Friday, November 24, 2017

Buried by charlatans

I enter Writer's Digest's Self Published Book Awards every year. Even though I have yet to bring home the top prize, the judges' critiques of Sever, Regret Things and Sin Walks Into The Desert have all been worthwhile - tough but fair, complete and useful, insightful and marketable.

This year, I sent The Baby Monitor: A Novella of Family Horrors to the competition. I believe in this little book. You can unwrap layers of meaning and metaphor from every page. And its characters and foreshadowing are much deeper than in anything else I've attempted.

I had high hopes. But Tuesday I got an email informing me I didn't win and delivering the judge's critique.

It was glowing.

Beyond glowing. It was a rave review, including perfect scores in the categories for Structure, Grammar, Plot, Character and Voice. The judge went through line by line calling out favorite moments:
"You have particular flair for repetition, a musical bent to your prose... The buildup of empathy throughout the story is powerful... I don’t just admire your use of metaphor, I admire the pace of them – just enough, like spice in a well-seasoned dish. The sheer propulsion of this climactic scene is priceless. An excellent book."
Writer's Digest is a legendary publication with serious cred. I know from experience their judges aren't nice to every book they receive, so it should be validating to get such a positive critique.

But accolades like these make me want to shoot myself.

Because The Baby Monitor has sold fewer than 60 copies despite hundreds of dollars worth of advertising, raves from Indie Reader, the support of my email list, and an audiobook available on all the major podcast platforms and my personal YouTube channel. Plus I've given away hundreds of copies and gifted 40 more with only four Amazon reviews to show for it.

Meanwhile, you know who I hear is making money in publishing? Plagiarists who buy ebooks, swap out a few adjectives, and republish them as their own work. Clickfarms that boost authors' page count for a price. And frauds who steal outlines and outsource their content to ghostwriters in the Philippines.

Amazon has given writers a way to publish fiction that never would've seen daylight a few years ago. An 18,000-word novella like mine would be dead in my desk drawer. So I guess I should be grateful. But right now I'm just frustrated. I've been buried by charlatans.

What's the answer? In moments of doubt, I watch this video and am reminded.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

What do you get when you cross painkillers, motorcycles and Flannery O'Connor

About a year ago, I got stuck on my couch for a week. I read the complete works of Flannery O'Connor and watched Ride with Norman Reedus. My head addled by Catholic allegory and open asphalt, I typed up a short story named "Get Along Fine."

It's an OK story, mostly valuable for the description of the highways between Denver and Albuquerque. But I hadn't the slightest idea who'd want to publish it. So I dared myself to turn it into a podcast. A year later, here it is.

The words and acting are obviously me, including Scratch's half-baked accent. All the music is me too, playing either a Fender Strat or an Akai MPK Mini. The photo is courtesy of ckirby on Unsplash.

The first episode is below. You can listen to the whole playlist on YouTube.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

So, VJ's been busy.

VJ launched a bunch of new work last week for Enstrom, Colorado Loves and CU South Denver. What impresses me most is the range. We're doing what's right for the client, whether it's long-form nostalgia, fast-and-fun documentary or inspiring motion graphics.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"I suspect everyday life is trying to drive me crazy"

A few months ago, IndieReader gave The Baby Monitor: A Novella of Family Horrors a really insightful review. Today, they published an interview with me, featuring tidbits such as:
What inspired you to write the book: The bills on my counter and the alarm clock by my bed. My car breaks down and as soon as that gets fixed, my dryer breaks down. Sometimes I suspect everyday life is trying to drive me crazy. So I wrote a book about it.
I also talk about why genre fiction is superior to most literature. Please go give it a read!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A quick note about Johnny Marr's Set The Boy Free

I recently read Set The Boy Free, the autobiography of guitar genius, consummate collaborator, indie god and personal hero Johnny Marr. And given that it's essentially the fifth Marr history I've read, I feel like I ought to say something about it. But I'm not sure what.

The book is well-written and entertaining for New Wave geeks like me. But nearly every section feels facile. "I joined Band X and it was great, everyone was talented and I was very happy, but a couple years later I joined Band Y, which was also filled with awesome and talented people, but two albums later I decided to go collaborate with Band Z, and that was good, too."

I wasn't looking for dirt, but I would've loved some grit. I came away with a portrait of Marr as sort of a blithe spirit, flitting from project to project without ever considering the importance of his decisions.

The book is like Marr's guitar playing itself, woven inside time, defined by a dogged refusal to take the lead.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Reflections on proofing the Sin and Nicki Box Set

I published Sin Walks Into The Desert, Regret Things and To Guns as a Kindle box set this weekend. Mostly, this is just a marketing thing. (My Owl and Raccoon box set easily outsells the individual books in that series.) But it's also because I want more readers to make it through to To Guns, which is one of my favorite books.

I did the due diligence of proofing the whole series, and it was a frustrating and illuminating experience. Sin Walks Into The Desert is undeniably a niche book. I get that. Sin is sulky and obsessed with guns and the language of the book follows his lead. Still, with all the awards the damn thing has won, I feel like it should be a best-seller. Some of the scenes - like the conversation between Sin and Sandy in the diner after Sin pulls a gun at school - are just fucking great.

Regret Things was a much more frustrating read. Some of my more creative friends say it's the best thing I've ever written. And there are places they're right. The dialogue between Nicki and Ryan before she asks him to help with her heist? Fucking brilliant. But the pages read like a mashup of scenes, not a novel. And too much time is spent with Nicki's illicit lover, Grant. He was the inspiration for the book, and therefore the whole series. But now I look back and worry that he sucks all the oxygen out of Nicki's story. And his nonstop leering feels eye-rollingly adolescent. I wish I'd culled his airtime back.

So I'm not surprised To Guns has been a flop. To enjoy it, you really need to have read both of the prior books. But I can't imagine there are many people out there who'd tolerate both a raw neo-Western and a casserole of bohemian excess. That's a huge regret of mine. To Guns' descriptions of the Colorado mountains, its shootouts, and its scene between Nicki, Sin and their underage bartender are all so, so good.

I hope this box set will finally get To Guns the audience it deserves.