Literature

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.

YOU ARE OLD, FATHER WILLIAM – LEWIS CARROLL

Lewis Carroll is my favorite poet. In this, one of his less well-known but nonetheless wonderful poems, he offers commentary on both parenthood and aging. I find myself relating. Really. No kidding.

Just for fun, I’ve included John Tenniel‘s original illustrations which accompanied the poem on publication.

From Wikipedia:

The poem appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and is recited by Alice (Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar” which was Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar she has tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and it came out all wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile”. The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William.” 

Following is the poem she recites.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

FatherWilliam-1

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

FatherWilliam-2

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

FatherWilliam-3

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

FatherWilliam-4

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

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.

THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER

  I have always felt kind of sorry for the oysters. Silly little shellfish, so foolishly trusting. “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is a narrative poem by Lewis Carroll. It appears in Through the Looking-Glass, (1871). The poem is recited in chapter 4, by Tweedledum and Tweedledee, to Alice.

UH OH! MOM’S GONE ALL KAFKA!

Thanks so much to Momshieb at Empty Nest, Full Life for giving me a great line. It made me laugh all day. I got lucky and found the perfect illustration! This one’s for you!

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