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Archive for January, 2013

Winter is Coming

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We’re walking in the woods beside the Little Beaverkill and I ask my daughter why moving water won’t freeze. She thinks about it and says, “It’s too busy.” Which is an awful answer, so I send a note to her science tutor asking for our money back. But she responds that it’s not a bad description at all: Still water freezes at 32F, but moving water wants to freeze and can’t, because the movement stops the water molecules from organizing into crystals. So in a way you could say it is busy. Which is also a bad answer. What’s this about water wanting?

So we come across another section of very still, unfrozen water at the base of a beaver dam and I ask my daughter why that water isn’t frozen. “Too lazy,” she says. Which makes perfect sense. Busy water. Lazy water. And water that just wants to get somewhere.

Written by Alan

January 24th, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Writing

eBook, pBook & meBook

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Even though I’m putting out my first novel as an eBook I definitely have a foot in the paper-based book world as well. Sure, the iPad’s a beautifully conceived and engineered thing, and when you hold one in your hand, you’re holding a piece of sci-fi gear our primitive ancestors from the 1980s never conceived of — a book reader, phone, movie camera, video display, global mapping service, all in one? Jimmy Carter’s science advisers would have taken a break from picking the lice out of each others’ back hair to snicker in derision; Heh. Man from future claims humans will, one day, tweet. Heh..

But don’t hate on the Book Classic either. The Book on Paper. The pBook. Here on my desk I have a hardcover copy of Garret Oliver’s The Oxford Companion to Beer. I have a nice, 2002 hardcover copy of the Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai and a paperback copy of the way creepy People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up. In the Hagakure I learn that focus, intention and readiness is everything. In Oliver’s beer encyclopedia I learn that it is proper to crash a Japanese barbeque with a shout of toriaezu biiru! (“I will start with a beer!”). Cheers, Mr. Oliver, you beer samurai; knowing the right term for crashing a Japanese barbeque shows great focus, intention and readiness.

It would have been impossible to write the above paragraph with only an iPad on my desk. Electronics resist random connections. Random connections assist lateral thinking. Therefore electronic readers can make you narrow. QED (which is Latin for Quaff Every Day, which I didn’t have to look up because I remember it from college).

A paper-based book is even more that just an aid to casual browsing: It’s a memory-retention device that requires no energy to hold information once the ink is loaded onto the paper, and the only energy required for information retrieval is easily supplied by a bag of M&Ms. A book is a link to history. Cloth binding itself is history. Marginalia is history, patina and, sometimes, solid gold information all its own. When you own a book, you know it’s a first or second edition and that it contains various errors, peculiarities and perfections that might have been smoothed out in later editions (think James Joyce and the pathetic attempt by the Joyce estate and Random House to replace the accepted text of Ulysses with a “corrected” text that would, just by chance, also extend their copyright). With an eBook, you can keep improving and re-uploading with no particular need to inform readers that there’s a better or, sometimes, newly en-fucked-up, edition available. Those who don’t own a copy of history are condemned to accepting the scrubbed version. Your paper copy of “Catcher in the Rye” says it’s a second edition and it will match every other second edition out there. In the virtual world, history is what the guys with access to the digital master say it is (I’m looking at you George Lucas; some of us remember when Star Wars was just Star Wars without all this Stalinist Episode IV: A New Hope revisionism in the opening crawl. Here’s a new hope for you: In a galaxy far, far away, in an alternate universe, there is no fucking Jar Jar Binks.)

So much for focus and intention. I started out meaning to write about Joe Simpson’s decision to walk away from his Random House deal to go it alone with eBooks. This must be a tough thing for writers with long-standing publisher relationships. You put out a hardcover book for $19.99 and it sells well enough to go to softcover after a year or so, and the softcover edition sells for $10.99, and the writer’s making $2.00 to $4.00 per copy, depending on the sales channel and the timing and where you are in the life cycle of the book. And you don’t pay any attention to the eBook part of the contract because who cares about a $1.99 sale to a few geeky college kids, of which you get something like $.30 per sale?

And that’s a fine way of thinking, right up until you realize that the sale of paper copies has trailed off to the point you’re barely making coffee change on paper-based book sales but that if you owned the better portion of your Smashwords<>/a> or BookBaby sales you wouldn’t have to keep getting up at night to move the Porsche you haven’t made a payment on in three months to a new secret location so the guys from We Never Sleep Collections can’t find it.

Welcome to Cadillac Records, new writer, this is what it feels like to not anticipate success.

Sounds like I’m down on paper publishers, but I’m not. I would purely love a traditional book deal, and to prove it, I just spent the past 8 months trying to woo a top agent at Writers House Literary Agency. And it wasn’t all for nothing because said agent’s assistant gave me no end of fantastic notes on my manuscript before I changed course toward e-publishing.

But if you’re going with a traditional publisher in this day and age, why not own your own electronic sales outside their purview? At some level this doesn’t work, because agents and editors do a huge amount of work to shape your manuscript, to market your book, and to position you in the public sphere. After all the work of shaping your baggy monster of a space-age-love-story-mystery-horror-noir-coming-of-age-tone-poem into a coherent story that might actually appeal to an audience of readers, they’ve earned their money and you and they are partners in the deepest sense of the term. But you can take a different tack if you’re willing and able to be your own best editor, and that is to go electronic first.

Always bargain from a position of strength. Get your material out there. Take the lousy reviews like a grown-up and learn from your mistakes. Evolve. That’s where I’m heading anyway.

Biiru no naka ni makoto ari.

Written by Alan

January 21st, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Writing

Those who can, do; those who can’t, blog.

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He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.
–G.B. Shaw, “Maxims for Revolutionists” in
Man and Superman (1)

and those who have finished their books and are twiddling their thumbs waiting for the cover art to arrive (all hail, my very cool cover artist, Ken Taylor) can do little but turn to the interwebs to let off excess steam. So it’s time to dust off the blog.

I created an inkan for my hero: AiIro_Kanji Just what every sword-wielding Japanese warrior girl needs; a signature she can carve into the bodies of her slain foes, like Zorro, except with a brush-like flourish and a Buddhist respect for the teachings of her calligraphy sensei.

Namaste, Indigo, wear your new gago-in with pride:

Written by Alan

January 18th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Writing