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Contemplating the Internet

Yesterday morning, I had email messages from South Africa and Australia. They were written and sent while I was sleeping. This may seem mundane now but it is not; it is extraordinary. In January, 1994, Vice-President Al Gore gave a landmark speech at UCLA about the uses of the “information superhighway” in both domestic and international development. The speech was prescient.

At the time there were only about three million or so computers connected to the Internet. Today, there are hundreds of millions. Even in the remotest areas of the developing world, in war-torn villages and villages without roads, there are internet cafes. An aid worker friend told me recently that first on the list of wants and needs in any town or village he has ever been to is the word “computer.”

What does this mean for writers? It means we can retrieve information quickly, contact sources globally and receive a reply quickly, and disseminate what we have written globally and instantaneously through uploads and links. There is no way that despotic regimes, such as China, will be able to prevent the onslaught of this free-flow of information. Their resistance will end eventually. Though I was loathe to allow my book “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Aid Workers Tell Their Stories,” to be published in China, I knew I could not prevent it. Some enterprising young democratic-spirited person would have scanned and distributed it in blank covers, or uploaded it to a website somewhere. Bravo, I say. Get the information out there. Collect as much royalty as I can, and then let it go. Is this theft? Of course. But it’s also a donation to the Chinese people. The walls of their electronic prison are breaking down.

I have started a new nonfiction project that requires research. Before the internet, a mere two decades ago, I would have had to write snail mail delivered letters and/or make long distance phone calls to regions in different time zones. It would have taken me months. Then, once I received a reply, the reply would probably have been inadequate. I might have had to travel to remote regions to interview people and pore through archival material, probably with the help of a translator. And though this old-fashioned footwork and reporting still is essential in some instances, it mostly is not necessary. On I go, in English, the new global language, speaking to librarians, curators and archivists all over the world as they digitalize their collections and make them available to curious citizenry everywhere.  Read More 
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By the time a book is revised, edited, copy-edited, proofed, and sent to the printer, months have passed and the author is more than likely already working on her next project. Then, magically, and nearly forgotten, the book arrives, bound and sparkling, and the publicity begins. All new writing projects are now shelved and silenced, momentum interrupted, the “work” at the computer a different sort of work entirely. I have less taste for it than I used to when I was younger and hungry for recognition. Do I want people to like my book? Yes and no. Do I care if I make some money from the publication of a book? Of course. Do I want to have a launch party and readings? Not really. I want to get to my next project.

Few writers I know look back on published work with nostalgia, vanity, or regret. (I can hardly look back at my journals except to cull ideas.) Whatever we are working on –at the moment-is of the most interest and concern. What’s working, what isn’t? Is this the best I can do? When will I have time to write this week? It’s a completely absorbing solitary endeavor. So having to stand up in front of an audience and read from my last published work, however recent that “last” may be, feels like an interruption. That’s odd, I know, and maybe other writers feel differently, I just haven’t met them.

So I’m in the midst of publicity for my first murder mystery, “Say Nothing.” It’s up on amazon, it’s “live,” and I am sending out press releases every day, all day. My next project will be nonfiction. But when will I get to it? Thank goodness I have my notebooks, this blog, and my students to keep my mind from addling too much during this least-favorite stage of the writing life.

I had a student once, Stan Alpert, who came into my class to write about being kidnapped on his birthday. He's a lawyer by profession so he didn't seem to mind the publicity he got when the book was published and then optioned as a film. He didn't have a "next" project in the wings, not that I know of anyway. Stan, if you are reading this, please let me know how so much publicity, endless publicity, constant publicity, has effected your writing life.

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