Greg Swann:

Whoredom, boredom, love, lust and a great big tree


And the question is: how can a field nigger get himself invited into the

plantation house without going through the servant's entrance? Or, in

English, "Greg Swann, why can't I buy your books in the bookstore?" That's

a question I get asked a lot, and I like it a lot; it implies that

someone, somewhere might actually be willing to stuff some legal tender in

my drawers. But it's the first question that really matters, because I

ain't shaking my ass for nobody.


I'm not in the bookstores because I stopped sending books to publishers,

and I stopped sending short stories and essays to magazines, and I stopped

sending Willie stories to newspapers. It's not like I was selling much,

and it's not like the money is anything special, anyway. The problem is

that the money is everything, the thing that distinguishes the worker bees

from the wannabes. If you want to make money as a writer, it's not that

hard to do: study an editor and sell him what he buys. If you can do this

with enough editors who pay (many don't), you can make a decent living.


You can't do that and love the sound of what you write, since the sound

you're writing is what the editor loves, or affects to love, and you're

just another session player in his studio. But you can make money.


And the money spooked me, not because I found myself writing things I

hated, but because I found myself writing things that I knew Stanley

Schmidt, editor of Analog, would love. The money is nothing, the money is

dick, but the money is everything to a whore turning tricks. If you didn't

get paid then you just got laid, fucked over again by another beery

Shriner with a tassel on his fez. Money is what separates the pros from

the doe-eyed, sloe-eyed perpetual virgins making just-this-once exceptions

in the motel bar and grill. If you didn't collect, you didn't quite

connect, now did you?


And that, I confess, is paranoia. There are a lot of fine writers selling

fine work to fine publishers, and not one of them has to roll a condom

over a tasseled fez. But they're already in the Big House, so it's another

issue entirely. In the newspapers, in ad agencies, in

qualified-subscription trade magazines, you can watch as the talent is

fucked right out of a lot of bright kids with writerly ambitions. Slam it

out, slam it out, slam it out, sprightly, punchy little bits of nothing

that no one will read, superlatives and hyperbole painted layer upon layer

on a vast array of identical empty boxes. Every one of those kids came to

work the first day imagining the dance he hoped to do on the printed page,

and each and every one of them was promptly pointed nose-first in a corner

and invited to stand there except when commanded to bend over. And of

those few who do not succumb to the tedium tremens, nothing of the love of

the word remains. You can see that, too, if you watch for it. As an

example, note the aging correspondent who paces to his pension by slamming

out a weekly column that consists of meaningless items cribbed from other

spent wrecks in the same predicament. You read these poor wretches and you

realize they have nothing to say, and, worse, that their editors don't

care that space that ought to be priceless is wasted on nothing. It's not

love. It's not even sex. It's purely transactional. Nobody's making love,

but everyone involved is getting fucked, the writer as much as the reader,

the whore as much as the john.


Not everyone who prances the cobblestones in the City of the Night is a

whore, but it's a challenge to prove to yourself that you're not dancing

the steps that make the coins clink, particularly when the rent's due.

And, basking in the self-serious glow of the very best light, the money

you get for dancing to another man's music is your very own gold-plated

key to the servant's entrance. You're much too talented to be a field

nigger, so we'll toss you niggardly little bribes to get you to kowtow

forever as a house nigger. To be bought and sold is a loathsome fate, so

why not do it in style?


I'll hang with Bartleby instead. If I ever make it into the Big House--and

I freely concede I might never--I will go in through the front door. I'm a

field nigger by fate, but I won't be a house nigger by choice. Not that I

could, anyway; Missy, she don't take to my kind. Surely it's obvious that

I'm a pain in the ass to work with. If I respect your judgement, I'll

follow you off the edge of the Earth. But if I suspect your discernment in

the smallest way, time will run backwards before I'll give an inch. This

is not quite the attitude they're looking for at Whores 'R' Us, house

niggers for finer homes.


The bottom line is this: I'm waiting for my pigeon. I have stuff out on

the road, but it's my stuff, and it's really quite absurd to attempt to

sell things--such as Willie stories--for which there is no established

market category. And like Melville himself, I strive to affect to believe

that someday, somehow, something interesting will turn up in the mail. But

unlike Melville, I own no despair, because I know I'm going about this all

wrong, all right. I have no hope of making transactional conquest of the

mountains of verbiage that are every day extruded for no reason anyone can

name. I could take no pride in driving my sword into the peak of

irrelevance, but--truth is a brutal handmaiden--ain't nobody asking me to,

anyway. And who, precisely, is going to pay good money to plow through

text this dense as a diversion?


It's a scat dance and I know it, but it's complicated, syncopated, a

thundering truckload of curmudgeonly wonderstuff. Gentle reader, this is

not your father's Oldsmobile--as if you had to be told. The actual

recompense I get for sending something like "Reflecting His Radiance" to a

publication is knowing that some poor overworked, underpaid junior

assistant asswipe is scratching his head and saying, "What the hell is

this?" You or I can read anything and reap whatever it happens to sow. But

for an editor, if it doesn't fit the editorial mix of the publication,

it's useless. And it is into this precious little corner that I've painted

myself. I write for my ears, and, by god, I love the music I'm making. I'm

not writing to any editorial preconceptions, and I'd find it hard to

quarrel with the notion that I'm writing against them--afraid to doubt my

own hermetically sealed virtue, afraid to lose the music to a studied,

monied boredom.


So I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for the money that wants to dance with me

for love. I'm not done, I'm but barely begun, and I'm patient enough, or

stubborn enough, to stare down the Sphinx. But nobody's going to be fooled

into thinking that this is the same old thing, and it won't do at all for

me to hack and slash a festering mountain of simpering, whimpering

eyetrash. There's not much I can do except build an audience and wait for

a publisher or an agent who either likes the music itself or likes the

potential the audience poses to stuff money in his drawers. I prefer the

former, but it's a lot to ask. I know I can count on the latter, at least,

in due course. In the meantime, alone in the dark it's just you and me and

no one will tell because no one will see.