It’s Worth It

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George had never worked harder than in those early months of 1968, nor enjoyed his work more. When in February a young friend whose poetry he admired wrote to complain that the writer’s life was too tough for him, George urged him to persevere, even though it might lead him into poverty and loneliness and long periods of obscurity. “That’s the way poets are tried and tested,” he insisted. “It’s worth it.”[1]

If anyone is interested in another fine story of another unconventional writer’s life I recommend Maggie Fergusson’s biography of the Orkney based Scottish poet George Mackay Brown.

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/0719566053/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

I myself began submitting my writing for publication in 1990, from my modest hovel of a basement apartment in Astoria, Queens. The story of those long ago days in Queens appears in some older blog posts and the story of my poetry failures and little victories appears elsewhere in the journal I’ve mentioned, perhaps I’ll post those entries here someday.  Otherwise, much news!

  • The Goodreads Giveaway is over and I’ve shipped paperback copies to the winners – seventeen in the U.S. and three in Canada – this morning. Congratulations to winners and thank you to all who took the trouble to enter!

As before, with the first giveaway, if you entered and didn’t win and would still like a copy of the novel in any format – hardcover, paperback, eBook or audiobook – just email me (carnegie@carnegieolson.com), I’ll check your name against the winner list I received from Goodreads and don’t forget to provide your mailing address if you’d like a print copy. I won’t spam you or otherwise use your email or mailing address for anything but delivering your book, you’ll just have to trust me on that. Anyway, giveaways are fun and here’s hoping anyone who likes the book takes the time to review or rate it – such things are so important to the fledgling author.

  • Bookfunnel giveaway! I find that the promos, established as they are by independent Bookfunnel members, as it were, have their own idiosyncratic requirements for acceptance, namely, whether you have to share the giveaway on social media, your newsletter maintains a readership of a certain significance, you have a Bookfunnel landing page, what have you, to say nothing of the compatible nature of the content and book cover. And perhaps sufficient sales. The first one I attempted to join was a bust and they never even emailed me to let me know I wasn’t in, least of all why not.

Anyway, these things may be a bit risky – I’m not very comfortable with getting involved in little private promotions but then again the indie nature of them appeals to me, too. So, hey, I’m going with my gut and trying again. Hence, I joined a giveaway entitled “Fall Space Adventures” which runs 9/3 – 10/9. So, click on the link below (it’s “coming soon” because, again, it begins Thursday, Sept. 3) and TC shows up down the page a bit, hooray! In the end, for those perhaps disinclined to offer up their email address willy nilly, least of all to me, consider it an alternative way to get a free eBook of Time Crime! https://books.bookfunnel.com/fallspaceadventures/6g9sowlci1

  • The audiobook is finally up on Amazon (the book’s amazon page will eventually have all the formats linked) and their affiliate audible.com! Whew! It’s a very big deal because this is where, apparently, most folks these days are purchasing their audiobooks. Follow the link of your choice if you’re curious:

 

 

  • Yesterday was also great because I sold an eBook on amazon.ca for the first time – Yay! Thank you, Canada! – so nice to finish a month with a new reader and a potential new tribe member – here’s hoping you enjoy the book! Perhaps, dear new reader, you were inspired by my new amazon.ca ad campaign, perhaps not, consider shooting me an email to let me know how you came to the book, but no worries, anonymity is okay, too. Otherwise and anyway, devoted readers will know that Vixy is from British Columbia.

Otherwise, it was a nice August for the novel – thanks again to the Goodreads entrants. Thanks and welcome to the handful of new “followers” of the book reviews and the blog. And a very special thanks to everyone in the U.K., USA and the Great White North who took a chance, put their hard-earned cash on the line and purchased a copy of Time Crime – you are the best, it keeps me going.

  • UPDATE: My digital copy of the September issue Locus Magazine arrived today – I especially look forward to the print version coming later this month.

Readers my recall that I splurged on an advertisement, very nice, and of course the designer, Jennifer Grant of upwork.com is getting a free copy of the book because she was so professional and timely and loves sci-fi! Anyway, Locus is a cool magazine for sci-fi fans, I’ve recommended it before and I’m doing it again:

http://locusmag.com/

[1] Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life, (London: John Murray, 2007 [2006]), 200. The quotation is GMB’s.

Wild Horses

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Friday, August 28, 2020. What to create? What’s the difference between writing anything you want to write, writing for its own sake and writing to be read? I’ve already discussed my conclusion that writers (and all artist-craftsman for that matter) write to be read, everyone creates with the intention of communicating and communication necessitates an appreciator. It’s a two-way street, art-craft and the person receptive to it. Make noise and you make it to appeal to somebody. Or at least to get a reaction which in the end is the same thing, namely, communication. The idea that anyone creates anything without regard to communication, even if it’s creation within Joycean terms – pornographic art that intends to inspire somebody to do something (versus experience aesthetic arrest which transcends the doing) – hate it, for example, or buy it, destroy it, collect it, what have you – is bosh. In this sense all art-craft is a form of performance. But what it really is, if it is authentic, is mythological. So that if one’s work is mythologically based, arising intuitively, naturally, from one’s personal and cultural mythology, authenticity is the inevitable result.

I’m not discussing quality. Issues of quality have to do merely with the interplay of unconscious and conscious mastery. Unconscious mastery is merely a rendering of an unconscious personal mythological vision or image spontaneously without regard to technical skill. Hence, children without technical ability in an art-craft form render art-craft in spite of themselves, as it were. Reason and rational thought – overthinking something as they say – tends to dampen mythological resonance because self-consciousness has to do with being liked or disliked and authentic mythology is rather self-generating; it arises from within sans outside influence, at least from other people, let alone ideas of a marketplace or monetized environment. Art-craft that becomes too aware of critique is pornographic and, while oftentimes useful and appealing, ultimately lacks mythological substance.

My point, poorly described, is that questions regarding what art or art-craft is – whether a work qualifies as such – are rendered moot, irrelevant, beside the point so long as the artist-craftsman functions out of his or her mythological center or ground. Because our individual or personal mythological ground, our personal mythology, is merely an iteration of a cultural or common or universal, even archetypal mythology. Mythology – true fiction – can be said to be instinctual by way of its freedom from acquisition. We don’t need to seek and acquire what amounts to our biologically inherent aptitude for recognizing mythic images (including narrative that references the images). That is to say, we are born with a psychological architecture, variously mature in people, to create and respond to mythology, mythic images and mythological narrative. The affecting image is nothing more, then, that a bio-psychological trigger in all of us; an inescapable sixth sense, as it were, for myth, for mythology, for the mythic wherever we find it. And when we cannot find it, when we experience a lack of mythology we spontaneously create it. Over and over again, throughout history, the myriad iterations of the hero round, for example, are replayed, retold, regenerated, reinvigorated, reestablished, recreated, reinvented, eternally refreshed. Nothing is new at the same time as everything, in mythological terms, is new.

Create from your mythic center, as best you can, and if nothing else your work will possess and maintain that recognizable mythological therefore human authenticity and relevance. It may be an unconscious experience, both on your own behalf as the artist-craftsman or on behalf of the observer or appreciator. I don’t know what it is about this thing; I don’t know why I like it…. You like it, you’re drawn to it, affected by a thing because its mythology resonates with your own. And some works will be more universally, more culturally mythologically resonant than others. So be it. Many works are very quirky mythologically; they may require connoisseurship so as to recognize, appreciate or otherwise draw out and describe the mythology. I’ve said nothing new. I’ve rendered nothing here that others, Campbell, say, haven’t communicated more effectively.

A connoisseur is not a so-called pretend critic, an attitude apparently pervasive in the eighteen century. Neither is an authentic connoisseur a snob. Certainly self-awareness, comedic or merely mindful, is required to balance connoisseurship – the connoisseur must laugh at his devotion so as to keep it relevant and vital hence of use to others. A connoisseur so acutely remote within his own specialty, so withdrawn into his specialized world that it becomes a world unto itself has lost the point. We appreciate so as to communicate, propagate and perpetuate appreciation. Connoisseurship, then, is perhaps inherently pedagogical although, as with any valuable pursuit, appreciation can function as an end in itself, albeit, as with anything pursued or indulged in as an end in itself, the outcome is exile.

There remains, then, curiously, the condition of what you are compelled to create and what people want you to create – the work you must do, hinged to your position in time – your age and experience – compared to what people require of you. When the two things do not or no longer coincide, as an artist-craftsman you suffer. Oftentimes mightily. One’s inspiration changes. One’s naivete and inexperience – one’s lack of conscious mastery – may have been just the thing that allowed for the public appeal of your art-craft. Gain experience, diffuse your naivete and, too often, the so-called magic or vibe or essence likewise diffuses. She no longer writes compelling books, songs or paints compelling paintings. His films after this or that period suck. The band never again approached the excellence of their first record. And all that.

Is lousy, self-aware, market driven art-craft indeed suffering from the muse having fled? Is lousy work inauthentic? Are you trying to hard as an artist-craftsman? Are you faking it? Are you relying on skill versus inspiration? Yes. Now I’m an author. Now I can’t write a decent novel to save my life. The arrival can destroy the means by which you arrived. Your canoe sinks the moment you gain the shore. It happens. And you can’t go back. And you have to let it go.

It strikes me that aside from the challenge of dismantling accusations of being a pretend critic – someone who only pretends to possess the acumen, perspicacity, insight, experience, knowledge and mastery to evaluate, regard, critique or otherwise discern something for what it is (instead of what it may, on the surface, appear to be) – and likewise its establishing a thing’s historical, contemporary and future value, the vocation of connoisseur bears the risk of exile, of a kind of second sight that is unique, or perceived as unique by others. That is to say, by way of one’s connoisseurship, be it in regard to paleolithic cave imagery (so-called cave “art”), cuisine, the contemporary plastic arts or within any of the sciences (physics comes to mind necessarily by way of its requirement for theorizing), one’s sight, which amounts to a peculiar insight, when it fails to communicate itself to anyone else, even a single other person, one transcends or slips away from humanity. The exiled genius, perceived as not as a genius but as a village idiot, for example. Well, he might be on to something but whatever it is, it’s of no use to any of the rest us, not now anyway. So, well, fuck him.

Campbell’s assertion, then, mostly described within Pathways to Bliss, and a topic I have discussed at great length previously within various volumes of the DOP, that when the boon is won and brought forth – delivered from the realm of dream and vision into the world-of-action – it is received in one of only three ways; namely, (1) that of undisputed welcome, (2) that of indifference, or (3) that of the middle ground (the three star rating, so to say); whereby long term, patient pedagogy can serve to enlighten folks to what amounts to their own heretofore unsatisfied, unrealized requirements, needs, mythological substance, what have you. It’s not, then, that the audience isn’t there for a new novel, say, but that people aren’t ready for it. Hence, the idea of a work being ahead of its time. Or, in lieu of such a ponderous assessment (or, more accurately, preassessment) it may be regarded as a so-called acquired taste. These, as Campbell rightly declares, are the options.

Perhaps the work simply sucks. Perhaps it’s just a terrible, untalented, unaccomplished piece of hackneyed dross. Can’t that be the case? Yes. Hence the need for connoisseurs. You will always, I hereby suggest, find someone, somewhere with the means to evaluate and discern a thing’s value. I do this, for example, with myth and mythology: I discern the presence and accomplishment of the mythology within things. Moreover and furthermore, I see life in mythological terms. Campbell eschewed this effect of his connoisseurship, claiming somewhere – it may have been within the Larsen’s biography – (and I’m paraphrasing liberally) that he addressed the idea of his mythological vision, perspective, myth-awareness or mythic orientation skewing his otherwise workaday or pedestrian experience. Implying, strangely to me, that he chose to remain suspect of his vision. Then again, given the nature of his public career, perhaps he valued the infusion, if only on the face of things, an academic remove. In private, if he was anything like me and I dare say anyone else whose VAPM (veritelically authentic personal mythology) is indeed the scholarship and experience of mythology then he could not escape it. Wild horses can’t tear it apart. Tear what apart? The lived mythology. The experience, when one is having the experience of being properly alive, of participating in the mythic-ness of life; in its pervasive, essentially unavoidable imminence. I didn’t say eminence – that is, mythic living isn’t higher (which implies superior) than non-mythic living; rather, it’s the alternative perspective, the ever-available option. Myth is for everyone. It arises and is perpetuated by everyone. Myth couldn’t resonate with everyone, each in their idiosyncratic way, unless it was indeed a universal truth. A universally true fiction.

For the imagination is not an escape, but a return to the richness of our true selves; a return to reality.”[1]

George Mackay Brown (GMB) never seemed to refer to his mythic vision as such. Neither did he refer to his poetry or prose in mythological terms, unless obliquely. In this he reminds me of Joseph Conrad, another author who communicated and advanced mythology (created new mythology) without making a point of acknowledging such. Hence, I could merely rephrase GMB in humble service of my point: For mythology is not an escape, but a return to the richness of our true selves; a return to reality.

It may require, then, a connoisseur of mythology to discern the mythology within the work of someone who chooses to ignore it, finds it irrelevant or simply remains ignorant of the fact of it. Imagination, after all, while a vital component of mythology, neither serves to define nor fully express it. There are many flavors of imagination not all of which, of course, possess mythic relevance. The job of the artist-craftsman, unarguably, has never been to understand let alone communicate all the aspects of his work. Indeed, heaven help us when that happens. We don’t require our creatives to also be critics; rather, we allow and even prefer when their inherent connoisseurship remains, if not always unconscious, then at least unspoken. At best, when an artist-craftsman writes or speaks about his work, we may encounter an enlightening nugget, a choice piece of wisdom ; at worst, well, as Campbell suggested: ask an artist to explain his work and if he doesn’t like you, he will.

[1] Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life, (London: John Murray, 2007 [2006]), 167. The quotation is GMB’s.

Lord of the Jungle

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It’s been hell trying to normalize my existence with the crazy shifting around of shifts at the home improvement. If you asked me what day it was I’d guess Tuesday. When it’s actually Sunday. But last night I was indeed back on nights on a suitably short five hour shift and finally my schedule seems to have been adjusted to reflect my preferred level of commitment: twenty hour weeks on the closing shift. That allows me, presumably, enough time and mental space to get my writing done (I write early in the day unless I’m editing the novel which I’m more apt to do in the afternoon or  evening). Meanwhile my new manager, R., asked me if  I wanted to work full time, an offer that seemed inevitable all the months I’ve been enduring the thirty-plus hour weeks. Well, I was prepared for it and promptly said, “No; and I actually want twenty hours a week and the closing shift.” “Noted,” said R. We’ll see if things remain reasonable.

Why not take the hours? Why not maximize the money? Why not just surrender to what works, literally, and let the rest go? Like the novel, for instance? Well, there are those who would evaluate my sales and remind me that most books don’t sell more than a hundred copies and TC has yet to attain half that. In fact, if I’ve sold thirty-five copies, despite the little upsurge of sales in August, I’d be surprised. I must admit that it’s been a little challenging to keep track of the sales as they trickle in because of the multiple tracking systems that Amazon uses, namely, one for real-time so-called sales rank (only in the US), another for ad campaign sales (and within that system, a different sub-system for each country) and then, within Author Central, a “Reports” function that generates real-time Kindle sales but delays print sales until the book ships. So that I may see a sales spike on the ranking database that only appears on the campaign database and the Author Central reporting database after the order ships. It’s all a bit convoluted and frustratingly tedious. I get a sale spike on a graph or chart but have to verify that it wasn’t just a book that already sold but is just now shipping, for example.

As much as all the Amazon weirdness frustrates me I have to again give them kudos for allowing indie authors a medium for selling and marketing at all. If I relied on any other bookseller I’d not be selling anything. Nothing. Zero. Waterstones/Barnes&Noble? – forget it. Zero sales. Zero opportunity to promote TC. To this day I cannot search for “Time Crime” on their system and get any result, rather, I still have to type in “Carnegie Olson” for their search engine to bring up my title. Correction, at least on Waterstones I can indeed get a result, halfway down the page alongside old listings which don’t include my book cover. Otherwise, it’s a silly, stupidly clumsy, intolerably ineffective and inefficient online retail environment. Frankly, it’s unacceptable. But, oh, you can see Jamie what’s-his-name’s zillionth new cookbook at the top of the page, advertised to WHOM? Who fucking does business this way and expects success? God. Benchmark your systems, for Christ’s sake.

Ranting. It gets me nowhere. It’s a waste of energy. Take what’s given, maximize your opportunities, seek new realms of productivity for the book, reach out to the audience such as it is, to the early adopters – thank you all! – and be patient. Work the long game. Pressure and time. Market, which is to say advertise, as efficiently, narrowly, in the most focused manner possible towards the most financially savvy targets I can manage. When I make mistakes, when I acquire new information, make changes. Thrust, dodge, parry, as Daffy Duck once said. Adapt and overcome like the Marines do. No surrender. Unless letting go of it all, letting go of my vision of the book’s success that is, presents itself as the next adventure. Make lemonade out of lemons? Whatever. When my heart tells me its time to quit on the novel then, well, I’ll need to listen. Meanwhile, I’m not receiving that communication.

It was with understandable disappointment, then, when I discovered, a few days ago, a rating on amazon.uk (again, all the countries have their own Amazon sub-business architecture, apparently so that a rating in U.K. does not propagate into the other markets; in the US, for example, the book still seeks its first rating or review). And speaking of ratings, that’s just what I received. Whereas I was under the impression that one had to contribute a review to post any star rating I’ve discovered that as of a couple years ago Amazon changed their requirement and now allows just a star rating, no accompanying review. Argh. Akin to Goodreads, of course. But it allows for the lazy, tossed off, unthoughtful, possibly frustrated drunk-buy disappointment type to shit on something with almost no effort required, let alone any accountability. My first Amazon feedback then, at least in the U.K., a region I was just beginning to cherish as perhaps a stronghold for my tribe, ends up as a mere three stars. What does three stars mean? Well, whatever its technical description – “it was okay,” “liked it,” “really liked it,” “loved it,” what have you – the reality, which is to say the impression and degree of social proof stands, with a three-star rating as at best, “good but not great” and at worst: “mediocre.” And of course only an emerging author obsessed with traversing the threshold of obscurity, an author like me, that is, would obsess on what a three-out-of-five star rating really means; what it really says about the book. That said, I’ve noticed three-star rated books with a few hundred such ratings/reviews. So, apparently it isn’t a deal breaker or a guaranteed sales killer. Though it won’t help, either. Other than indicating to a potential buyer that, yes, somebody else, perhaps the author’s cranky mother for instance, actually read the thing. Or not. Who knows? I know that I pay attention to star ratings and I always read at least two or three reviews, one bad, one good, say, so as to get the lay of the land so to say for the thing. For every perspicacious, attentive review there are always exponentially more indifferent or off-target or just naïve, even ignorant postings. “The book arrived in good (or bad) condition…,” that kind of thing. Or, “I bought this on a whim and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting…,” or, “Gibberish.”

A rating is progress. Any effort that anyone makes to provide feedback I ought to interpret as something positive. At least it’s not negative. Because in the end I’m to play out the adventure come what may. Risk poses the potential for failure and the accompanying humiliation. Moving forward with departure, trials and return doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, as it were. No. Far from it. It could still all end up as an unsightly train wreck, full of casualties. Or, less spectacularly, less glamorously, the adventure of TC may simply encounter its vanishing point. (I’ve written at length through the DOP about vanishing point, by the way).

Anyway, at this point, if you ignore the handful of five star ratings I’m happy to have garnered on Goodreads, on Amazon proper I’m positioned smack on the fence between thumbs up and thumbs down. Which probably speaks to the nature of the book itself. Which is to say, it’s not for everyone. I didn’t write it to appeal to the masses. Rather, it arrived, via the cosmos, and I rendered it. It may be more of an acquired taste, who knows? – something that requires time and proper context and an environment of expectation (there is always an expectation) that connects with the novel’s quirks. Because I admit, it is quirky. Time Crime is not “cool” or “hip” or otherwise pandering to the now. It is mythological and that’s that. Folks will get it or they won’t. Nevertheless, it will be helpful, ultimately essential perhaps, for a reader who is behind the book to communicate their support. I can’t ask for it, I know this is not how it works. Well, for some shameless authors I suppose begging for reviews, good ones, and soliciting them whenever possible is part of their marketing plan. Not me. It’s just a place that I do not want to go, the “remember to review my novel…” obnoxiousness. Goodreads supposedly encourages giveaway winners to post reviews/ratings and that’s okay because hell, you won a free book for Christ’s sake and if you liked it, shout it out loud. If you didn’t? Well, so be it, but try to be mindful, thoughtful, fair and specific in communicating  your critique. There is a lifetime of experience and many years of devoted, dedicated, long-suffering effort that goes into publishing many books. So that first impressions – judging a book by its cover as they say – are best set aside in favor of a thoughtful communication. You don’t have to like TC. Hell no. It would just be really nice to receive something more than a brush off if somebody spends their hard-earned cash on my work – thank you! – and finds it not to their preference. I’ll shut up.

Meanwhile, back to the long game. Which includes the audiobook, of course. Which hasn’t sold a single copy despite being available at every retailer besides Audible. Or B&N. Audible, when my narrator refers to it as the 900-pound gorilla in the business is, apparently, just that. They sell all the audiobooks and everyone else – the forty-some other retailers – sell, what, none at all? Statistically zero? Not that I expected TC to jump off the shelves, as it were. But zero sales in three weeks of being a new release in a still very limited marketplace? I don’t know, perhaps I have it all wrong. Perhaps I don’t have a clue as to the reality of the audiobook market. Perhaps it has collapsed? Perhaps I’m just goddamn too impatient? There simply isn’t a lot of information easily available on the web, at least as far as I can tell at least, regarding the status of the audiobook industry, let alone sales figures for any particular retailer. Not that I should care.

But it all speaks to how I ought to continue to market the book, audio format or otherwise. And it occurred to me, while I was miserably contemplating advertising options like B&N and Facebook – ugh! – that what I really want to tap is the knowledgeable, devoted sci-fi readership out there; the group of folks within and outside the industry that are predisposed to the reception of a good new book within their genre. Who are they and where are they? Well, I joined a BookFunnel promotion (I pay Bookfunnel to manage the eBook transactions, should I ever have one, on my website) that begins next month. BookFunnel markets eBooks exclusively. So, there’s that and we’ll see if anything comes of it.

Who else? Where else? I kept coming back to Locus Magazine. As much as I’ve been utterly disappointed (but hardly surprised) with their complete lack of communication regarding my inquiries – my offer of a giveaway code, for example – I figured hell, that magazine is a core entity for the field of sci-fi authorship and all things related to the marketing, promotion, reviewing and legitimization of a sci-fi novel. So be it. They can try to ignore me and then I can just keep coming anyway. So, I did. I paid for a graphic designer via UpWork.com – a great little search and destroy method of getting the job done by somebody who wants the work – to create a 1/6th page ad to Locus specifications and bang! – within twenty-four hours I’d emailed an ad to the magazine and promptly called them to make sure they got it and paid for the thing. They apologized for not responding to my emails. And nevertheless didn’t reply to my emails. Oh well. They squeezed my advertisement into next month’s issue – September – and that’s great. Even if it only seems great to me.

 

Quick. Dirty. Not perfect. But snappy. And cheap. Well, relatively cheap. Affordable, let’s say, within the context of magazine advertising for it still cost me $150 for the design and another $275 for the placement in Locus. Ouch, yes. But this is what it is to be an authorpreneur. Do you think, for instance, that a traditional publisher, had I been “graced” with such a luxury, would ever consider springing for even such a modest little effort? Hell no. TC would have already, seven or so months into publication, been summarily and unceremoniously remaindered and my rights returned to me as a categorical flop. Go away and don’t come back with your measly handful of sales, international or otherwise, who cares. Right? Right. Hence, given the challenges faced by my novel – the challenges of seeking, finding and connecting with its tribe – it’s best that everything to do with it remains with me. I care. I give a shit. I’m fully invested. And I continue to invest, literally putting my hard-earned money where my mouth is. Where the novel is. And where I envision it being, in due time. Whatever that turns out to mean.

I suppose I ought not to post any of this because it’s too revealing, too honest and straightforward and therefore I risk coming off at best as a struggling, striving indie authorpreneur and at worst a whining, self-absorbed crank. But surrendering to vulnerability, I’ve learned, is part and parcel of what it is to be an entrepreneur, to say nothing of being an artist-craftsman. There is a price for everything worth anything. If you’re too proud or too well adjusted to rant and rave and reveal your weaknesses, to expose your soft white underbelly (B.O.C. fans, hello!) once in a while, well, I suppose you’re better at this than I am. I’m merely doing my best to offer my best. And meanwhile, somehow, try to enjoy the crazy adventure of it all. If, dear reader, you have endured something similar, I salute you.

I’d like to finish on a positive, super jazzy note. Hence, I recommend listening to Tarzan of the Apes as narrated by my narrator, David Stifel. This is, as the description indicates, the original non-politically correct and therefore substantive and vastly entertaining version. My review (five stars across the board):

Visceral. Elegant. Enchanting.

A timeless mythic gem of a tale at turns gorgeous and terrifying. Stifel’s deft, nurturing narration is a magic spell – gripping, vivid, evocative – he teases tragic beauty and heartrending humanity from the book’s nightmarish sense of exile and cosmic brutality. Alongside the drama, as within all great myths, appear nuggets of lightheartedness, even comedy and in all, Burroughs’s great epic bristles with beguiling description, endearing vocabulary and striking drama. Stifel’s voice glistens. Unforgettable listen. https://www.audible.com/pd/Tarzan-of-the-Apes-Audiobook/B075613QQD?qid=1598203297&sr=1-8&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_8&pf_rd_p=e81b7c27-6880-467a-b5a7-13cef5d729fe&pf_rd_r=4HBB7KW193VQ9JVJYKRV

The Secret of the Lanterns

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R.R.: Perhaps somebody will read this, perhaps not, for now you are gone. I’d not looked you up in a while – life gets in the way. Nevertheless, perhaps the energy, for what it’s worth, will connect to you in some manner in the spirit of “authentic tidings of invisible things.” We corresponded for a time beginning just before your 84th birthday. Our subject was mythology. You provided a letter of recommendation on my behalf to a grad school, such was your graciousness and intuition. I didn’t attend the grad school. Instead, I returned to writing novels and I’m now an indie author (publishing under the pen name Carnegie Olson) and an independent scholar, work which is fueled by myth studies. “I have a feeling you are going to be doing fine things,” you wrote, “and I wish you joy as well as success.” One’s life is motivated, in the end, by a handful of essential guides and you are one of those for me. I will carry your inspiration as a lantern working its magic within me until I, too, encounter the threshold of eternity. All the gods speed to you, Mr. Richardson. Thank you.

***

I had not known that Robert Richardson had passed away. I posted the above to his website contact form, the place I first sought him out. Then, bothered that nobody would ever read it, I passed it along to his agent (whose email is listed on R.R.’s website) only to receive an automatic reply and a different email address. I tried that. Undaunted and determined to do my best to get my sentiments into the world in whatever small way I could manage, I looked up his agent’s apparently current workplace (agents are always changing jobs these days) and forwarded it there, too.

Anyway, I was inspired to look Richardson up again by way of a Goodreads reader who wrote, “you intrigued me with the myth and literature book by Richardson and i look forward to any reviews.” I surprised myself at never having written one. But life at that point two years or so ago when I read it was perhaps too entangled with other things. In any case, I posted a review today on Goodreads which is there for anyone, especially my new friend from Vancouver to peruse. It’s the least I could do for a man who, unbeknownst to him, stood as my only living guide in regard to my particular angle on mythology. We all have our guides and living ones are fundamentally different that dead ones mostly because living ones have a greater opportunity to disappoint us. As such, it’s usually best to never meet our guides because they can’t reasonably hope to ever live up to our inevitably impossible expectations, our mythologization of them. Nonetheless we reach out because we have to, damn the risks. So it was with Richardson. One of my journal entries from Wednesday, August 29, 2018 is entitled The Secret of the Lanterns which references and quotes a talk he gave in Richmond, Virginia in 2007, near the time when his William James book was appearing. I’m tempted to cut and paste the entire talk but this will due for now. Says Richardson:

I’ve been working for the last ten years on this biography on William James. And I should say right at the start, the more I learn about him, the more I like him. His great interest in life was trying to figure out how people can get to and use their own best energies. And his test for anything was to ask if it helped a person to reach and utilize the deepest energies that he or she possessed. His work for that reason is useful, actually useful. And his ideas are applicable all the time.

Now the common idea, that’s shared by James the psychologist, James the philosopher, and James the writer on religion is the importance of human, personal, concrete, actual experience. His interest in psychology was in consciousness as we actually live it, experience it. In philosophy, he thought that something was true or not depending on how it played out in actual circumstance, actual experience. And in religion, he recognized real religious authority to be only in the experiences of individuals taken one by one, but all decant.

Now many of these beliefs arose as one might expect from his own experience, which included a good deal of illness, and especially long periods of terrible depression, particularly when he was young. Well, young—between twenty and thirty, and utterly unsure about what he was to do in life. He was one of these people that took a long time to grow up, a long time to figure out what he wanted to do. And later, he wrote about this period in his life, and I have written about this partly because that I think it’s encouraging to know that somebody who was as bad off as William James was as a young man could amount to something later on. I mean, this is nice, it’s like reading the earliest poetry of Walt Whitman, which is about as bad as verse gets. It’s very encouraging to know that you can go from the terrible doggerel of Whitman’s earliest poetry to what he was eventually able to write. Same with James. And this is a piece that he wrote about himself and he stuck it in the book, The Varieties, as an anonymous Frenchman. But his translator tripped him up on it and said, where’d you get this? And he confessed to the translator in a private letter that it was him. He doesn’t parade it in the book. But the experience goes like this:

In this state of philosophical pessimism and general depression of spirits about my prospects in life, I went one evening into a dressing room in the twilight to procure some article that was there, when suddenly it fell upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously, there arose in the mind the image of an epileptic patient that I had seen in the asylum, a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit all day on one of the benches, or rather shelves, against the walls, with his knees drawn up under his chin, and the coarse, gray undershirt, which was his only garment, drawn over them, enclosing his entire figure. He sat there, like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image, and my fear, entered into a species of combination with each other. That shape am I, I felt, potentially. Nothing that I possess can defend me against that fate if the hour for it should strike for me as it had struck for him. There was such a horror of him, and such a perception of my own merely momentary discrepancy from him, that it was as if something solid within my chest gave way entirely and I became a mass of quivering fear. After this the universe was changed for me altogether. I awoke morning after morning with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the insecurity of life that I had never known before. And for months I was unable even to go out into the dark alone.

Toward the end of the book… [h]e says that there are two things in which all religions seem to meet. And the first of these is a conviction that there is something wrong about us, as we naturally stand. It’s one of James’s great strengths, I think, that he doesn’t gloss over or underestimate what’s wrong. At the end of his discussion of the sick soul in the book, he says the normal process of life contains moments as bad as any of those which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings, and takes its solid turn. The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the slaughterhouse, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait ’til you arrive there yourself. To believe in the carnivorous reptiles of geologic time, it is hard for our imagination. They seem too much like mere museum specimens, yet there is no tooth in any of those museum skulls that did not daily through long years of the fore time hold fast to the body struggling in despair of some fated living victim. Forms of horror just as dreadful to their victims, if on a smaller spatial scale, fill the world about us today. That was all written in 1901.

James’s own life was marked, as all lives are, by losses. But he had an astonishing ability to draw strength from depression to get the possibility of starting again when he was down. He had a kind of amazing resilience. It was Emerson who said that you watch your children fail at school or fall in the playground or get hurt by a playmate, he said, and you pray for their resilience. Because it’s not what happened to them, it’s what they then do, whether they can bounce back. James’s resilience was astonishing. Things that would have taken most people down somehow woke him up. His life was marked by losses, but he had this astonishing way of turning the losses to something. And it was by facing them, not trying to find a way around them. “To anyone who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent,” he wrote, “the mere fact that matter could have taken for a time that precious form ought to make matter sacred for ever after. It makes no difference what the principle of life may be, material or immaterial, matter at any rate cooperates, lends itself to all of life’s purposes. That beloved incarnation was among matter’s possibilities.” I love that; I think it’s terrific. I’ve sent that to several people who’ve lost either a child or a parent or something; it’s a great, great statement.  It doesn’t matter whether life at bottom is immaterial or material. If it’s immaterial, if it’s material, it cooperates with life’s purposes. Here we are.

The second thing that James says about all religions that they agree about is a sense that we can be saved from the wrongness by making the proper connection with the higher powers. Now what exactly the higher powers may be is not specified: they may be gods; they may be a life force; they may be the powers of nature; they may be a community; they may be a very small community. The higher powers, at least one good friend told me, is just others, anybody—others— on that. What James is clear about is that his access to anything like a higher power is through our own mind’s experience, and nowhere else. So, one of the great turning points in his own life came after he had realized that there is evil in the world, or bad. In a flash of insight, he decided if he could accept that, he could accept his own will as real. So he read a treatise on free will by a French philosopher named (Charles) Renouvier, who nobody reads anymore, and he wrote this in the diary he kept for his frequent crises. “Hither to,” he said, “when I have felt like taking a free initiative, like daring to act originally without waiting for contemplation of the external world to determine all for me, suicide seemed the most manly form to put my daring into. Now, I will go a step further with my will, and not only act with it, but believe in it as well, believe in my own individual reality and creative power. My belief can’t be optimistic, to be sure,” he said, “but,” he said, “I will posit life, the real, the good, as the self-governing resistance of the ego to the world.” Eric Erickson jumped on that phrase, the “self-governing resistance of the ego to the world. And Erickson said, the whole psychoanalytic enterprise is right in that one phrase, which is trying to give the power of choice back to people who have lost it.

But this self-governing resistance of the inner self to the world was the point. And it’s in little places like this where James is so powerful, where he jumps from his time to ours with no translation necessary. In facing the bad along with the good, and in practical strategies for getting on with things, and I’ve always loved this next bit of James for making it possible, for me anyway, to believe again in heroism. “We measure ourselves,” he said, “by many standards, our strength, our intelligence, our wealth, and even our good luck are things which warm our hearts and make us feel ourselves a match for life. But deeper than all such things, and able to suffice without them is the sense of the amount of effort we can put forth. He who can make none is but a shadow; he who can make much is a hero.”

James was a warmhearted and much-loved man. He had a very keen sense of the positive sides of life, which he usually tried to put as stories, rather than abstractions. And here’s one of his best. It occurs in a piece called “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” and the “blindness is that with which we are all afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.” James takes it for granted that we each see things from our own point of view. He extends the idea to suggest how hard it is to really see things, to see anything from another person’s point of view. And he consciously proposes that wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to the person living it, that that’s where life becomes significant. To understand others, you need to understand the hot spot in them, the habitual center of his or her personal energy.

So to illustrate, he then tells a story taken from Robert Louis Stevenson in which Stevenson describes a curious little game that he and his school friends used to play as the long summers ended and school was about to begin. “Toward the end of September,” Stevenson writes, “when school time was drawing near and the nights were already black, we would begin to sally forth from our respective houses, each equipped with a tin bulls-eye lantern.” You know, a little, small kerosene lantern, with a bulls-eye of glass in front of it, an old 19th century style of portable lantern. “We wore them buckled to the waist, upon a cricket belt, and over them, such was the rigor of the game, a buttoned topcoat. They smelled noisesomely of blistered tin. They never burned right, though they would always burn our fingers. Their use was naught, the pleasure of the merely fanciful, and yet a boy with a bulls-eye lantern under his topcoat asked for nothing more. When two of these boys met, there would be an anxious, ‘Have you got your lantern?’ and a gratified, ‘Yes!’ It was the rule to keep our glory contained, none could recognize a lantern bearer, unless, like the polecat, by the smell. Four or five would sometimes climb into the belly of a fishing boat or choose out some hollow of the golf course where the wind might whistle overhead, and there the coats would be unbuttoned, and the bulls-eyes discovered in the checkering glimmer of the huge, windy hall of night, and cheered by the rich steam of toasting tin ware. These fortunate young gentlemen would crouch together in the cold sand of the links or the scaly bilges of the fishing boat and delight themselves with inappropriate talk. But the talk,” said Stevenson, “was incidental. The essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself on a black night, the slide shut, the top coat buttoned, not a ray escaping, a mere pillar of darkness in the dark, and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your heart to know that you had a bulls-eye at your belt and to exult and sing in the knowledge.”

“The ground of a person’s joy,” said James, “is often hard to discern, for to look at a person is to court deception, and to miss the joy is to miss it all. In the joy of the actors lies any sense of the action. That is the explanation, that is the excuse: to one who has not the secret of the lanterns, the scene upon the links is meaningless.”[1]

***

His great interest in life was trying to figure out how people can get to and use their own best energies. How very Campbellian. Likewise, the idea that It makes no difference what the principle of life may be, material or immaterial, matter at any rate cooperates, lends itself to all of life’s purposes. And that Richardson is himself enlivened and inspired by James’s assertions, that the idea of heroism is in fact rekindled for Richardson by James’s pre-Campbellian insights, perhaps speaks to what I humbly regard as the intuitive connection between James, Richardson, Campbell and therefore me, despite my inability to draw forth any Campbellian acknowledgements from Richardson within our correspondence. He just wouldn’t bite, which indicates of course that he’s holding his tongue on my behalf, which is generous of him for the same reasons I find it generous that Kripal doesn’t voice his full analysis of Campbell; that is, they both know I wouldn’t want to hear it. Academics at heart and all that, I suppose. So be it, the wisdom is the same wherever one is convinced they’ve discovered it. Me included.

***

Inspired by the image, the symbol of the secret lantern, I had tracked one down at an online antique dealer soon after reading Richardson’s reference and splurged on it at $260 or so.

Then, so as not to leave the thing buried in a closet, to keep its symbology in plain sight and its mythology active, as it were, I further splurged on framing it. Hence, the image at the front of this post. I dedicate this post, then, to Robert D. Richardson, in memoriam.

[1] Robert D. Richardson, “A Talk by Robert D. Richardson,” Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts, Spring 2007, Vol.6, No.1, blackbird.vcu.edu.

Going Dark

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I call it going dark when I devote myself to shutting up and pouring all my energies into the novels. I can get a lot done in that mode. And that’s what’s next.

Time Crime 2: The Great Conflict rages – there is war in the heavens! – and the Mothmen emperor, in a desperate bid to wrest control of space-time from the megalomaniacal clutches of the Molemen, seeks to appropriate the Cosmic Clock component – the golden ball – deploying his minions and pitching the cosmos headlong into a shadowy, unholy terror of mythological fundamentalism and technological enslavement. Meanwhile, the warped machinations of Émile Laron and the mysterious influence of the Scarab Cult lead Mr. Z. to adventures in 1954 Bombay just as Vixy and Neutic, stranded near 13th-century Angkor Wat, become entangled within the malignant subversion of time-traveling agents of the Mothmen. Only the esoteric redemption of a familiar yet alien anti-hero, perhaps, can help the Time Detective Contingent thwart pan-galactic chaos and cosmic ruin.

My plan or, rather, my sustaining vision was to quit the home improvement when I’d made it to this point in the month of August, having endured whatever the job expected of me for the sake of the audiobook. And by extension, all the book’s formats. Why? The devoted reader will recall that my aim was merely to cover the costs of the Findaway production and then return to my real work. Of course nothing works to plan. And now I find myself tied to this condition of mediocre employment by its capacity to both cover my advertising expenses, more or less, and to keep me engaged in the world-of-action, to keep my feet literally moving. To keep me grounded in its way and get me out of my own head a little.

Choose, then. This is what the cosmos has to say about my sense of schism, my sense of being neither here nor there, of failing to devote myself to my writing and likewise failing to devote myself to my damn paying job. Know what you want and go about doing whatever it takes to get it. Or suffer.

Meanwhile, anyone will agree that money in whatever quantity gets things done. Until you possess too much of it and it transforms, like anything, into its opposite, namely, a burden instead of a means of progress. Likewise the predicament of too much engagement in the present, in the workaday immediacy of the workplace (always an environment of extremes) which inevitably forces itself, at least for folks like me, too far into one’s interior life. The maddening sense of not being able to get anything of value accomplished because one’s paying job gets in the way – the undermining of mastery if you’re a writer for example – becomes intolerable. “I don’t know how I found time for anything when I had a job.” This from Angie’s mother, having retired and finding herself plenty busy with a life of her own design. This is the rub, then: earn enough to otherwise stay on point. The point being to earn enough by way of one’s true work, if one’s true work is indeed artist-craftsmanship, to allow for the discarding of everything else; namely, distraction and the hindering obligation of earning a living. If, on the other hand, it is your VAPM, your veritelically authentic personal mythology, to be employed here or there, well, so be it, get on with it. There is a job for everyone. Which is to say there is a vocation for everyone. Getting paid ends up being beside the point.

In the end, then, something has to give if, like me, you’re going to attempt to play both ends against each other, to have your cake and eat it too, as they say. Have a job and devote myself to my authorpreneurship? Earn and create? It’s not impossible but what I cannot endure is having two demanding jobs, which is what authorpreneurship on top of workaday employment at the home improvement has become, a place where they can’t hire enough help, literally, so that my hours remain too much and the unpredictable scheduling of shifts is making me crazy – one day I’m on the 5:30am – 12:30pm shift and the next it’s 1-10pm. Ugh, it’s killing me. It’s that simple.

Anyway, things change, that’s all. The dynamic plays itself out and my little project, my little vision of greatness has manifested itself and now I have to reevaluate, I have to establish a new vision and a new strategy to achieve the next goal. I have to name it and claim it. What is it, then?

The first thing I have to acknowledge is the difference between fantasy and strategy. It is a fantasy that my author platform, merely by way of now including an audiobook, is robust enough to pay for itself, let alone realize a profit. Let alone earn even what I manage to earn working part-time at the home improvement. I’ve had my little fling with announcing the audiobook, flogging giveaway codes, updating my website to properly accommodate a reasonable expectation of ecommerce (an expectation that unfortunately still includes the possibility of zero sales), splurging on the Goodreads giveaway and otherwise tweaking my marketing, experimenting with it, all with the stretch goal of getting over the hump of obscurity and arriving as an author.

Good luck with that, right? Right. My platform is what it is and it isn’t much to speak of, so be it. Not yet anyway. As far as I’ve come as an abject indie outsider in terms of building the architecture of my marketing and establishing a foothold of legitimacy for Time Crime in the SF&F field I must acknowledge, I must allow, that there is still a long way to go. My debut novel is not a sensation, is not a phenomenon, has not been lauded, has not been chosen, has not gone viral. Carnegie Olson has indeed arrived, yes he has. He has returned from the far curve of the adventure and bestowed his boon. He has crossed the threshold of the World Division, worked to manifest the future and the past within the present and to set himself up for success.

Compared to this time last year, when everything was once again unravelling and the only thing that saved me, the only thing that mattered was the novel, I have indeed come a long, long way. A year ago, dear readers, I had taken what seemed to me then the desperate, perhaps foolish (who’s to say?) action of seeking a professional editor. I had chosen the empowerment of my writing over the disempowering, disenfranchisement of my employment and at virtually the same instant, insulted by my boss, I walked out, thereby expediting my inevitable dismissal. Fired. Again. And once again free to live.

Somebody else, somebody more talented in all ways may have managed a more elegant, attractive, certainly successful transition but for me it has always been this way: to break the iron grip of reason, of mind, and to surrender to my heart, to my heart-mind, has always required an unsightly magnitude of drama. So be it. A year ago my personal mythology was once again in shambles, suffocating beneath more money than I’d ever made, more money then we’d ever had as a family. I could buy, within reason, the things I wanted and, of course, inevitably, I didn’t want the things my money could buy. “Money isn’t everything,” sings Ian Hunter, “when you’re turning your back on a dream.”

If nothing else, then, turn to face your desired outcome. Turn yourself into the wind. Only then can you fly. Only then will the future, like the wind in your face, have a chance to come to you, to arrive. Otherwise you will waste your life chasing it. It’s that simple. Face your destiny or resolve to diminish. This is the age-old mythology of individuation. Face the irony, too, (for life amounts to a fascinating mythology of irony), of losing the world in order to gain it. There is no hedging of bets when it comes to being who you are. What to do? How to go about it? Each of  us knows what to do, though for some us, like me, it may take years, decades in fact, to listen to what our hearts have always known, to what our heart-mind is telling us. When the bliss cuts off, then, as J.C. suggests, try to find it again; for that will be your Hermes guide. Indeed. Life has demonstrated the veracity, the wisdom of this idea. But you have to do the work.

Writing all this out, then, I’ve verified for myself that, yes, having been at this, on and off, since January of 2015, when I was forty-nine years old, I have come to the end of the creation of TC1. Five and a half years and something approaching $20,000 is the tally so far, at least in easily quantifiable terms, that is. Emotionally? Psychologically? Biologically? The less immediately tangible costs are incalculable. So you want be an author…? Hey, I know I’m not alone in this. I keep running across First Sister by Linden Lewis, for instance, another debut sci-fi novel that only came to my attention because it sat head to tail, as it were, with TC1 during the last Goodreads giveaway I ran, Linden’s book tallying up a similar number of entrants. And then I see her audiobook has very recently emerged. The differences between us, on first glance are striking:

So that Linden is more than a little ahead of me in writerly accomplishments. Her connections? I won’t speculate. To get your book noticed by NPR, for instance? I’m sure the copy I sent them wound up in the “not a chance in hell” pile (sorry, that sounds bitter). But beginnings are beginnings. Though perhaps all we really share is our debut novel status (I’m not certain she’s even indie published) and the genre of sci-fi. But I would say she can write. And she communicates in mythological terms, with a certain mythic voice. So, here’s to you, Linden – may you enjoy all the success you seek for your writing, well done. I did enter that giveaway we shared, by the way, and if you’re reading this, well, I know you aren’t, but I’m still looking for that free copy, wink, wink….

Meanwhile, my first book’s adventure isn’t necessarily over, of course (the work of marketing it continues unabated) but the adventure of bringing it into being is. I have brought the novel home in all formats and I’ve established the architecture of its success: it is there to be read and listened to; to be purchased and enjoyed or not. I have exerted my influence and set the stage for the novel’s success within the world-of-action. I’ve done and I am doing all that I can do for it. What comes next is the next book. TC2 must be my new devotion. Whatever a sequel does to help a debut isn’t up to me, either. It’d be a glorious thing for TC1 to not only earn itself out but indeed pay for the production of TC2. We’ll see. That is to say, I don’t buy into the idea of rushing to crank out sequels and building up series as a marketing tool in itself. It gets easier the more books you have, they say. Only in terms of social proof, perhaps. But, no, more is not better. Better is better. I must devote myself to the editing of TC2 for its own sake, to do the best I can with it, to make it the best it can be before the year is up and make 2021 the year of its publication. Some things may come easier and others, well, there is always a tradeoff. I now have experience as an indie author. I will also, if TC1 realizes any success, suffer criticism. So that editing TC2, rewriting it, will be a challenge in this way. Many things have happened – life has happened – since the end of 2016 when I completed the first draft of TC2. Gods above and below it seems an eternity has unfolded since then! How could that be? A mere four and a half years and it seems like a different lifetime. Until I’m immersed in the story and I sense the eternity within it, when time falls away and I’m doing what I do best, come what may.