Friday, March 23, 2012

Culture Shock


Culture shock is a term applied in appropriate enough directness to the sense of disorientation an individual from one culture feels when immersed in another culture with perhaps differing languages but certainly with different coding in the language the newcomer hears and of the gap in nuance between behavior individuals from differing cultures.

Culture shock can well occur in a city of any size, wherein an individual from one neighborhood strays into another neighborhood.  It can happen in mixed company, where responses to a joke are wildly disparate.  It can happen when an employee of a large company is sent to headquarters for a meeting or managerial training.

Your own culture shock of a particular and specific nature begin toward the end of 2010, when your agent asked to meet you for coffee because she had a matter to discuss with you.

The matter was the fact of two distinct bites on your six-hundred-twenty-page manuscript, which you’d given the title The Fiction Writers’ Tool Kit.  Your agent had two firm offers, the first from a source you’d rather expected, one of the so-called Big Six, a heritage publisher.   The second offer had better be pretty good to be worth listening to, you thought as you listened to the details.

The second offer was from a start-up venture, non-brick-and-mortar and, thus, without the overhead or business plan of the Big Sixer.  The Acquisitions editor of the new company was a friend of your agent from other times, other publishing industry jobs.  Your agent had, in fact, not thought to send this editor your manuscript.  The thing that impressed your agent and you was that the editor had pestered her to see it, had looked you up, had read your work, had heard you at a writers’ conference, had decided after reading the preface of your work that she wanted it.

There was no longer any doubt where you would go.

You have seen too many examples of book projects becoming list in the maelstrom of crisis management among the Big Six.  And so you made your choice, which led you to one of the most intelligent editorial experiences you have ever had, resulting in a treatment unlike any you’d had previously, all because the acquisitions editor wanted your work.

Your book was out and circulating for three months when the publishing venture exploded, your editor left, secured capital for what is now Water Street Publishing.  You followed her and in short order, your book will reappear, phoenix from the ashes, in yet larger format.

Your editor is now your publisher.  You are working on another title due in November.  A collection of your stories will appear from her in February of 13.  Because she had come to Santa Barbara to tape some interviews with you and other of her authors, you met in person for the first time.  As of last night, you have a verbal on the other nonfiction project you want to write and as well, she is interested in the two thrillers you have under way.

The culture shock comes from your relative comfort in dealing with editors and your understanding of where you fit into the publishing sphere; you are an acquired taste.  You are, thus, well aware of being an outsider even though you are somewhat an insider when you wear your editorial hat.  You are used to being regarded as an outsider, a writer whose work is read, sometimes grudgingly, because you have some measure of credentials.  You are not used to some of the things your editor-publisher has said about you; they cause you discomfort.  This is in its way quite a good thing.  It is one thing for you to hope you are of a level, then strive for it with each new project.  It is another for you to think you have earned the esteem before finishing the project.

Pure and simple, this is the occasion of the culture shock.  Your best hope is the number of times you have told students and clients of the need to get used to the fact that each new project means having to learn to write that project from scratch elements.  You cannot take the calculus you learned from Project A to Project B and have it work out to be anything but a derivative of Project A.

While you were leaving your editor after an impromptu—and splendid—dinner prepared by your agent, she walked you to your car, asking you to think in addition to your writing projects about editing.  An imprint, she said.

Culture shock.

You spent the early years hoping and dreaming, dashing in a frenzied tango from project to project, reading anything you could get your hands on, thinking all manner of outrageous and magical incantation, winnowing, borrowing, experimenting, to have reached this point, where thought and incantation are the least things you need to do, culture shock put out of your mind, the words plucked from the cosmos and splashed down on the note pad of screen, so that the work, the real work, may begin.


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