The Work

Beams Not Falling

“Flitcraft adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

The story of Flitcraft is probably the strangest interlude in The Maltese Falcon (a book that has some very strange interludes, to be sure). It’s a tale within a tale – Sam Spade has a moment alone with Brigid O’Shaughnessy and he tells her what amounts to a parable about an old case of his.

Essentially, Flitcraft was a very ordinary man living a very ordinary life, who one day just up and disappeared, “like a fist when you open your hand”. Flitcraft’s wife hired Sam to track him down. When he finally found Flitcraft, he found a man who was…a very ordinary man living a very ordinary life – a virtual duplicate of the life he had left behind. Sam asked him, “Why did you do that? Why did you leave everything you have, and then recreate it somewhere else?”

And Flitcraft told Sam about how he was walking past a construction site the morning of his disappearance. A girder beam fell from the site and nearly killed him – missed him by an inch. This close brush with death terrified him, and he bolted. Gradually, it dawned on Flitcraft that this was an isolated, bizarre incident and he resumed his ordinary life. By fleeing, he adjusted himself to the falling of beams, to the fact that life very well could end at any moment. But beams can’t fall forever from the sky – we are not in turmoil all the time. When he’d reached emotional equilibrium, he found himself adjusting to the beams not falling. To the everyday.

We generally return to a state of beams not falling. And as we do this, we are (like Flitcraft) in a different place than we were initially. The falling of beams causes movement, causes adjustment – and then things begin to seek their own levels.

I’m thinking about ebook pricing.

4 thoughts on “Beams Not Falling

  1. Lovely post. You and @BrianOLeary are raising the bar (not beams!). Poesy aside, is it the downward-racing pricing that we should be looking out for? I would have thought quality would protect prices from falling too low, but maybe not. Price has also varied so much by genre with print and I guess I assumed it would with eBooks as well.

    1. Thank you! I don’t know that there’s anything to look out for, I guess is what I’m saying. There was $9.99 pricing. That beam fell, and everybody flipped out – their adjustment was agency pricing. Now the jettisoning of agency pricing is the falling beam. And everyone will adjust, just as they did when the paperback came on the scene – which became normal over time. It has always been thus; it will ever be thus. The trick is to keep one’s eye on the long game – why are we publishing? If the human urge to shout something meaningful and/or fun from the rooftops remains with us, we will all be okay.

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