Author Ownership Conversation (and Book Giveaways) on BookArmy

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An interesting conversation about (mostly posthumous) author ownership is happening this month over on BookArmy and I'm keen to hear your thoughts on the matter, too:

Some
of the greatest works of literature ever written would never have seen
the light of day had it been left up to their authors. If Kafka had his
way, 'The Trial' would have been burned after his death. Who do you
think should get the ultimate say when it comes to which texts make it
to the public - authors, publishers or readers? Has reading something
an author didn't want published ever changed your view of them, for
better or worse? If an author wants a particular work to be buried,
should their wishes be respected, even after their death?

I think, though, that the question on BookArmy misses a few ideas.
Specifically, I wonder about  the implications of ever settling such a
debate. Meaning, the debate itself raises questions of the purpose for
writing, and carries with it the implication that, if such a debate was
ever settled, that all writing would have to have a clear indicated
purpose, and would have to nearly be perpetually appointed. Meaning,
the debate itself touches on the issue of why we write anything at all.
Large topic, but it's one that must be included in this discussion.

Secondly,
I think the discussion ought to include the subject of unfinished and
yet-appointed writing by any writer. I know I personally have well over
a hundred short pieces and
mid-length pieces saved as we speak. They're just there,
sitting, to be edited and whipped into shape at some point for
some public purpose as the inclination and need may arise, but for the
most part they are all first drafts
from my daily writing habit. Now, if, perish the thought, upon my
(untimely and most tragic) death, someone were to decide to publish
them, well, I would not be putting my best foot forward because in
their current format, they are little more than sprouts. So, what about
unfinished work? Because, somehow a finished manuscript seems far more
fair game to me than some random first draft scribble tucked away
someplace.

And
further, let us also discuss the point of keeping a finished manuscript
on-hand with the intention of it being destroyed upon one's death.
Seems, frankly, a bit like passive-agressive grandstanding, truth be
told.

Anyway, let us discuss and let us discuss BookArmy's discussion. And for a little background on the wbsite, read Chicago Subtext's archived overview of BookArmy.

Sidebar: Speaking of BookArmy, the website is giving away five signed copies of The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger. Also, while visiting BookArmy, check out their interview with Pullinger,
in which she discusses both her new book and the
often-discussed-on-Chicago-Subtext topic of the future of literature
and storytelling in our digital age.

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  • In a world where "Deleted scenes" are on virtually all DVD's and rare live recordings are sold on iTunes alongside the album versions, it's getting easier as a fan to avoid the allure of the specialness of raw or unfinished work. Ten years ago, I might not have said the same. Everyone likes to feel like they're reading (or listening, or watching) something creatively legitimate and uninhibited, that hasn't been put through a structured, editorial mass-consumption filter, and I'm not sure books are all that different from other media in that respect.
    Once upon a time, before he dashed my hopes for one of the best fantasy epics of our generation, I used to be a ravenous Stephen King fan. I bought an unauthorized book by someone else that detailed the "Lost works" of Stephen King, and droolingly read how he kept a set of manuscripts from his early unfinished attempts at novel-writing in a special collection at the University of Maine under lock and key that you could only look at with his permission. All the book contained was the synopses of these novels, a few of which seemed incredibly brilliant and tantalizing. As I dutifully followed his work through the late 90's waiting for him to finish "The Dark Tower", I had visions in my head of reading more work by the same younger version of Stephen King that penned "Night Shift", "The Stand", and my all-time favorite novella "The Long Walk." That said, one of these "lost works" was later published and I found it disappointingly dismal.
    The point I'm trying to make here isn't as much about SK as it is about what unreleased, hidden manuscripts might show (or not show) about an author's creative development over time. Someone who writes relatively few books might benefit in posterity from having something else for their fans to read, even if it was disliked by the author or unfinished. Someone more prolific on the other hand has less to lose from any single manuscript surfacing, but I think they are paradoxically likely to be more aware of and concerned about the progression of their creative body of work. A prolific writer will develop "eras" of writing that his or her fans will grow to prefer, in other words. I

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