The Virtues of Repression

by wjw on March 23, 2007

This topic has been inspired by mention of Samuel R Delany in an earlier topic, Tour de Force, below.

I am moved to ask the following question: Is repression good for you? Or, if not for you exactly, for art?

Take Delany as an example. In his early career, it was forbidden, particularly within our commercial genre, to write explicitly about what, for the sake of euphemism, I shall refer to as “transgressive sexuality.” As a result, Delany was forced into a series of artful and highly successful maneuvers in order to write about his interests/obsessions while still producing successful commercial fiction. His early work won a great many awards and influenced any number of younger writers, including me.

Now that the weight of repression has been lifted, and Delany can write explicitly about his sexual interests, including a number of books that are frankly pornographic. (Delany embraces that term, by the way.) I find his fiction less interesting, and the porn, at best, depressing. (I except Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, which was the terrific first half of a novel. I eagerly await the second half, twenty years on.) The only award Delany has won recently has been for his autobiography.

Or look at Roger Zelazny. He was a natural fantasist, but when he began writing there was no commercial fantasy available, so he had to write a kind of semi-fantasy that was disguised as science fiction. In the early novels there was always a tension between the science fiction overlay and the wild fantasy that was trying to break free, and Roger played on that tension like a master. Later, when fantasy had become a commercial genre and Roger could write outright fantasy, I found the fantasy less interesting.

Repression is good for business, because it makes people work harder at their jobs than at being happy. Is it good for fiction as well?

Was anyone interested in the breasts of Justice until Ashcroft draped them? Is football more intriguing when you never see the ball? Does Tokyo become more interesting when you have to pretend that Godzilla does not exist?


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 10:25 pm

The breasts of justice are now sexier than they were. The fashion industry thrives on deciding what parts of a woman’s body are to be exposed and what parts are not. Until the next cycle, because the tradition has existed since uncured fur skirts were the only game in town. I’ll bet a few of those ragged holes were artistically placed.

Myself, I would like to see the bare vs. covered ploy used in men’s fashion. Only in costume dramas can you see lace and chest hair in the same camera frame.


Tarl Neustaedter March 23, 2007 at 10:55 pm

I think when you’re talking repression, you really mean discipline. That can be either self-imposed or externally enforced, sometimes to similar effect.

Another example was RAH; his early stuff was clearly hog-tied by the limits of the time, but has mostly stood the test of time and is still readable today. As he grew in fame and restrictions were lifted due to cultural shifts, he wrote what was clearly closer to what he wanted to write – and much of it I find unreadable today.

As for the Breasts of Justice, I’d never noticed them before Ashcroft. But if you put up drapes, I want to lift the drapes and look under them.

Kelly March 23, 2007 at 11:12 pm

I think tension can be good for art. What you’re talking about with Delaney is tension, walking the tightrope, dancing en pointe. Great heights reached because the nerves are so stretched, the revs are revving, the bowstring is poised to let fly.

I’m thinking about a field of wine grapes, the way they produce better under stress. If you have 10,000 tightly packed vines, it’ll yield a smaller amount of juice, but much higher quality, than if you planted 3,000 vines in the same field. Smaller grapes, more highly concentrated juice, better wine, but much less raw material than some nice stretched out happy vines.

But that tension isn’t sustainable, is it? Few people have the energy to live poised like that for long.

David W. Goldman March 24, 2007 at 8:46 am

I’d never thought along these lines before; your observations re Delany and Zelazny certainly help explain my own similar reactions to the evolution of their works. (Although Zelazny was still at least dabbling in SF into the mid-eighties.)

So, WJW — to what repression does your writing respond?

King Rat March 24, 2007 at 9:27 am

It could be lifting of repression that made them not so good authors, or it could be that they only had so many good stories in them and they were used up. Or, once they have become successful, they’ve become sloppier and their editors more reluctant to challenge a popular author. I think repression may be part of the story, but I’ve seen too many authors go downhill in their writing when they have been successful for a while. Many of them didn’t write during the years when the great publishing houses “repressed” them. For example, Card, Resnick, or King. Was it being un-repressed that turned McCaffrey and Niven’s writing to crap?

Laurie Mann March 24, 2007 at 5:22 pm

While I like some of Delany’s short fiction, my favorite book-length piece of his IS his memoir, Motion of Light on Water.

dubjay March 24, 2007 at 7:34 pm

Tarl, I’m talking about genuine repression, not discipline.

Delany literally could not publish a book like =Stars in My Pockets Like Grain of Sand= in the Sixties, when the homosexual plotline would simply have been forbidden. If he =had= found a publisher, both he and the publisher would have gone to jail.

And as for the porn, forget it.

This wasn’t a barrier just in commercial fiction. Even William S. Burroughs didn’t get =Queer= published until 1985, more than thirty years after it was written.

I think the matter of authors who grow so self-important that they refuse to be edited is a separate one. (We could have a lively discussion on that topic, I’m sure. But later.)

Pat Mathews March 25, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I still remember the comment that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. Repression is not the same as discipline – I see it as a subset of externally imposed discipline – but it can certainly serve that function of providing a tennis net, as witness the excamples of Delaney and Heinlein cited here and in the comments.

For that matter, the length limits of four decades ago could also serve that purpose very well indeed (says I, who have read a few too many visibly padded novels. Not yours, Walter.)

S.M. Stirling March 25, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Repression and discipline are linked.

Eg., you couldn’t publish free verse for a long time. Poetry had to be written within a corset of form. This was, in my opinion, good for poetry.

In any case, we haven’t cast off taboos. We just have different ones.

Delany can write “Stars” now, but he’d have a hell of a time getting something using the themes of “Tarzan of the Apes” published, unless he was out to deconstruct it.(*)

Taboos are like water to a fish — they’re often difficult to see, unless you come up to the surface.

(*) I know this because in my slyly subversive career I’ve been revamping the “romance of Western expansion” genre, and I _have_ run up against these taboos.

Tarl Neustaedter March 25, 2007 at 11:45 pm

S.M.Stirling comments on today’s taboos:

…he’d have a hell of a time getting something using the themes of “Tarzan of the Apes” published…

I know when I re-read the first Tarzan book a couple of years ago, I was shocked at what I saw as blatant racism. One quote where Tarzan described himself as a great hunter and “killer of many black men” sticks in my mind.

When I read that passage 35 years ago, it didn’t bother me. Today, it did.

But on the general theme of repression and discipline. Discipline (for writing) could be viewed in terms of keeping or being kept into a box delimited by the overlap of;
1) What the artist will write
2) What the publisher will publish
3) What the retailer will carry
4) What the reader wants to read.

In that sense, discipline is good. Violating any of the constraints makes for a book that goes nowhere.

Using the term “repression” instead of discipline implies much more draconian remedies (or if internal, mental illness). Rather than the author simply finding his books not being published, “repression” implies the author has to flee for his life (cf. Salman Rushdie).

In that context, I don’t agree that repression is good for writing. And Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” (an example of active repression) sucked, in my ever-so-humble opionion.

Maureen McHugh March 26, 2007 at 4:28 pm

This is a cool question, Walter. I don’t even begin to have an answer, but something really feels compelling about your observations.

The interesting thing about Robert Frost’s comment about free verse (like playing tennis without a net) is that he appears to have meant that free verse is actually harder to do. Not that rhymed verse was better or free verse was easier. And it is harder to play a game of tennis without a net. He did a lot of free verse–for example, “Birches”

Now I am wandering around wondering where repression might have helped me and what I’m not repressing anymore.

dubjay March 27, 2007 at 12:15 am

Tarl has already voiced my response on repression— it’s what gets you killed, or beaten up, or thrown in jail.

While Steve’s literary project re the White Man’s Burden may meet with disapproval in some quarters, it isn’t about to get him killed. Salman Rushdie’s calculated and deliberate attack on the roots of Islam almost did. And Theo Van Gogh’s movie got him stabbed to death.

Pat Murphy, of course, revisited Tarzan a few years ago in her =Wild Angel.= But it was revisiting Tolkien that got her literally and nastily repressed.

My own literary repressions are almost entirely commercial. Before commencing something new, particularly anything unusual or highly creative, I (or someone else, most likely my agent)has to ask “Is the world ready for this?”

(“The world,” in this case, being the world of commercial publishing.)

Lately, the answer has all too frequently been “No. The world does not want you to do anything like this. The world wants you to write a book just like the last one, only different.”

It’s not repression, but it’s very annoying, especially when the world takes six months, or a year, or two years to get back to me with this message.

One reason why I’m working for Night Shade now.

S.M. Stirling March 27, 2007 at 9:06 am

Thing is, I have infinitely more ideas for books — that is, books I’ll enjoy writing — than I have time to write them.

There are at least twenty I’ve got workups on hanging around in my files, and I have an idea for one at least every couple of days.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever have time to write them all, even if someone bought every one.

If a publisher doesn’t like one idea, I just trot out another one.

I’m in this business because it’s fun, but there’s lots and lots of stuff that will give me pleasure to write.

So I don’t really have to compromise much. I took a bit of a financial hit to do THE SKY PEOPLE and IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS, simply because I found the stories so cool, but usually it doesn’t even come to that.

(Though CRIMSON KINGS is, if I do say so myself, among my best stuff.)

As for taboos, most people are too dim to understand the subtext, which means I’m slipping it into the subconscious of myriads without their even noticing — the most effective way.

I’m enjoying the hell out of the DIES THE FIRE series and could write any number of ’em without getting bored.

Not least because I designed the background so I could do just about any type of story I like in it, from Celtic Fantasy to Intrepid Explorer to Cossacks to South Sea Adventure. I can ring in aliens and supertech if I want to, as well.

Eg., right now I’m doing a Sherlockian/Agatha-Christiean manor-house murder mystery of excruciating Englishness in that universe and it’s a complete hoot to write.

Coherent March 28, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Deviant sexuality is normal, ironically.

Coherent March 28, 2007 at 10:57 pm

No, I don’t think repression is good for you, artistically. That said, there is often a dissonance between stuff that the artist thinks is good, and stuff that his audience thinks is good.

The artist is obviously from a much more refined and jaded viewpoint than his audience. If the artist wishes commercial success, he has to find some way to talk to his audience meaningfully, to educate them and raise them to his level so that he can make some statement that he considers cutting edge, important to say, or extremely interesting.

Or, he can just ignore his current audience and go off into his own little world and hope that there will be an audience there, too.

Maybe there will be! Who is to say?

Repression tells the artist that yes, he’s definitely saying something cutting edge. Does it help him say what he wants to say? Definitely not. Does it help him commercially? No. Does it help him critically, artistically? Maybe. But good for him? I don’t think so.

Unless by corollary you believe that a baseball bat to the face of the local weirdo is going to help him become a better weirdo. Generally, no.

S.M. Stirling March 30, 2007 at 3:49 am

>to educate them and raise them to his level

— uh… no.

Writing (and the other arts) are a sevice trade. We’re not smarter or better than other people, any more than shoemakers or chefs are; we just have somewhat different talents.

We’re competing for people’s beer money.

Forrest Norvell April 2, 2007 at 10:23 pm

I continue to read Delany’s work up to the present day and I think the real problem is that there’s a relatively small intersection between fans of poststructuralist theory with its metafictional games and fans of highly stylized gay porn with large helpings of fetishism. I would say that The Mad Man is on a par with Dhalgren or Trouble on Triton, only without any explicitly sfnal content and a lot more sex. I found it a very moving and humane novel when I read it, and it definitely colored how I view the homeless.

I think in his case, at least, his writerly identity changed enough to change his audience (he has a lot of fans in academia these days). Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand is really the last novel of his that is easily identifiable as sf. I think his writing is just as clear, erudite, gritty and humane as it’s ever been, and it’s not like his penchant for writing about his fetishes is unselfaware. I don’t think he’s grown more self-indulgent, and I also think he would argue very vigorously that he’s grateful for the liberties afforded him by no longer being so heavily repressed. I can’t see a book like Bread and Roses being published 30 years ago, and as it’s a moving and wise book, that would be too bad.

Working within constraints is a fine thing, but social mores are pretty restrictive and arbitrary constraints. Plus they’re also normative. Did Joanna Russ write better books before lesbian relationships were acceptable material to be published in the clear?

dubjay April 2, 2007 at 11:06 pm

I’m not sure that Russ is your best example, since I don’t think she’s published any novel-length fiction in over 25 years. You could argue (though I won’t) that ending certain forms of repression left her without any subject matter.

Perhaps what we need is Fred Pohl to edit them both. That Fred Pohl Presents series, which included both =Dhalgren= and =The Female Man,= really did shake the genre in ways it hasn’t been shaken since.

And those books were a commercial success, too.

Forrest Norvell April 3, 2007 at 4:32 am

Fair enough, Walter. I guess I’m among a minority of sf fans because I appreciated what sf radicals like Delany and Russ were doing enough to follow them across the chasm into their modern academic / critical realities. Russ didn’t stop writing in 1980, and I’ve found a few of the books she’s written since then profoundly useful.

I went back and read the other thread, and I’m not really going to get into that, as a lot of the assumptions on display there make me cranky. I’ll restrict myself to this thread instead.

Discipline and constraint — conscious restriction of choice — are useful parameters in pretty much all the arts. Brian Eno just wrote an article for Wired in which he talked about the way modern musical production techniques make everything possible by making mastery of the new musical tools pretty much impossible. The parameters are too many and the breadth of choice too vast. So a lot of musicians are consciously going back to basics (guitar, power electronics, cheesy old synthesizers) to regain some measure of control.

Repression is different. It twists the people it affects, sometimes into tragic shapes. Look at, say, Bulgakov and Shostakovich. Both are iconoclastic masters who were thoroughgoing (if involuntary) products of the Soviet cultural machine, both were way too smart and gifted to survive in such a system without chafing, and both were forced to resort to a kind of coded irony to survive as artists. The Master and Margarita and Shostakovich’s string quartets (or an even third of his symphonies) are unalloyed works of pure genius, so in a sense they produced great, memorable works despite repressive circumstances. (Hell, you could even drag the Strugatskii brothers into the discussion if you wanted to restrict it to sf. Would Roadside Picnic or Monday Begins on Saturday even have existed had it not been for the Soviet Union’s post-Stalin malaise?)

But the experience twisted them, and in both cases, they were somewhat broken by the experience. Bulgakov was originally a gifted playwright (who lived to see his plays either not staged or heavily censored), and before Shostakovich’s infamous smackdown at the hands of Stalin, he was exploring a highly idiosyncratic post-Mahlerian vision that would have gone… who knows where? Not us, certainly. It may be that neither would have been as revered or well-remembered in the West (or even in Russia) if they hadn’t been working within a repressive society, but that’s because they’ve become pawns of politics and history. Huge arguments still erupt all over the place over the level of complicity between Shostakovich and the Soviet state, long after it could possibly matter to anyone.

In the end, I think this is an unanswerable question, because it forces us into speculative terrain. Asimov didn’t fall prey to the polymorphous perversity of RAH’s later works, but he just as surely went down the quality commode at the end of his career. Chip’s first pornographic works were published anonymously in the early 70s (or, in the case of Hogg, not published), which indicates he might have ended up writing porn anyway, we just wouldn’t have seen it.

To bring this back to your own work, while I enjoyed Dread Empire’s Fall, it (and The Rift) is quite clearly a large stylistic and thematic departure from the work you were doing in books like Aristoi and the Metropolitan sequence. You’ve said in the past that this was at least partially in response to market forces, which can be just as repressive as any social norms or totalitarian ideologies. Do you think responding to those pressures has made you a better writer? Or just a different one?

dubjay April 3, 2007 at 10:02 pm

I’ve seen some of Russ’ essays and criticism (note the single apostrophe after the single proper noun!), and they were interesting, as always. I’d rather read her fiction, though.

I looked up Delany’s publications for an earlier post, and was surprised at how many novels he’s had out that I never heard of. If I, who have been a reader of Delany’s for forty years, have never heard of them, I can only conclude it was because Delany (or his publisher) decided not to make any effort to inform me of them. He (or they) are walking away from Delany’s original audience.

If they are not too full of scatology, I will look them up.

dubjay April 3, 2007 at 10:50 pm

Forrest N, I don’t think the invisible (if often repressive) hand of the marketplace has made me a better writer. I think I’ve got better, but I would have anyway.

What =has= happened is that the marketplace has denied my readers some damn good books, including one that my First Readers said was the best thing I’d ever done.

And it’s made me bitter and cynical, but that’s =my= problem.

The SF audience is shrinking as well as getting older and more conservative in their literary preferences. The industry has changed in ways that put enormous blocks between a writer and his audience, making it very hard for the latter to find the former.

I knew that when I had two novels published in 1995, and my readers had no idea they existed, that careerwise I was in trouble. That my best work fell out of print shortly thereafter =even though it continued to sell,= and remained unavailable for new readers, was another symptom.

In the current market writer has one of three choices: either break out to a wider audience, or write for the perceived tastes of the older, conservative audience that remains, or find another way of making a living.

I’ve tried all three in different ways, with success that has been, umm, various.

But it’s clear that the good old days of the late 1980s, when I could write anything I damn well pleased and have it published and see it do well in the marketplace . . . those days are gone.

Now you have to pitch your works to the sales staff, who seem to possess a veto on acquisitions. The sales staff know (or think they know) how to sell a book with a spaceship on the cover, or someone in medieval clothing carrying a sword.

What they absolutely can’t seem to figure out a way to sell is an Absolutely Unique Work, different from anything that particular author has done before.

Authors have to do a lot of the work that publishers used to do. Pre-edit the books that the editors don’t have time to edit. And promote them— as on blogs— so that at least a few people will get the word that they exist.

And so here I am.

S.M. Stirling April 5, 2007 at 2:29 am

I’m not sure that Russ is your best example, since I don’t think she’s published any novel-length fiction in over 25 years. You could argue (though I won’t) that ending certain forms of repression left her without any subject matter.

— yeah, I think that’s exactly what happened to her.

I noticed in “The Two of Them” that she _cannot_ write about any organization that has a personnel policy which wouldn’t be standard in 1957.

It’s always the 50’s and 60’s, going over their controversies and stances and factions again and again.

It’s as if she was so committed to pushing at that door that when it was open, she had to stand there hammering at the air.

Also, Russ’ work got an unfair label of being “anti-male”. Actually it was never directed at men; the polemic in it was always a matter of arguing between different types of feminist women. The position Russ favored consitently lost in the Real World ™ and I think this both shocked and deeply embittered her.

S.M. Stirling April 5, 2007 at 2:31 am

You know, “repression” only exists if the censor disagrees with you.

Shakespeare, for example, would not have been allowed to write any play that was anti-monarchic, anti-Tudor, pro-Puritan, or pro-Catholic. All plays were vetted in advance in his day and licensing was strictly controlled from the Court.

This wasn’t a problem for him because he was a good Anglican Royalist and a loyal subject of the Tudor dynasty.

S.M. Stirling April 5, 2007 at 2:48 am

It’s true that series sell better than stand-alones. I’ve noticed this in my own work.

But it’s nothing new. Eg., see LOTR. Or the series-style short fiction of the pulp era, with an ongoing character and setting, of the type Howard (and for that matter JB Campbell) used.

Walter, I think you’re over-generalizing from a limited sample.

I’m having no problem selling everything I want to write, and the audiences are gobbling it up. I just got a perfectly shocking royalty statement (more than I made in my first 2 years as a full-time writer) and my agent says we’ve got the publisher’s sensitive parts in a pair of pliers when the next deal comes up.

Which of our experiences is ‘typical’ of the field.

I don’t think I’m a better writer than you are — tho’ I’m better than I used to be. Hell, I -know- you’re extremely good; I get to read it as you write it.

Probably I’m just luckier… for now. The career equivalent of an 18-wheeler could hit me tomorrow, and angels could waft you to the heights — your luck has been improving lately.

Forrest Norvell April 5, 2007 at 4:44 am

The conversation about Russ is increasingly off-topic, although I concede she wasn’t a good choice as an example; all I’ll say is that as someone who is predisposed towards feminism and socialism, I found What Are We Fighting For? extremely inspirational and am glad she wrote it (it was published in 1998).

Delany hasn’t written much of anything in the way of science fiction since Stars in my Pocket. Very little of his output since 1990 has had anything to do with the fantastic at all (excepting They Fly at Çiron, which was an early novel that didn’t make the cut in the 60s). If his fiction has any speculative content at all, it’s purely in the metafictional games that he picked up from Umberto Eco and the poststructuralists (some of which can be seen peeking through the cracks in the Neveryona books). Publishing Dhalgren was a ballsy enough move for Ballantine in the 70s; I can’t imagine any publishers other than the small specialty houses that have been publishing his recent novels touching the new stuff. Until Avon republished his “classic” sf novels, the only new editions of his work available came from Wesleyan University Press.

I’m obviously a stone fan of Delany’s work, but I can’t say whether Delany abandoned his audience or they abandoned him. I don’t see a substantive difference between, say The Mad Man and Dhalgren, or Phallos and The Einstein Intersection in terms of quality and theme, except the former novels don’t make any pretense of being sf novels and the latter don’t shy away from explicit gay sex. It’s certainly true that Wesleyan has nowhere near Del Ray or Tor’s marketing budget, but I’m not sure a book like Atlantis: Three Tales would benefit from a large marketing push.

For what it’s worth, I think going with Night Shade was a good idea. I picked up their new best-of anthology and was astounded to see how many of the stories from it ended up on the Hugo ballot (not a completely reliable gauge of quality, but a good first approximation). It seems like a good 2/3 of the sf I buy now comes from publishers who are more enthusiasts than capitalists, mostly because they’re the ones who put out the new / weird / sui generis stuff that I used to rely on imprints like Spectra for.

I miss the days when I had no idea what the hell your next story was going to be about, or even how it was going to be written. In the late 80s and early 90s, it was like you and Mike Swanwick were duking it out to see who could top the other in terms of raw invention and weirdness. I continue to enjoy just about everything you write, but it lacks some of the unpredictability of the old stuff, and if that’s due to dealing with a changing market, man, that sucks. I like the weird. And someday I really want to see the novel you keep mentioning.

Mr. Stirling, speaking as someone who’s exclusively an interested outside observer of sf publishing, success looks more or less random to me. Promising writers disappear without a trace (what did ever happen to Sage Walker?) while authors I like but can’t see finding anything other than a tiny niche audience (Ken Macleod) go huge. It’s baffling to watch, but so is anything having to do with art or pop culture in a world that appears to be hurtling towards some sort of cultural Singularity.

Forrest Norvell April 5, 2007 at 4:51 am

Oops, got over-clever in my sentence construction there. Obviously, The Mad Man and Phallos are the books chock full of gay sex, not Dhalgren and The Einstein Intersection. Although Phallos is far more metafictional than pornographic.

S.M. Stirling April 6, 2007 at 5:00 am

Promising writers disappear without a trace (what did ever happen to Sage Walker?)

— she hasn’t finished anything lately.

dubjay April 6, 2007 at 10:42 pm

Promising writers disappear without a trace (what did ever happen to Sage Walker?)

The short answer is that her second novel was suppressed.

Since she regularly drops in here, I’ll leave any further details to her, if she is so inclined.

Apropos Russ and Delany, we can let them speak for themselves in the following interview, at last year’s Wiscon:

I continue to enjoy just about everything you write, but it lacks some of the unpredictability of the old stuff, and if that’s due to dealing with a changing market, man, that sucks. I like the weird. And someday I really want to see the novel you keep mentioning.

Thanks for your kind words of support.

In terms of what my career would look like if it were up to me, check out the short fiction, everything from “Green Leopard Plague” to “Broadway Johnny” to “Incarnation Day” to “Daddy’s World” to “The Last Ride of German Freddie” to the forthcoming “Pinocchio.”

Novels are the things I have to write to support the short fiction, which I write for love.

Everything will see print sooner or later. Either my career will crash for good and all, in which case I will have the freedom to write anything I like and sell it for pennies while working at Burger King, or I’ll become such a mighty commercial monolith that editors won’t dare to say me nay.

I’ll leave it to you to guess which is the more likely.

My career has already crashed more times than that of anyone I can name. I’ve crashed and burned no less than four times, each time leaving nothing on the forest floor but an impact crater and blackened rubble.

I mean, there was a =reason= I had nothing published between 1998 and 2003. I was =fucking dead.=

Yet each time I suffered career death I was saved by, in effect, a miracle.

Most recently (thank you, Jason!) I’ve had not one but three miracles, so things are looking up. I have to say that the miracles took their damn time, however.

It’s true that series sell better than stand-alones. I’ve noticed this in my own work.

I seem to be the exception. Before I can finish a series, publishing always changes to undermine them. The editors leave or get fired, or the line gets canceled, or suddenly paperback originals can’t make money. The Praxis, for example, had SIX EDITORS before it ever saw print!

Walter, I think you’re over-generalizing from a limited sample . . . [SNIP tale of glorious success] . . . Which of our experiences is ‘typical’ of the field.

Actually, neither. Your career is the way it’s =supposed= to happen, with the success of each book building on the next.

My career is simply too bizarre to be considered anything except a surrealist fable. I’ve been killed and resurrected four times! I feel like a character in a play by Alfred Jarry.

Actually I’m reasoning from quite a bit of data. A lot of it was told to me in confidence, so I can’t go into it— (next time we have a beer, Steve). But you’d be amazed at the names in our field who don’t have careers anymore.

In some cases I know why— they didn’t finish their work or they were inconsistent or they repeated themselves a few times too often. But in some cases it just =happened= to them.

Look at all the first-rate writers whose careers were canceled when Gordon van Gelder left St. Martin’s. Poof! Career death! See you in the afterlife!

This wasn’t a problem for [Shakespeare} because he was a good Anglican Royalist and a loyal subject of the Tudor dynasty.

Peter Ackroyd’s latest biography argues that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic, and probably didn’t think much of Good Queen Bess, either. It’s no longer controversial to say that Shakespeare’s father, mother, wife, and daughters were Catholic (and pretty much out of the closet, too). He was one of the few poets of the time not to write paeans to Gloriana, and this at a time when it would have won him favor.

Shakespeare’s plays are characterized by a disinclination by the author to take sides in political disputes. At the end, order and justice are restored in a conventional ending (unless history has it otherwise), but that’s probably how the censor wanted it. In any case, you can’t actually tell how the author felt about it. Possibly he felt it wasn’t safe for him to state his own opinions.

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