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"Change the Subject!"

     This month I'm going to give Iraq and our unelected
president a rest.  "Put your body on the line," Martin Luther
King instructed us in the 60's, and we did.  We resumed doing
that last month in Santa Fe, and the month before that here in
Albuquerque, taking part in the world-wide Say-No-to-War
movement.  We intend to continue doing so, every chance we get. 
But there is little left to say about it, that isn't already
being said.  So -- change the subject!
     O.K.  Here goes.  This one is for all you writers out there,
and for me.  I fear I'll be berating myself rather severely,
before I finish.  You non-writers may have pity on us.
     Three years ago, when the year 2000 began, I resolved to
"send one ship out" [that is, submit a story, an essay, or a book
proposal] PER DAY, until something happened.  By midsummer I had
followed my resolution, and nothing had happened, and I ran out
of steam.  The volume of submissions dwindled to one a week, then
to one a month.
     Last week I went through the basket of rejection letters,
threw away most of them, saved a few, and wondered if it all
wasn't more trouble than it was worth.
     One letter was such a doozy, I need to share it with you,
whoever and wherever you are.  Is anyone out there?  It was the
reply of the Editor-in-Chief of Prometheus Books, who are
specialists in "free thought material."  I had sent him a book

     "Thank you for making us aware of your project titled FREEDOM
more of a sense of wonder and less of a sense of dread and
foreboding about their so-called sins, we would have a population
focused more on improving the world than awaiting the second
     "Unfortunately, those who buy our books on freethought and
atheism generally expect the authors to have academic credentials
or a significant track record of published works in the area. 
This genre is difficult to publish in because the audience for
books favorable toward religious belief and spirituality is much
larger than the market for books seeking to replace groundless
faith with reason and the established methods of science.  Given
the difficulties freethought already faces in the general
marketplace of ideas, new authors to the genre find it even more
frustrating in their efforts to become established."
    I wondered why he felt constrained to tell me about the
difficulty I as writer was just then confronting.  Then I became
indignant, and replied.

     "I don't usually respond to rejection letters, but this one
is in the same category with an unnamed agent's response to my
novel, A WORLD FOR THE MEEK -- 'This is fresh and new and
heartfelt and the world needs it, but I'm not going to take it
     "I refer to the first sentence in your second paragraph. 
'Freethought' which is confined to Academia is incorrectly named. 
In the Middle Ages thinking was not supposed to occur except in
the church.  Those outsiders who insisted on thinking anyway
coined the phrase 'free-thinkers' to refer to themselves.  It is
a sad case, if true, that thinking is only to be allowed nowadays
in Academia.  Some of us outsiders are still thinking, and will
continue to do so, and will be calling ourselves 'freethinkers'
and the results of our carefully prepared ruminations will be
called 'free thought.'
     "Your letter seems to mean that you don't think you'd make
any money from publishing my book[s], which may or may not be
true.  But the attempt to fault my lack of connection to any
university is simply infuriating.
    "Credentials!  I'll have you know that I have a degree from
Princeton which states that I am a Master of Divinity!  I command
Deities.  I say to one, 'Come,' and he cometh, and to another,
'Go,' and he goeth, and to yet another, 'Do this,' and he doeth
it.  The fact that the Master now comprehends that the deities
are inanimate puppets invented before he came on the scene only
adds to the irony.  Master of Divinities that aren't there!  The
work which I am doing, good or not, shall continue.  The already-
published fiction, especially VERMIN: HUMANITY AS AN ENDANGERED
SPECIES, has established that track record you refer to, but the
media doesn't know it yet."

     Nothing came of my outburst, except the decision to self-
publish one more.  It came out in the fall of 2001, to mixed
success.  Some individuals who have found it are impressively
grateful.  LIBRARY JOURNAL liked it, and called it "zesty, and
highly recommended."  One hundred newspapers, local and national,
refused to review it, so most people have never heard of it.
     And I end up wondering if it all isn't more trouble than
it's worth.  Maybe I need to learn simplicity.  Maybe I should
simply be grateful that I figured out a few things -- God,
Christmas, ethnicity, extinction and mortality, just to name a
few!  It amounts to nothing less than pantology -- the study of
everything.  PANTOLOGY MADE EASY.  Let's see...

     Look!  There he goes again, thinking up a book title, a book
he could write and show to others, which they could subsequently
reject and mock.  Why not instead just go ahead and figure it all
out, and let that suffice?  Whence this absurd need to pass it
on?  Why tell anyone?  "See that you tell no man," Jesus said,
after healing a man of his leprosy.  Instead of shouting from the
housetops, or writing another book, "See that you tell no man."
     You figured out God and Christmas and ethnicity and
extinction and mortality and you think you have to tell someone,
tell everyone, but you don't have to do any such thing.  You can
just turn into One Who Knows, and keep your mouth shut, and your
pen still.  Just sit on your discoveries.  Live as if you really
had made pantology easy.
     Here's this guy, figured out everything, and he's obsessed
with sticking his bare neck out there, asking for rejection. 
Notice this!  You haven't figured out everything, yet, after all. 
Your list is impressive, to be sure -- but you haven't figured
out rejection yet.  Work on that for a while.  It's probably
quite simple, but you need to work on it some more.  Gnaw that
bone until it bores you.  It already bores everyone else, you
know.  Watch them.  Your success -- put it in quotes -- your
"success," or lack of it, does not interest them in the
slightest.  It's your little problem, not theirs.  So get at it. 

    And in the background I hear William Lloyd Garrison's
outcry, in large letters on the front page of the first edition 
of THE LIBERATOR, his anti-slavery newspaper -- AND I SHALL BE 
HEARD!  He was heard, and things changed.  Knowing, by itself, 
may not be quite enough.

                            *   *   *
Copyright © 2003 Harry Willson

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