Fast forward a few years and the buzz words arrived, as did the love affair with race and white guilt and all the other virtual signaling mumbo jumbo rich white people never shut up about. That’s how rich white people stopped being cool. Someone convinced them that being rich and white is bad and now writers and artists are walking on eggshells. It’s okay to be rich and white, elite whites! Don’t feel guilty!Alex Perez
How the other publishers play. There’s no point in beating around the bush. The simple, obvious fact is, just like the public companies, government institutions, Hollywood, and media, the U.S. publishing industry has gone totally woke. It’s the reason why mainstream art of every discipline is, to use the unfortunately binary language of today, “super-boring.”
To put a finer point on it, the best art comes from unique, unapologetic perspectives. It comes from a place where the artist, musician, or writer doesn’t self-censor. From a place where the artist creates the thing for himself. Not for anybody else.
But to be fair, you probably shouldn’t take my word on the current state of the publishing industry, since I’m not actually a part of it. Instead, check out this interview with Alex Perez, a modern writer with all the right credentials (Iowa workshop, fancy New York agent, etc.). Alex (who was a college baseball player, and so has a special place in my heart) shares his view of the modern “BIPOC” formula for stories that the traditional publishing industry is so hot for these days. The basic idea is that storytelling must involve minority/disadvantaged/marginalized characters, and those characters must prevail.
This jives with my own brief experience working with a young, inexperienced editor on the first New Bayou Book. Her perspective was, minorities in the story (sorry, “POC” characters) must be smart, nobel, attractive (especially if overweight), and ultimately successful. It was an odd experience for me, because I automatically gravitate towards diverse characters. But it wasn’t enough to simply include (because it’s more interesting to me) a diversity of characters. For her, those characters must be good–because otherwise, the work would be failing to address the absolute and simply-understand framework of inequality in the world. It was a moral question. Our working relationship was terminated with–to use another naughty word–prejudice.
A long time ago I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I believed in changing the world. What I learned over the course of two years in Mongolia is that pretty much every person is unique and uniquely flawed. So it’s ultimately just not that interesting to concern yourself with the broad strokes of racial identity. Because the good shit happens at the individual level, and there’s no word on any form you can check that will predict that.
If you’re skeptical about my description of the current state of publishing, ask yourself this question: in your daily life–at your job, online, with strangers–do you change the way you talk so you don’t get in trouble? Do you ever start to say something and then change your mind because you’re not sure if it’s allowed anymore? When a regular guy makes this kind of calculation because he wants to keep his job, it’s totally understandable. But when an artist does this, he’s no longer making art. He’s disavowing his responsibility as an artist.
New Bayou Books doesn’t play like that. I’m here to tell you, New Bayou Books will never play such games. I’m interested in the real stuff. The unfiltered stuff. Stories where the characters drive the action, not the writer’s perception of what the public wants to hear. You’re not going to read about capitalized “Blacks” in a New Bayou Book. All races are equally lower case in New Bayou Books. You might even read or hear the dreaded “n-word” in a New Bayou Book. This is because 1) books delve into the minds of characters, and in the confines of their own minds, individuals (even made up ones) say all kinds of impolite shit, and 2) people of all colors still actually utter that word (and all kinds of other colorful/cruel/clever/course ones).
The guarantee. Which leads to the main and final point. If New Bayou Books wasn’t about sparking a literary revolution but was instead about making money, I would call this “the New Bayou Books guarantee.” Instead, I’ll just say it once more, with feeling. Through New Bayou Books, I’m committed to bringing interesting, unfiltered South Louisiana stories to the world. Warts and all. I’m not looking to offend readers or listeners just for the sake of controversy, but neither will I spend one minute worrying about how some hypothetical person might be hurt by the stories I publish. These New Bayou Books will be a niche flavor.
Think of it like black licorice. Most people don’t dig it, and that’s fine. Like 99% of the publishing industry waiting for you, you can always have some peppermint, or caramel, or the hard candy of your choice. All I got is licorice. That’s all I have to offer. But the thing is . . . a lot of people still like licorice.