First off, I would like to join many authors in expressing our sadness at the loss of Harper Lee. I can’t really contribute to much more than has already been said. Still, To Kill A Mockingbird was probably the first book I truly loved and inspired me to try writing on my own. By the time we actually had to study it for real in Sixth Grade or so, I’d already consumed it. It still gets a prime spot on my shelf.
On to happier things, its a beautiful day in Southern California and has been beautiful for a couple of weeks now. I celebrated by joining some friends at the Page Museum and LaBrea Tar Pits because giant mammoth bones are always a treat. This, in turn, led me to thinking about a few things in my own writing and motivations.
One of the first things I did upon graduating high school was subscribe to National Geographic Magazine. To say it has influenced my life would be a massive understatement. It taught me to appreciate journalism, photography, and science. It led me through a lot of adventures of my own, including meeting many of those photographer icons when I worked their 125th anniversary exhibit. I interviews Steve McCurry and he signed my copy of the Afghan Girl issue. It’s an honest treasure to me.
That love of exploration eventually led to The Sky Thief and a few other off-shoot projects I have running right now. The great thing about writing a novel is that you can do it for whatever purposes you want. In my case, I wanted people to read a book, get excited about these places, and then realize they could actually Google most of them to discover they are real legends. Bimini Road, Excalibur, Mt. Huangshan… all of them are places that can be looked out for your own amusement. I even incorporated some fun facts about tampons that I learned from Dr. Mireya Mayor’s book Pink Boots and a Machete (which I highly recommend if you want to read about real life explorers).
Unfortunately, last year the National Geographic Society sold its media holdings to News Corp., the company that holds the FOX media outlets under Rupert Murdoch. It’s hard to describe the sinking feeling I got when I read the news for the first time.
You see, the Society itself will remain a nonprofit, which is an extremely good organization that offers grants to fund these amazing bits of research around the world. However, the magazine itself was, for over 100 years, the face and public arm of the Society, acting as an official scientific journal for the organization. Under News Corp., that scientific journal will be considered for-profit, which is quite the opposite of what science journals are about.
It’s far too late to change the plan; it cleared late last year, if I remember right. But, it does bring attention, I think, to the struggles of print publications these days and how we relate to them as a society. When even one of the most recognized, global icons of print has to sell itself for a paltry $500M, there is reason for some disappointment. This is compounded by the fact that most people largely did not seem to know or care why such a thing would be important.
For the first time in ten years, I let my subscription lapse with no intent to renew. And, life will go on. However, it is my hope that people do start caring about these things again, because there are so many other wonderful print publications that do considerable good for both its readers and society as a whole. In a world where everyone seems to be polarized with this issue or that, it’s good to read facts about the stars, where we came from, or the great discoveries of our time.
Newspapers and magazines are just as important now as they have have been, as the power of words to spread positive values to people is still immensely powerful. I’ll continue to write about Ghaoithe’s little adventure, but it can only happen when it is informed by real life.