Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old Stories, New Dreams

Tonya Macalino '96
As a novelist, I’ve always believed that integrating the folk stories of the past into our future-facing lives makes them richer, more meaningful—a glass of nuanced wine as opposed to a bottle of syrupy grape juice. As such, I am forever looking for patterns in the stories people tell me, looking for ways to intertwine them and create something new.

In the course of developing my writing career, I ran into a pattern in my own story.

The rejections grew kinder, the critiques less bloody every year. But on the submissions front, the speculative fiction agents and publishing houses grew fewer; the major bookstores teetered more violently with the passing of those same years. And the ereaders started showing up in the hands of Trimet commuters.

I saw the pattern, but what did it mean for my writing career?

So like any good researcher these days, I got on the Internet. More patterns: Amazon buys Createspace, the print-on-demand house; develops its own Kindle’s direct publishing platform. Barnes & Noble follows suit with its Nook direct publishing platform. But that was self-publishing! That was vanity press for suckers and the self-delusional! No, my life-long goal was the lofty validation of the industry powerhouses.

And then I saw the first established author jump ship, abandoning their publisher to go it alone. Others followed. Another pattern. Ebook sales had begun to overtake print. These authors asked questions that had already been whispering in my ear: Why earn twenty-five cents a book when you could be earning two dollars (or more)? Why relinquish creative control to a publisher? Why resign yourself to disappointing cover art? Between ebooks and print-on-demand, those questions grew in power.

But wait! I demanded. You people already have the audiences your publishers built for you. You’re cheating!

More pattern: Most first time authors handle all their own marketing. And many of these authors never make it past the first book, because of an outdated print-run model favored by the publishing industry. They never have the chance to develop the audience they may very well deserve.

It took time, but eventually I conceded that future technology had layered over the landscape on which I’d built my dreams. It had placed a new setting on an old story. It would call on me to bring to bear my old mythology of communications and events manager, project coordinator, and entrepreneur on a story that I had once thought would simply unfold before me, guided by hands greater than my own.

I guess I should have known better.

And I think I like it better this way.

Macalino '96 studied creative writing and philosophy at Pacific University. For all her upcoming readings and books you can reach her at and at

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