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I’ll be out and about with 600 Hours of Edward on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Stop by, say hello, get a book:
- Friday, Dec. 4: In front of Thomas Books, 209 N. 29th Street, from 7 to 9 p.m. during the annual downtown Billings Holiday Stroll.
- Saturday, Dec. 5: The annual Writers Roundup, in conjunction with the Family Tree Center’s Festival of Trees, noon to 5 p.m., Billings Shrine Auditorium, 1125 Broadwater Ave. The Writers Roundup is the annual fundraiser for Sigma Tau Delta, and there’s a wonderful lineup: Marion Cadwell, Cara Chamberlain, Fred DeFauw, Hap Gilliland, Barbara Graham, Tami Haaland, Sue Hart, Brooke Jennings, Craig Johnson, Janet Muirhead Hill, Harley O’Donnell, Bernie Quetchenbach, Lela and Harry Schlitz and Dick Wheeler. It’s a chance to visit with authors and buy signed copies of books for the holidays.
- Sunday, Dec. 6: At the Hastings in Great Falls, 726 10th Ave. South, from 1 to 4 p.m. to sign copies of 600 Hours.
600 Hours of Edward just received a wonderful review from Gavin Bollard’s excellent blog, Life With Aspergers.
Now that Gavin has had his say, I guess I can reveal this: Of the many review outlets where Riverbend has placed the book, this one filled me with the most anxiety. Gavin is an Aspergian (Aspie for short), he knows more about the syndrome than I do, and if my book had struck a wrong note, he certainly would have held it up to the light (as well he should). I’m gratified that the book passed muster with him.
Here’s a taste of the review:
600 hours of Edward is an absolutely fascinating book. If you’re an aspie, you’ll see yourself in it. If you’re married to an aspie or if you’re caring for one, you’ll get a fascinating glimpse of their thought processes.
The week before Thanksgiving 1991, I piled my meager belongings — mostly clothes and a few electronic items, like an alarm clock — into a big blue bag intended to hold golf clubs. My parents drove me to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and, nearly a decade before 9/11 took such simple things away from us, sat with me in the boarding area while I awaited a flight to Seattle.
I don’t remember what we said. It doesn’t really matter. My emotions were all over the place. I was sad to be leaving the place I had called home for 18 years. (Odd to think that I’ve now lived elsewhere for as long as I ever lived in North Richland Hills.) I was thrilled to be heading off to my first real post-collegiate job, as sports editor of a small paper in Alaska.
In Seattle, I was joined by my grandmother, who had flight privileges on Alaska Airlines because my grandfather, by then 11 years dead, had been an executive with the company. She was coming north to help me get settled, and she ended up doing so much more than that, buying me a car. (It was an ’84 Escort wagon, if I recall correctly. Brown. Oh, yeah.) For three days, she stayed with me in a world gone white and cold. And then she went home to Washington.
That was on a Sunday. Four days before Thanksgiving. I’ve never felt such crushing loneliness.
So why am I thinking of this at 5:34 a.m., 18 years later, while I sit in the dark of my house, with those I love most sleeping a room away?
Strangely enough, it’s because I’m thinking of a friend I’ve never met who’s a world away from his loved ones on this day of giving thanks. Of the many ways in which life has changed since I sat alone on Thanksgiving in a studio apartment in Kenai, Alaska, perhaps none is more notable than the technology that binds us even as we seem more adrift than ever from one another in time and physical distance. I can read Charles Apple’s blog and see the things he sees in South Africa, know what he’s had for dinner, experience his frustration and his jubilation as he does hands-on work with a newspaper there. I can flip over to Facebook and read my friends’ most intimate thoughts about what they’re thankful for, all because they’re compelled to say it and the Web site can move it from their fingertips to my eyes in an instant.
Let me tell you, it’s pretty damned glorious.
Nineteen ninety-one was undoubtedly a simpler time. If I view it through the hazy lens of nostalgia, I sometimes yearn for those days, when I was younger and my world seemed more pregnant with possibility. That can be dangerous, I think. Eighteen years ago, I had to swallow my loneliness; even a phone call home, in the days before unlimited cell phone minutes and flat-rate long distance, had to be short and bittersweet.
Today, I can think about Charles Apple and write down my half-baked thoughts and beam them out to anybody who cares to read them. Charles is going home Monday, and I can only imagine how happy his wife and daughter will be to see him after his two months away. It seems to me that will be a day of thanksgiving, regardless of what the calendar says.
Today brings one such opportunity. Henry Baum’s new novel, The American Book of the Dead, just emerged. In addition, Baum has been at the forefront of the self-publishing movement, as the creator of the influential Self-Publishing Review site and the founder of Backword Books, a collective of independent literary authors. (Full disclosure: I was set to join Backword before my novel, 600 Hours of Edward, got picked up by Riverbend Publishing.)
In the questions and answers that follow, we’ll dig into Baum’s new book as well as his views on where publishing is … and where it’s going.
Q: You’re at the forefront of indie publishing, with a book (North of Sunset) that has been hailed as a standout among self-published works and a Web site that is a must-read for those who are going it alone. At what point did you realize that self-publishing had morphed into something bigger than the pejorative vanity publishing?
Actually, as soon as I got the first copy of North of Sunset from Lulu. The formatting of the text was a mess, but I was holding an actual book in my hands. The ability to see myself in print was a revelation. I’d spent years writing a novel prior to North of Sunset, years more trying to get it published — had an agent, etc. A draining, dispiriting experience. I’d published traditionally before in the U.S. and abroad, but when I got that first copy of the book after suffering to be in print for so long, it was like: Finally, I can bypass the madness.
Q: What has your publishing journey been like? Unlike a lot of indies, you’ve had some action in the traditional arena.
My first novel came out with Soft Skull Press, which was up and coming at the time, and is now pretty well-established. Actually, going back I had a novel before that with an agent and that didn’t sell. I hand-delivered my manuscript to Soft Skull myself, along with the demo tape of a band I was in, which the editor, Sander, said helped in his decision. That book’s endured, strangely. I wrote it when I was 20 years old and it’s come out in the U.K. with Rebel Inc. Press and France with Hachette Litteratures – maybe the equivalent of Vintage here. It just came out in another edition with Another Sky Press (anothersky.org). So it’s not as though I don’t traditional publishing. I’ve had many agents – a foreign rights agent, but I’ve had a fair share of bad experiences along the way with both agents and publishers. I think I might be a poster child for self-publishing, which is not something I ever wanted to be.
Q: Your third novel, “The American Book of the Dead,” just hit the market. In what ways are you applying the lessons you’ve learned about indie publishing in marketing this book?
Strangely enough, to not try as hard. What I mean by that is that with North of Sunset I went out of my way to try and find reviews and get the book listed wherever I could. I may run the Self-Publishing Review, which reviews books, but basically reviews aren’t that useful — they’re just kind of fun, to be part of the conversation. But in terms of selling books, it’s some wasted energy. So I’ll try to get some reviews here/there, but I’m not going to go crazy. So much social media didn’t exist when I put out that book — specifically Twitter, but also Scribd and the ebook revolution. In many ways, it’s a lot easier now. I mean, my novel shot up to the top of Kindle’s charts after a brief mention on a forum. Unloading that number of print books just isn’t realistic. But I’m also going to be patient — this is something that could build over time, as people discover the book, read it, pass it on, so I’m not nearly as desperate to “hit it big” as I once was. If it happens, great, but it’s much more likely to happen organically, slowly, than selling a lot of books all at once.
I’m also doing something very different with this book. I’m also a songwriter — I was a musician before I ever started writing fiction, but I’ve always kept it as more of a hobby. Now I’m really going for it and recording a song for each chapter in the novel @ theamericanbookofthedead.com. Something else I’ve learned is your marketing strategy has to be unique; it’s not enough that your book is good. This songwriting project is unique I think, and it also gives me a reason to take songwriting more seriously for the first time.
Q: You’ve gotten blowback from some in the indie ranks for suggesting that it’s not antithetical to self-publishing to insist on editorial weeding-out. What do you mean?
I’m a part of Backword Books — a collective of self-published authors who have banded together. In doing so, we’ve had to turn away a fair number of writers no differently than an agent or publishing house. Which sucks, in a way, because the reason I’ve gotten into self-publishing is because I so loathe the gatekeeping system. But what I loathe about the gatekeeping system is that it is money-driven more than quality-driven. I have no problem with a literary press selecting books the editor likes – that’s his/her prerogative. Gatekeeping isn’t bad by design, it’s just that the design has gotten fairly screwed up by the current system. But there are a fair number of self-publishing purists out there who think even the collective arrangement is anti-thetical to the DIY spirit. I don’t.
Q: What’s wrong with the traditional publishing model? How can collectives like Backword Books find the legitimacy of traditional publishing while also avoiding the problems that affect it?
I have no problem with traditional publishing — I’ve just been rejected (as have many other people) based on criteria that has nothing to do with the writing. My last novel was about Hollywood. I was told by an agent, “A book was just sold about the magazine industry, so that’s what people are looking for.” This is lunacy. Plenty of good books get published, but too many good books get turned away and authors aren’t given the chance to grow should a book not sell immediately. That’s not usually how art unfolds, with overnight success. It can take years, possibly, for an artist to hit their stride. Publishers can say: Well, self-publish and hit your stride, and we’ll talk then. I’m fine with that and I think that’s what’s happening with self-publishing and why it’s gaining legitimacy — because a lot of good writers with a decent track record are getting turned away.
Backword isn’t everything it could be, I’ll admit — not yet. The thing that traditional publishing has over self-publishing is distribution. And it’s not as though Backword suddenly got a bookstore distribution deal by banding together. That’s one of our ultimate goals. If we’re able to achieve that, then it does change the landscape quite a bit because you take away the main issue that makes traditional publishing superior: distribution to brick and mortar stores.
Q: What is your ideal writing environment?
Hmmn, not having a full-time job. Unfortunately, I don’t live in that paradise. All I need is four hours right after the first morning coffee and that’d be great. I read that both John Steinbeck and Truman Capote only wrote full-steam for four hours — even though they had the time to do otherwise. Otherwise the writing started to get weak. I’m a person who writes in bursts, so I’ll write a novel in three months and then be totally drained and not write another word for a while. So, man, if I could have three months to just write half the day and record music the other half, that would be a dream. Right now, I get in writing when I can.
Q: What’s on your nightstand? What sort of things do you read for pleasure?
Well, I have so much reading to do for the Self-Publishing Review — so many writers counting on the site for reviews — that I feel guilty venturing out into other territory. Which is sort of unfortunate. Strangely though, I tend to read a lot of non-fiction — esoteric stuff. The American Book of the Dead is about the end of the world, evolution, consciousness, and other such ideas and I still haven’t lost my bug for figuring out just what the hell is going on behind the veil.
I’m back from Texas, where I saw a lot of friends, had a lot of fun and sold a not-insignificant number of books. Pictures and such will have to wait; today, I’m back to work. But some quick hits from the long weekend:
- The highlight, easily, was Saturday night’s open house. Over the course of the night, we saw more than 100 people stream in, stick around for conversation and food and enjoy 600 Hours of Edward. Big ups to Mom’s Catering (that is, my mom and her stellar party-making skills) for making the evening a big hit. I saw former classmates, former teachers, friends’ parents, people I didn’t know (but now do). It was a great time.
- After Friday morning, I had a greater appreciation for the difficulty teachers face in trying to deliver a lesson, knowing full well they aren’t reaching everybody. I spent four hours with English classes (three at a time) at my alma mater, and I really appreciated being invited in by Richland High School and all the good questions about writing and life beyond high school.
- Thursday morning, I spent time with English classes at Harwood Junior High in Bedford, Texas. The organizing teacher, Donna Baumgartner, was my third-grade teacher back in 1978-79. Wonderful to see her, and wonderful to see so many kids who clearly love reading.
- After Harwood, I dashed out to the North Richland Hills Public Library for a reading and a Q&A. A lot of nice folks — many of whom I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years — came out for that. I’m looking forward to the next event at that beautiful new building.
- Off-topic but near and dear to my heart: My wife, Angie, surprised me with a tour of Cowboys Stadium on Friday evening. The Cowboys’ opulent new home is absolutely stunning and far more impressive than the actual team.
I’ve been gone from North Richland Hills long enough and have lived long enough that visits tend to hit me in squarely in my nostalgia. On this trip, it seemed there was a memory around every corner. I had a lot of fun showing Angie the places I wandered when I was a kid, pointing out houses where my friends lived, plots of ground that used to be open space, etc. The Dallas/Fort Worth area has grown with such vigor in the past couple of decades that much of the background of my childhood has been left behind. I suppose that’s progress, in its own way. To me, though, it often just seemed like the erosion of the place I knew.
At any rate, we stumbled home to Billings on Sunday night. As is always the case after some time away, it’s good to be here.
AND ONE MORE THING …
600 Hours of Edward received a lovely — and long-awaited — review from the LL Book Review. The site originally planned to review the self-published version of the book several months back and graciously agreed to delay the review until the book re-emerged.
I could go on and on about all of the really fine points of this book, to the point where I might rival the 80,000 words of the novel itself. The bottom line is this is a book which should be experienced.
Thank you, LK Gardner-Griffie.
It’s not much of an update, as I’ve been chasing a hundred little tasks that collectively add up to … well, a hundred little tasks.
- Books sent to Texas? Check.
- PowerPoint presentations finished? Check.
- Remarks written? Check.
- Bags packed? Check.
- Computer, memory stick and other materials packed? Check.
- All files e-mailed to myself because I don’t trust the memory stick? Check.
- Dogs pissed off because I’ve been doing all this other stuff and not playing tug with them? Check.
- Wife forced to listen to my worrying and obsessing to the point that she’s thinking of staying home? Check.
It seems, then, that we’re all set.
When I get back to the Big Sky, I anticipate having some additions to the list of places the book and I will be in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out the current events and if you happen to be around for one of them, please stop by and say hello.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, again, how happy I am that I ducked out of NaNoWriMo this year. Progress on the new project has been impeded by a hundred little things (a partial list above), so I’ve been able to move only a few hundred words at a time. By my count, those of you still hanging in there should be at least 28,339 words down the road by the end of today. If you’re there, or beyond, I salute you.
More in a few days …
I was digging through some old stuff to prepare for an upcoming trip to Texas, and I came across an illustrated story I wrote that dates to 1979 or ’80. (I was 9 or 10 years old.)
Some background: A high school friend of my mother’s, Valerie Hubbard Damon, had just released an illustrated book called Grindle Lamfoon and the Procurnious Fleekers. I’m really sorry that I can’t find any of the illustrations from it, because they were simply wonderful — intricate, warm, highly detailed depictions of fanciful creatures. To the child I was, the book was an absolute visual feast. And that my mom knew a published author — wow!
So I set about creating my own illustrated work, armed with absolutely no illustrating skill but plenty of pluck. Here is the result:
600 Hours of Edward garnered 4.5 stars (out of 5) from Melissa at Coffee, Books, and Laundry. (I love the serial comma and Melissa’s tagline: “The three things guaranteed in my life are coffee, books, and laundry. Two of those things, I can’t live without, and the other, my family can’t.”)
600 Hours of Edward really is a great, charming book, that touches your heart. I laughed, I cried, and I was sad when the book ended.
Moved a few books, made a few friends. A worthwhile couple of hours …
National Novel Writing Month and I are in Splitsville, the outs, we’ve sold the house and gone our separate ways, we’re footloose and fancy free, we’re at D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In the first week of the annual event of literary frenzy, I’ve plowed under nearly 11,000 words on my new project, a terrific jump-start that will serve me well in the coming months as I lurch toward the first-draft finish line. And I’ll always be thankful for NaNoWriMo for launching my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, in 2008. Further, I plan to write on every available day for the remainder of November, just like the thousands of people who are having a monthlong love affair with their keyboards. (After November and all the hoopla pass, I’ll still be writing daily. It’s what I do.)
So it’s not that I’ve taken up with another lover. It’s that it’s no longer useful for me to meet the demands of this particular lover (specifically, her insatiable need for words — at least 50,000 of them by the end of the month). This project of mine will require more contemplation than that, and the chains will be moved in more peripatetic (I love the word “peripatetic”) bunches — 500 words here, 247 there, 3,000 or so on the occasional all-day dash. I’ll reach 50,000 words in due time, and beyond that, I think, will lie the end of the first draft.
See, something happened between NaNoWriMo 2008 and NaNoWriMo 2009: I wrote a second novel. Principal writing took me about three months. Rewriting and revising took me a couple of months after that. I enjoyed that pace. It worked for me. And now I realize that given the choice between the mad dash and the purposeful march, I’ll take the latter. Every time.
Make no mistake: I’ll finish the project I started for this year’s NaNoWriMo. But it will be on my terms, not hers. NaNoWriMo, this year and probably in years to come, is a project starter for me now, not a means of filling a quota.