All writers bring aspects of themselves and their own experiences to their work. It's been said many times that if you want to understand a writer, read their words. It's also a place where, to quote Richard Bach's Illusions, "You are also free to write lies, or nonsense, or to tear the pages." The author Eric Borgerson has done something else again - he has put social issues and political themes at the heart of his novel. Eric and I recently sat down in cyberspace together to talk about his work - both his writing and as a publisher.
Your novel, When the Eye Sees Itself, is rooted in the way that people can be classified and subdivided – and divided against one another; did you draw ‘inspiration’ from the way that popular opinion, especially online, seems to be drawn along political and ideological lines?
The novel is definitely informed by aspects of contemporary political culture in the (so-called) West and beyond, but the fictional society of the story is very different from our existing systems. The novel explores the concept of power gradients, whether between individuals, between the government and the public, between branches of the government, and between factions in society. However, those power disparities are decontextualized from the axes along which we customarily experience them, i.e., race, sex, gender, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, age or (for the most part) ability. Citizens in the country where the novel takes place are differentiated by temperament: Vulnerables, deemed to require protection, Aggressives, deemed to require confinement or restraint, and Citizens, who possess a balanced midrange of the temperamental poles.
I believe the reader will see parallels to social struggles apparent in the news today, as well as the distorting effect of commercial interests on social policy and the various roles religion can play in underlying struggles for power and access to official legitimacy.
So, yes, the story reflects ideological and political divides blaring at us through the Internet and media today, but the form is very different and, I hope, gets at a deeper archetypal struggle that is playing out in seemingly varied ways on the surface in our world.
Do you see your fiction writing as an extension of your activism, and have you included any direct experiences in your writing?
Interesting question. My own experience as an activist shows up in the struggles and characters of the story. The book also contains political critiques relevant to issues in our contemporary world. The story is an allegory, and as such, it provides a mirror that I hope contributes to productive discussions about issues plaguing our societies, and more deeply, our consciousness.
The novel does not contain direct experiences. It is neither biographical nor autobiographical, but is informed (sometimes very vividly) by my experiences as an activist, and my familiarity with multiple sides of the law.
It is a story about power, not just a struggle for power over, but a deeper struggle over the meaning of power itself.
It is also about interconnection: institutional, psychological, political, cultural, economic, conscious, even subatomic (The sci-fi dimension of the story – Quantum Field Resonance Imaging (QFRI) technology that allows people to touch minds – serves an important role in this aspect of the story.)
Power and interconnection are important themes in most forms of activism and political critique.
What are your ambitions for Polylyric Press and its Independent Publishing model?
The objective for Polylyric Press is to develop collaborative relationships with authors, and a fairer distribution of proceeds than under traditional publishing contracts.
Under a traditional publishing contract, if a publisher decided to proceed with a book, it would control the title, cover, and content. If initial marketing did not send the book viral, then the author would be responsible for marketing and, in exchange for his or her labors, sacrifice of control, and ongoing promotional efforts, would receive the prestige of the publisher’s label, and maybe a 10 percent cut of list price on the book (which, if you look at the prices of books on the shelves, does not amount to much!)Although the author might receive an advance on royalties, it would have to be paid back through the royalties as they came in, which might never exceed the advance.
Polylyric’s model is different. We will collaborate with authors to polish and develop their works to a high gloss for publication. This means a shared decision making process about cover, editorial decisions, content, and title, with the aim of both Polylyric and the author ending up happy with the final version of the book that goes to market. The author will, and in my opinion should, maintain control over his or her literary work, continue to own the copyright, and work with, not for, Polylyric. Polylyric would hold a license to publish and market the book, but the author would retain ownership of his or her copyright.
As for royalties, there would be a proportional split which would route a significant portion of the net proceeds to the author. Initially, the proportion would balance in favour of Polylyric until its investment is recouped, then the ratio would flip, with the author taking the larger portion and Polylyric taking the smaller as sales continued. This way, the author makes money from the beginning from all sales. If sales are robust and Polylyric recoups its investment, the author makes the lion’s share over the long haul. If the book did not sell well, the author would still make money from sales and Polylyric would eat whatever it did not recoup of its investment. This, to my mind, is a much fairer arrangement. I believe authors would come out way ahead compared to traditional agreements.
It bears noting, however, that there are several real world constraints on the size of the pie the publisher and author can divvy up, no matter how progressive their contract.
The cost of printing is one hard factor, though economy of scale can mitigate it. Another is the cost of distribution and order fulfillment. I think this may be where the publishing paradigm is about go through a fundamental shift.
As things stand now, in order to get books into bookstores, self publishers and independent publishers must go through existing distribution networks, so that their titles are made available to wholesalers and show up in the catalogs that booksellers consult to place orders. There are various ways to accomplish this (i.e. through Ingram, Baker and Taylor, or various distribution companies that access their networks) but they cost a significant percentage of sales, which limits a progressive publisher's leeway. The gospel is that there is no other way, but I think it is worth considering whether there is a path beyond this process. Circumnavigating conventional distribution would be revolutionary, but much in our world is in transition, and perhaps this sacrosanct assumption is in need of revision.
This one is mostly for me! As someone who spent a little time in New York and Oakland / Berkeley, a long time ago, I wondered if you see differences between the West Coast writer community and that of the East Coast?
I don’t have a strong opinion on that. My interface with the literary world is primarily through authors and their work via the constant-flux digital nexus. As with the world of publishing, I think the world of writing is getting both larger and smaller at speeds too fast to perceive. I think we are converging on a global artistic community, even as the political world still clings to armed boundaries.
Are you currently open to submissions and if so, which genres / styles are you particularly interested in?
Polylyric is definitely interested in submissions. Our mission statement sets forth the broad outlines of what we will accept. (https://polylyric.com/mission.html.) We welcome both fiction and non-fiction from diverse perspectives, provided they do not negate the worth of any individual or group. Politically charged material is welcome, though not attack pieces or screeds. Our goal is to deepen the dialog, not the rifts. As the mission statement notes: “We are interested in works designed to awaken and inspire, rather than mollify and sedate.” If you’ve got something that demonstrates courage and creative innovation, please consider contacting us at email@example.com.
How, in your view, do writers balance up the needs of creativity with the commercial demands of writing and publishing (marketing, sales, social media, etc.)?
I’m not sure we do! I have found the hard way that book promotion is very difficult work. It can swallow you up, and it takes discipline not to leap into the maw. I think one must place deliberate limits in order to strive for balance. A commitment to a limited number of hours per week for promotion, social media, etc., a commitment to sacred time set aside for writing, all in the context of a commitment to life balance: between work and play, thought and stillness, time with others and solitude, exercise and rest, and so forth. It’s all about timing, balance and rhythm in life, and it is a lifelong practice, not a static achievement.
Was there any book that gave you a lightbulb moment and make you think ‘I could do this’?
Actually, it was an interview I read with the great Michael Cunningham wherein he said, in essence, that the most important thing he learned about writing was that writing happens by writing. I sat down that night and started writing my novel and discovered there is magic in the process that no amount of thinking could achieve.
What are you working on next?
I have begun work on another novel. The only thing I will tell you about it is that it is set in the real world and that it involves a modern iteration of an ancient tale. I’m very excited about it. Your questions have reminded me to keep carving out time to write it!
More about When the Eye Sees Itself:
When the Eye Sees Itself recently was awarded Best Book in Science Fiction at the 2018 Pinnacle Book Awards.
It also landed Winner in Science Fiction at the 2018 Independent Press Award.
Despite having a sci-fi dimension, When the Eye Sees Itself also was awarded first runner up in general fiction at the 2018 Los Angeles Book Festival. It was submitted in that category because it is a broad piece, and because the ubiquity of technology in our contemporary lives may be eroding the distinction between (well-written) sci-fi and literary fiction. Post-Cyberpunk may be the closest genre for this book, but it is a legal and political epic, a sci-fi thriller, and a sort of hard-knocks spiritual allegory.
A recent reviewer said this: "[A]n intricately woven narrative dipping its toes in more than one genre ... interesting, unique and thought-provoking ... [T]ouches on subjects not explored in anything I’ve met in writing before. [A] nail-biting read." -Siren and Soldier Book Reviews.
You can read more about When the Eye Sees Itself here: http://polylyric.com/titles.html.
The Goodreads page for When the Eye Sees Itself can be found here: . Facebook for Polylyric Press is here: . The Polylyric Press website is here: https://polylyric.com.
Links to all vendors carrying When the Eye Sees Itselfcan be found on the Polylyric Press store page, here: https://polylyric.com/store.html. The book is also available through Amazon (softcover and Kindle) (), Barnes and Noble (), Kobo (), and iTunes/iBooks ().
An offset print run is in the chute, and distribution options are under exploration.