It’s fall again, and the same sense of combined dread and crispness that always hits me this time of year is slamming down now like a freight train. The crispness comes from the obvious sense of the night-cool air and the first hint of frost sweeping in on the changing of the daylight wind. The dread comes from being forced to remember how many times previously you’ve felt this hint of frost before.

Fall is the season that speaks most strongly of transition. The line between summer and fall is sharp like fresh-cut glass in a way that no other boundary between seasons is. Fall to winter is a continuum of moody darkness, a fading mesh of grey lines burned black and bleached white in a crucible of frost and shorter days. Winter to spring is more physically abrupt but less visceral. Spring creeps up on you, a hint of green change that swallows the memory of winter, so that by the time winter truly goes, you’ve already lost touch with what it was and what it meant. Spring to summer is a continuum of settling idleness and ever-lengthening days that mask their own transition.

But summer to fall is a sudden hammerstroke of time advancing and tightening around you to drag you forward with it. Fall is the sudden splintering sensation of the previous year as it cracks underfoot and pulls you down into the shadowy space that memory makes. Fall is the realization that summer, spring, and the winter before have come and gone and left you, and that you stand on a familiar rise of seasonal insight, wondering where the all the time went since the time before.

The dread of fall lies in feeling the lingering modal memory of every other fall, every other instance of this chill transition, all of them echoing each other in your mind. And with each echo, you feel the space of your life stretched out a little thinner, a little bit finer. You feel the chill a little deeper than you did the year before, realizing that on some now-unseen point on the line of seasons, you’ve passed the point where the seasons before you now exceed the seasons ahead.


The Flow

One of the ways in which the internet has changed my life is that i no longer have any idea whatsoever how i find things out. Used to be, i could think about a thing i knew and draw a relatively straight line back through the books or articles where i’d read about it, and the informed conversations i’d had with people who knew more than i did about it, and the initial reference where i’d first heard about it and decided to learn more.

None of that works anymore. The web is where pretty much all information starts and ends in my life these days, and its endless waves of content and context just kind of wash through me with no sense of where anything begins and ends. On the plus side, i probably know more about more things than i ever have at any previous point of my life. On the negative side, i have no idea where most of it originally came from.

Life for all of us who spend time on the web has become a flow of ideas, constantly clashing, crashing, and colliding with each other to create a shifting matrix of information that inflects and directs our lives.

Case in point.

A month or so ago, i read this piece by mystery/thriller writer J.A. Konrath on the Huffington Post site, but have absolutely no idea how i got directed there in the first place. I know i didn’t arrive by way of something else on the Huffington Post, because i wasn’t reading the HP at that point (i like to rotate my media around from time to time). It wasn’t through anything having to do with Konrath, since as a mostly non-mystery fan, i had no conscious recollection of ever having heard of Konrath before. (Colleen, significant other, is a mystery fan, so it’s entirely likely his books have been in my house.) It might have been through Slashdot; might have been through a blog, but even if i remembered which one, i doubt that i’d be able to remember how i got there, and so the recursion of uncertainty is constant.

Here’s why this is annoying to me. When i read that post by Konrath, i think something changed in my world. Assuming i’m right, it would nice years from now to be able to know why that happened.

I’m a technical kind of guy. I got into publishing in the first place not out of any particular love of publishing, but because i was a writer and a computer science major, and i was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of magazine publishing’s transition from traditional galley typesetting to the first desktop publishing systems. (I’ve done full-page, full-color magazine layout on a 9-inch monochrome Macintosh SE screen. I am teh hardcorez.)

Because i’m a technical kind of guy, i’ve been more than aware of the e-book movement. As a tabletop gamer, i was there for the rise, fall, and leveling out of the RPG PDF market. I followed the release of the Kindle in 2007 with much interest, though i shied away from owning one over my lack of enthusiasm for DRM and proprietary file formats. However, i was running Stanza on my first-gen iPod Touch from the moment i became aware of it (first book bought: Moorcock’s Elric: The Stealer of Souls anthology). My iPad currently rocks the iBooks reader, the Kindle app, and Kobo (where i like to do most of my shopping, because of the whole Canadian thing).

But for some reason, until i read Konrath’s Huffington Post piece, the following very important realization hadn’t clicked with me.

I’m a professional writer with credits up the yin-yang and books with my name on them and a ton of script work to my credit and a fair number of other people’s movies with my story editor’s fingerprints on them, and i’ve been bashing my head against the brick wall that is the traditional fiction publishing industry for a lot of years now. And what Konrath is doing, i can do, too.

As said, i’m a technical guy. It’s just that my ability to get with the program still runs on the old steam-powered analog system sometimes.

Originally, largely as a result of the experience of PDFs in the RPG market, i saw e-books as an interesting and long-overdue extension of the boundaries of book publishing. A change something along the lines of the appearance of the first mass-market pocket books — something that would put more books into more hands at a cheaper price, which is all good.

Now, along with Konrath and a whole bunch of other people, i think e-books are going to be the undoing of mainstream book publishing. E-books represent the new flow of information and power in publishing, with the former spreading to greater numbers of readers even as the latter redirects itself from publishers and agents to writers. Book publishing (and fiction publishing in particular) are built around an economic and power-structure model that’s been in place for a century or more. Just about the same length of time that galley typesetting in its various forms had been the center of magazine and newspaper publishing before me and the other computer-savvy hordes buried it for good.

Note that i’m not saying or implying that i predict “the undoing of books”. Merely the undoing of the traditional publishing industry. Books will always be around. Small press and indie publishers will always be around. Books will thrive in the e-reader era like never before, i think. They’ll just be created and sold in ways that the mainstream publishing industry has been entirely unable to predict and has no chance of reacting to.

That high-pitched whine you hear is Charles Scribner, spinning in his grave at 50,000 RPM.

The times, they are deranging. If you’re a writer, this is a very good thing.