Friday, January 9, 2009

I believe I'm making an understatement when I say that the news from the economic front hasn't been looking good. Everyday I hear about another place shutting down, I watch the applications come into my work by the hundreds from people who have been laid off. They say this is the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Billionaires, who put far too much stock in money (says pretty poor me), are throwing themselves in front of trains--an ironic turn of events: killing yourself with one of the greatest tools of the Industrial Revolution, the basis for a great deal of the wealth and issues that we see going on today.

It's hard not to get depressed, especially as a creative soul--what the hell do books matter when people are starting to freak out about being able to eat?

Books are a luxury...and that's why they matter. They are an easy luxury. Fairly cheap. And they take you away from the depressing reality that is, well, reality.

During the Great Depression, throughout all the bread lines and the iconic photographs taken to document the misery, writers wrote. And some really great literature came out of that time period. For your viewing pleasure, I have gathered up some of those writer's bibliographies...just to show that when you're writing alone in your room, wondering whether you'll ever make a dime, that great literature can and should be created. Without all the horror and devestation of the 1930s we would not have:

John Steinbeck--say what you will about him, that he was depressing or long winded (even though a lot of his work is pretty short)...but he wrote some important work and he actually started his career during that good-luck-getting-published time period:

Cup of Gold : a Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer,
with Occasional Reference to History. – 1929
The Pastures of Heaven. – 1932
To a God Unknown. – 1933
Tortilla Flat. – 1935
In Dubious Battle. 1936
Of Mice and Men. – 1937
Of Mice and Men : a Play in Three Acts. – 1937
The Red Pony. – 1937.
Their Blood Is Strong. – 1938
The Long Valley. – 1938
The Grapes of Wrath. – 1939

Ernest Hemingway--started publishing 6 years before the Great Depression hits, but a lot of key novel written:

Farewell to Arms 1929
To Have and Have Not 1937
The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (including 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' and 'Hills Like White Elephants'.) 1938
For Whom the Bell Tolls 1940

William Faulkner--who wrote prior to the Great Depression, but again, lots of major works written in this time period:

The Sound and the Fury 1929
As I Lay Dying 1930
Sanctuary 1931
Light in August 1932Absalom, Absalom! 1936

F. Scott Fitzgerald--had been writing for a couple decades and the Depression was towards the end of his prolific writing period, but still produced a couple goodies:

Tender is the Night 1934
Taps at Reveille 1936
The Last Tycoon 1941

I have lists of other authors who came into their own or produced work around this time period, like Robert Penn Warren and his group, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair (pretty much anyone with the name 'Sinclair'), but I think I've sort of made my point. Even in the worst financial period in history books were published and distributed and guess what? Some of them are classics.

And some of them are really depressing too...think that's a coincedence? Writers need to write about what's in front of them and then elevate it. While I find Fitzgerald tedious and Hemingway way too manly and Steinbeck as a pretty much downer (ditto Faulkner), they did good work. They wrote their experiences, were honest about it, and they made art out of some really crappy time periods.

So, just write. And you can still make a career out of it...even if times are tight.

3 comments:

  1. You've got a very good point there. The economy isn't an all-or-nothing thing, and there are still plenty of agents/editors/etc. who want to make some money and plenty of readers who can spare a few bucks for a book.

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  2. Thanks, Jenny. There are far too many gloom and doom stories out there. And because I focus a lot of my online reading to the writing world, I see a lot in reference to that, of course.

    One writer's loop I'm on (PPW, there I said it) had been pretty inactive until someone posted a story about how publishing houses are talking about changing their policies on returns, advances and royalties. OMG, the panic! But in the original story, I read that one suggestion by a big house was to reduce (not eliminate) advances and institute profit-sharing wherein the author would get 50% of profits. Hello! 50% as opposed to 15%--if you're lucky. And I think many people forget that advances are just that--not signing bonuses. You don't get any royalty checks until you've "earned out" your advance.

    Sounded pretty damn hopeful to me.

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  3. Thanks for all the reminders. Planning out your life or writing based on the economy is kind of like planning your life based on your horoscope. It's guaranteed to make you crazy and won't do you a bit of good. Good plug for Steinbeck, my favorite of the Depression era writers.

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