Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

So… there comes a time when you look around and suddenly wonder if you accidentally have been one of the characters in Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (the painting by Édouard Manet) and somehow oblivious to the unusual around you. It’s an odd feeling – perhaps only occurring in monkeys such as myself.

I have been carefully looking, as a result, for any stray naked women (no really, that’s the only reason). So far they seem to slip away as soon as I turn to look directly at them, or hastily disguise themselves as curvaceous rusty agricultural machinery, or passing wombats, as is the wont of naked women in these parts. You mean it doesn’t happen like that elsewhere? Oh there have been stray aliens asking their way to New York, and sharks with bionic limbs playing the slot-machines at the pub… but nothing really unusual, like naked women being ignored at picnics. But like the aliens and the sharks… it appears one get used to anything after a while.

And that, dear writers, is my point. Édouard Manet, dare I say, was a competent artist. Depending on your taste, very good. But in an environment of many, with few reaching an apogee… He stopped the Art world being oblivious to him. He was NOT ignored at their picnic. And having been noticed he had a vast leap up, in future, on his compatriots.

That spawned more imitators (both of the picture and the technique for getting noticed) than feral sparrows have birdlice… which has made most of them as noticeable as lost aliens asking the way to New York around here (Bloody hell. Not another one. That’s the ninth this week. Yes I know, a few nasty feral cats, a bunch of scavenging sparrows, several myopic wombats – some with mange, fat rats stealing the oats, a puzzled wallaby and a possum doing his best to look innocent with your apple in his cheeks IS almost indistinguishable from the UN General Assembly — But obviously this ain’t New York. Look, we’ve got culture here. And yogurt to PROVE that. And we use editors for lobster bait, instead of leaving them running loose to make nuisances of themselves and frighten the children.)

Of course, there IS still the potential to shock, outrage, to draw attention from the powers-that-be, if some of it will be screaming for your head on a pike. In those days shocking the respectable required taking what was an affront to them — naked women in public, with men, and in the case of Manet’s Olympia a picture of a prostitute – which you were supposed to pretend didn’t exist, and pushing their noses in it. These days Duck Dynasty seems to have achieved the same with things that Manet’s generation would have considered good establishment values. The problem – like Manet (or the Duck Dynasty guy) – is that you probably have to be a man of some means, character and have perseverance, because the normal reaction of the writing world is to pretend it didn’t happen. To do their best to quietly bury you, and return to praising the latest unique, avant garde daring … AKA yet another pathetic regurgitation of yet-a-bloody-nother-naked-women-at-a-picnic, which will attract the same amount of interest as the women in the picture do from the dressed men in it, or aliens asking the way to New York do. (the last one had a manuscript in his satchel. All is explained.)

So the question remains: Do you have to grandstand some shock-value to get noticed? Obviously it helps, if you can take the heat. And obviously it’s no use merely exaggerating and imitating last generation’s (or the one before) shocker. Drugs? Kinky sex? Homosexuality? So yesterday. So done. All of it so normal. (especially, I gather in NY – ask any of the aliens.)

I suppose you could try just writing an entertaining story, a Horatio Hornblower updated for the present. But that’d never work, would it? (well, it wouldn’t have, but for Baen. Manet could get his work displayed. Until very recently most of us couldn’t if the powers-that-be in Publishing were affronted, and their chorus was not sung. That has changed. Long may it continue).

Next thing we know someone will mock feminism. Or praise America…

17 comments

  1. Don’t take this wrong; I’ve been a longtime fan of Baen Books. It’s where I found your books, Dave.
    But how many new authors are they publishing now? I get their e-mailer every month and what I’m seeing is a new book by a well established Baen author and a bunch of reprints from years ago.
    If I, for example, decided to yank my Darwin’s World books off the e-sites and send them to Baen for possible publication, how long would I wait, and what are the odds they’d welcome me with at least a handshake? And do so within a reasonable time, reasonable by my standards?
    Didn’t think so.
    Extending: why would I do that? The books are selling, I’m discovering the less-than-fascinating world of marketing-that-must-be-done-if-you-intend-to-sell-books, and to be honest I’d rather be writing; but publishing via Baen would swap one set of distractions for another. And at a price to the author of less than what I’m getting now?
    I enjoyed Baen, back when Jim was still the boss.
    But I think their time, like that of the majors, is drawing to a close. Republishing fiction from the golden age is a symptom of that.
    It’s not as if there’s a dearth of authors or books. There are more being written/published now than ever before, but instead of Baen, Amazon and Apple are riding this wave.

    1. Reselling older books = Smart business decision. The authors and the books themselves already have a market. And for the record, I just bought a copy of Chuck Gannon’s first novel, Fire with Fire published by Baen books. Larry Correia and John Ringo also got their start with Baen. Come to think of it, I think Stony Compton did too. I said think though. I know Ryk Spoor did.

      You’re not going to get a new author every month. Established authors have established followings and bring money with them. Baen is a for-profit business. That’s how things go when there is money on the line.

    2. Chadwick and Gannon are relatively new. I’ve only looked through about half of this year, so can’t speak to new authors of the future or the past.

      I would speculate that the fiction contest may be part of an effort to investigate different ways of bringing in new authors.

    3. The odds have always been very long – when I sold THE FORLORN I was the one new author – out of the slush, after 2 years out of roughly 3000 per year. Now I wouldn’t give it serious consideration. The odds are fine… but the wait isn’t.

  2. Write a novel about a convent in NYC where the sisters do nothing but pray for the salvation of the city. I’ve been told that there is one, and that their intentions and intercessions are probably the only reason the city is still standing (this from an NYC native). Thus you get: Christianity, nuns not engaged in hanky-panky, heteronormative themes, patrionormative themes, non-downtrodden women, and I’m probably missing something else.

    On a slightly more serious line, I think telling a good story that scratches the itch of “these people/wombats/bionic sharks are not that far from us and we could be just that brave/strong/good if we tried, and then live pretty happily ever after” is a place to start. As for something that sends up flares, fireworks, and waves a banner saying “look at meee!”, meh. It seems like everyone and their echidna are trotting naked women, or someone in leather, or two boys kissing, or the ecodisaster de jour through their paintings these days. I just want a nice landscape, thanks.

    1. The truth is, I suspect, that a nice landscape is what many readers want. But from the author point of view establish yourself as the producer of the same is a very long slow process – and one that you may never break even with before you run out of steam/die. Hence the desire to rise enough to be noticed… BUT if your landscape (which is part/background to the look at meee scene) is not good, you fail anyway.

    1. Yes, that was the book I was referring to ;-). And Slow Train to Arcturus mocked militant feminism. And both got the same treatment.

  3. Steven Coonts, who wrote “Flight of the Intruder” about the same time as Tom Clancy brought out “Hunt for Red October” stated on his blog that he had over thirty rejections and I would expect that Clancy had something similar. No one thought that military fiction would sell. A small publisher that published military history books took a chance on both of them.As soon as their books hit the shelf a new wave was created. Zingers are strange that way.

    1. Publishing -as I have said before – lives in a bubble and does no market research. They really have no clue what 99.9% of people outside their bubble are interested in. IMO Jim Baen’s success came partly from having a taste in books that matched readers outside the bubble better than average, and from coming from outside that bubble and having substantial contacts (Baen’s Bar) outside it.

      1. Curiously enough that was nearly an example I was going to use when I made this comment – http://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/05/12/on-competence-and-the-wringing-of-hands-kate-paulk/#comment-168206 – on Kate’s post at ATH today.

        Diversity of inputs is really important if you want to appeal to a broad range of people.

        I think these days the way to stand out and be noticed is to self-pub and get noticed. That’s far more effective than shock tactics inside the book.

        1. As a reader, the possibility of repulsive shock tactics makes me nervous of new writers. Terror, anxiety, fear for one’s life or the continuation of the human race, that’s all good stuff. Horrible things happening to children or puppies, described in detail, is not so good.
          (As a new writer, I wish I didn’t have these worries, because it makes me suspect others do, too, but that’s the trust thing, I guess).

          1. “No puppies or small children were harmed during the writing of this book.”

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