Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Writing can be a dangerous activity..."

A few of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted an article on this blog for about a month. As one of the main topics is war, our entry and pursuit of it, I found the subject depressing. The kill lists from Baghdad, the boasts from the White House, the opening of a new Coca Cola plant in Kabul (is that what our guys are fighting and dying for?), well, you get the idea. One of my authors earlier this year asked me, “Just who are you to have opinions on these weighty subjects?” That depressed me too for a while because it is a valid question. Just because I’ve served in the Army and Peace Corps and published almost 40 books by over 20 authors, who the hell cares about my opinions?

I am pleased that my wife and I, by founding Southfarm Press, have given voice to those 20 plus authors, who, for most of them, would never have been published if it hadn’t been by us. And most of them received very favorable reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Naval History Magazine, World War II Magazine and other journals..

So I thought I’d stick with writing about book publishing and writing for a while. And I was struck today by the following statement:

“I could have carried on [writing] forever if I didn't want to make a novel out of it. It's amazing to me when I write in this way ... it's so easy to exit the world. It's quite shocking really. The door is open and you go. Writing can be a dangerous activity if you really let yourself go entirely. Mentally, it is a strange place to be in.”

Author Kiran Desai said that in an interview with Mukund Padmanabhan published in the October 10 issue of The Hindu, a daily newspaper in India. Desai just won the Man Booker Prize in Britain. It’s a very prestigious literary award over there that doesn’t mean much in the United States. Desai is Indian. She won for her book The Inheritance of Loss, only her second book published. There is a several year gap between her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, published in 1998, and the second. In the interview, she talks about it taking eight years total to write and to find a publisher for her second book, even though she was already successfully published.

But whether writing fiction or nonfiction, which I publish, writing is all consuming as Desai said. And being published is dangerous. Reviewers can hack your writings, and you, to pieces, and it’s all legal as it’s in literary criticism. One of my authors was called a liar in a review in The Journal of Military History. That resulted in an article under preparation by the Hartford Courant about the author’s book to be canceled. Another reviewer had asked me whether Southfarm Press had administered a lie detector test to the author. General laughter broke out in the office. I’ll go to my grave knowing that the author in question wasn’t lying when he presented an alternate version to the accepted version of an historical event in one of our books.

So, you take your life in your hands when you lose yourself in writing and by being published. But, take heart all you writers out there, for a book that took seven years to write and one year to find a publisher has just won the 2006 Man Booker Prize.—Walter Haan,


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