Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Author in the Middle

In internet time, I'm a bit late to this game, but I was saddened and frustrated, like many, to read about Stephanie Meyer putting her latest novel "on hold" after a draft was leaked to the internet. I haven't read her work, admittedly - my partner read the first novel in the current series and did not exactly praise it, and quite frankly, it's not my proverbial cup o' tea - but like many bloggers, I can't help but see this as a modern and particularly undignified problem.

The author's explanation on her website is just tragic, for anyone who appreciates the process. This woman may not be writing novels that are going to become literary classics, but she's writing successful novels with legions of fans, so she clearly has talent (again with the disclaimer, I haven't read a word). And she is showing respect for both herself and her fans in explaining how she feels:
"I did not want my readers to experience Midnight Sun before it was completed, edited and published. I think it is important for everybody to understand that what happened was a huge violation of my rights as an author, not to mention me as a human being... I tried to write Midnight Sun now, in my current frame of mind, James would probably win and all the Cullens would die, which wouldn't dovetail too well with the original story. In any case, I feel too sad about what has happened to continue working on Midnight Sun, and so it is on hold indefinitely.

I'd rather my fans not read this version of Midnight Sun. It was only an incomplete draft; the writing is messy and flawed and full of mistakes. But how do I comment on this violation without driving more people to look for the illegal posting? It has taken me a while to decide how and if I could respond. But to end the confusion, I've decided to make the draft available here (at the end of this message on the Midnight Sun page). This way, my readers don't have to feel they have to make a sacrifice to stay honest."

Good for the internet for making it possible for an author to respond to immediately and to respond so directly to readers, but shame this same technology led to such a disruption to an author's process of writing.

I should say that the ellipsis you see above is where I skipped her sentences on copyright, which is not to say I don't respect her explanation of copyright and her legal rights as the owner of this intellectual property, and her use of this angering moment to explain copyright to fans seeking her out, but I think readers of this blog know all about our nation's copyright system, with its warts and all. Right?

Naturally, we all recall when the final Harry Potter book got posted online just before it went on sale. Who are these people? I suppose they're opportunists looking to get a jump, and I'm sure it has happened in different incarnations for generations. But like McCain picking someone wholly unqualified to be his VP, this action, putting drafts of an unfinished novel unline, shows such a fundamental disrespect to the thing itself - in McCain's case, the office of VP, and in the Meyers case, a final book. Is respect for a book, worked to completion by an author working in partnership with an editor and a publisher, being devalued by e-readers and such so much that people don't care about anything but how the words themselves get strung together? It's one thing to not care about packaging - hell, I sometimes can suck it up and read a mass market novel - but it's quite another to scrap everything and just download an incomplete manuscript so you can say you read it first. How much can one enjoy such an experience? On some level, I guess I have to wonder, "what are you after?"

As ever on this blog, I worry about sounding like a Luddite, but are we really so enamored at the thought of an immediate experience, and the thrill of being first, that we are willing to throw out the value of the larger experience so entirely? Damn shame.

I would just like to add before closing, are you reading The Root? Because I think you should, it's pretty amazing, very smart stuff over there. This article by Gary Dauphin on the website Stuff White People Like is a good one, but their stable of writers in general are quite top-notch.

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