Category Archives: Opinion

Another Novel-Is-Dead Alarmist Needs Attention So … Here, Here’s Some Attention, You Precious Lil’ Guy, You …

This former blowhard is about to blowed up.

Pre-post reading: This time, like, for real-for real, Will Self says the novel is really, actually, totally, verifiably dead, like for real.  Big Time.  So he says here in The Guardian.

Blastgun’s Unintelligible yet Still Official Response:  Respectable American fiction has always been disgraceful and lacking in “seriousness” since Melville wrote an adventure tale that went on a little too long and Melville became a little too obsessed with the whaling industry. Poor ol’ Billy Boy Self is yet another in the long line of high-cultured folk who see so clearly that things just ain’t the way they used to be. I like how he references how literature (and TRUE literary taste) seemed only to last as long as he himself was in his intellectual and creative prime (from about the early 80s to the late 90s … no accident his first novel, published in the early ’90s, falls safely within the parameters he set).

Cultural blowhards so want to be the last of a dying breed, and to what end? To perhaps inflate their already inflated egos so they burst like a sonic boom in the stratosphere of self-importance? While every witness to this “glorious event” will simply scratch their heads and wonder why such a smart dude is making such a big thing out of his fizzling firecracker of a life (as all lives are).

EVERYBODY DUCK! THIS THING IS ABOUT TO GO … *pop* …

It’s like once these fellas see their own relevance decline, they decide that, no, it’s not that THEY’VE lost a step, it’s that the entire cultural universe has.

This stamp depicts a Danish farmer, his wife, and a horse worshipping the Earthworm God as it rises on Harvest's Eve to devour a first born and use its blood to appease Mother Earth and her vicious winters.
This stamp depicts a Danish farmer, his wife, and a horse worshipping the Earthworm God as it rises on Harvest’s Eve to devour all but the First Born’s head, which it will offer Mother Earth so She does not afflict All Lands with pestilence and a winter without end.

Jimminy Christmas.

They gotta remind themselves that earthworms have survived just as long as we have on this planet … probably at times doing a better job of it since I don’t think they do things like sacrifice each other to Earthworm God or go blowed themselves up to destroy all nearby earthworms who are wrongly worshipping Earthworm God.

Narrative in its many forms these days (which include novels AND Breaking Bad) will live long after these tragic old hands waste away, while they’ll be left to wonder why nobody is trying to write another Finnegan’s Wake — oh, wait, I mean another Cock and Bull.

It certainly doesn’t matter because this novel-is-dead argument doesn’t matter either.  It never has. Who cares beyond the occasional dude trying to drum up a little attention for himself?

( … and here Blastgun is drumming up attention around the attention-drummer-uppers … meta-self-involvement, hey! … )

I hope this piece is satire and I’m too dumb to understand such high-minded tomfoolery.

But high-mindedness gives me the shits, as does tomfoolery.

In the end, I just feel bad for this guy’s “canary” … the one with the guitar who doesn’t read smart books and laments, as a kid mind you, that all good music has already been made. Still, there is hope. With such a stifling dink for a father, this kid will probably grow up to be a crazy-awesome rock star … which, if you ask me, is better than a novelist any day.

Trying to Figure Out Why Literary Culture Is So Hard to Like and Why the Pulp-Revival Movement Is More Important Than Even We Give Ourselves Credit For

Creation_of_jimbo

 

Something happened around 2010.

Up until then I was this solidly focused literary short story writer who had high ideals and a handful of notable publications.  With naivety I mistook for ambition, I planned to continue developing as an unknown writer while fully expecting to become a well-respected writer among the few writers who knew who I was and were aware of some of the stories I put out.

You know, a writer’s writer.  I think a lot of young writers have this same aspiration a few years out after their MFA.  I say young writer knowing full well that at 32 I’m still young as hell in this pursuit.  Fourteen years pursuing writing, and I still have yet to figure out who I’m supposed to be on the page, but searching is the whole point, isn’t it?

I was so engrossed with THE IDEA OF THE SELF (total egotism) that I’d always reference only certain stories.  Like, I’d say check out Stone the Builders Refused, which was a well-respected story.  Or, I’d say take at look at The Rivermutts of Pig’s Eye, which, again, was a well-respected story.  And there were a few others, many of which comprise a short story collection I’ve been working on for well over ten years.

Well respected, mind you, is not the same thing as widely read.  The stories might hit certain notes that people feel like they should like, even if they don’t.  It might be fashionable to say you like a thing when, in fact, it may be just a very contrived and clever trick by the writer, while you, as a reader, may be just caught up among certain company that celebrates some of these tricks.

In fact, I had a story hit some success when Bellwether was put out by BEST AMERICAN NONREQUIRED READING in 2012.

Oh, boy, I thought.  This is the shit.

Agents will be calling me any day now.

Like, my cell phone should be ringing and my inbox should be flooded with either fan mail or queries from agencies.

Eggers and I are totally going to hang.

If BELLWETHER ever comes out as a chapbook, I'm demanding this be its cover.
If BELLWETHER ever comes out as a chapbook, I’m demanding this be its cover.

There are going to be bloggers who wonder, “Who is this mysterious man of mystery who writes such brilliant stories about SHEEP and INCEST from the perspective of such an angry kid from the country?  We NEED this guy.  We NEED more sheep-incest-angry-country-boy stories, like, friggin’ pronto.”

There actually were a few blog posts here and here, and PW had some nice things to say here.

And they were really great posts, I thought.  The story hit the right chord in the minds of these readers, and they took the time to write an actual response.

Wow.  Amazing.  This never happened before.  All you really want.

Then again, Bellwether was written in 2009.  Between 2009 and 2011 it was rejected upwards of 30 times, and if it weren’t for Steve McPherson, who was the assistant fiction editor at Water~Stone Review at the time who pulled it from the slush, it probably would never’ve seen the light of day.

Bellwether hit a wider audience in 2012 with the BANRR selection, but by then I had already changed quite a bit as a writer … and as a person.  I wasn’t the dude I was when I wrote my POPULAR STORY–which, turns out, may not even be that popular.  I don’t know sales figures for BANRR, but I don’t think anthologies in general sell huge numbers.  I did get my 500 dollar check–my biggest pay day ever as writer by exactly 500 dollars … even though I had to hound Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to get them to fulfill the contractual agreement.

It was deflating, to say the least.  My ego had burst–even though I tell myself daily and in my best Buddha voice that my ego is non-existent.

Regardless, my trajectory of becoming this well-respected writer’s writer began to feel more like this pursuit of trying to continue to be the writer I was or, at best, trying to be E. Annie Proulx.  I wasn’t evolving naturally into the writer I was to become, or, right now, am in the process of becoming.

Which flew in the face of the writing guidance I got from my MFA program and all my patient and brilliant writing teachers.  I attribute most of this to my own troubles with anxiety that venture toward neuroses whenever I really think about who I should be as a writer.

I was (am) young and dumb—despite the occasional perceived maturity of some of my work.

Of course, George Saunders puts it best because he puts everything best.  See here:

“You go up the mountain of your idol, but when you get to the top, you realize they’re already there, and that mountain is never going to belong to you. So, you go do your own thing and it’s more of a shit-pile than a mountain at first, but it’s yours. It’s your shit pile. And that’s not nothing.”

Kid-in-Country-Cover_textured
Does it get any more self-involved and pretentious than designing your own book cover for a short story collection that will not sell?

I simply wrote tons of SAD BOY IN THE COUNTRY stories trying to be a writer I wasn’t.  The problem was: I was trying to be a writer … when it’s not a good idea to try to be anything (take that, every career counselor I never went to!)

I mean, the ancient Chinese know this.

I wrote so many SAD BOY stories, I started designing and putting together a collection of them.

They all hit the same notes.  They hit the same chords.  Four or five of them were picked up for publication and I was just like, “Goddamn, am I becoming this SAD BOY IN THE COUNTRY writer?”

Shit.  That’s a rut, man.  It’s a drag.

And each piece was suffocating under the weight of its own naive earnestness.  I read these stories now, and I feel like I can’t breathe.  Each piece carries the weight of a young, clueless writer who does not know the way forward in his creative endeavor so he pretends by rehashing the few little tricks that seemed to work (I’m not much further beyond this, btw.  I’m just more aware of it).  The process looked something like this:

1. Write from first person.  Make the kid pissed.

2. Make the story quasi-historical … or, at the very least, in a place where time is indeterminate.  It could be now or 150 years ago.  Doesn’t matter.  The point is to create a false sense of timelessness, which the reader might take for permanence, which the reader might take for UNSHAKEABLE AND TIME-WORN TRUTH.

3. Use your own misunderstandings and inaccurate memories of Catholic sermons to inject biblical language into the piece as to artificially pull more meaning, where there very quite possibly isn’t any meaning at all (see point 2).  Essentially, using words from the bible taps into your reader’s own experiences and their own inflated ideas of what these words actually mean.  It’s a short cut.  It’s a trick.  You point the reader in a direction and he or she fills in the gaps.  It’s a magician making a coin disappear.  Smoke and mirrors … not really talent.

4. Then do it again, again, again, again, and again because it seems to work.

5. Then look at all these stories and wonder what in the living hell happened and how in the living hell I ended up writing the same story over and over again to the point where I essentially stopped developing completely.

6. Then, I did stop completely.  I stopped writing for quite some time.

Ogre, Ogre
Xanth was the place the bullies couldn’t find me.

Because I never set out to be the Sad-Boy-in-the-Country writer.  I set out to be the next Piers Anthony (I’m not the only one).  I wanted to write fantasy and adventure, and I still do want to write these things, but when you end up among other struggling young writers who are so earnest, who so want to be taken seriously, there’s this tendency to err toward what we in the biz call “Literary Fiction.”

Literary fiction is celebrated.  Literary fiction is constantly referenced.  Literary fiction is poorly understood.

You get definitions like, “Well, it’s like more focused on character than on plot.”

“It’s more inward looking than outward.”

“It’s about the human condition.”

You get acolytes who are said to definitely embody what literary fiction is: “Margaret Atwood is for sure, for sure.  She writes counter-factual inward-looking stories about humanity.”

On the flip, you get acolytes of who are said to definitely NOT embody literary fiction: “Terry Pratchett is a fine prose stylist, but ultimately a science fiction writer.”

An Atwood fan caught in the wild.
An Atwood fan caught in the wild.

See the difference there?  One is celebratory.  One is dismissive.

The dismissiveness chaps my hide.  Drives me nuts, really.  And it’s why, for better or worse, I tend to avoid gatherings in which I suspect there are going to be more literary leanings than otherwise.

And I used to be one of these guys who would dismiss writers who weren’t aspiring toward What Is Literary … which is in and of itself so, so, so dumb because nobody knows what literary is.  The Paris Review isn’t defining it.  Youthful, hip literary blogs like HTML Giant aren’t defining it either.

Nobody can define it.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that What Is Literary exists only in the hearts and minds of 25 year olds who believe only they, themselves (and THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE) know their own genius.

There’s no freedom there.  There’s no wide open space to create.  To be “literary” is to limit your own possibilities for your greatest artistic achievements.

Shut these possibilities down and …

I am Gregor.  Hear me roar!
I am Gregor. Hear me roar!

Gregor Samsa would have never woken as a cockroach.

Billy Pilgrim would have never become unstuck in time.

Huck Finn would have never loved a slave.

Breaking free of the nebulous definition and hardwired pretension of the literary crowd is almost this rebellious and necessary moment.  It’s a time where you realize that you can, in fact, write what you want about the things you want because you no longer care whether you’re going to be taken seriously, whether accolades await you some indeterminate time in the future, whether you have goddamn “colleagues” or not, whether you’re holding your glass of port just so, and so on and so forth.

I had to do something drastic to get out of my literary trench, dug deeper every time I wrote another SAD BOY IN THE COUNTRY story.  First I wrote a dime novel where super strength and facts of history were warped.  Then I created the Ficstructor, a persona that I developed to help me deconstruct (with a goddamn wrecking ball) what I thought writing was supposed to mean to me as I developed aimlessly and, in many ways, this persona helped expunge this intense anger I had bottled up about what should be happening in my writing career.  Then I unapologetically and unabashedly wrote a story that finally felt like I was hitting some kind of stride, in some kind of vein that felt more me.  It just happened to be retched out into what is commonly stigmatized as the gutter swill of the writing world.  I wrote Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Fan Fiction, but there’s more natural earnestness in that than any contrived, suffocating pretension I injected into my “literary” short stories.  Then, lastly, I resurrected the superhero/monster novel MokuMan, which began as a comic book I dreamt up with my creative partner in all things awesome, Christopher Coffey, who is an expert in all things multi-paneled and a ridiculously talented illustrator (who also does book covers).

Jason Stuart is one of the defining writers of the neo-pulp movement.
Jason Stuart is one of the defining writers of the pulp-revival movement.

None of this happened in a vacuum.  I had help along the way.  Namely, Jason Stuart from Burnt Bridge plucked me out of this shrinking creative world I had created for myself and showed me that there was this other group, an outsider group, a band of misfit writers who have been dealing with this same shit for years.

Editor for the East Bay Review Jeff Chon was also this huge life line.  At the time he was the fiction editor over at MartianLit and he was the first (of two) fans of the Ficstructor.  He also was the first guy to identify that whatever I was doing with that crazy project was something that was fresh, new–less stifling than the other works I was writing.

Poet Ox Owens–a writer people WILL know–was (is) the most fearless editor I ever worked with.  Honest and ready to tell me exactly what he thought … and what he thought was that whatever I was doing with the COUNTRY and the SADNESS and the KID, all needed to go.  He was also the one who kept me from swerving too far the other way, convincing me that my post-apocolyptic cannibal pirate story, told in a vernacular unique to these pirates, might just not be working, like, really, at all.

And nothing felt more freeing than to see that there were all these other writers who, too, had Cheever force-fed to them and said, “I get it. I read it. But let’s do this now.”

And to do so, so unapologetically.

To me Pulp-Revivalism is a movement.  To me this is a way American fiction is moving forward without getting bogged down in discussions about whether a work of fiction is more NYC or MFA … two areas that we writers and readers so often categorize folks, even though the walls that define an MFA writer are vapor and the ceiling that keeps the NYC writer down is vast open space.   Our ideas of what defines a particular kind of fiction are contrived to the point of being complete nonsense.

And apparently we, who pay no mind to boundary, are the outlaws and barbarians, and I say that with all affection.

I think Lev Grossman best summed up this apprehension to go outside the main literary scene when he said to Kurt Andersen on Studio 360, “I think I had to come out to myself as a fantasy writer at the age of 35.  There was a very long nerving myself up period to the point where I could sit down a write a sentence about a young man who is casting a magic spell.  The first time you write that sentence it’s a transformative moment and it is not unpainful. … It’s this wonderful quasi-Oedipal rebellion.  You feel like you’re breaking rules.  I don’t think I’d’ve broken a single rule in my life as a writer up until that moment.  It was my punk moment.”

Three years ago Ryan Britt, writing for Tor, and as a response to Grossman’s interview explored this idea of genre as being somewhat punk.  Britt said, “Perhaps a real punk wouldn’t call themselves a punk, but the notion of protesting an institutionalized notion of art is likely a result of some amount of stigma or shame associated with the (punk) choice.”

Then the issue seemed to die away–or I wasn’t paying enough attention to it–but I’m telling you folks now: PAY ATTENTION TO THIS if you aren’t already.  Genre, and by extension neo-pulp, is right now a defining movement.  The revitalization was started by the zombie fictions, but now its tentacles have grown to touch every sub-genre out there and more and more talented people are pursuing it without shame.

As we always should have been.  There’s no better example of this than my buddy David Oppegaard who is this amazingly talented writer who’s been working in slip-genre and dark fantasy since I met him.  And he’s a writer’s writer.  He knew who he was from Day 1, and it’s just this sort of clarity that allows a guy like him to sit at his desk and create something as great as AND THE HILLS OPENED UP, and the greater industry at large has blessed it, essentially shouting, “WHY ISN’T THERE MORE OF THIS?”

And there is plenty else out there from the micro- and small-presses, and a lot of us know these writers on a first name basis, but we’re fighting this uphill battle.

Buy this book.  Then go to BlastedHeath.com and thank them for putting out the follow-up ONCE A WARRIOR
Buy this book. Then go to BlastedHeath.com and thank them for putting out the follow-up ONCE A WARRIOR.

In fact, just this morning Godfather of all things Rural Crime in the Upper Midwest and a writer who I see as doing everything right, Anthony Neil Smith, put his experience with the stigmatization of crime fiction this way:

It’s like this: I came up through the “literary” grad school ranks, but in the end, I used everything I learned to write crime fiction *with* the encouragement of my major prof. And now that I’m teaching writing to undergrads, fifteen years later, after all the snobs and overly-self-important authors and big egos and fake drama and AWPs and haughty literary types, my goal is to send out joyful students to grad programs, prepared to fight back the snobs and not get drawn into the bullshit. I want them to make the experience their own. I want them to come out the other side of grad school with a whole new set of tools, a lot of experience, and some good stories about all the crap they put up with to tell their students at their new tenure-track jobs.

In the end, they call us outlaws.  So let us be outlaws.  They call us barbarians.  So let us be barbarians.

Because this idea of leaning genre, all the while unabashedly taking the skills we learned in MFA school and applying them to the types of fiction we love–the kind with swiftly plotted arcs, the kind with plasma blasters, the kind where a dude with a mohawk riding Godzilla can cast a spell while a serial killer slashes the guts of what is termed “acceptable” or “high-minded” fiction–allows us to say fuck-all to perfection.

And that is what is most freeing.  Giving yourself the permission to grime up the 19th century Whitman-esque ideals of perfection not only pushes the boundaries of American fiction forward, but it honors writers like Bukowski who saw Whitman’s portrait of God, and then added a few grimace lines, changing the expression of His face into one that is perplexed and terrified, one that is suffering from an unexpected bout of the beer shits.

Because perfection in literary endeavor is now, more than ever, a celebration of the impurity intrinsic to all things created by Man, art being no exception.   True inspiring fiction–if it’s at all about the human condition–if it’s at all about the grit and grime that comprises human life on this planet–if it at all includes the conflict between the high-minded spirit and the primal need for a blood bath–looks a great deal like the kind of fiction you hide under your mattress when company comes over.

A Reprisal of the Amazon and Lightning Source Nitty Gritty, Including a Giant-Friggin’ Elephant, a Body-Pierced Book Reader, a Cinnamon-Smelling Bookseller, with a special appearance by George Saunders

It’s dumb AND STUPID for a bourgeoning micro-press to attack its two lines to an outside book-buying market where real LIVE & EXISTing people are–

But, holy shit.

Here’s the nitty gritty in a deceptively unclear way as to (hopefully) avoid the big boys turnbuckling this struggling micro-press even before it gets a single book into the marketplace.

So …

There’s CreateSpace and there’s Lightning Source.  Both have pros and cons.

CreateSpace is super easy to use, allows you to do multiple revisions at no cost to the publisher, and puts it out on this thing called Amazon, which is the giant elephant in the room that’s completely not invisible, growing in size, knocking the hors d’oeuvres off the tea towels, and making everybody at the this party suffocate on their own exasperation so–

EVERYBODY SUCK IN THEM GUTS …

Like …

Friggin’ now.

Because this elephant is here and it’s everybody’s elephant so we’re all like, “OK, boy, calm down.  Don’t goddamn move, goddamnit.  Stay still.  OK?  OK?  That’ll do … I can sorta get my arm between your flank and this wall here to sip my cognac (BEER MORE LIKE, but I’m erring toward sophistication as a life goal).”

Thing with CreateSpace is we can’t get our books with a distributor that gets our books where we really want them to go.  (I said this before, here, but I think I’ll say it again and again, because this shit’s important.  Other dudes are saying it, too.)

WE WANT THEM in the bookstores.  The cool ones, you know.  Where they have knowledgeable staff who recommend the really good books that aren’t based on any algorithm in the electric heavens, but, like, based on a dude’s past experience with books, book lovers, and all the tragedy and humiliation that human life affords.

Librarian
Super cool librarian who moonlights as a bookstore owner and smells like cinnamon candles and fights back the ABYSS with timely and thoughtful book recommendations.

The latter being the most important thing for a solid book recommendation because that’s the thing the computers can’t compute.

Humiliation and shame.

They’re super informative.

For example, I would have never stumbled on Saunders had I not stared down that abyss from time to time.

“Hey, Emptiness!  Gimme a book.  A good one.”

And the old lady with the funny glasses who smells like cinnamon candles and looks nothing like the VOID says, “If you like Saunders, you ever try Isaac Babel?”

To which, you say, “No, goddamnit!  But I’m gonna read it now.”

And she smiles sweetly.

And you say, “You know, gee whiz lady, you look a lot like this Internet article.”

OK, OK, OK.  I didn’t stumble on Saunders.  I ignored the living shit out of the guy since about 2003 when my writer friends first started telling me he was the shitz.  Then again in 2004, and 2005, and 2006, and so on, until about exactly 2013 (sometime last April) when I started telling everybody:

“Hey, Everybody! Have you read this guy?  He, like, writes these really cool stories.  I can’t explain them, but there’s this one book where the characters are shapes out of Sesame Street (or something) and they’re aliens and it’s a parable for something (or something) and it’s kind of amazing, but since I have absolutely no recall for specific detail due to my emotionally-based memory, I really can’t tell you much more than that, but maybe you should read it, like, someday (or something), or maybe right now.”

250px-Reign_of_Phil_cover
Buy this book.

So buy it.

So that’s the CreateSpace side.  It works for the indie publisher but it doesn’t work for the indie bookstore.

All’s not lost, young one, for there’s this other place.

Lightning Source …

Who can do all the things that CreateSpace can do, only with a clunkier user-interface and with an additional cost–roughly 75 bucks per initial file upload and 40 bucks for any other thereafter–which means if you have revisions, you’re gonna pay.

Like, about, exactly, 40 bucks.  Every time.  For every little change.  Oh, you forgot to swap the ISBN on the copyright page?  Damn, dude.  40 bucks.  Oh!  Your cover don’t got a bleed boy!  It only needs to be a quarter inch, but that quarter inch costs, yup, forty big ones, Boss!

What the?

Yeah.  CreateSpace doesn’t do that, but like I said above–

Elephants do whatever they want.
Elephants do whatever they want.

GIANT ELEPHANTS DO WHAT THEY WANT.

So we suck in them guts and piss off the bookstores and the really independent book readers with the piercings and the mean looks.

Who are all like, YOU’RE  JUST THE MAN, man.

Shit.

She’s totally right, and now that you showed up, Mean-Looking Book-Reader, I’ll have a grande drip dark roast, by the by.

But, dude, shit, man, hell … She IS totally right, because it sucks being in this spot.  It ain’t a good one, but we’re all like:

If we go with the Lightning Source, it costs us money we don’t have, and, further, ON TOP OF THIS, we’re pursuing a thing that essentially is guaranteed to be unsustainable in the long run or net any real profit because, like, nobody does.  It says so on the Internet here, here, and here.  See?  I told you.  It’s a losing game.

And the Internet doesn’t lie.

But we do this for the love because we believe in creativity and we believe the more stories that are out there the better.  We believe story is the thing, the only thing.  And this thing, the story, makes people better and when people are better people, they’re better able to see a world the way it could be or should be or never was or never will be, and this is pretty much the shitz.  George-Saunders-level the shitz.

Still, the up front costs kill us.

And taking into account the no profitability side to this whole endeavor … We’re sort of, almost, exactly-totally dead.

Nearly completely.

Nearly every goddamn time.

Because we’ve already been squashed by the giant goddamn elephant. (see above)

Like, I can’t even flex my hand.

Crushed friggin’ bone, dude.

Look at this.  It look purply green to you?

But deadness and no chance for profitability are THE TWO THINGS that make great art.

So we carry on with our broken hands and dumb ideas and high ideals.

But here’s the other rub with Lightning Source, which is connected to Ingram Distribution, which is THE THING that gets our books in the bookstores we love and THE THING that CreateSpace does not do well–or, for that matter, really at all.

Going with Lightning Source risks that our books will go unlisted or some variation thereof on Amazon.  A lot of times it says they’re out of stock or in limited stock.  Just look at all these awesome books that are listed as such, but are completely and verifiably available if you just order them now: here, here, here, here, and here.

Yup, those are Lightning Source books, put out by publishers trying to do the right thing, but they are sandwiched between forces they cannot control.

On the other hand, the small press still needs Amazon because it accounts for about 50% of sales (including both ebook & print), but at the same time Amazon (or somebody–Lightning Source, maybe?) is manipulating (or sabotaging?) the sales pages for these small publishers, the very same small publishers trying to do the right thing by going indie for their indie-reading public at the potential risk of losing half their digital market over at Amazon.

That’s a huge risk for a small time publisher, especially one just trying to make ends meet, and most especially for the small time publisher whose livelihood depends on it.  The excellent author and up-and-coming publisher at Broken River Books, J David Osborne, said so much here.

It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing, and I hope what’s happening does not portend the end of this DIY publishing renaissance that is happening right now in every basement office and bedroom printing house across the globe.

So, the deal is, we’re kinda forced to drape our arms over the Amazon trunk and dangle from its tail as it blazes a path through the publishing landscape because this is one of the few, if only, ways that our books–our stories–will get a chance to make it to the general reading public.

I know, I know.  You are right.  I'm not arguing with you.
I know, I know. You are right. I’m not arguing with you.

But this also means we gotta say, “Hey, Pierced Book Reader.  I’m sorry, man, but you’re totally right.  I am working with the MAN, but this means our books are out in the world for you and anybody else to enjoy.”

And then we gotta go to the nice book store lady and say the same thing, who surely replies, “Oh, so I see.  You’re going to listen to THAT thing.”

Meaning the Internet.

Or Amazon.

But really meaning we’ve betrayed her and everything she stands for.

Yet she still smells like cinnamon candles.

And you still remember how she helped you stare down the abyss.

With a brave face.

And you’re like,

I just wanted to put a story out there so people could read it.  What’s wrong with that?

And then the elephant steps on your foot, blood and bone squirting out the sides.

A metatarsal lands in RANDOM HOUSE’s martini, and this guy pops it open like a cocktail umbrella to stir his drink.

And you’re just like, “Didn’t know my toe bones could do that.”

Post-Nitty Gritty Analysis:  CreateSpace allows micro press publishers to get books into a marketplace while alienating independent-minded booksellers and book buyers.  Lightning Source allows micro-press publishers to get books into a marketplace without alienating independent-minded booksellers or book buyers, but it also, more or less, closes off the digital marketplace through which many of the book buying public buys books.  This is not a good thing for micro-presses or creative publishing freedom, which micro-presses are uniquely suited for.

A Day Will Come When Brother Genre Walks Arm in Arm with Sister Literature

Asimov-EqualityThat day has not come.

However, novelist Juliet McKenna fights the good fight over at The Guardian.

“It’s amusing to watch the contortions of literary critics faced with talented writers like the late lamented Iain Banks and Joanne Harris, who are equally adept in literary and speculative fiction and refuse to apologise for or justify what they write. And if the definitive characteristic of literary fiction is sublime prose, then at his peak Terry Pratchett is surely the finest prose stylist writing today. So this is where we get terms like counter-factual and magical realism, to save reviewers from sullying their copy with words like SF and fantasy.”

Read the rest of the article here, and then take up your plasma rifle, square your mortar board, and ride a Kaiju into the guts of the nearest book by Joyce Carol Oates …

Like a boss.

The Schrodinger’s Cat of Publishing

SchroCatThis week I’m going to post a series of notes about dime novels I took while creating Burnt Bridge’s re-issue of Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines, which is available as an historically accurate dime novel over at IndyPlanet.

The concept was to recreate a dime novel so we would have something inexpensive to hand out at readings and other such writing/reading-related events.   Also, I have an intense bro-love attraction to dime novels for reasons I do not quite understand.  I think it’s because I lean toward cheap and pulpy works because of this thing I have against the rich and/or folks with severe literary pretensions.  Not a major thing.  Just a thing.

The crazy thing about this idea–which I’m now seeing seven months out from this MASTER PLAN–is that dime novels were deemed an extinct and unprofitable form of publishing way back in 1900 when Firmin Dredd said in the March issue of The Bookman, “The close of the (19th) century is witnessing the extinction of what is known as the Dime Novel.”

He goes on to describe the “literary inadequacy” of the form and the “crude treatment” with which the form approaches its subjects–usually Romances and Adventures with HIGH THRILLS or SULTRY AMAZEMENTS.  Dredd ultimately surmises that a competition to create the most sensationalized story, filled with inappropriate tendencies and lewd behaviours, was the dime novel’s very downfall.

All of this reminds me of what’s going on today with the explosion of indie publications and self-publishing brought on by the relatively easy and cost competitive options with ebooks and print-on-demand.  Unsurprisingly, the democratization of a once exclusive industry suddenly becomes something much more brutish and unsavory when anybody who’s anybody can do it … according to the LARGER AND BETTER CONNECTED PUBLISHING ESTABLISHMENT that we’ll say is based in a town called Empire City.

Which is fine.  Whatever.  You roll your eyes at this because the traditional publishing houses can build bigger walls and become insular and lock themselves in the highest room in the tallest tower and drink their scotch and talk about Franzen, or whatever most recent Empire City-based novel was put out, and it won’t change the fact that the landscape west of the Hudson will continue to produce whatever the hell kind of book it wants, whenever the hell it wants it, and and at a competitive price point.

And everybody talks the shits out of this to no end, but I think RD Meyer’s piece “Barbarians at the Gate” is a great briefer on the unsurprising attitudes these old boy’s houses have toward this new-ish publishing frontier and one we neo-pulp presses are seeking to change–or destroy–depending how many beers have been drunk, the presence of a captive audience (beyond my lovely wife), and how fired up I am at any given moment.

Heck, you don’t have to look any further than our old pal Firmin Dredd who made the same assumption.  He assumed that since the dime novel was a dying form of publishing, people would start reading more enlightened works found in “high-priced novels.”  Of course, this dude didn’t see that dime novels ushered in two major phenomena into the American readership: comic books and pulp novels.

So the pendulum swings.  Publishing gets cheaper and more democratic.  THE OLD BOYS call it an atrocity that won’t last.  Content floods the marketplace.  Some of it is trashy.  Some of it is not.  But choices widen and great writers who pull their own audience like Anthony Neil Smith and Stephen Graham Jones are thought to have come outta nowhere–by which I mean they come from the places the bigger markets weren’t paying attention to even though everybody else wrapped-up in the happenings west of the Hudson knew about, like, years ago.

Goddamn, how often does this kind of thing happen?

Regardless, writers right now are driving this train.  My guess is that this won’t last forever.  Amazon’s encroachment into controlling the digital marketplace is now affecting indie publishers (not that this hasn’t been an issue for quite some time), especially those who use Lightning Source primarily.  Their books are marked “out of stock” on Amazon’s book pages … which is strange because using a print-on-demand model means that books are never really in or out of stock.  They’re created upon order.  Broken River Books had a great feature on this just the other day.

1000px-Catexperiment

POD-printed books are like the Schrodinger’s cat of the publishing world, poofing into the existence the moment the enlightened reader who sees the industry for what it is decides to support the nearest, dearest struggling new indie publishing venture.

And most of us indie joints aren’t going to be around forever, or for very long.  Like, we don’t make money doing this.  We got families and jobs and mortgages and Netflix.  And I don’t want my cynicism to destroy the excitement of the current times, but right now this writing world keeps being described as being in a state of upheaval, when really it’s in a state of change–for the better.  The old powers are having a shakedown and their world is being rocked.  Surprise self-pub or micro-press hits are happening more and more often.  Genres are expanding, authors have more control, readers are becoming more informed, and their tastes are being deepened as the voices in the ring strive to become more unique in the cacophony of author’s fighting to be heard–a lot of times rallying around specific genres, like Science Fiction or Weird Westerns or Horror or Crime, or all these things in one book of awesomeness.

It’s a competition thing.  Never has it been fiercer, but never has there been more support either.

This is all great.  This is all unbelievable.  But I think what we can learn from the rise and fall of the dime novel is that the democratization of publishing brought on by technological improvements to the industry opens the market to new and exciting opportunities that, for whatever reason, don’t always last.  The big boys figure out how to bottleneck the market in their favor.

I mean, we micro-presses see this with distribution.  We don’t have the means to discount our books the way the big boys do and we don’t have the ability to process returns, which sets us at a distinct disadvantage in trying to get our books to independent book stores–who are, you know, like our greatest allies in this writing/reading world.   A lot of times this means we gotta go with the one guaranteed way to get books to the marketplace, which alienates us, a struggling indie press, from the folks who operate the stores in which we most want our books to be.

We end up going digital and going through Amazon, if only to guarantee that our books will at least see some kind of marketplace.

Which really is quite backwards and basically a Devil’s wager with a Monkey’s Paw because what better marriage is there than the one between Indy Store Boy and Indy Press Girl?

Unfortunately Indy Press Girl’s dad is a real A-hole (guess what the A is for?) who only allows her to connect with the love of her life if she pays him an untenable percentage of her profits that, to be financially solvent, must come directly from her lover.

Essentially she has to say, “Hey Indy Store Boy, we can, like, date and stuff, but the only way this will work is if you give my A-hole dad some money.”

There’s a word for this arrangement and it’s at the tip of my tongue.

It’s frustrating.  But it does not mean we indie dudes throw in our towels and say, “Aw, fuck it.  I’m going to play video games now.”–OK, we might do this sometimes.

But other times we’re like, “I’m gonna figure this shits out and make sure my writers get their books to the market despite the many larger forces preventing us from profiting or getting noticed or getting whatever it is we’re looking for–filling the vacant hole in our soul that widens every time we clock in to our 8-5.”

Because the belief that we indie presses and DIY authors must maintain is that the truth is in the fiction–the very words you put on the page, the page that contains your ideas of the worlds you create, that you hope beyond hope connects with somebody OUT THERE, who goes to tell somebody else, “This ain’t no BIG HOUSE deal, but it’s definitely a DEAL and it’s WORTH A READ.”

And there is no easier time than now to make this connection–to commune your brain with somebody else’s, as represented by the book you made or the book you published.

THE OLD BOYS like to convince you that they control ideas.  They goddamn don’t.  An idea is an individual’s until it meets up with another individual who puts his or her own spin on it.  There is no monopoly on thought, ideas or creativity and the freer and easier it is to puts these out into the world the better.

Besides,  I know an old white dude whose dead now, Dead Dredd, who deemed dime novels extinct without foreseeing what that exactly meant.  To him dime novels were trash, but to those with the benefit of being FROM THE FUTURE we know the death of the dime novel sparked (or continued) a revolution in American literature that continues to this day.  The one where regular old schlubs who work that 8-5 meets another regular old schlub also working an 8-5, and he says, “You tell some stories?  You ever write that down?  Damn, man, I’d like to see that and show these other fellers I know.”

Because.

Shit don’t die, boy-o.  It just looks a little different when it grows them petals.

I need another cup of coffee.

Who You Publish, Muchacho?

BLASTGUN currently is not open to unsolicited manuscripts.  This isn’t because BLASTGUN expects queries from agents.  It’s because BLASTGUN happens to be run by THE EDITOR who has been standing near writers and actively engaging in what people might mistake for writing for quite a few years.  He knows many writers who have works of fiction in the drawers of their desks that they have given up on because a LARGER AND MORE ESTABLISHED PUBLISHING NETWORK convinced them that the possibility of publishing such a work would be impossible and perhaps even a bad idea.

It is one of BLASTGUN’s core beliefs that some of the greatest works of fiction are also the most unmarketable and unsellable.  In fact, BLASTGUN is pretty goddamn sure of itself in this regard.  Therefore, BLASTGUN takes it upon itself to identify POTENTIALLY GREAT WORKS OF FICTION being written by POTENTIALLY AMAZING WRITERS who are out there pursuing this self-defeating career relentlessly, paying no mind to audience or how much respectability they lose every time they ask, yet again, on the Facebook or the Twitter that people read the work they created in their basement, all the while working some damn job so they could pay the outrageous printing fees at Kinkos so they could give their chapbook out to fifty people, half of whom will pick it up like it’s a mouse that died of asphyxiation under a pile of spaghetti on their dinner plate.

BLASTGUN likes these relentless folks.  BLASTGUN really likes these relentless folks.  BLASTGUN will find these folks and give them a generous offer that will not result in riches, but it will result in the book being available, at a fair price, to an audience willing to commune with the work they wrote, and hopefully that audience will pass along enough good will that the POTENTIALLY AMAZING WRITER does it again, this time bigger, better, and for a cash/money advance from a PUBLISHING OUTLET equally as pure in its approach to exposing the intrinsic awesomeness found in the dusty drawer of EVERYWHERE U.S.A. (and the ENTIRE WORLD).

Then again, generally speaking, THE EDITOR doesn’t know that many people.  That being the case, you can send a query to EditorWest [at] BurntBridge [dot] net.

We Got a Philosophy.

BLASTGUN publishes neo-pulp works of fiction that are not yet tarnished by dogmatic notions of what fiction is supposed to be.  In fact, THE EDITOR barely knows anything about fiction writing except that occasionally smart-seeming dorks get angry if a rule they learned somewhere is broken.  THE EDITOR thinks that’s absurd, and he white-knuckles through those conversations, wondering when the hell the production methodology for widgets entered a discussion about creativity.  He also doesn’t quite agree with the people who think anything goes, but he’s not sure why.  He feels like he should agree with them, but he doesn’t.  There’s gotta be some kind of semblance of purpose as derived by some kind of idea of what’s correct, but to state it plain is to destroy it completely, never to be useful to your creative pursuits ever again.  THE EDITOR believes this is a good thing.  It keeps things fresh and unexpected.

THE EDITOR started this neo-pulp press because he thinks people who lose themselves completely in worlds of their own creation are the only people left with a real backbone, willing to stand up for the strange chaos in their heads.

THE EDITOR likes writers who believe every little thing they put down on paper, even if it is all make believe.*

Because that’s the point.  This is America.

*Within reason and at the time it’s written.  You have to leave this place when you go walk around and be with regular people.