June 12, 2005

Let Us Now Praise Remarkable Bloggers - 1

#1: On The Doctor Is In

DURING THE YEARS I SPENT AS A MAGAZINE AND BOOK EDITOR, the most rewarding and exciting moments were when I'd open a manuscript by someone I'd never heard of and find a new and compelling voice. Over time I got so I'd know that voice was there within the first three paragraphs. I was never disappointed. Once I knew it, I would do everything in my power to see it was published and in this, I don't think I ever failed.

I knew it when I first read the manuscript for a short story called "The Ledge" by a young guy named Steve King. I knew it when I read an essay on the cell by a doctor

named Lewis Thomas. I got the same rush when I read a faint much Xeroxed copy of an essay with the strange title, "Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." It was always the same feeling of a rush combined with a chill. It was the best part of the job and it didn't come often, but I had more than my share. It's the only thing I miss about leaving the business.

What those years taught me about writers was two-fold.The first was that there are a lot of really bad writers out there and most of them do not get published, but a lot of them get published again and again for reasons that have little to do with their talent and a lot to do with the vast publishing suckupathon that grows more intense as traditional publishing dies.

The second, and more inspiring lesson, was that there were many more good and strong voices in America than the publishing industry was ever capable of publishing.
They were the voices that were out of the mainstream, held uncool viewpoints, had quirky interests, and whose inner landscapes didn't map to the white wine and cocktail New York Review of Books set. But they were the voices that spoke for the deeper and more intense America that I'd come from and never really left. If I'd had a weekly magazine of 500 pages and a publishing house with a schedule of 500 titles a year and 20 other editors who had a mission to publish only in the real American grain, I couldn't have published them all.

But then the Web appeared and we had, at last, a medium that could publish them all. And when the medium is ready the messages appear. I've been in love with and entranced by this medium since the mid-1980s when I first published an obscure book called Infomania to little note and fewer sales. That didn't bother me a bit since I knew that -- even in those days of green letters cascading over a black monitor -- the concept of reading text on your personal computer that you didn't have to type in yourself was a very big idea. And now, here we are, at the far end of all that and yet still at the very beginning.

I could go on, as I have gone on before, in stultifying detail about the nature of the blog and the deeper meanings of the same, but I'll spare you that -- for now. Instead, I'll just point out that this medium now brings you the editor's ultimate slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts. And like the unpublished writers of my editing career, you'll discover that most of them shouldn't bother writing at all, but that a lot of them would have left your life less rich if you had never read them.

Today's excellent example is The Doctor Is In , which is written by "Dr. Bob" in the Seattle-Tacoma area. I don't remember when or how I first came across this page. It was probably through following a link to this and a link to that, following a small excerpt that had caught my eye, until I happened upon the source of the excerpt.

That sort of thing happens about once a day since I try my best to stay off the beaten flat round of the supposed "A-List" blogs which seem, more and more, to run
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,

and seek out, as once I did in piles of manuscripts, the new, fresh and clearly American voice.

At any rate, I somehow stumbled across The Doctor Is In , and knew at once that the doctor was indeed in touch with a number of important things that rise and fall within the soul of America, but can never die. The page contains the essays, ever growing in strength and clarity, of Dr. Bob who describes himself as " a physician in the Pacific Northwest, the fortunate husband of his wife of thirty years and father of three remarkable children. Blessed by the grace of God with the great privilege of knowing His Son, and having experienced the limitless depths of His mercy, patience and forgiveness, he desires to serve Him and others well."

To the "professionals" of the New York/Los Angeles publishing suckupathon, that description contains at least five varieties of kryptonite: "fortunate husband," "father of three," "Blessed by the grace of God," "knowing His Son," "desires to serve Him and others well."

I know from bitter experience that the only way such a description would be read at a New York literary cocktail party would be in a sardonic tone to the amusement of the guests. Those would be the same guests who will return to their various publishing jobs and wonder why they don't seem to be able to sell their old whines in their new bottles like they used to. They'll have all sorts of graphs, explanations, and excuses. They'll be variations of the same from last year and the year before. They will all be as wrong now as they were then. But none of the whiners will really care because, over the decades, they've all taken greater care to surround themselves, above and below, with others just like themselves. Others who won't mind the wrongness of it all as long as the paychecks keep rolling in and the expense accounts are fat. It's a decadent industry of Dead Souls and quite self-sustaining. For now.

None of this would, I think, matter much to Dr. Bob. He will continue to practice medicine, and write, and otherwise follow the purpose of his life as given to him through grace. And he will have readers, such as myself, who find him -- and others like him -- not via the choices of the gatekeepers of New York, but because we are led to such writers in a way some will call serendipity, but others will call purpose. It little matters either way since in the end you'll find, in Dr. Bob and perhaps a hundred others, the new and deeper voices of a new American century in which something wonderful, as yet unclear but coming on stronger everyday, is stirring in what is rightly called The Heartland.

This week marks one year that Dr. Bob has been publishing his essays for anyone and everyone to read. He reflects in One Year Ago

Who could have imagined that a medium so poorly suited to reading -- reading a book on computer an unimaginable chore -- could prove so ideal for the comment, the essay, the quiet reflection, the fiery retort? Fascinating to see this medium evolve in ways never imagined -- fascinating even more so to watch society, culture, country, and world change as a result. It is not the medium which transforms the world, but the voices of those rarely heard before. "For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" -- sobering caution indeed from Him whose followers called "the Word made flesh," yet at once rich with excitement and possibility.
Of those "voices of those rarely heard," Dr. Bob's is among the best. There are others. Many others. I hope to introduce you to some you may not know in the weeks ahead, but for now, if you doubt what my ancient editor's sixth-sense tells me, you can cross check me yourself.

See The Downward Spiral, or The Children Whom Reason Scorns. or Thoughts on End of Life, or his surprising and masterful multipart work on the building of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, The Two Towers - Pt I.Instead of hopping about from insta-item to rant-o-matic, why not spend some time today with the doctor. You'll see exactly what I mean.

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Posted by Vanderleun at June 12, 2005 10:01 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Heh. Had pretty much the same thought when I first stumbled across your site in the New Blog Showcase.

And it's the same thing that draws me back - now and again - to the Microbe section of the Ecosystem, looking for that tiny glint of gold in the streambed of the blogosphere.

Posted by: Harvey at June 13, 2005 5:07 AM

You have found another treasure on the shore. Let's hope Dr. Bob gets a Gerard-a-lanche.

Posted by: John Ballard at June 13, 2005 5:47 AM

Like Harvey, I sensed the remarkable when I first came across one of your posts. It wasn't even on your blog, but it stood out like thunder. So, I became a fan and have followed your writing and every link you provide. I started enjoying Dr. Bob when you first (I think) mentioned him. Thank you once again.

Posted by: Barbara Spalding at June 13, 2005 10:18 AM

Yeah. I like this guy, too. It's a kind of blog sychronicity...or simply the wave action of the blogosphere that people seem to find the same person "all at once." Michael Yon is on this same wave, too.

Sometimes you run across one that is so good but you forget to bookmark it and when you attempt to return, you can't find it. I'm experiencing that now with the blog of a young soldier I happened upon a few weeks ago. Can't spell worth a damn, but that boy can put you in the middle of a street fight so fast you're pumping adrenaline...and I've lost him. I've hope for it, though, since the comments were talking about a book deal when it makes it out of there. If he does. All he needs is prayer for his very mortal life and a good editor.

There is *something* about fine writing that makes us want to pass it on. It's that grab-them-by-the-lapels-and-make-them-look feeling. Some of Flannery O'Connor's short stories have that effect; "Fine Country People" is one. Back in his brief prime, Garrison Keillor wrote some exceptional tales, as ingenious and deceptive as a Mobius strip.

That was then. I think the Doctor has more staying power, though. Like the Soldier, he'll no doubt be in book form one of these days. Because reading online is indeed a chore.

Posted by: dymphna at June 14, 2005 1:14 PM

I had read and linked to the Doctor's remarkable Dancing with Death and then I lost track of him. I am so pleased that you've "found" him, featured him and see him as the great writer he is.

And so are you. I look forward to all your posts, for me a special treat during the day

Posted by: JIlle at June 15, 2005 3:34 PM
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