have an e-book reader or a way to download and read books on your computer? How many books do you download in a month? Have your book purchases gone up as a result? What do you have to say about the advantages or disadvantages of reading this way?
(read other readers' comments at the original post on The Ca
Marly Youmans has just published part 1 of a 2 part interview at her blog, "The House of Words." We talk about the strengths of Phoenicia as a micro-publisher, and what's rewarding about doing this work. To my surprise, Marly has illustrated the interview with some of my own artwork. Thank you, Marly!
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