Some thoughts triggered by the Nightshade Books edition of the collected letters/correspondence between H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei, and something aside from HPL’s questionable attitudes for the moment. Rather, this is about something we share as writers. Now, it’s true that modern sf/f/mystery writers sometimes lament the passing of the old “glory days” of the pulps. We imagine a sort of golden age when people read instead of playing video games or zoning in front of the television, and there were literally hundreds of potential markets. We conjure by those ancient tomes: Weird Tales, Argosy, Amazing Stories, Black Cat, et many a cetera. While the pay wasn’t great except in the slicks, a person with a good work ethic could make a decent living writing short stories and novel serials and little else. And, I admit it, I’ve been guilty of looking backward with rose-tinted glasses myself, even though I know making that living required soul-crushing hackdom and turning out product by the ream. It’s nostalgia for a time I never knew and thus tends to ignore all the horrific truths of living in that time; it’s not supposed to be accurate.
Still, sometimes a little reality is a good thing, and while reading these letters now the thing that strikes me most–at least so far as it concerns the writing life–is how little short story publishing has really changed since 1927. Back then they were wondering why the editor bought this story instead of that one, bemoaning the absence of editorial judgment, bitching about late payments and the lack of good markets, and wondering if that last rejected story really did get all the way to the editor or was bounced by some nameless and clueless summer intern. Heck, I see the same conversation on writers forums every week. If anything is different it’s the ease and ubiquity of self-publishing, and the fact that doing it yourself sometimes even makes sense. Not always, no, but sometimes. Yet back then there were likewise arguments for it, but it was a lot harder to do and a great deal more expensive. So in that way, perhaps, things really have changed. Everything else? Not so much.