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Here’s what the production side of books has come to for this independent publisher:

After months of toil by Carol Buchanan on her new novel, Gold Under Ice, and weeks of toil by both of us in getting it just so for print, we’ve been celebrating its arrival as a real, honest-to-goodness book that anyone can buy.

The champagne (well, virtual champagne — she’s in Kalispell, I’m in Billings) had scarcely been consumed when the work began anew. We have e-book editions to get out there!

I’m proud to say that the work is nearly done. I uploaded the Kindle version to Amazon this morning, and it should start showing up live on the site in the next couple of days. We’re also queued up with a Smashwords version, which is available as a standalone at the site and will eventually make its way to other e-retailers and reading devices, among them Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the iPad.

I say it a lot, but it’s worth repeating: It’s a fascinating time to be involved with publishing, as an author and as a publisher. Scary and intense and all-consuming, yes, but fascinating and fun, too.

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"Snowbound," the latest novel from Richard S. Wheeler

On the blogroll at left is a new entry: A Curmudgeon’s Diary, by Montana author Richard S. Wheeler.

One would not have to expend much effort to make a case for Wheeler’s being our greatest living writer of Westerns. In a long career, he’s written around seventy novels, including the popular Skye’s West/Barnaby Skye series. He’s won a boatload of Spur Awards, which are handed out by the Western Writers of America. And I daresay he’s married to one of the finest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, Montana State University Billings professor Sue Hart (herself an accomplished writer and the keeper of a vast repository of Western literary knowledge). While that last bit doesn’t necessarily make him a more celebrated writer, it certainly speaks well of his good sense, which is just as important.

You could lose the better part of a day reading through the archives of Wheeler’s blog, but it’s his most recent post, on a long-ago rant, that I want to highlight here. He relays a story from 20 years ago in which he inveighed against Bill Kittredge’s assertion that the genre Western should fade away. Wheeler has had a change of heart.

An excerpt:

In truth, I eventually came around to Professor Kittredge’s views about genre western fiction, and think that the world would be better off if it simply withered away. It had its day, and maybe even formed American manhood, but now it is a feeble part of contemporary publishing, and bought mostly by geezers and buck privates. It is afflicted with terminal sameness, each story derived from a hundred previous ones. The publishers offer no wiggle room to authors, who are doomed to write yet another tired story about cowboys, or Texas rangers, or outlaws, or the Indian wars. Worse, as weary westerns affect readers less and less, body counts rise, violence rises, and what was once a knightly literature sinks into irrelevance. The frontier is gone. Professor Kittredge was right: there is a golden regional literature of the West blooming, and worthy of our esteem, and the old horse opera only gets in the way.

I haven’t read a lot of genre Westerns (but, strangely, I love Western movies). Though my taste in literature definitely bends West, it’s in the direction of Steinbeck and Doig and Stegner and Proulx and Watson and countless others. The writing I admire most goes deep inside its settings and characters and explores the human condition (bad news: We’re all terminally human). In that sense and under those circumstances, I would contend that there is territory yet to explore. Of course, as Wheeler rightly points out, such writing veers outside the rigid strictures of genre Westerns and into a more literary realm. (A good example of this is my friend Carol Buchanan, whose Gold Under Ice was just released.)

*****

One more Wheeler post to highlight. This one hits a little closer to home.

The novel he’s writing about here is my forthcoming The Summer Son. He ended up writing a lovely blurb, for which I am unyieldingly grateful. But I was most interested in his thoughts about the study guide I included at the end of the book. (This ends up being a moot point, as Wheeler read the version of the book that was going to be released by my Missouri Breaks Press; AmazonEncore ended up moving in and acquiring the title.)

The reason I included a book club guide is that a fair number of book clubs here in Billings have taken on 600 Hours of Edward, and many of them have inquired about the existence of such a guide. I figured that including one with the book, along with a banner on the cover highlighting it, might prove a worthwhile marketing device. As I conceded to Wheeler in an e-mail, I’m probably the least-qualified person in the world to write a study guide about my own work. Part of the magic of the author-reader relationship lies in giving the reader the latitude and the responsibility for forming his/her own opinion of what the work means. I’m not entirely comfortable with guiding that conversation. When I chat with members of a book club, I’m apt to ask them as many questions as they ask me.

*****

Finally, a last note about The Summer Son, this one a blatant teaser: I know what the cover will look like. Soon, you will, too. But not today.

Gold Under Ice, Carol Buchanan’s follow-up to her Spur Award-winning debut, God’s Thunderbolt, is now available on Amazon.com. In a state brimming with literary talent, Carol is one of the most graceful writers we have. Her debut gave readers a fascinating piece of fiction set during Montana’s Vigilante period and a new hero in Dan Stark. Dan is back again, this time facing trouble back home in New York.

Carol announces the book’s arrival here.

From the back cover:

Money. Greenbacks vs. gold. The Lincoln administration prints greenbacks to pay the Union armies, and in the Gold Room off Wall Street traders pit the greenback against the gold Double Eagle. By January 1864, the greenback loses nearly half its value. An angry President Lincoln wishes gold traders – traitors all – were “shot in the head.”

Far to the west, in Alder Gulch, Montana Territory, millions in gold lie under the ice of Alder Creek. Gold-seekers pray for spring. When the ice breaks, Daniel Stark rescues a man hurled into the frigid water, only to learn that his autocratic grandfather sent the man to bring him back with gold to pay his family’s debt.

But Dan does not have enough gold to rescue the family from their financial burden. If he joins the gold traders, he could make enough to pay the debt and secure his family’s future. Or lose everything and be branded a traitor to the Union.

On a related note, I’m pleased to be able to announce that my new venture, Missouri Breaks Press, is the publisher for Gold Under Ice. Carol’s lovely book is the imprint’s first title, and I couldn’t be more proud. I launched this boutique publishing house because I wanted an outlet to work with projects and people that interest me. Carol qualifies on both counts. We both know all too well how perilous and uncertain publishing is right now, and we both know there’s never been a better time to swim through the currents of indie publishing.

Make no mistake: This is Carol’s book. I say that not to distance myself from the project but rather to ensure that I don’t take any undue credit for it. She pushed God’s Thunderbolt to its position as a regional and national success, and she’ll do the same for Gold Under Ice. I’m providing some editorial support and some cheerleading, and together we’ll see what that amounts to. I can’t think of a book I’d rather see as the initial Missouri Breaks release.

As I wrote a blog post about my BlackBerry, I took a picture of the screen with my BlackBerry's camera. I stopped there, as I have no desire to push my luck and end up in another dimension.

Sunday, I bought a BlackBerry Curve. Or, I should say, my wife allowed me to get a BlackBerry Curve. This has nothing to do with being a beaten-down man, although I surely am; no, it’s that my wife maintains the cell phone account, owing mostly to the fact that she cares about it and I do not.

That may change, though, now that I’m a BlackBerry owner. Angie, who was due for an upgrade, graciously allowed me to use her upgrade slot and deferred her own until December. This may have something to do with the age of my previous phone: two tin cans connected by string. True, there were certain charms to its rustic simplicity, but times have changed, and Angie suggested that I change with them.

Now, I’m not not suggesting that I’m a technophobe. Anyone who deals with me on Facebook knows how enamored I am of that particular social phenomenon. I was a first adopter of the iPod. I blogged before the blog became a common Internet feature, and as you can see, I continue to blog well past the point that everyone else is confining his or her thoughts to 140 characters or fewer. What I am, instead, is an Antisocial Bastard When It Suits Me. I do not really wish to be in touch, at least not in a way that requires me to answer the phone, and I’d just as soon not respond to your text messages, as I do not have any luv 4 ur language LOL!

And yet, my BlackBerry has a Facebook app (I realize that 94.8 percent of you already know this), and so my world is now sufficiently rocked.

*****

The problem now is that Facebook and e-mail will follow me everywhere, and they were nuisance enough when they were confined to my desktop computer at home. Those of you who are my Facebook compadres have probably seen my daily countdown. There have been a lot of funny guesses about what it signifies — and some real frustration, which I don’t understand at all — so if you’ve read this deep, you deserve a payoff: When I reach the number 0 (I’m at 74 now), my friend Jim Thomsen will be throwing a lock on my Facebook account Monday through Friday for about three months as I try to make serious tracks on my new novel.

It says awful things about my self-control that it’s come to this, but I really see no other way. Last November, while my first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was just getting its legs, I put down about 16,000 words of Novel No. 3 (Novel No. 2 — The Summer Son, which is coming out in January — was already drafted). But once promotional work on Edward heated up, my progress on No. 3 ground to a halt. In the scraps of writing time I found while also holding down a full-time job, I was able to complete some essays and short stories, as well as revisions on The Summer Son, but I never could disappear into that deep trance I need to make steady progress on a novel. Since I suspect that the same struggle will befall me once The Summer Son comes out, I have to make serious hay before it does. Hence, the Facebook lockup. On weekends, Jim will restore my password and let me roam free, then he’ll lock it up again late Sunday night.

The irony here is that I’ve turned into exactly the sort of creature I so enjoy mocking: the scatterbrained, attention-deficit-ridden gadget hound who seems to have no time for nuance or deep thought. It’s shameful, when you really stop to …

OH MY GOD! My BlackBerry has an NFL app! YES!

(Help me. Please.)

*****

One last note: If you haven’t already, please do check out Messages to Our Fathers. Some nice essays are piling up, along with some links to books that make for some fine reading.

Just a quick hit here, and then a link to send you along to the site that deserves the traffic …

Jonathan Evison, the author of All About Lulu and the forthcoming West of Here, posted a terrific back-and-forth with Joshua Mohr, whose latest release, Termite Parade, comes on the heels of Some Things That Meant the World to Me, an audacious debut that generated a ton of praise.

There’s all kinds of great stuff . A sampling, where Mohr talks about the genesis of Termite Parade:

Termite started from an exercise I heard that the poet Robert Haas uses: he’ll spend months working on one poem, rewriting and rewritng, trying to earn that last line (the pay-off line in any poem). But this is actually just the beginning: because then Haas uses that pay-off line as the first line of a new poem (the one he’s been interested in all along). The logic is that his imagination will go to skyscraping places if he uses the “pay-off” as the beginning, to build up from it as a foundation and traverse into daring terrain.

So I wrote a short story using the image of a man dropping his girlfriend down the stairs as its climax. I worked on it for about eight months, got it to where it was ready to publish. Then I yanked the climax and used it as the point of entry to what eventually grew into Termite Parade.

Want to read the rest? Please, go here now.

(By the way, Mohr was nice enough to participate in a Q&A here back in August 2009, just after Some Things That Meant the World to Me came out.)

No, not THAT kind of love.

This devastatingly handsome guy is Gustavo. He runs the book department at the Hastings store here in Billings, Montana. I’ve known him since way back in February 2009, when I showed up with my sad little self-published debut novel and inquired about a consignment deal. He gave me one. Sold a few books for me. Let me do a signing. Always paid up, too.

Now, the nice thing about getting to know Gustavo then is that I know him now. We’re Facebook buds. We have a lot of other friends in common. When we run into each other around town, we chat awhile. And when he says, “Hey, your book sold out,” and I say, “Sounds like it’s time for another signing,” he’s all for it. So that’s what I’ll be doing Saturday at the Billings Hastings (1603 Grand Ave.) from 1 to 3 p.m.

He even made me a cool little sign:

Here’s the deal: You write alone. You fret alone. You try to find an agent or a publisher alone. You grind on your insecurities alone. But when the book finally, blessedly comes out, you’re not alone. You get to meet readers. You get to meet booksellers. If you work hard enough, you get to talk to reporters and radio hosts and Elks groups and book clubs. Life is about relationships, and man oh man, is that the truth with books. I didn’t get to know Gustavo because I cravenly want to sell books (although I certainly do). You can’t fake it. He’s a good man, and he’s supported me and my book, and I’m damn well going to support him and his store.

Though my first instinct is to tell her to cut it by 10 percent, this essay by former New York magazine copy editor Lori Fradkin really is spot-on in its portrayal of what it’s like to be a steward of grammar, usage and style. Though I’d much rather chat about my writing under the auspices of this blog, the truth is that I spend 40 hours of my week, and sometimes more, as a professional copy editor. While not thankless, it’s also not glamorous (Drew Barrymore movies notwithstanding), and if nothing else, Fradkin has done a service by letting prospective copy editors know what it’s like on the inside. You can’t say you weren’t warned.

I’m a bit envious that Fradkin has actually had style debates about whether douche bag is one word or two; I’d find that a refreshing change from the ones that tend to engulf newspaper copy desks (hyphens and Associated Press style, mostly — with the former increasingly eschewed, to sometimes comical results, and the latter woefully lacking in logic and unevenly applied by, of all outfits, the Associated Press).

I’ve been at this gig nearly 20 years, and I can tell you that something happens to a copy editor as he ages. I spent my 20s willing to prepare the battlements over minutiae (the aforementioned hyphens), my 30s fixated much more on line editing than on the finer points and now, at the dawn of my 40s, I’m willing to give a lot of leeway to style but can turn absolutely murderous over slack, hackneyed writing (and good golly is there more of it than ever).

Since launching my side career as a novelist, I’ve found that exercising both sets of muscles — the ones that create and the ones that refine — has made me much better at both jobs. I know what it’s like to shape every word, sentence and paragraph, and how devastating it can be when someone rips that structure apart, even if it’s for the better. I also know how to be ruthless on matters of quality control, in my own writing and in others’. We owe it to the people who read our work to give them the best we have. Half-assing it just won’t do.

(The hyphen was a must.)

Love is a weighty topic, and one I’m ill-inclined to explore right now, what with the dogs braying to go out for their morning business.

In any case, I’m pretty sure this isn’t love:

That’s just crude (and damned funny, I think). How about some cynicism?

With the second example, the laughs come, I suspect, because of how closely the video treads the fine line between absurdity and painful real-life situations. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the singles scene has a story (perhaps many stories) about dates and budding relationships gone horribly, horribly awry, about mixed messages and emotional baggage and wildly fluctuating behavior. When I lived in California, I had a date with someone I met through a personal ad; we went to dinner and a movie, chatted amiably, seemed to enjoy each other’s company (even if it wasn’t, as Chuck Woolery might say, a love connection). The next day, I received an e-mail from her that said she had known people like me and that she didn’t want to hear from me again.

Based on our interaction, I could only assume that “people like me” meant “people who like Italian food and Wes Anderson movies.”

What can you do? You shake your head, and you move on …

This blog has lain fallow far too long. Please allow me to begin watering it again.

A few items of note:

I’ve launched a new site, Messages to Our Fathers, that ties in with my forthcoming novel, The Summer Son. The twist here is that the items will come from other writers and random contributors. The field is wide open for submissions, so long as they take in some element of the roles fathers play in our lives. We’re off to a lively start, and I hope you’ll make a point of adding it to your reading list. (By the way, if you’d like to contribute an item and get some publicity for your current project, just drop me a line at amindadrift at gmail dot com.)

Speaking of The Summer Son … Work continues on preparing it for advance reviewers and, early next year, its emergence with AmazonEncore. I can’t say enough about what a great experience it’s been so far.

I’ve been a bit lazy this summer as far as book events go, but that will change this coming Saturday, July 24, when I’ll be signing copies of 600 Hours of Edward at the Billings Hastings, 1603 Grand Ave., from 1 to 3 p.m. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by and say hello.

More news as it emerges. In the in-between, I’ll be posting with greater frequency here in the days, weeks and months ahead. Book recommendations, pop-culture riffs, weird links, the whole freakin’ menagerie of human life. We’re stuck with it, so we might as well celebrate it.

P.S. It’s July 21, 2010. Two years ago today, I wrecked a motorcycle at high speed on Interstate 94. Damn glad to be here still. For those of you who enjoy nostalgia, here’s the essay.

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