extribulum

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

The City War is coming!

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

I’ve spoken a little bit on this blog about my process for writing and submitting the novella that has eventually become The City War, and the way publishing with an actual press differentiates from publishing independently. They’ve given the go-ahead to announce, so it’s with great pride that I can give you all a release date:

The City War will be released digitally as part of Riptide Publishing‘s “Warriors of Rome” series, and will go on sale for $4.99 on November 19th. My fellow writers in the collection will also be releasing around the same time, starting on November 5th and going through November 26th. As with the novels I’ve published independently, I’ll be putting up a page on this website for The City War, and making another post when it’s released.

As a bonus, readers who pre-order any of the books will get them two days early, and readers who buy the full collection as a package will get 20% off the price they’d pay for all of them separately.

The collection will also be published in paperback; The City War, being a novella rather than full novel, will be released as part of a two-story set with another novella, sometime in early December.

These are stories about ancient and classical Rome, focusing around the warrior culture it encouraged, and I’ve been very pleased to work with Riptide on my own contribution, which is set late in Julius Caesar’s reign and concerns the politics of a country torn between democratic republicanism and imperial dictatorship. There’s politics, seduction, a few fights, and a lot of jokes about horses that I could have made but didn’t. Artistic integrity, yo. I had a lot of fun writing it, and the Riptide folks made editing it a pleasure, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

(And check out my author bio!)

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Who Deserves Your Disdain?

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2012 at 9:00 am

When I was in high school I took a lot of shit for being an X-Files fan. Not bullying, just ribbing from my classmates and the occasional verging-on-nasty remark. I shrugged it off because it wasn’t serious, it was high school crap, and I had enough on my plate without worrying about a bunch of irrelevant teenagers being teenagers.

But then one of the people who regularly gave me shit sidled up to me between classes and asked if I had some on tape, and could she borrow them, and I said sure, why not share the awesome? I didn’t think much of it, except for the fact that someone totally different returned the tapes to me a month later. They’d apparently made the rounds of the school, covertly handed around like some kind of banned book. Nobody I spoke to admitted to watching the tapes, but I know at least four people did: the girl who borrowed them, the guy she gave them to, the guy who returned them, and the guy he’d gotten them from. I doubt they were the only ones.

I’m pretty sure we were all passionate about this pop culture show, but who is deserving of disdain in this scenario: the guy who made no bones about loving it and willingly handed around the tapes, or the crowd of kids who gave him shit for it in class and watched it covertly, like pornography? I had very little time for them before, and after I got the tapes back I had no time and no respect left for them.

I keep a division between my fannish life and my brickspace life for many good reasons, not least of which is I like being able to say what I please online without it getting back to my boss. I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t hide what they love if they have good reason, or even if they just want something private and personal for them. But I also don’t go around telling people they shouldn’t write fanfic or shaming them for being overly into a television show. I might not always understand peoples’ fandoms, and I might make fun of the canons I encounter that I think are silly or object to canons I think are objectionable, but I’m not going to dig at the fans for it. I’m not even going to dig at people who bought Fifty Shades of Grey, because they are clearly desperate to get something that’s missing from their lives which they don’t know how to find any other way. Among other things, I am a pornographer, and I want their business; I want to put Riptide Publishing business cards and excerpts from the threesome scene in Trace in copies of Fifty Shades at the bookstore. Come to the internet, people.  We have bondage porn too, and ours is healthy and sane.

I don’t need to feel superior to these people, because I’m producing something I think they could enjoy.

There is a point at which obsession to the exclusion of all other things becomes problematic. Most fans don’t even come close to hitting that barrier. Everyone has passions, but only damaged people get nasty and superior when your passion isn’t the same as theirs. Passion leads to creativity; passion leads to dedication, which builds skill and hones talent and gives direction to life.

So love what you love. Keep it private if you want, or dance in the streets with it if that’s what your heart desires. But belittling someone else for being passionate only makes a small person feel bigger, and even then only for a ridiculously small fraction of time.

Eff Yeah Gutenberg

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm

In the 1970s and up through the end of the 20th century, Project Gutenberg was the pioneer for digital literature and nonfiction online. It’s been around almost as long as the internet has, and even now when I want to find a text that’s out of copyright, Gutenberg are usually the ones stocking it. All their books are free, including the entire works of Shakespeare and Conan Doyle, and their mission statement cracks my shit up every time I read it:

To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.

THAT’S IT. More books on computers. That is the alpha and omega of their purpose. Of course it can get a lot wordier than that, but essentially that’s it. And I like books and computers, so I am for Project Gutenberg.

I try to keep current on publishing and e-publishing and indy lit, because I have a stake in all of those things, which is how I found out that Project Gutenberg was introducing a new self-publishing branch. This being Project Gutenberg, it’s all about the ebooks, but that suits me fine. For a long time I’ve been hosting free PDFs of my books at Lulu.com, and while Lulu is great they are not the most convenient place to host free PDFs. So I am right in the throes of uploading my PDFs to Gutenberg as we speak. At the moment I’m awaiting “approval”.

It’s very early days for this new site. They don’t host ePub yet, just PDF and a few audio formats for audiobooks. Their site is a little slow because they’re still building it, and they have some quirky requirements, like asking you to upload an author photo for every book you upload. I’ve just been using good old Copperbadge, which they seem to accept without issue.

What struck me as funniest was how they are clearly crowdsourcing their genres. Genres are difficult to define at the best of times, and I can imagine trying to decide what is populous and important enough to be a genre is difficult. I don’t actually expect Magical Realism to be a genre in most websites because it’s a very small one, and usually can be crammed into Literature, Horror, or Fantasy.

But they also didn’t have Satire, which is not exactly a tiny division of the world’s literature, nor did they have “Fiction”. Or “Literary Fiction”.

What do they have? Well, if you’ve written a book about France, you’re golden.

I was going to say I find it hard to believe that there’s more call for Erotic Fiction than for Satire but then I remembered wait…I’m on the internet.

Let me be clear, however: I’m not whining. I’m laughing. I know sometimes with me they sound very similar. I’m not complaining about Project Gutenberg because they have more than proved themselves, and I’m sure someday Magical Realism will totally be on their Category List. I’m just amused that if I wrote Nameless in Esperanto I’d have somewhere to put it, but for now it’s a toss-up between Fantasy and Mythology.

At any rate, if you love ebooks, want some free ones, and can load PDFs on your ereader or other device, Project Gutenberg’s the place to be. And if you love Project Gutenberg, remember to support them with your moneys!

Evidence and Work

In Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 9:00 am

One of the webcomics I read on a weekly basis is Hugh MacLeod’s Gaping Void, where he presents comics mostly drawn on the backs of business cards. I’m not really his target market, but I like his style and I’m a fan of somewhat non-sequitur cartoonage.

He made a post recently about going home to his mother’s house and finding binders and binders of old business-card cartoons in the attic. He talks about being struck by how many cards there were, and how he came to the epiphany that he had created “a body of work”. I know how he feels; sometimes I’m still struck hard by the fact that there are books flying around out there in brickspace with my name on them which may very well outlive me. But what got to me more than that was what he followed up with:

I finally had evidence here and now that, no matter what happens from now on, regardless, it’s been a good life. It’s been a good fight […] That’s all we all really want, at the end of the day. Evidence.

I don’t know if other artists and writers feel this way, but for me it’s very difficult to add up my work and look at it from this angle, the angle of evidence that I have already achieved something. It’s good not to be complacent, but at the same time it’s good to have a sense of scale. If you can hold onto it, it’s a very secure feeling to know that no matter how many things you haven’t done, you have Done A Thing. There are like twelve books in my head that I haven’t written yet, but there are three (soon to be four) out there that I did write.

Edward Leedskalnin, an eccentric quasi-scientist in the early part of the twentieth century, once published a treatise on “moral education”. The treatise itself is a bit of a misogynist screed, but in typesetting it Leedskalnin did an interesting thing: he printed his text only on the left hand pages. He prefaced the book with the following quote:

Reader, if for any reason you do not like the things I say in the little book, I left just as much space as I used, so you can write your own opinion opposite it and see if you can do better.
The Author

May I one day be capable, but more importantly worthy, of such hilarious, wonderful arrogance.

(Mind you, doubling the printing cost does nobody any favors.)

1984 is Spying On You

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2012 at 8:20 am

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal recently called “Your E-Book Is Reading You“. It concerns the way in which e-readers interact with their users — specifically the information that e-readers gather, or are capable of gathering, from the people who use them.

The upshot is that if you use an e-reader, you are by default a Nielsen Family; your Nook or Kindle is tracking how fast you read, where you stop, what notes you make, and how your reading habits vary from book to book. Perhaps you’re not making an impact alone, since this is an overwhelming amount of data to sift, but you are adding to the general knowledge pool.The article is very astute about debating whether this is a good thing, but a portion of what it all boils down to is that e-readers are institutionalising extribulum. They’re just doing it in a very our-way-or-the-highway kind of way. My readers volunteer; their readers can’t use their hardware without agreeing.

Amazon, in particular, has an advantage in this field—it’s both a retailer and a publisher, which puts the company in a unique position to use the data it gathers on its customers’ reading habits. It’s no secret that Amazon and other digital book retailers track and store consumer information detailing what books are purchased and read. Kindle users sign an agreement granting the company permission to store information from the device —including the last page you’ve read, plus your bookmarks, highlights, notes and annotations—in its data servers.

The article refers to the traditional yardstick — sales and reviews — as “metrics that offer a postmortem measure of success but can’t shape or predict a hit”. This is mainly true, though I’ve never forgotten what I learned at the knee of a friend’s publisher parents, which is that much of an otherwise ordinary book’s success is dependent upon how much promotion it gets. Still, it’s fascinating reading:

Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

I am for more reader feedback rather than less, definitely; I like to know this stuff, though I’m not nuts about the stats being provided involuntarily. I’m excited by the news later in the article that Sourcebooks is testing out “serial, online publishing” where readers can give feedback, and Coliloquy allows readers to customize characters and plotlines. That information is then relayed back to authors, “who can adjust story lines in their next books to reflect popular choices.” Sound familiar?

The concern is, of course, that “data driven” storytelling can hinder creative risk-taking, but it’s not really the data that’s driving it now. Most of the big six publishers operate on profit-driven storytelling, hiring only authors they know can produce hits and pressuring those authors to write more and faster because the name will sell the book more than the quality will. Feedback from readers, I believe, usually makes for a better story; this particular feedback may make for smarter publishers, forcing them away from a narrow profit-driven view.

The article quotes Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux: “We’re not going to shorten ‘War and Peace’ because someone didn’t finish it.” Well, no. Don’t pander to the shallow end of our intellectual pool. But if nobody finishes a book, maybe you could examine the idea that it’s not a good book. Or at any rate, not relevant. I haven’t read War and Peace, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s good or relevant, but metrics on readership could paint a picture to a certain extent. The relationship between books and readers is not as simple as “I like this book so I shall read it”; price, advertising, and word-of-mouth buzz all play a role too.

But the more data you have, the more accurate you can be. More knowledge is always better than less, particularly when it pertains to artistic, intellectual pursuits.

At any rate, it’s a great article with a lot to say, and I’m really proud to see that I called it — extribulum is now being put into play by big business, where I hope it will prosper.