Grocers of Despair

This is a post about the qualities and the effects of despair.  There are several reasons for it, the proximate one being that we are fed a lot of it – purposely? – by our art and entertainment complex.

I’m well acquainted with despair.  You could say it is an old friend of mine, except that despair is no one’s friend.

Despair accounted for how long it took me to break into publishing, to an extent, by creating long gaps of silence in my production, and several attempts at doing something else – anything else – with my life.  My basement is littered with the beginnings of would-be-money-making projects I tried to engage in to avoid what seemed to be a hopeless attempt at getting published.  Despair has accounted for how few of my books have been out the last two years.  Those of you who have followed my blog through that time know I hit the nadir of despair about a year ago, when it looked like despite all my best efforts to keep running on ice, my career in writing was over.

I was wrong.  I was wrong for several reasons, one of them being that Darkship Thieves – my heart’s darling at that point – did well for itself, and continues to do surprisingly well.  I was wrong, because indie possibilities opened.  I was wrong because I lost it – truly lost it – and started telling it like it is, and weirdly, surprisingly the “me” I’d suppressed so long, in order to have a career that would allow me to feed the kids, allowed me to find readers who helped my career.  Go figure.

But the point is not that I was wrong.  The point is that I know from despair and what’s more, I understand why despair is considered a sin.  This is not always the case, and I’ve always had an issue with, say, sloth, since – being active by nature – I can’t imagine a worst punishment than being forced to do nothing.

Despair is a sin because it eats you, from the inside out.  Despair comes with “I will never” and “what is the use” and “the game is rigged, so why bother?”  Despair comes with beating your head against a glass window that shouldn’t be there, and yet is.  Despair, in its ultimate form has blighted more artistic careers, destroyed more souls (and by soul here, I don’t require you believe in an immortal entity.  I refer only to that which makes your mind and spirit yours) caused more suicides than anything else.

Despair is that feeling you get when you’ve run the maze, you’ve done your best, and you come to the end and there’s nothing but a blank wall.

It is a powerful emotion, at least for those of us who have faced it.  It is dramatic, if you end a story with it, after a good run and a lot of hope.  It stays in the mind.

It is in fact a primary color, and it’s small wonder beginning writers use it, just like beginning artists – say kindergarten – use primary colors.

And it is a sin.  It is a sin against your future self.  It is a sin against humanity.  It is a sin against possibility.  Remember that.  We’ll come back to it.

However, the fact that it is an easily identifiable tint and primary doesn’t explain why there is so much of it larded around science fiction and fantasy, which SHOULD be the literature of possibility.  Sure a lot of this can be explained by the youth of writers (in truth or in practice,) the youth of editors (most of the ones working with newby writers are just out of college) and a certain fashionable air of the times, when it is considered smart and hip to dress all in black and moan about the evils of the future.  (Kind of like it was fashionable for Goethe’s Werner.  Never mind.  Hip, I tell you.  futuristic even.)

But wait, there’s more.  There’s what despair serves to do.  People who despair don’t try to change things and/or undermine the establishment.  People who despair, at the very least go away and shut up, even if they don’t deliberately kill themselves.

There is a striking scene in one of Leo Frankowki’s books, in which a Mongol Lord gets peasants to line up so he can behead them.  And when the hero comes along and kills him, the peasants turn on the hero because “now you’ve gone and angered them.”  And when the hero asks what can be worse than being killed, they have nothing, except “they will make it worse.”  THAT’s despair.  Despair makes you embrace death willingly rather than rebel, no matter how bad things get.

While I don’t believe in a grand conspiracy among publishing outlets and entertainment venues, I do believe in a tribal culture in what is – after all – when it comes to influential people maybe a few thousand people: a small village.  Tribal cultures are easy to influence.  I’m not saying anyone is, I’m saying it’s possible – and we’ve found that type of influence behind a lot of the recent “trends.”

So, before you give in to despair, ask yourself qui bono?  (And if you’re not into asking yourself Latin questions and are now wondering if you should have been paying more attention to Dancing With The Stars and supermarket tabloids, let me dispel your confusion.  That means “Whom does this profit?”)

Dave Freer talks about sheep and goats.  Most of humanity are sheep.  Some of us are goats.  The problem of any establishment, any power, anyone who abrogates influence over human hearts and minds is to control the goats and to make the sheep do more than stand in place and bah.  The more brutally repressive regimes eliminate the goats, often physically, and leave only the sheep.  The result is all the innovation and elan of… North Korea.

The best regimes manage to allow the goats their head, keeping them only off the things that will hurt other people.  They usually result in the highest production – both artistic and material.

In between there are several types of goat-herding schemes, including tolerating them within certain bounds and shipping them abroad to claim new pastures for the sheep.  The British Empire used both strategies with great success since the Elizabethan age.  They eventually stopped using it and resorted to despair.  The British Empire didn’t survive much longer.

So ask yourself what about the current establishment makes it resort to despair?  It’s surely the mark of a philosophical system that has nothing else to offer its goats.  It’s the mark of a philosophical system that is doomed, and wants to keep things quiet “just a little longer.”

And it has been THE culture in publishing since the seventies.  The embrace of declining numbers, declining revenues, declining living standards for writers – the willing embrace of decline – the meek submission to the people who are killing us, because you wouldn’t want to get them angry.  They could really make it unpleasant then.

In According To Hoyt, we’ve talked about how going Indie is a mark of impatience… or something – at least according to the establishment.  We’re supposed to stay still, and let despair permeate us, and slowly tighten around us like a band, allowing us to make only the approved noises, which increase the cultural despair and get everyone accustomed to decline and darkness, and no way out.  When publishers say the mid-list should die, they expect us to curl up and do so.  How quaint.

Despair is a sin.  And, to quote Jerry Pournelle, it might not even reflect the truth.  Look at Heinlein, a smart man and most of us would say an optimist, who chose not to have children, avowedly (yes, I’m aware there might have been other reasons) because “the world was such a mess.”  And yet, if he’d had a child in his first marriage, that child would now be older than my dad, who has had a full life, and not an unpleasant one.

Do not take Mr. Heinlein’s example in that particular aspect of his life.  Take his example in his writing.  Despair is a sin.  And there is usually another way: a way through, a way around.  Find the way.  Pull the Mongol horseman down.  If you kill enough of them, they’ll go away.  Refuse to write despair.  Refuse to believe despair.  Look doom and gloom in the eye and ask them “you and what army?”  Yes, it might all come to the same in the end, but at least you’ll have fought and died like a human being and not a bah lamb.

Tell the Grocers of Despair you have better things to do.  There is a fight going on, and you’d rather fight.  And then go on and discover new pastures.  The poor sheep need somewhere to graze on.  And you’ll have more freedom to breathe.  And everyone wins in the end.

Remember qui bono?  If they sell you despair it’s because they’re afraid of what you can do if you don’t give up.  Don’t give up.  Nothing will piss the establishment more than your continued – and cheerful – battling on.  Do it.  Let THEM despair.

57 thoughts on “Grocers of Despair

  1. Bravo, Sarah! I have often wished I had the right words to say when someone said “Oh, what’s the use? It will never work.” or the equivalent. I knew I didn’t feel that way, despite circumstances that were certainly good candidates for creating that mental environment, but I couldn’t figure out how to say what needed to be said to someone else to explain to them that never giving up is the right way to go. Thanks!

  2. Another great post that speaks to me deeply. I’ve also known despair, quite intimately, and like you, Sarah, I recognize that it has been responsible for several gaps in my creative production. Sometimes it’s hard to find the strength to battle on, but we must remind ourselves and each other, as often as is necessary, that the cause is a worthy one. Despair leads to apathy, and apathy can be fatal to a creative person’s career.

  3. The sheep vs. goats analogy can be handy because it appeals to people who like to imagine themselves goats (or wolves, pace Juan Rico), but it hits the Dubois Limit (“all analogy is suspect”) too quickly to be of real use except as a quick point on the way to something else.

    We are all sheep or goats, depending on context. The central fact of human existence is that your median or exemplary hoomin bean is (a) well-nigh helpless in a physical sense and (b) strongly self-willed and self-centered. What looks like “sheep-like” behavior is very often something quite different: “You want to run things, fine, run things, but let me alone with my stamp collection or I’ll rip your throat out.” And I’ve always thought that the folks who argue against evolution on complexity grounds concentrate on the wrong things. Forget eyes; evolution requires that each intermediate stage be (perhaps by a tiny increment) more fit to survive than the previous. How does such a process end up with a critter weighing fifty kilos, but vulnerable to attack by hungry voles?

    People get almost nothing done, including their own survival, except by banding together in groups, but the old saw about three prophets = six heresies is funny because it’s so true. We, homo sapiens, handle that by employing leaders, people who can and do get the rest organized to pull in the same direction. We are all disposed to accept and follow leaders, because those of our ancestors who didn’t got eaten by sabretooth tigers and failed to pass on their genes.Tension then comes from the leader-selection process (they have to be willing, but volunteers tend to be no good), from figuring out the right direction (there’s a cliff there; all die, so sad), and from keeping the leader from assuming and/or taking too much (the leadership ate all the food; all die, so sad).

    Enter the third factor: genetic diversity, or lack thereof. Our species is remarkably homogeneous as regards genes. The practical result of that is that any given quality, be it leadership or the ability to touch tongue to nose-tip, is likely to arise in any randomly-selected individual. (It also means remarkably little sexual differentiation beyond the obvious necessary mechanics — possibly not enough differentiation for long-term survival; the jury is still out.) The offspring of a pair of sheep can be and often is a goat, or wolf, as hungry and fierce as any of the others.

    The task is to figure out how to manage that continually changing population, with the sheep/goat demographic split being different from moment to moment. There are different approaches, but none of them appears to work in all situations. What never works, though, is static analysis; the one thing you can guarantee is that tomorrow will not be identical to today, and basing your plans on the existing population is guaranteed to be wrong. When the sheep look up — and they always do, eventually — it all goes pear-shaped.

    1. Ric

      Sheep/goats, like almost everything human is a bell curve. Yes, sheep can birth goats (though it’s rare) but some component of it seems to be genetic. Humans can be genetically “tamed” just like other animals. I could give country examples, but I don’t want to get into politics. And yes, most of us are sheep for some things if you view sheep as “non resistance.” Such as I couldn’t care less who wins most awards in the field, provided I can still make a modest living. BUT what I’ve seen particularly lately is “sheepness” not as acquiescence or silence, but as enthusiastic bleating of slogans, and THAT’s getting on my nerves. It includes the bleating of “despair signals” as a “hip” thing. Despair affects EVERYONE at any level of goatness (or sheepness) and can turn goats into seeming sheep. And it is bad. Yes, it leads to “stability” and “order” of a sort (even if the one with double thinking going on behind the eyes sort) but it is not so much order as a spiraling down of creation and inovation.

      1. I, too, have a knee jerk reaction to the sheep/goats thing, because I’ve heard too many people do the “I’m a higher goat, the mass of humanity are useless worthless sheep” thing – which I know is NOT Sarah’s intention. But yeah, saying “Don’t BE a sheep” is different.

        Also, some people are sheep for now, but don’t push them too far – and it is lovely to see people these days who have been pushed too far and are showing their horns. Those who have been waiting for the right time and opportunity – most people won’t rebel unless they know they have a good chance of succeeding, but when that chance comes, they’re ready.

        But that’s not really about despair. Too bad despair has been romanticized by writers ever since there were writers. I think of Gilbert adn Sullivan’s Patience, which makes fun of THAT kind of romantic poet. ^_^ But yes, I think you’re right, it has become much worse since the 70s – with new vast communication networks controlled by that relatively small tribe.

        I had not thought of despair as a way of keeping people down, or at least a deliberate one, but your Mongol ruler is a pretty effective example – fear and intimidation has been used by the worst regimes to control the population. Even if it isn’t being done on purpose, it’s still an effective ploy.

        1. A friend once referred to me and another friend as “sheep with switchblades.” It was a compliment, because we were the sort that looked and acted very tame and quiet, kept our heads down, made the correct noises when asked or challenged, and were gleefully undermining the status quo within the department.

          1. Eh. As I said, it has degrees from sheep to goat, but I’ve long classified myself as a badger. I’ll retreat as long as I can do so, or perceive I can do so, but when I feel my existence or ultimate integrity is at risk, I fight like a demon…

            1. There’s an interesting book by Terence Des Pres called The Survivor (harrowing book to read, a lot about the Nazi death camps) – he talks about the difference between a hero and a survivor. Heroes never compromise and too often wind up dead without really accomplishing anything. Survivors smile and bow and seem to acquiesce, but work behind the scenes and smuggle the guns in and organize and wait for the right time; they’re the ones that win.

    2. O Ric, you make me think.

      Some people would complain. I thank you. But such bunny trails.

      Sheep are amazing creatures, not at all like the fluffy lambkins of children’s fiction. They are all at one and the same time both heard animals and stubbornly individuals. Like people they will move in a pack up to a point. Sheep will graze grass to the roots, killing it, and they generally don’t want to move to a new place. Part of the art of a shepherd is to press the right ones to move where you want them to go without causing them all to turn and run in some other direction or to completely scatter. As far as I can tell the only reasons to put up them en masse are the wool and the meat.

      (And any sheep lovers out there – oh no! I now have a particular image of Gene Wilder in my head – please understand, I pass no judgement on you. I have considered a spider a good pet.)

      I think that there is something about working with farm animals that gives one an entirely different view of the world. During my stint in Tennessee I worked as a mother’s helper to a family who was sub-letting a house on a working farm. For example: Momma had told me chickens were dumb, and the stories she told about them seemed almost nonsense. Standing frozen and staring at a crack in the road waiting for the worm to come out, really? Then I discovered that chickens are dumb, and they will do that, but, still, chickens are not so dumb as to completely lack survival instincts. I have concluded that the domestic turkey is beyond dumb, it would absolutely fail to survive on its own.

      While it is true that leaders and warriors are attractive, it does not always follow that we manage to breed for the best and bravest of them. By protecting the tribe these individuals also put themselves at risk. Unfortunately death has a terribly limiting factor on expanding your family.

      On your third factor. Surprisingly most people do not realize that a lack of genetic diversity is a threat. The cheetah is doomed in nature because of a genetic defect that occurred a bottle neck in population during the ice age. These things can take a while to play out. (So in comes a science fiction plot examining what might happen if we were to go overboard with genetic modification to improve ourselves … a bit too dystopian for Human Wave SF, no?)

      1. Actually, I think of the cheetah as a remarkably resilient creature. The bottleneck appears to have been so incredibly extreme that the “surviving generation” consisted of about one litter of cubs. Now there are thousands of cheetahs. Yes, they would be screwed if circumstances changed very quickly, but I don’t think a “genetic defect” would have allowed them to bounce back after that kind of population crash. If anything, they hit the genetic jackpot.

        1. Because the particular gentic defect in cheetahs has to do with an increasing frequency of male cheetahs being born without a fully funtioning set or a full set of gonads it is considered that over time there will be no more cheetahs.

          1. Ah! That makes much more sense. I hadn’t heard of anything that recent affecting cheetah populations. There are some isolated cheetahs in — Iran, I want to say? — that might not have that particular allele, so they at least might survive.

            Still, it’s hard to see how that would necessarily kill cheetahs off. A dominant allele wouldn’t be passed down very often by the nature of the complaint. A recessive allele would be passed down, and ensure that some percentage of the population did not breed at the same rate as unaffected members. Neither case would necessarily signal the beginning of the end for them.

            I do agree with your other points, though. It actually is fairly concerning to me that many of the crops we consider staples — rice, wheat, oats, rye, etc. — are disproportionately represented by only a few varieties. All it would take is one particularly nasty form of wheat rust to spread. . . Brr. Genetic diversity is seriously important, long-term.

            1. Reading recommendation: No Blade of Grass by John Christopher examines a world where a disease attacks all members of the grass family, resulting in world wide hunger.

              Modern farming styles such as mono cropping also leads to increased risk exposure. Another reason for maintaining that great big walk-in freeze box full of seeds.

      2. Bunny trails are what I do. Sometimes they lead somewhere.

        Yes, day-to-day acquaintance with animals can produce insights not available to the city-dwelling PETA contributor. Domestic turkeys are biomachines for turning grain into protein, with the control processor reduced to the bare minimum for that function; they don’t have a “their own” to survive on, any more than a chain saw or the airbag system on your car does. Cows are a little smarter, but that’s because they started out with more processing power — Pentiums versus the turkey’s 8008, perhaps. Breeding is gradually doing away with that. The cow of the future will be more like domestic turkeys (and essentially spherical, validating some thought experiments).

        When the leaders start protecting the tribe rather than managing it, the tribe is on its way to extinction. That is, however, a more or less inevitable point in the senescence of the supra-human organism. Sarah’s point, above, is valid, but also another inevitability. When the tribe is threatened, especially when it’s a pre-senescent one of the “protected” sort, one of the things that always happens is that the members start self-identifying as members; that way the leaders know who to protect and who to attack — and it also draws the attention of the attackers to individuals of the tribe who might be vulnerable, taking some of the heat off the Chief. Sacrificial lambs…

        One of my recurring themes is that the real distinction between Europeans and other ethnic groups is that Europeans spent a millenium, from roughly Charles Martel to Gustavus Adolphus, killing one another off in ever-more-imaginative ways. The byproduct of that is the virtual elimination of “tribes” as organizational entities, and that in turn allowed formation of non-tribal organizations. It isn’t comfortable, though, because it runs against two hundred or so millenia of evolution of the tribal system; modern European organizations are intellectual constructs, and if you’re going by feelings they don’t match up.

        And yes, cheetahs are doomed, but then they’re artificial to begin with. Speaking of which, humans have their own “genetic bottleneck” around sixty or seventy millenia ago, although the details are still sketchy. (Google “Tora supervolcano” for one entry point to that line of thinking.) Of course, what actually happened was when, as J. Buffet would put it, “de vol-cano blow”, the genetic engineers packed up their lares and penates, including their house slaves, and left in a huff[1], thus establishing for the first time on Earth (though certainly not in all the Universe) that the reason you can’t get a fair shake from Gods or tax collectors is that if they were nice people they wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place. We may consider ourselves fortunate that the last couple to board the evacuation ship thought to open the pen gates before bugging out, and that at least a few of our ancestors ran like Hell before the orbital bombardment wiped out the evidence. [Note to Sarah: this is worldbuilding backstory for my stuff. You’re welcome.]

        [1]Well, of course it was a Huff. A Snitt is easier to raise and needs less maintenance, but doesn’t have the endurance.

  4. And if you have a friend,or a universe, tending to despair, give them this post to read.Now. Hope is the only antidote. Hope is the essential launching pad. Many thanks to ATH.

  5. I was the one who brought up the “impatience” accusation. I never drank that flavor of kool-aid, because it smacked so much of an order to get in line behind the rest of us. When I saw my first e-book published in ’02, I heard a lot of the implied, “Oh, this wasn’t good enough for a REAL publisher?”

    My response was that it was…my point was that the bigger houses simply hadn’t recognized that book as quality. We cannot make people understand…all we can do, I believe, is to create a body of work and do our best to reach that body’s readers. Continuing to try to force the so-called leadership to recognize what we have to offer is simply spinning the wheels in slop. I’m up for a better way. That alone will help me avoid the sin of despair.

  6. Oh, my, Sarah Hoyt, have you ever hit upon a post that has been the bane of my existence. I once had an employer tell me, ” you know what your problem is? You are a dreamer!” My immediate thought was, what’s wrong with that? What I said was, “yes sir I’ll get back to work sir.”

    Being exposed to the story of ‘Walter Mitty’ in grade school destroyed my life.

    Your post here, Mrs. Hoyt, has triggered a conclusion that there is some thing, some attribute, something extra that differentiates the assertive leader from the subservient follower. It’s not ego, ambition, talent, luck, self interest, self esteem or any other words that describe human behavior and the drive for dominance. There isn’t a word in my vocabulary for what I’m thinking. Perhaps a gestalt, and an amalgamation of all those other words, but there is something that a leader has that a follower doesn’t. Even an appointed, designated leader doesn’t necessarily have it. It’s like a street con, the hustler works and works to find a mark, then works and works to run the scam on the mark, and there is just ‘something’ that keeps the mark mesmerized, paralyzed, unable to think beyond what the scammer wants the mark to think.

    Caffeine and sugar, with chocolate, makes me crazy; bullet proof, invincible, unstoppable, for a short time. Then the crash, and despair. So I conclude, with me, it’s a genetic condition, something in my blood chemistry. It is said that there are drugs that will ‘help’, but have you ever met a leader that required drugs to maintain that leadership? Alcohol and cocaine?

    Think about rock stars and their cult followers, politicians, movie stars; perhaps it isn’t a trait of leadership, but a trait of the follower?

    1. Skandiarecluse, the word you want might be charisma, in the old sense that some people seem anointed with leadership, able to attract and keep followers’ attention. I’m reading a biography of Otto von Bismarck and Steinberg (the author) keeps pointing out that despite the traditional view of Bismarck as cold and brutal, he had a very warm and personable side that charmed people into following him, working with him, and venerating his memory long after his fall from power. Even those who hated Bismarck agreed that he had some strange attractive (like a magnet) quality, when he chose to use it. Was he a leader? Not exactly, but he could exude confidence, warmth, attention and interest in a way that kept people supporting and following him. Or so Steinberg argues, and it makes sense given other things I’ve read from that time period.

  7. Sure a lot of this can be explained by the youth of writers (in truth or in practice,) the youth of editors (most of the ones working with newby writers are just out of college) and a certain fashionable air of the times, when it is considered smart and hip to dress all in black and moan about the evils of the future.

    I was thinking this when I read some of the other posts on the subject, but there it is in a nutshell: Currently, the SF coming out of the mainstream is Emo. 🙂

    1. Why discard? Quite possibly! I actually don’t know. You see, I misspell in 7 languages, and Latin is somewhere beneath those — I only took a year, and keep meaning to go back to it…

  8. My wife has a little magnet on her desk that says, “No use being a pessimist. It wouldn’t work anyway.” I recommend the thought.

  9. Thanks for this post – I quit writing at a young age even though I knew I should write and went into the Navy. Now I am taking all my stories that I am writing now and publishing them myself. Despair is over.


  10. Sarah (and I mean this with all love and respect).

    Please get out of my head. It’s seriously creeping me out.
    (OK, granted, in my case, writing is not a current driver of despair. At the moment, it’s an escape from all that.)

      1. Starts sing:
        ‘All I want is a room somewhere,
        Far away from the cold night air,
        With one enormous chair,
        Aow wouldn’t it be loverly?’

        (My Fair Lady song by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe)

      2. Oh, I’ll get you, my pretty. You and your little kittys, too.

        Working on it. Currently taking a short break because a character I want to be sympathetic (just dismissive of the incompetent protagonist’s overtures) keeps coming across as an emasculating b****. There’s an angle to make it work, I just have to find the bloody thing.

        1. Note to self: putting stage directions inside the wrong sort of bracket removes them from the post, ruining the effect.

          The last post should have begun with:
          (dramatically shakes fist)

          So I wasn’t intending to be creepy/stalkerish.

  11. Certainly the poet felt despair when he wrote the very bad poem, “Invictus.” Yet another day he wrote a lovely little poem about a bird in the garden in a tree, and his love. “Invictus” is technically perfect but a bad poem. The bird verses were not as technically well written but warmed the soul.

    Good for you, Hoyt, you keep on keepin’ on. You might be interested in my blog

  12. Well, I s’pose I could add some clever insight here, or possibly an appropriate bon mot or perhaps a witty mot juste but, well, really – what’s the point? The Yellowstone caldera is overdue, human stupidity remains the force against which the gods themselves struggle in vain and

    Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Eeyore was an optimist.

      1. Please, Colonel McKean — it’s too hot ….

        Your quoted line is from scene 5, after a Thompson reads a letter from Y’r ob’d’t Drum roll G. Washington, sent from New Brunswick, describing the Continental soldier.

        My line is from scene 3, and the reaction of Hancock to the gentleman from Delaware’s comments on a prior letter:

        Surely we have managed to promote the gloomiest man on this continent to head of our troops. Those dispatches are the most depressing accumulation of disaster, doom, and despair in the entire annals of military history! And furthermore —

        But you know I have a copy of the book of the musical, given my by The Spouse, beside my desk, don’t you? (The answer is Drum roll 1776, by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards.)

          1. um? I am not sure how to respond. Neither of us find them particularly amusing, but, then, they are ours.

            When I get angry it is not a pretty thing to see. I began training in the art of argument at my father’s knee, he being a Constitutional lawyer and litigator of no small standing who saw no reason his only child shouldn’t be up to it. In the process I learned two things from him, how to argue, and how to hold my ground when backed into a corner. (Not bad, except that even I am occasionally wrong. 😉 )

              1. Oh dear, no, we NEVER argue. ONE of us might win. Which would be right up there with dogs and cats living together, the dead rising from the grave, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling …

        1. ::happy sigh:: One of my favorites. I make the kids watch it every Fourth of July. ::happy sigh:: Thank you for evoking the entire wonderfulness of it!

          1. I watch it every Forth of July as well, with a mug of rum at my side and the book in my lap.

            And the love songs between John and Abigail simply curl my toes.

            1. A friend of mine sent me as a comment on Darkship Thieves “He plays the violin!” and when I told him “WHAT?” he sent me a link to the youtube of the musical. Of course, then I had to buy it…

  13. Oh, fetch and dang. There are too many interesting in the world. And I cannot find them all, and even if I did I do not have time to READ them all. I don’t know how my husband found you this morning. Maybe he was Googling, “How to Talk Writers Down from The Second Story Roof.” Because I have been having a couple of very heavy, what-does-it-matter days, which actually makes me a little snappish.

    Once upon a time, about sixteen years ago, I was a minor hit. Scholastic sold 22,000 copies of my paperback in their book club alone. YAY, me! (Adjustment to self concept: hmmm, maybe I AM a writer.) But when my second came along, they said, “We need to see how this first one does.” And it did over 110,000 copies. Just not all at once. Over a couple of years. But those were pre-Harry Potter years when 6,000 copies of YA was supposed to be – whoa – impressive.

    I ended up at Harper-C with the next two. The first of these was also an ALA Best. The third died a terrible death because one character was openly (hold your breath) religious. This evidently, despite pretty darn good review) was death. It traumatized my editor. I don’t have one now.

    I was asked to write an editorial for the English Journal ( if you wanna read it. Don’t worry if you don’t – I’m used to it. And it’s kind of about this same thing. Only I was writing about how we need to feed kids HOPE. So our titles are two sides of the same spinning coin.

    The thing is, now I’ve gone Indie. I put my new novel up there, knowing full well that I’ve long since lost name recognition (all my once-readers are probably thirty now. Or close to it) and yeah – In three and a half months, I’ve sold a whopping forty eight books. Which actually counts more like three hundred if you compare e-book royalties with what they were paying me for paperback. But how long can you expect your friends and fam to be kind enough to go buying books when they really should be getting comps?

    I reprinted my first novel once Scholastic finally dropped it of the back list. They were selling about fifty a month. I’d KILL to be selling fifty a month right now. Then it got picked up by a re-publisher – to limited amazed acclaim from people who’d never seen it before and thought it was new.

    But I can’t afford print for the new books. I mean I DON’T HAVE ROOM IN MY HOUSE FOR ALL THOSE BOXES. So I’m discouraged. Discouraged, dragging, dull, bored with life, ready to OD on chocolate. I can’t go deeper than that because I don’t drink.

    And you didn’t need to read this. But it felt REALLY REALLY good to have somewhere to say it to people who have some idea how it feels. Is there a club of has-beens that has, like, local chapters?

    1. “But I can’t afford print for the new books. I mean I DON’T HAVE ROOM IN MY HOUSE FOR ALL THOSE BOXES.”

      Kristen, have you considered POD? I’m selling a few of my titles through (Amazon owns them), and if the initial files are set up properly, they come out surprisingly well as paperbacks. You don’t have to buy copies unless you just want some to sell on your own, and Amazon handle sales, shipping, invoicing, and everything. It’s all free to set it up, and you can get your royalties in a check or a direct deposit to your PayPal account. It might be something to consider, at least for the short term. will print hardcover as well as paperback editions, but I’ve never used them, so I can’t comment on their quality, service, ease of use, or how much they give you in statistics. Perhaps someone else here can!

      1. You know, Kai – I’ve been toying with that. I’ve used Lulu, and they claim you can connect with Amazon through them. The service I’ve used most is Blurb, but they make no such claim. It really seems like Createspace is the best choice here. But their stupid site is so “fill this out and we’ll get back to you,” I tend to shy off. And I never could get an answer about having to buy books in order to make the relationship work. But you’ve just answered that. YAY!!! All it would take, really, is tweaking the cover so that it’s the right size for the paperback – and designing a back, I guess. That’s another burden of independence: having to come up with a cover that isn’t idiotic without sinking the Ship of Fiscal State in order to do it.

        But this helps. It really does. Thanks mucho mucho!

        1. You’re very welcome! There are templates you can use for designing your cover, if you have some program like Photoshop or GIMP or the like. A link to them comes up in Createspace, once you’ve uploaded the PDF for the interior of the book, and the templates have specific dimensions laid out for the spine and each side of the cover that are based upon the number of pages in the book and the print size you’ve chosen (pocket paperback, trade paperback, etc). I’ve got an advantage in that I am a graphic designer/artist in addition to a writer, so the composition of a book cover isn’t quite as daunting a task as I imagine it can be for someone who isn’t familiar with graphic design. Createspace also has a lot of guidelines and tutorials for laying out the interior pages, though sometimes it can be hard to find stuff on their site. They could use some help in making the site navigation a bit more intuitive, in my opinion!

          Anyway, if you decide to go that route, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have, that they either don’t answer or give an unclear answer on. And what I don’t know, I can find out! (^-^) Their customer service folks don’t always answer questions in plain English. My most-used email addy is kaistarr at gmail dot com. I don’t check it every single day, but I try to answer quickly when I do check it. You can also find me on Twitter (my name here is linked to that account), and on Facebook, if you have either of those things. My Facebook is mostly private, but I have it set up so that anyone can send me a private message or friend request. Here’s a link to my FB page, just in case you want it: I’m pretty easy to find online, and I love to be helpful!

          1. You are a love. I’ll take advantage of that kind offer. I’m going through a manuscript just now – when I finish with that, I’ll get serious about doing the print thing – and I’ll come whining if I get stuck. Thanks a ton.

  14. Despair and hope seem to be inversely related. The greater the more of the one, the less of the other.
    The better question, then, seems to be, Why so little hope?
    It seems easier to instill hope than it is to diminish despair.
    So it seems.

    1. Okay, I’m going speak to this question:
      If you are asking Hoyt about her article, of course I can’t answer. If you are asking about why the influential, public, loud voices don’t do more to instill hope, there are plenty of answers. Fear sells newspapers. Fear, scandal, political foment, hate, tragedy. And most of those voices—who I suspect most of us harbor some illusion raise their voices in the service of mankind, for the greater good—are in it for money and power.

      Money can be defended: you can’t print more newspapers unless you sell the ones you’ve got. Same with books. Same with a lot of things. So the ends justify the means.

      But power? That, I don’t understand – unless it’s the power to protect your ability to choose for yourself in whatever way. Or the power to keep your job, which means you have to rise to control, which means you have to beat out everybody else, which means you have chosen your good, disregarding the needs of others – whatever you may tell yourself.

      So hope? The voices see that as fluff stories, human interest. And the intellectuals see it as somehow irresponsible and light-minded.

      The truth is, it’s easier to write darkness and drama. WAY easier. Not easier to write it WELL – just easier to conceive of. Especially young writers, as Sarah has pointed out above, will go for that gut-satisfying drama (which rarely even comes within spitting distance from tragedy, except for the fact that whatever it is was published). And I know plenty of readers who wouldn’t know good writing if it slapped them in the face. In fact, they don’t prefer it, because it takes too much actual thought.

      And artists shy away from hope because it seems so – shallow- to them. Happiness is shallow. Misery and suffering – those are deep. And what artist wants to be accused of being shallow, accessible, fluffy?

      The truth is that most stories worth telling are a balance of both. And writers who believe in life—who have things they believe in about the purpose of life, and the belief that people can control their own choice in reacting to pain of whatever sort, those writers can write a responsible happy ending. All it takes for that kind of ending is for the person who suffers to narrow her eyes, get back up on her feet and say, “Okay. I’m trying again.”

      But with the present state of entertainment, the ugliness in political expression, the economy, it’s hard for the person on the street to drum up that kind of energy. Which is why we need writers of intellect, wit, strength to shore up their fellow people, not echo the despair that roars in our ears every day. We need GOOD writers who write intelligent things and write them with passion.

      And perhaps a writer, in doing a self assessment, should ask herself this:
      what do you actually believe about life? Purpose or not? What do you believe about people? Do they really have a choice? Are we worth redeeming? (And I’m not talking about the dark, suffering handsome hero – I’m talking about all us little scurrying unglamorous people.) Are we capable of rising out of the ashes? Are we strong enough to take on that labor?

      So. That’s my answer: hope is work. Despair is easy.

      1. Just a comment: referring to our Hostess as “Hoyt” raises a bit of confusion, since her husband and son (both, astonishingly enough, also surnamed “Hoyt”) are authors in their own right. And I think their younger son has finally quit fighting his destiny 🙂 So at least differentiating them may prove useful, in the long haul. Her Hoytness is a term we use for Sarah, sometimes, too 🙂

        1. It is also a term I despise. Not that this stops my fans… (I can’t do anything with them. I’ve tried.) Hoyt is fine. Sarah is fine too, but unless it’s a regular commenter, I wonder if I went to school with him, or perhaps if I’ve met him at a con or something (I have wretched visual memory). Eh. If you’re feeling particularly frisky Almeida will do, since I went by it for the first 22 years of my life.

          And Kirsten, you nailed it perfectly on the whole despair/hope thing. Thank you.

          1. Thank you, Lin. The last thing I want to do is misstep here where I am a stranger. At least I didn’t assume that Sarah knows all the rules to King and Scum. And Sarah, I promise NEVER to call you Her Hoytness, no matter how tempting that may be. Thank you for reading my long winded comments. I just can’t help myself sometimes.

      2. “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

        Drama doesn’t have to succeed to have an effect, comedy that is only partially successful is a joke gone flat. The latter is far less forgiving of “almost.”

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