Books

NOT SETTING THE PUBLISHING WORLD ON FIRE

Almost every month, Amazon informs sends me a bit of money from sales of my book. The amounts are enough to get a cup of coffee and a doughnut at Dunkin Donuts, but not enough for a cappuccino or anything at Starbucks. I’m always tickled that someone bought a copy. I’ve set the Kindle price as low as they will allow, so I don’t exactly make a killing on royalties.

The_12-Foot_Teepee_Cover_for_Kindle

I wrote the book in 2007. Publication date is officially September 27, 2007, though it really didn’t “hit the market” so to speak until 2008. I did lots of “author things.” Television interviews on local cable, radio interviews. I got a bit of nice local press.

I arranged book signings. They were fun, though turnouts were small. I got to meet other local authors, some of whom have become friends.

I sold a few hundred books. Not bad for a self-published book. For a while, I got royalty checks that were large enough for a cheap dinner for two at a local fast food joint. I briefly thought Teepee would be a minor straight to DVD movie, but financing failed. So much for Hollywood.

It’s difficult to successfully market a self-published book. Like all new authors, I had dreams of glory. I dreamed of Hollywood and best-seller lists. I was deluded.

A highly personal book largely based on life experiences will sell only if written by a celebrity. Even celebrity tell-all books don’t do well, moving from display in the front of the store to the discount bargain bin faster than you can say “I didn’t know he/she wrote a book …”

Recently, I got to read a lot of books deemed “the best fiction of the year.” I have no idea on what basis these books were determined to be the best of anything. The overall quality is pathetic. Most of them are uninspired, derivative, and trite. Boring at best, unreadable at worst. Many will cause you gastric distress and lead to a burning need to read something involving wizards, vampires, and time travel.

Every now and again I bump into a winner … an author who can really tell a story, and a story that transports me to another place. I live for those moments. It’s too rare.

Which brings me back to my book. It is not deathless literature, but it’s better than most of the books designated as the best of the year’s fiction. My book has characters, humor, and the semblance of a plot as well as a good-faith attempt by the author (me) to make a point. At the very least, you will learn how to build a tepee (perhaps how not to build a teepee). You might not love my book, but I’m pretty sure it won’t bore you into a stupor.

These days, books that sell are mostly cops and courtrooms, whodunits, thrillers, terrorists, fantasy, and the supernatural. Is the real world too dull to write about? Are we that boring?

If you are interested, you can buy the paperback here and the Kindle edition here. If you belong to Amazon Prime, you can borrow it for free.

I worry about the state of publishing. I am sure more good writers can’t find a publisher than can.

Why not publish more books? E-books cost nothing but storage space . Books like mine, published as “print to order”, don’t exist until after they are bought and paid for. It’s risk free and would be good for everyone.

I fear how many authors are ruined by their inability to play the marketing game. Writing a book is easy compared to marketing it. The race by publishers to put out only best-sellers doesn’t work anyhow. Most books flop, just as they always have.

As far as I can tell, most acquisitions editors wouldn’t know a great book if it bit them on the ass. It’s not that I’m so great and couldn’t get a reading, a publisher, or an agent. It’s that what does get published is so dreadful.

AFTER THE END COMES RENEWAL: EARTH ABIDES

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

I first read this book 40 years ago. It wasn’t new then having been written in 1949, yet it has stuck with me, despite having read thousands of books since.

Earth Abides is sometimes referred to as “the original disaster” story, but it isn’t a disaster story at all. It is, as the title suggests, a book of renewal and hope.

Although events are set in motion by a disaster — a plague that starts somewhere, no one is sure where — and kills off most of the population, that’s only the beginning of the story. A few people are naturally immune to the disease. Also, anyone who was ever bitten by a poisonous snake and survived is immune.

The remnants of humanity find each other and form groups, then tribes.  They repopulate the earth, creating a new society that has bits and pieces of what had gone before, without much of the baggage of the past.

The book was re-released in a 60th anniversary edition a few years ago, including a newly recorded audio version that has an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot count the number of copies of this book I’ve owned. I buy copies of it and lend it to people. It’s theoretically on loan, but the books are never returned, so i buy another copy.

The book is a bit preachy, but George Stewart is a lot less preachy than Anne Rice and I agree with him.

And, what seems ordinary today was revolutionary 63 years ago.

The book holds up well. Technology has moved on, but because technology is insupportable on a depopulated earth, it makes no difference what had or had not been invented. It is all useless without supporting infrastructure.

You can’t drive cars without gasoline, use phones without service. Our satellites might continue to circle the earth, but who would send or receive their signals? After our batteries go flat, it’s over for technology.

The world ends, the world begins. Earth abides.

Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the ability to not only survive, but reinvent the world and be better than we are.

If you haven’t read this book, read it. It’s available on paper, for Kindle, and from Audible – an excellent recording with a fine narrator. I recommend it.

I love this book. I read a lot of science fiction, or used to … but I’m finding most of the new offerings in the genre bleak, to say the least. Hope is as scarce in recent science fiction as the visions of the future are barren and grim. Everything seems set in some version of an ugly, dystopian future emphasizing the worst traits of human nature. Granted we are flawed and there is much evil amongst us, but I don’t necessarily want to dwell in that wasteland.

Earth Abides is exactly the opposite. It is timeless — and rich with hope.

LEWIS CARROLL — HOW DOTH THE LITTLE CROCODILE

How Doth the Little Crocodile” appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Recited by Alice in Chapter 2, it describes a crocodile who lures fish into its mouth with a smile.

How Doth the Little Crocodile

Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

I suspect it’s the source of the idea for “Never Smile at a Crocodile” in Disney’s animated “Peter Pan” (1953).


It parodies a popular Victorian children’s poem:

How Doth the Little Busy Bee

Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: THE OTHER PEOPLE IN NORMAN ROCKWELL’S AMERICA – JANE ALLEN PETRICK

Freedom_from_WantThis beautifully written book about Norman Rockwell, the artist and his work focuses on the non-white children and adults who are his legacy. The book will be an eye-opener for many readers despite the fact that anyone who goes to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — or seriously looks at Rockwell’s body of work — can see that Norman Rockwell never portrayed a purely white America. This country’s non-white population have always been there, even when he had to more or less sneak them in by the side door.

These people — Black people, Native Americans and others — are not missing. Rockwell was passionate about civil rights and integration. It was his life’s cause, near and dear to his heart. It is merely that the non-white peoples in his pictures have been overlooked, become invisible via a form of highly effective selective vision. Despite their presence, many people choose to focus on the vision of white America and eliminate the rest of the picture. Literally.

The author tells the story not only of Rockwell’s journey and battle to be allowed to paint his vision of America, but also of the people who modeled for him, both as children and adults. She has sought out these people and talked to them, getting their first-hand experiences with the artist.

It’s a fascinating story and I loved it from the first word to the last. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT is available on Kindle for just $3.49. It’s also available as a paperback.

InPlainSight

From the Author

Whether we love his work or hate it, most of us think of Norman Rockwell as the poster child for an all-white America. I know I did. That is until the uncanny journey I share with you in this book began to unfold.  Then I discovered a surprisingly different truth: Norman Rockwell was into multiculturalism long before the word was even invented.

Working from live models, the famous illustrator was slipping people of color (the term I use for the multi-ethnic group of Chinese and Lebanese, Navajos and African-Americans the artist portrayed) into his illustrations of America from the earliest days of his career. Those people of color are still in those illustrations. They never disappeared. But the reason we don’t know about them is because, up until now, they seem to have been routinely overlooked.

For example, in her book, “Norman Rockwell’s People,” Susan E. Meyer catalogues by name over one hundred and twenty Norman Rockwell models, including two dogs, Bozo and Spot. But not one model of color is named in the book.

Another case in point? “America, Illustrated,” an article written for The New York Times by Deborah Solomon, art critic and journalist In honor of (an) upcoming Independence Day, the entire July 1, 2010 edition of the paper was dedicated to “all things American.”

“America, Illustrated” pointed out that Norman Rockwell’s work was experiencing a resurgence among collectors and museum-goers. Why? Because the illustrator’s vision of America personified “all things American.” Rockwell’s work, according to the article, provided “harmony and freckles for tough times.” As Solomon put it, Norman Rockwell’s America symbolized “America before the fall.” This America was, apparently, all sweetness and light. Solomon simply asserts: “It is true that his (Rockwell’s) work does not acknowledge social hardships or injustice.”

The America illustrated by Norman Rockwell also, apparently, was all white. Seven full-color reproductions of Rockwell’s work augment the multi-page Times’ article. The featured illustration is “Spirit of America” (1929), a 9″ x 6″ blow-up of one of the artist’s more “Dudley Doright”-looking Boy Scouts. None of the illustrations chosen includes a person of color.

This is puzzling. As an art critic, Solomon surely was aware of Norman Rockwell’s civil rights paintings. The most famous of these works, “The Problem We All Live With,” portrays “the little black girl in the white dress” integrating a New Orleans school.

One hundred and seven New York Times readers commented on “America, Illustrated,” and most of them were not happy with the article. Many remarks cited Solomon’s failure to mention “The Problem We All Live With.” One reader bluntly quipped: “The reporter (Solomon) was asleep at the switch.” The other people in Norman Rockwell’s America, people of color, had been strangely overlooked, again.I have dedicated Hidden in Plain Sight: The Other People in Norman Rockwell’s America to those “other people”: individuals who have been without name or face or voice for so long. And this book is dedicated to Norman Rockwell himself, the “hidden” Norman Rockwell, the man who conspired to put those “other people” into the picture in the first place.

ON NOT BEING A CULTURE SNOB

I read a post about how dreadful (yet gripping) romance novels can be. It’s true. They are the potato chips of the literary world. Bet you can’t consume just one! Even if you don’t like them (and mostly, I don’t, much), they grab you and won’t let you go, even though you know in advance exactly what is going to happen, pretty much from the opening page.

That’s not the point of these books. If as a girl, you read the back of cereal boxes, romance novels are the next step up. I’m not sure what the literary equivalent is for guys, but I’m sure there is one.

netflix for books

As the former editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, I can tell you our research showed readers of romance novels to be far better educated than average readers. Many have advanced degrees in the sciences. They read romance novels exactly because they are mindless pulp. They aren’t looking to be informed or improved, to have their world expanded, reading-level or awareness raised. They want a book they can pick up, read, put down. If life gets in the way, they can just forget them without regret.

I read each 3-book volume, one per month. It contained three romances: 2 modern with a Gothic sandwiched between. Every novel had the same plot, the same outcome. They sold gangbusters.

Regardless of what we, as writers, would like, people don’t necessarily read books because they are good. Me? I often avoid “good” books. I don’t want to go where the book would take me. I’m not stupid or lacking in culture. I just don’t want to read it.

Why? Too depressing, too intense, too serious, too ugly, too educational. Too real. I read for the same reasons I watch TV and movies. To be entertained. I am not seeking enlightenment. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am no longer seeking enlightenment. If I ain’t enlightened by now, I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in this lifetime.

The wondrous thing about the world of books is there are so many books. Enough genres, themes, and styles for anyone. Everyone. An infinity of literature so no matter what your taste –low-brow, high-brow, middle-brow, no-brow — there are thousands of books waiting for you. That’s good. I’d rather see someone reading a bad book than no book.

I’m not a culture snob. I think reading crappy novels is fine if you like them. Watching bad TV is fine too. Snobs take the fun out of reading. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, if you are, that’s fine. Since I love reading about vampires and witches, I’d be a hypocrite to act like your taste is somehow inferior to mine.

These days, I’m rarely in the mood for serious literature. Tastes change with the years. Mine has changed more than most. Life has been a very serious business for me. When I read, watch TV, or see a movie, I am happy to escape from reality.

Finally, my favorite professor at university — a man I believe was profound and wise in every way that counted — was a big fan of Mickey Spillane. He said there was a much truth in his books. I believe for him, there was.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need it. Or both. Because, despite the fact the many bloggers pretend they “write for themselves,” it’s untrue. We blog because we want other people to read our words, to connect with our ideas. If we wanted to write “for ourselves,” we’d keep a diary.Garry - Writer Christmas Day

Why are bloggers so coy about wanting an audience? Is it because they aren’t getting a good response, so instead of trying to figure how to bring in more readers and followers, they say they don’t care whether or not anyone reads them?

And then when one of us is moderately successful and popular, they get all squinchy-eyed and moralistic, as if  we’ve ruined the purity of the blogging experience.

Really? Seriously? When did we achieve that lofty spiritual level where we are above worldly concerns … like popularity and success? The hypocrisy of it takes my breath away. If that is how you really feel, you shouldn’t be blogging.

We all care. Anyone who says otherwise is lying — probably to themselves and definitely to us. We all want to be read, to be seen, to have an audience. If we take pictures, we want people to look at our images and say “Wow, that’s amazing.” Because we want to be amazing.

Writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I suffocate. My friend?  She needs to compete. To play golf. Or she will suffocate.

TELL ME HOW TO WRITE

I can’t begin to count the number of people who tell me they want to be writers, but don’t know how to start.

That they ask the question suggests they will never be writers. Writers write. No one has to tell you how or when. You write and will keep doing it because it’s not what you do, it’s what you are. You may not write brilliantly, but you will write. You’ll get it right eventually. Doing is learning.

I started writing as soon as I could read. Putting words on paper was the same as speaking, but took longer. I didn’t mind the extra time because I could go back and fix written words. Being able to change the words and keep changing them until they said precisely what I wanted them to say was the prize.

I was socially awkward and my youthful verbal skills not well-suited to my age and stage in life. I wasn’t good at sports. No one wanted me on the team. In retrospect, I can understand it, but when I was a kid, it hurt.

Games and other social activities let you become popular, make friends, and do those other things which matter to kids. I couldn’t do that stuff, but I could write. And read. I might be a klutz, but words let me build worlds.

75-BookStory HP-2

If you are going to be a writer, you know it. Practice will make you better, help you understand how to build plots,  produce books publishers will buy. But writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it.

Writers have words waiting to be written, lining up for the opportunity to be set on paper or in the computer. It may take a while for you to find what you want to write about. But you will write.

Talent comes in an endless number of flavors. If you are a musician, you’ll find a way to make music. The same with painting, photography, drawing, running, hitting a baseball or throwing one so that it just skims that outer corner of the plate at 96 miles per hour. Mathematics, engineering, architecture … creativity and talent are as varied as the people who use it.

Ghost Photographer

ADVICE FOR THE BEWILDERED 

My advice to hopeful writers is simple. Write.

Don’t talk about it. Do it. Write a lot, as often as you can, even if most of it is crap and you won’t show it to anyone. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way. If you don’t write, it’s your loss, but it may also be the world’s loss. You never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

This blog is my outlet for the millions of words stuffed in my head. Yes, I really want you to read it. It matters to me and I see no reason to pretend it doesn’t.

On the other hand, I hate golf. Can’t figure out why anyone would want to walk around an enormous lawn hitting a little white ball. I can’t think of anything more boring, but I know a lot of golfers. They live for it. The rest of the week is just a pause between tee times.

So, if you don’t get why I write, that’s okay. You don’t have to get it. That I get it and can do it and other people read it … that’s fine.

You do your thing, I’ll do mine. And we will all find happiness doing stuff we love.

ALL TECHNOLOGY IS MAGIC — WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

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