12 November 2011

2011 Writing Perspective

From JOE STRUMMER and the legend of THE CLASH by Kris Needs--“We started the 101’ers with one amplifier and one speaker’, remembered Joe. ‘We built our own equipment… We got some drawers out of a skip and we used to buy cheap speakers down the Edgeware Road and we’d drop them into these drawers and put a facing board on them and turn them up. That would be a cabinet… I used to go to gigs with two bricks in a shoulder bag and these bricks were to sit in the deck of a record player upturned with a broom handle screwed in it, which was the microphone stand. The microphone was taped on the top and the bricks were there to drop in the record player and keep the things steady so the mic didn’t fall over.’

I started writing in October 1998 with one goal--to get a book in print with one of the Big 6. Every writing-related action I’ve engaged in since has been to help me achieve the publication of a novel. I went to conferences to meet agents, went to book signings to meet authors to find out how they did it, I’ve taken query writing workshops, completed a Masters degree, bought writing how-to books, read agent blogs and subscribed to feeds from publishers.

And you know what? It was starting to work. My rejection letters really started getting better and people started telling me that was a good thing. Instead of ‘this isn’t right for us’, I started getting ‘the writing’s great, but we don’t know how to market it’. Some great victory, huh?

And that’s exactly why I’m pulling out now. I have the confidence to realize that my work is better than the form-rejection letter an agent’s intern sends me. Some would call it ignorance, or even hubris, but spending so many years on the outside looking gave me a new perspective on the industry I wanted more than anything to break into. And when I read that little passage from Joe Strummer it hit me… I’m not waiting anymore.

Musicians don’t wait until they get paid to start delivering songs to an audience. An artist doesn’t paint with thoughts of ‘is this right for the market’ hanging over his head. It’s writing, with its archaic hierarchy of agents, editors and marketing departments that complicates the artist’s relationship with consumers. And with Amazon’s way of e-distributing directly to readers, writers finally have an alternative route to publication. Look at some recent Tweets from Publishers Lunch—“Harvard Square’s Globe Corner Bookstore up for sale”, “Random House closes operations at Tricycle Press Imprint”, “Latest BISG eBook Survey Finds 40% of Respondents Spending Less on Printed Books”, “Aletheia Continues to Trim their Barnes & Noble Holdings”, “New Book Sales Fall 9.3% At Hastings, Which Has No eBooks”, “Borders Announces Yet Another Web Site Redesign”, “Joseph-Beth Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy; Will Close Another Two Stores”.

Whose fault is it the industry’s going to shit? It’s not mine. I’m not the guy who chooses to represent or publish Hilary Duff or Lauren Conrad or Snooki over writers who’ve been practicing and polishing their work for a lot longer than I have. St. Martin’s Press published J-Wow and Ronnie’s book, NEVER FALL IN LOVE AT THE JERSEY SHORE. Celebrity culture is not literary culture and massive media campaigns will never create the kinds of long-term relationships word of mouth readers and booksellers and good stories can.

If somebody from one of the Big 6 houses would’ve asked me, I would’ve said it was dumb to print hardcovers in such massive quantities that they’d only end up reduced 80-90% on a bargain table three months later. And that it’s a bad idea to rely on a book like THE DA VINCI CODE (or a DA VINCI CODE clone) to support the rest of the house. And that advances, like the $1.2 million paid for Andrew Davidson’s THE GARGOYLE, or Tina Fey’s $6.8 million advance or Tom Friedman’s $5 million advance leaves little or no money for new, developing authors. The kind of authors that turn out the mid-list books that support a house in the long run.

Until Amazon made it easy for writers to produce and distribute work on their own terms, we had no choice but to abide by the Kafkaesque system create by the Big 6 and literary agents. Agents are terrified (assumption is based proportionally on how often I see agents blogging about how un-scared they are) of e-publishing because it exposes them for what they really are. Agents don’t create anything, and they don’t produce anything. The idea of agents as gatekeepers is insulting to writers and to readers. I once heard an agent say at a conference, quite boastfully, he still would’ve passed on the Harry Potter series despite its success because he wasn’t interested in Rowling’s writing.

Jessica Faust of BookEnds,LLC doesn’t even think a well-established writer can stand without the machine. She said, “(Self-published) books aren’t what they’ve come to expect from you, and now they feel like they’ve wasted their hard-earned money and time reading books they found unsatisfying.” http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2010/11/building-your-career-on-kindle.html

So writers are little more than monkeys at typewriters? Interesting.

Here’s what she said about JA Konrath’s success--“In my opinion, he’s an exception to what’s happening, not the rule. Trust me, Joe has a lot of great points, and the biggest is the amount of money one can make going directly to places like Kindle rather than through a traditional publisher. That being said, can you make the money if no one buys your books? Joe was selling books to readers well before he entered the self-epublishing world, he had a fan base, and people were hungry to read more of what he had written. Let me put it this way: For every success story like J. A. Konrath, there are hundreds of authors who put a book out on their own, only to see a hundred or so sales to friends and family and then nothing.” http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2010/11/launching-your-career-via-kindle.html

My favorite is when she says, ‘…can you make money if no one buys your books?’ I don’t know, but I’d try asking Borders first?

Scott Eagan does her one better--“Many of the editors I talk to openly tell me they want to see some great new projects. They are desperately searching for that golden gem. They want that great author. Agents are doing the same thing. The problem is that the stories just aren't there.

I said this a couple of weeks ago, but you can't blame the editors for not buying. The real issue is that the stories just aren't coming in.” http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2010/10/just-some-observations-e-publishing.html

There you have it--it's the writers fault the industry is failing. Brilliant.

You know, I may or may not be Joe Strummer, but I sure as hell ain’t Snooki. Relying on my writing ability and my ability to sell myself sits with me a hell of a lot better than relying on agents and marketing departments. I know that the road to legitimacy is a lot steeper going this route, but it’s been virtually impassable querying agents and trying to attain my goals ‘legitimately’. If I stick with the Big 6 plan I won’t have readers until 2015, if ever. By going Amazon’s route I can have readers--for better or worse--tomorrow.

I know a Big 6 publisher is going to market me and make sure my book sells, right? I know this because it was what our Avalon Travel publicist was supposed to do. And we still set up our own signings and still contacted the media ourselves. We set up all of our own speaking engagements and presentations. The publicist contacted us the month before the release and never again, forcing my tenacious wife to learn more about publicity and marketing than she ever would’ve on her own. So I know even if would ever end up with a book deal, I’d still be promoting it myself. (But if our Avalon publicist is reading this, thanks a million! Because of you we learned to do it ourselves.)

When it comes down to it, I'd rather fail for something I’d written, rather than for not being able to ever get a foot in the door. If I have to start carrying around a couple of bricks in a shoulder bag, that's exactly what I'll do.

11 November 2011

Top 9: Veteran's Day Songs

Remember the men and women who came home, the ones who didn't, the ones still waiting to come home and the ones who never will. 11/11/11


8. SEAN FLYNN The Clash

7. TRAVELIN' SOLDIER The Dixie Chicks

6. BELLEAU WOOD Garth Brooks




2. ONE Metallica

1. HERO OF WAR Rise Against

10 November 2011

Top 9: Guitar Solos

Who does a Top 9? Preston Black, that's who.

Why a Top 9? It's a magic number (Sorry 3.) In numerology any number multiplied by 9 results in a 9 (2x9=18(1+8=9) 3x9=27(2+7=9)) and any number added to 9 results in the number added (1+9=10(1+0=1) 2+9=11(1+1=2)). On top of that, 9 is a root of 27, which holds special significance for my man, Preston.

Feel free to argue below.

9. PARANOID ANDROID Johnny Greenwood


7. BLACK Mike McCready

6. SOMETHING George Harrison

5. LITTLE WING Stevie Ray Vaughan


3. DAMAGE INC. Kirk Hammett

2. VOODOO CHILE (Slight Return) Jimi Hendrix


09 November 2011

And here's where I announce my deal with Raw Dog Screaming Press!

It gives me great pleasure to announce the beginning of a beautiful collaboration between Raw Dog Screaming Press and myself.

This partnership promises to be different than many of the hook-ups between writers and publishers you are familiar with. It is an attempt to move away from some of the mistakes made by the bigger houses, and toward a concept that benefits publishers, writers and readers in a variety of ways. During my meeting with Jennifer and John from Raw Dog I got the impression that my independence was as important to them as my prose, and it’s because they are publishers who earned a long string of successes by doing things their way and nurturing the kind of authors they love to read. (Mike Arnzen, Jeff VanderMeer, Elizabeth Massie—the list goes on.)

Raw Dog represents what’s best about the new face of publishing. They adhere to the Gen X ethos of pursing passion and individualism over corporate culture, which means they believe in what they’re doing. They’re risk-takers in a time when big publishers are playing it safe. Raw Dog reminds me of record labels like Sub Pop (which began as an extension of a fanzine) who chased music rather than receipts. Nirvana didn’t stand a flipping chance against Poison for a record deal with a major label in 1989. Yet Sub Pop helped kill corporate hair-metal pop because they didn’t try to change Nirvana, or tell Kurt, “You need more songs about deodorant.” And if you don’t get why that matters in today’s publishing culture, you probably don’t understand why Raw Dog’s so important to writers like me. (Or maybe you just liked Poison a whole lot better than you ever liked Nirvana. Every rose has its thorn, right?)

Amazon fueled the rise of independent authors the way MySpace gave unknown--but awesome--bands a level playing field. Music hasn’t been the same since. And now it’s publishing’s turn.

Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking, believes Gen Xers became a real force for meaningful change when we started to hit our 40s. Perhaps the changes we are now seeing in publishing reflects that. I mean, Gen X is already fixing a political landscape fashioned by the Boomer reaction to September 11th. Gen X is tackling an environment mired by oil spills and melting ice. (Thanks, again, Boomers.) Why shouldn’t we go after publishing the same way?

Gen X grew up with Reagan and the Cold War, but Stephen King and RED DAWN more than made up for it. We had to deal with Menudo and The New Kids on the Block but ended up with Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine. We’re used to waiting--we had to watch the Boomers grow up before we could. (I like Springsteen, too.) But while waiting, we learned how to snatch opportunity out of the hands of those who’d misplace or undervalue it. Many writers are missing some of those opportunities today. Look at who's doing promotion in social media, for instance.

Raw Dog and I share the sense that promoting is just as important as writing, and can be just as rewarding when you foster real relationships both online and face-to-face. The Big Six Houses tend to go after sure things. Raw Dog and I tend to prefer ‘the alternative,’ and our tastes have forced us to innovate.

They’ve asked me for five books—The Devil and Preston Black, which many of you may already be familiar with; Hellbender and All Saints, which I finished at Seton Hill; The Gospel of Preston Black which I will begin writing in 2012; and an unnamed fifth book. I met with them over the weekend and they inspired me the way a good general does his troops—I’d give blood for them because they believe in what they are doing. And I believe they have the same faith in me, which was all I could hope for when I put Preston out there for the world to see.

And here’s what I want my fellow writers to understand—I didn’t self-publish because I was afraid of the industry, or weak-willed, or an impatient writer. I did it because I knew my stuff kicked ass. And I knew, by putting it out there, it would find a home. So if you are thinking about doing it—do it. Don’t wait for an agent to give you permission to publish. You may wait forever.

08 November 2011

Hellbender Excerpt!

I originally posted this for Jeremy Bates' Halloween Hop and wanted to have it on a standalone page.

This is one of my favorite parts of the book, and it shows Henry, and his world, in transition. To me, this excerpt embodies the spirit of HELLBENDER.

Hellbender Excerpt

Download Yonder Mountain String Band, Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa, OK 01/29/05

     I reached into my pocket.
     "What’re you looking for?" Katy said.
     I showed her the long set of rattles I found in my dad’s closet. Jamie watched with keen interest, then said, "To keep the devil away, huh?"
     "Think I need it?" I gave him a half smile which he didn’t reciprocate. I dropped the rattles into an f-hole, then gave it a shake.
     Preston said, "Those don't always work, you know."
     "You hush up now, Preston." Jamie looked at me, "Hell Up Coal Holler, on three?"
     Jamie, Katy and I drew my bows like archers about to fire. When we released, sad triads floated into the valley. The syrupy notes that sprang from my f-hole stunned even my own ears. That unmistakable sound couldn’t be produced where Kentucky’s bluegrass sprouted. They were too busy with horses and basketball. And that sound couldn’t be produced in Tennessee’s Smoky hollows; they were too worried about Country and Western. That sad squeal was pure West Virginia. As I played I could feel the devil riding my bow.
     I had a real hard time keeping up with Jamie and Katy, who played these notes with well-practiced flourishes. These twelve notes, which journeyed with my pap’s grandfather over the gray North Atlantic when famine forced him from Ireland’s stony-green shore. These twelve notes, which sustained my grandmother’s grandmother when food couldn’t, when her trail led over frosty ridges into territory still haunted by ghosts of the first people. These few measures, which I played to announce my gratitude, to announce that my blood flowed for those who made me what I was, and for those who would speak of me when I was dead.

From the novel, HELLBENDER.

Banjos and Beatles. They said it would never work.

Download the show at Sugarmegs.

Yonder Mountain String Band
Cain's Ballroom
Tulsa, OK

Source: SBD (xlr out) > UA-5 (Oade warm mod) > Nomad JB3 @ 44.1 khz
Transfer: Nomad JB3 > PC (via USB) > CD Wave > FLAC16
Taped, transferred, and converted by Phil Rollins (philrollins@hotmail.com)

*******Do not encode to MP3 or sell this recording*******
*******Please contact me if you are going to do any remastering of this

Set I
Disc 1

1. Intro
2. Bloody Mary Morning
3. Half Moon Rising
4. Easy As Pie
5. Near Me
6. Old Plank Road
7. New Horizons>
8. Finally Saw The Light>
9. New Horizons
10. Rag Mama
11. Idaho>
12. Come Together>
13. Traffic Jam

Set II

Disc 2
1. Intro #
2. Ruby
3. What's Going On In The Head Of That Woman
4. Night Is Left Behind
5. Hit Parade Of Love
6. Sharecropper's Son
7. Train Bound For Gloryland> *
8. Little Rabbit> *
9. Granny Woncha Smoke Some *

Disc 3
1. Sometimes I've Won
2. You're No Good
3. Only A Northern Song>
4. Snow on the Pines>
5. Mother's Only Son
6. Crowd
7. Reuben & Cherise

06 November 2011

Goodnight, but not goodbye...

The PRINT version of THE DEVIL AND PRESTON BLACK is going away for a while. When it comes back, it comes back in a big way. Watch this space for more information.