Monday, July 21, 2014

The Easy Part

An old friend of mine, who currently lives in the Washington D.C. area, was recently touring around Ireland with her husband and they stopped by to visit us. When I told her that I had published a book, she was very impressed.

“You’re the first of my friends to get their book published!” she exclaimed.

The fact that I had published it myself did not dim her enthusiasm.

One of her friends has been stuck forever in the writing—and re-writing—stage and finding it difficult to finish a manuscript. Another friend has no problem finishing manuscripts and even has a literary agent and has worked with a “book doctor,” but she has not been able to convince her agent that anything she has written will sell.

So, in light of those experiences, my friend thought that I had achieved something great by publishing Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.

But self-publishing is easy, I told her. In fact, it is amazingly easy if you are publishing a Kindle book. Just register with Amazon, answer a few questions online, and upload a file. That’s pretty much it.

Having said that, I suppose self-publishing is—at least technically—easier for me than it might be for a lot of writers because I happen to have the practical skills to look after my own typography, formatting, and tech support needs. Not to be too nerdy about it, but I actually write my books in HTML with a text editor rather than relying on Microsoft Word or any other word processor. That is second nature to me after years of coding things in various mark-up languages. (Extra points to you if the names troff and TeX mean anything to you.) But obviously those skills aren’t a requirement for every author. There are various ways to get help with formatting and file generation or to have someone else do it for you.

I guess the main reason I tend to think that publishing is easy is because there are so many books out there. Sometimes it seems like so many that I figure that everybody in the developed world must have published one by now. But that math only works if you ignore the fact that nearly half of all books published seem to have been written or co-written by James Patterson.

But my friend’s story about the writer who can’t get her agent to take on anything she’s written illustrates for me the real challenge in writing these days. There seems to be more writers than ever and there seems to be more readers than ever. And generally speaking that’s a good thing. But it also means that books are more of a consumer product than they have ever been. Publishers, agents, booksellers and readers themselves seem to want their books to fit neatly into pre-packaged, strictly defined genres. Selling books is apparently about giving readers what they expect and want.

When I was getting ready to upload my book, I was stymied when confronted with the multiple-choice question about its genre. My book didn’t seem to fit easily into any niche. Maybe it is a YA book, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that label because of all the bad language spewed by the characters. (Probably just showing how old-fashioned I am.) Other categories didn’t really fit, although “adventure” kind of came close. In the end I went with “literary fiction.” Does that make me sound pretentious?

Yes, self-publishing is easy. But that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily simple.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lend Me Your Eyeballs

Yes, it’s true.

I only wrote and published a novel because I wanted an excuse to start a new blog.

Seriously, it hadn’t even occurred to me that, once the book—which by the way is called Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead—was finished, I should start blogging about it. But once the writing and editing parts were done and I realized that I had to get serious about the publishing bit, every source of information and advice was telling me that I needed to blog about the book and about writing.

So here I am blogging.

But here’s the rub. Isn’t every minute that I spend writing words for a blog one less minute that’s available for writing the next book? Isn’t that kind of counter-productive?

Technically, the answer is yes, since there are only so many minutes in the day. But, less technically, the answer is no, because it is a given that every author needs to spend a certain amount of time publicizing and marketing his or her work anyway and, if you have to spend time on that stuff, you might as well spend it doing something a writer is presumably good at, which is after all writing. Besides, the writing you do on a blog is different than the writing you do in a novel. It’s sort of like clearing the palate in between tasting different wines.

My problem when it comes to creative writing is that I easily get distracted by technical matters. This comes from many years spent in jobs that have involved formatting, production, pre-press prep, and various forms of computer support. So when I am working on a book, it’s always tempting to spend lots of time fiddling with the formatting, the layout, the structure, and just general generation of the best quality HTML and/or Epub files I can manage.

The same thing applies to the blog. There are so many layout/design decisions to get out of the way before you can even starting writing anything. And, as an inveterate technical problem solver, I had the additional challenge with this blog of using the custom domain name I had acquired ( and making it point successfully to the blog on Blogger or Blogspot or whatever is the right name for this hosting site real estate I am borrowing from Google. It turned out that the web host I used to acquire the domain address—and which hosts my film blog—does not play nice with Google’s method of working with third-party domain names. Next thing you know, I have A Project on my hands trying to make something work that common sense says should be a piece of cake because lots of people have obviously been doing this for years already.

If you are reading this, then it is probably a good indication that I successfully solved the problem and that trying to connect to this blog is not putting your browser in an endless loop between one hosting site and the other. (That’s not just a theoretical worst case scenario. It was actually happening at more than one point during this ordeal.) Or you might just be reading this on Goodreads, where it is mirrored.

And furthermore, if you are indeed succeeding at reading this, then thank you very, very much. It is always an honor and a privilege to have the attention of somebody else’s eyeballs, even if just for a few minutes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Max and Carly Live!

As the saying goes… hello, world!

It’s been a while since I’ve started a new blog. Five years since I started ranting and raving about world events, and an astounding nineteen years since I began writing about movies and related stuff. I don’t think the word “blog” even existed back then. And I could argue that the movie blog started even earlier than that—twenty-seven years ago, if you count the movie reviews I was writing and posting on the wall of my place of employment for the benefit of co-workers before the birth of the World Wide Web.

If all these years of blogging demonstrates anything, it’s that I’ve always had a need to be writing something. But like probably most people driven to write, I always had it in mind to write a novel. In fact, I’ve written many in my head and even started keyboarding several of them. But the blogs were a handy way to fulfill the writing need and still have time for work and family. But eventually a funny thing happened. The daughter for whom I felt it was so important to make time and not estrange myself from by locking myself away for hours every day writing started pressuring me to finish one of my books. And lo and behold, I finally did. It’s called Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. Why is it called that? You’ll just have to read it.

For the moment it is available exclusively for Kindle and on the right side of this page you can find links to various Amazon sites where you can preview it, borrow it (if you have such privileges with Amazon) or even purchase it for download. Also to the right are links to my other blogs where I have already been discussing the book and what it’s about. I will henceforth carry on that discussion here.

For now, though, I will just give the briefest of summaries of what the book is about. In my usual humble way, I wanted it to be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for my generation, those of us who came of age at the beginning of the 1970s in the American Southwest. I wanted to explore the clash and mutual attraction of Anglo and Latin culture. I wanted to revisit the confusion of the events and politics of the time. I wanted to celebrate the friendship and bonds that young men form in the transition from boyhood to manhood. And I just wanted to enjoy the excitement and fun of being young, having bad judgment and exploring the big, wide world.

And, no, it’s not all that autobiographical. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Thanks for reading this and sharing a part of the journey.