Agony Aunts, Eschatology & the Nature of the Beast

Four horsemen, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860. (Image is in the public domain).

The part of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and humankind.


A fourth review on Amazon U.K., another 3-star. Amazon’s overall ratings, as they explain, are not simple averages – they give added weight to ratings coming from those who bought the book on Amazon, for example, which seems like nonsense until you understand that for Amazon, unlike for us readers and authors, reviews and ratings aren’t there to educate folks and rank the pantheon of books but rather to advertise and therefore SELL books. 3-star, then? So be it. Fair enough. It’s not the end of things. It inspires me to keep at it.

Meanwhile, Amazon rankings. The system, in its entirety, is clearly intended to generate sales in many ways – hyper-dimensionally, if you will – by means both practical and psychological, let’s say. It’s been said that Amazon is far more than a shopping experience – people go to Amazon seeking many things besides the purchase of a particular product. Sure, the highly rated books sell more but when you consider all the other books that aren’t highly rated it might appear that such rankings hurt Amazon’s overall sales. Why rate and review and rank things, whey attempt to separate wheat from chaff when it might be more profitable to let folks figure it out on their own? Well, part of what makes Amazon so successful is their go-to nature. Go-to? Yes, how many people look to Amazon reviews and ratings to evaluate something they don’t even intend to buy there? I discussed this in a previous post. And it’s true. Hell, I use them to research the books I intend to borrow from the library. If for nothing else than to get the ISBN.

So, there you have the nature of the business, which is also the nature of the beast. “Beast” because I’m not happy with the ratings trend in the U.K. Trending towards the middle is not the goal. He treads on the tail of the tiger and it does not bite the man. My I Ching oracle. The thing that helps keep me going. Hmm. But I’m starting to see some fangs.

Fangs. Really? That’s not true. Fangs would be nothing but one and two stars. And savage reviews. What does a 3-star rating mean? It can define anything from “mediocre” to “not bad” to “pretty good” to “I liked it.” As compared to “hated it,” “didn’t like it” or “not for me.” What’s a 4-star mean? It used to mean “really liked it.” A 5-star was reserved for “loved it” or “it was amazing.” But these descriptors are no longer clearly implied. We’re encouraged to simply use the stars in any way we choose – they mean something different for just about everyone and you see this moving target type of regard just by reading the reviews (if you get them). I have the 2-star that I think reads more like a 3-star, for instance. That person must have decided that 3-star signified no complaints. Whereas they had them. And there are people who will not deliver a 5-star rating ever because they feel nothing is perfect and five stars means perfect. Or Shakespeare or something. Others of us bestow a 5-star to anything that jazzes us, despite recognizing that it could always be better.

I don’t know. Why write about this stuff? I’d watched the latest episode of Toyah and Bob’s Agony Aunts and they responded to a question regarding how to handle criticism. King Crimson enjoyed very early success with their first album but also a type of criticism against the genre that hasn’t ceased. The music is often difficult, after all. Uncommercial in the sense that it does not very often appeal or intend to appeal to popular let alone current tastes. Toyah’s oeuvre is even more challenging and I’d venture to call most of it unlistenable. Hers is more a performance art stance and you see this in her manner of driving the little music videos she and Bob contrive. All good in terms of that old original MTV granular DIY anything-goes freshness and vitality. But rather challenging in terms of the music. You have to get the aesthetic. It’s all intensely self-aware, enthusiastically transgressive, hinged to the limits of the medium (DIY home video), permeated with tongue-in-cheek humor, fun-loving irony and a transparent, wholehearted love of the culture of rock that their generation is responsible for propagating. They don’t do Little Richard or Bill Haley or even Elvis Presley, for example. They begin with the later 1960s, all good. Although I can envision some potential hilarity if they did reach further back.

Anyway, Bob Fripp could be said to have nurtured an alternative career, an alter-ego and an oeuvre that both completely ignores and fully engages the intense relevance that results from the polarizing nature of his music, always from the stance that the music is primary. His music has been the oftentimes fraught conversation. Toyah is rather a vaudevillian, keen to express herself in contexts beyond music. Hey, she has looks, for one thing. And she’s a singer. These two things alone skew a career into a different emphasis. Having recently studied guitar she admits straight away that her focus is different within that context, implying that her music over the years may have been different had she played guitar then. I’m critiquing but I’m not intending to be critical in the negative sense. Wikipedia provides a helpful description:

Vaudeville is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, interspersed with songs or ballets. It became popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s, but the idea of vaudeville’s theatre changed radically from its French antecedent.

In some ways analogous to music hall from Victorian Britain, a typical American vaudeville performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts have included popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, ventriloquists, strongmen, female and male impersonators, acrobats, clowns, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and movies. A vaudeville performer is often referred to as a “vaudevillian”.

Vaudeville developed from many sources, also including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary American burlesque. Called “the heart of American show business”, vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades.

“Vaudeville,”, retrieved 5.4.2021

In the end, these two art-crafters have successfully expressed the vocational destiny that I seek. They have lived it. Who they are is what they do. And they are still on the adventure, clearly. We’ve agreed to make our last ten years a party, says Toyah (I’m lightly paraphrasing). Right on. Lightheartedness is essential to balance the dead seriousness of it all, the inescapable vulnerability bestowed by the art-craft life.

Criticism, then. Negativity. What Toyah and Bob refer to as “toxicity.” Bob Fripp seems nevertheless to feed off it to a significant degree; to be fueled in some sense by the intensity of the controversy, by the vitality of the energy. Toyah volunteers her tools to reflect or help ignore the experience – employing psychological “mirrors” and “veils.” I get both perspectives and neither of these people are intentionally confrontational with their work. They would rather be liked. Nor do I get the impression, like a critic might suggest, that there are certain performers that merely seek attention, that in the Joycean pornographic sense of art they are seeking merely to make us do something in response to it: love it, hate it, buy it, burn it, that kind of thing.

We don’t seek simpering praise, Bob tells us. As I’ve said, we don’t want sugar-coated nonsense. We seek authentic evaluation. Hopefully a welcome. But hope is a beggar, indeed. So that one must be keen to go it alone. As long as one doesn’t become a negativity junky, it works to use the energy from criticism. Negativity is intense. Far more intense and psychologically potent than praise. It’s so intense that many of us find it impossible to withstand. Alternatively, it becomes the only thing that matters. The negativity junky ends up only producing that which is disparaged, that which is not liked or impossible to like because, well, only that seems authentic.

This is how receptivity to criticism becomes distorted – it becomes a drug in the sense of being addicted to perceived authenticity. You like it? You must be patronizing me. Or you have no taste. Or you’re a sucker. It all becomes gamesmanship in this way. The work, the art-craft, is relentlessly off-putting and ugly and harsh and confrontational or so impossibly obscure that it overextends itself, it falls off a cliff, beyond the perilous ambitions of the avant-garde into the bald-faced attention-getting gambit that perhaps the person initially sought to avoid. In short, you become what you hate, which is inauthentic and a seeker merely of a response – any response, at all costs. You begin with the perceived authenticity of the public response, in a sense, instead of beginning with the authenticity of your work, of its expression, which must inevitably be personal. Painfully so if it does not please people.

Is a certain measure of public acceptance, of welcome for your work, required to bestow legitimacy to it? If nobody likes it, can it still be considered at all good or worthy work? I would make the case that the answer is No. In the personal mythological sense, that is. If nobody gets it then you’re not properly on the adventure. Wait a minute, you say, what do I mean by “nobody”? I mean to say that in my experience there will always be somebody in possession of their own legitimacy, that has earned the respect of those in the field, as they say, who can speak on behalf of the genre or niche that you are working within who will, given that little bit of fortunate (and too often elusive) timing, praise or at least accept, hence legitimize, what you’re doing. In professional critic terms. Then again, who cares about that? Critical acceptance and public acceptance – too often, it seems, one arrives and the other doesn’t and damned if it’s the version we don’t get that becomes the one we want most. That said, I ought to be content with so far receiving a measure of the popular vote.

Again, we require so very little. That is, the art-crafter requires such modest returns on their investment to keep going, to keep the art-craft fires burning. But we require something. Sometimes, perhaps most times, your only return is the bit of acknowledgement and the rest has to come from within. It helps, then, when your vision is – I was going to say “secure” but that’s not it. I rather mean unwavering. An unwavering vision can sustain a person. It can serve to keep you grounded and centered. I’m having this experience. I know what I’m doing. I understand the dynamics of trying to integrate mythology into a novel, to make a mythologically self-aware story that works the magic trick of being neither too self-aware and “distracting” for its own good (so that the story is a mere contrivance to promote an agenda) nor to ham-handed, amateurish, unscholarly and bungling.

New mythology is my aspiration. New because Time Crime is not a retelling of a myth. It’s retelling the same ‘ol mythological narrative, yes – the hero round within a hero round – but it’s not aping something that already exists. My intention is reinvention in the sense that mythology is always doing this to itself. Yes, we’re retelling what matters, what has always mattered, but in this time, from this personally universalized (on a good day) perspective.

This is my experience of the collective experience. And I’m intentionally, as an experiment in the form of a series of novels, seeking to concretize the un-concretizable – to reflect the affecting images, the classic, existing mythologies, upon themselves, as it were – so as to arrive at something new. We have Vishnu and Shiva, for instance. Put the two together and you get Hari-hara, an image expressing not the combined power of the gods as much as the transformed, unforeseen Third-Thing power that overcomes existing limitations. It’s not additive but rather chemical, or alchemical. It’s rocket sauce and magic sprinkles.

I may fail at this. Which of course merely deputizes my adventure as at least a legitimate one. For if you cannot fail, and fail spectacularly, you are not on the adventure. The risks must approach unreasonable. Error, I say, on the side of unreasonableness whenever you are attempting to negotiate the dynamics, the energies, the potency of your personal mythology and your deliberate practice. Do not play it safe. Hari-hara is a desperate solution to a desperate predicament. I’ve discussed this myth in other posts. It’s an important aspect of Hindu mythology, hence I’m studying it within the context of TC2 – namely, the ancient Khmer culture of Angkor – so I’ll leave it to the interested reader to pursue this as they see fit.

And then there is the challenge of perspective. So what if the novels fail? It’s not the end of the world. They’re just novels. Like every other author, I’m just doing my best. If it’s not good enough, so be it. Perhaps I’m supposed to doing something else? Let it go. See what comes back. Don’t strangle the cat. Don’t put all my eggs in one basket. Have some patience. Don’t allow my other vocations to languish. All these exercises in moderation, the pursuit of the middle way in mythological terms. That unfortunately, inevitably perhaps, only arises by way of its opposite. Everything in moderation, including moderation….

I gave my notice at the home improvement. I discovered, to my surprise and chagrin and disappointment in myself, that I was feeling afraid of committing to TC2. Here I was getting bogged down in the physical and psychological burden of having even a part-time job and not only blaming it for slowing down my work on the novel but beginning to use it as an excuse for not getting it done. The other day, with the opportunity to leave the job and devote myself to the writing, I found myself suddenly hesitating. Well, maybe I’d rather keep the job, I started telling myself. I enjoy the money and the social proof that it provides, after all. I enjoy the engagement and the physical exercise, and what have you.

Then I reminded myself that the social proof was something I’d learned to ignore decades ago, the engagement was a distraction and the physical activity had become a vehicle of exhaustion. I’ve been wanting out of the job and the opportunity to re-immerse in the writing ever since I accomplished the original four months of employment I intended to use to pay for the audiobook. That was eight months ago. Meanwhile, apparently, unconsciously, I’ve been sliding precipitously towards art-craft mediocrity, authorpreneurial indifference and cowardly surrender to norms. My writing was in jeopardy of becoming a hobby. Why not work full time, then? Sound the alarm!

What happened? Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of exile, and the single-minded demand that writing novels – writing with any level of authenticity – requires. Also, complacence. And the pernicious undermining of mastery that it is propagated by a mindless, workaday life. What amounts to a life of habit. I’m not suggesting that employment is to be avoided. I’m not adjudicating against a life on the job. Bills have to be paid, I get it. But there are a handful of folks at the home improvement that I can see are fully functioning in the vocational sense – it is their work, they are individuating themselves. The rest are enduring and coping and staying busy, doing their best to find a way through the day. I seek vocational destiny. Not everybody does nor should they. Akin to J.C., who talked of his experiments working in his father’s hosiery business, I always tend to get wrapped up in exploring the experience of the workday. Mine and others. Are you happy here? What made you take this job? Do you want a different job? What do you like about this job? What do you think ought to be different about it? If you could change something about your job or this company, what would it be? Does this job connect at all with your sense of who you are, of what you want out of life? Are you having the experience of being properly alive? Yes? Why? No? Why not?

All this stuff, I’ve learned, though very valuable from my perspective and for my research – for my true work – is worse than useless when it comes to other folks on the workaday job. It instantly becomes its opposite. That is, while I’m keen to analyze and fix it, change it and make it better, the effect is one of disruption, subversion and anarchy. Anarchy from the angle of freeing the individual to explore their true nature, one which rarely can be recognized as having anything to do with one’s current employment. What ought you to be doing? This may be a helpful question on behalf of personal mythology but it does nothing to enhance the efficiencies and psychological wellbeing of the workplace. Instead of building a team, my investigations fracture it. Life is irony….

Returning to Agony Aunts, it strikes me that an episode of their show might be similar to a blog post. How so? In terms of the intensely timebound nature of commitment to a single, risky idea. That is to say, you Toyah and Bob select the song they want to cover (and its attendant imagery) and, like me doing this post, once begun there is no time for backtracking let alone starting over. Forward progress in linear terms is the only thing even if it turns out a disaster. Because disaster in art-craft is rarely such. Disaster can be the most interesting, hence valuable aspect of an undertaking. At least if you’ve acquired some mastery, that is. How bad could an Agony Aunts episode get? Well, they’ve managed to crank one out every week for something over a year. They’ve never posted, “Sorry, we couldn’t get a video done this week.”

Likewise, to a more modest extent, these posts. As I’ve admitted, some journal entries do not make it to posting. The topic precludes it (too personal, mostly) or there’s no properly discernable bloggy theme. I’m not here to whine or cry or merely confess or puke out my thoughts heedlessly. That’s not a blog post. That is rather pure confession. No. I aspire to somehow always universalize what I’m going through, what I’m experiencing; to transform it from rant to realization; from diary to demonstration; from intuition to investigation. To provide an image that does some practical work in psychological and personal mythological terms. Work that helps me in some way and, mostly mysteriously, in ways that I couldn’t possibly pretend to anticipate or even fully understand, also helps a reader. If by way of nothing else than a sense of shared predicament. Hence, participation and communication. Agony Aunts, Eschatology & the Nature of the Beast, indeed. Meanwhile, more properly, on a good day, it’s the aspiration in the form of the inner reader that motivates me and nothing else, come what may.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You… Crazy.


“Could have been better.” I’ve been enjoying a modest handful of ratings lately. But, here it is, the inevitable cruddy review. Sort of. I mean, it’s not a categorical thrashing. And at least there is a review. Because to endure merely a two-star rating, sans any explanation, would’ve cast me adrift. Here, I’m fortunate – yes, fortunate! – there’s a context. Anybody who reads this can review the review, as it were, for themselves and make an intelligent decision and not merely write TC off as worthless based on the stars. “The basic story was quite good.” And, “I would have liked the story to have continued….” How this reading experience translates into two-stars I’m not at all sure, but so be it.

Surname inked out to protect the innocent. Otherwise, there are several things that can result from this type of rating:

  • Sales in the U.K. are negatively impacted because this has thrust the average star rating into the realm of apparent mediocrity – that is, the generally positive review itself will be ignored.
  • Sales continue upon their modest trajectory as if nothing ever happened.
  • The social proof that reviews and ratings of any type tend to bestow can help drive more of them, hopefully much more convincingly positive.
  • It can rally tribe members to defend the book (it happens) and the “controversy” can drive sales.
  • Worst case, formerly tentative critics may smell blood and be inspired to pile on, shifting the average rating to overwhelmingly, fatally, poor.

All I can do is keep publishing. With only three widely varying ratings the jury is still out in the U.K. at least. In the USA, I’ve got five ratings at an average of 4.1. What about Goodreads? Four ratings, all five stars. Winning this reader over might happen if they spring for the second book. Or not. Authors who manage hundreds of mostly positive reviews that ultimately neutralize the negatives are fortunate. The goal, as I’ve said, is to achieve a legitimacy and relevance that transcends the type of early critique that cripples an otherwise worthy contribution to the genre. In other words, is the book good enough to be granted entry? Or must it be cast into oblivion by the threshold guardians as a failure and a misfire and something that hasn’t passed the test of authenticity? Ought I to quit and get out of the way?

I’m convinced there are two ways not to appreciate the mythology within TC. Namely, you can recognize, know, and understand it and just have the opinion that it doesn’t belong – you can argue that it doesn’t work as a novel, that it’s perhaps all affection and contrivance, that the execution fails. Or, you can fail to understand the imbedded mythology to being with, find it “confusing,” for instance, and your confusion itself “distracting” within the context of something you otherwise appreciate. I’m negotiating, after all, with unconscious energies to a large extent – attempting to evoke and invoke and activate and express. I’m writing in metaphorical terms while attempting to not get lost within the metaphors. Or to bore a reader with them. It’s a strength – mythology – in a novel that can lead directly, as with all things, into its weakness.

What is an example of a weakness of myth or mythology? The very metaphorical power that it unleashes. It can be overbearing. It can appropriate. It’s image based, after all, hence there is a risk when writing overtly self-aware mythology that it can’t get past itself; that the narrative doesn’t have any room to play out in text, on the page. Here I find myself writing the review of my own novel in a sense: that if it’s flawed, it will be flawed in this way. Besides the writing.

Hey, since publication, I have not had more than these handful of ratings and reviews and perhaps that’s telling: folks either get it and hate it and don’t feel inclined to waste their time criticizing it or they don’t get it and toss it aside, likewise uncompelled to put forth the effort of a rating or a review. This would be the worst case, the not-even-worth-complaining-about version of obscurity and oblivion. It’s got to at least inspire participation or you’ve nothing at all to continue to work with. If you cannot inspire critique perhaps you ought to be doing something else with your energies.

Here, it would have been worse if the reader argued that my subtext ruined an otherwise decent story, replete with examples and analysis. “Could have been better.” Well, how, exactly? In other words, folks ought to strive to provide a thoughtful, proper review versus an opinion. But a well-written review, one that contributes its own measure of creativity and insight, isn’t easy to write. I write them, believe me, I know.

And you cannot ask readers to professionalize their reviews in this way. As long as the thing isn’t abusive – and I imagine Amazon spends quite a bit of time managing this definition – one has to allow it. The system allows for all levels of mindfulness, so to say, and the lack thereof. It used to be on Amazon that you had to write something to get your rating posted. Not anymore. So, again, I’m glad to have a little context provided in this case – it rescues what would have been mere negativity.

Timing is everything, too. Very importantly, if this 2-star would’ve been the first and only form of feedback back in February or March of 2020, say, I would’ve been forced into a very different place. Perhaps a place of no return. I may never have sold another book and been done as an indie novelist before I even started. As it happens, I’ve just barely enough ratings and the nice review, arguably of course, to support sticking with the experiment. Sales limp along but they nevertheless limp along. Compared to the millions of books that aren’t selling at all. In short, I’ve achieved the bare minimum amount of evidence that enough people are interested to keep me motivated to keep going.

Motivation goes hand in hand with the economics. Or rather the resources. Statistically, it’s a money loser to write novels and always will be. I have to be prepared, that is, to complete the entire TCT series (and even more episodes after that) on the family dime. At a loss. A significant loss. I’ve talked about the hard numbers in previous posts. My Amazon advertising bills arrive every month and between the US and UK I’m spending something like $700/month. Tack on Australia, Canada, Germany and France (all exponentially less expensive) and it doesn’t take a genius, as they say, to understand that I’m losing my ass. My advertising cost of sales, the so-called ACOS, sucks.

What to do but tough it out? I allowed my US campaign to tap out a handful of times last month, for a day or two but then guilted myself into upping my budget because I convinced myself that if I’m not going to continue to advertise the book then I may as well quit writing books. Here I’d not had an ad click-through in the US for a month or more (I had sales but they were not directly linked to the ad campaign) so I was losing heart along with the money. I started feeling foolish. But then when I’d boosted the budget, sure enough, the last day of the damn month, an ad click-through and a paperback sale in the US. A sale that never would’ve happened had the ad not been live.

So, it’s that simple: if you are not an author who has achieved a level of public consciousness or awareness, let’s call it, so that your name sells itself and enough readers across the globe are searching out your work, then you’re skirting the edge of oblivion like me and depending upon every possible means to stay visible and viable. You must literally pay to play. There is no way around it. In fact, the first thing I would advise somebody to do who is considering becoming an indie novelist is surrender to the idea of spending $15,000 or more in your first year of getting your authorpreneurial business established. It may cost me less this second time around but frankly, not much less.

Why does it cost so much? There are the production costs, of course, which I’ve discussed at length in other posts: professional editing, professional book cover design, professional interior formatting, professional audiobook narrator. Then, the incidentals like buying ISBNs and gratis copies – the little things that add up to big things. Finally, the marketing costs. Which never end.

The marketing never ends? Huh? Well, and this the second thing a new authorpreneur must surrender to: nobody gives a shit about your book. Not even your mother. You can read a version of this assessment just about anywhere folks are blogging about publishing. It’s crazy because this fact of life runs utterly counter to our intuition as writers and readers. Starting out, I had the impression, crazily, that folks are clamoring for the next new novel and new author and if you’re good, they’ll gobble up your work. The painful, very harsh reality is that nobody cares. Because they don’t have to.

We forget that there is more than enough – exponentially more than enough – to read in a lifetime as it is. It’s not that your new novel is a drop in the bucket. At something like 5 million English language novels available, your little effort is more akin to a drop in the ocean.

The numbers begin to make the whole enterprise of writing and trying to get read seem like an exercise not so much in futility as f*cking lunacy. Recalling the arguable data claiming that “most novels don’t sell more than a hundred copies” the 30 copies/day required to establish yourself as an authorpreneur in the eyes, say, of ALLi, seems an impossible aspiration. And it mostly is. The success stories you read about are statistical outliers. Which is to say they essentially don’t count. Your life, my life, as an indie author is nothing like having a paying a job as an author. No. The long game, as it’s called, doesn’t begin to describe it. Really, it’s no game at all.

Nevertheless, we play at it. With an audiobook sale yesterday (in the USA, yay!) TC1 is at 128 sales after fifteen months in publication. And all the money spent. And I feel in many ways very fortunate to have achieved what most folks may consider an otherwise pitiful number. That’s almost zero, they might say. And sometimes it feels like it, believe me. But those 128 sales are hard won. That is to say, I am not one who sold fifty or more copies to friends and family, for instance. No. My sales are to the public. And at this point I’m averaging something like two sales per week. It adds up. Not as profit. Rather, as tribe. Readership. The fraction of folks who have bought the book and liked it, they are gold to me.

What am I saying? That 128 sales is both psychologically and statistically so far from zero that I can’t begin to explain it. And that TC1 is, for the past several months, selling two copies/week is the most important statistic of all. Because that means it’s active. The audiobook moved up 303,000 spots in sales rank with just a single sale. It hadn’t sold in the USA for five months. (Of late, it was doing better in the UK). Likewise, when I sell a single paperback or an eBook in a day, the novel’s ranking makes a 1.5M leap. From what I can tell looking at the Amazon numbers, if you’ve sold a book within six months or so, you’re bottoming out at the 3M mark – at least that’s as far as TC1 seems to fall even on a bad couple of weeks. Well, what about the other 2M books that are below that? How many copies are they selling? One or two a year, perhaps, or more likely, zero. My Amazon case laminate version of TC1 which has sold a single copy since its introduction a couple of months ago is ranked at 5M+, that’s very near the bottom.

Here’s are my lifetime Amazon sales charts for the format of TC1 that has sold the most copies, namely, the paperback in the USA and UK, respectively:

I aspire to charts like this for a single day’s sales rather than sixteen months. But so be it. Again, this combined data shows at least one sale per month, every month since publication. Which remains my worst-case goal. That I’m doing much better than that, in relative terms, makes me feel blessed.

I always talk about Amazon because that’s where the overwhelming majority of my sales come from. They provide pay-per-click advertising opportunities and access to data that helps track my marketing efforts. Love them or hate them, it’s where the action is. As an indie author, I love them. Because everywhere else? Well, I checked Ingramspark yesterday for the first time in a few days and I find they’ve posted, surprise, three cloth hardcover sales for April, all in the USA! That’s great! Any cloth version will necessarily be manufactured and shipped by them. But the data shows one sale came via Amazon anyway – nobody buys TC1 from Barnes & Noble or a bookstore or anywhere else except perhaps on a handful of occasions. That’s the reality. That somebody somewhere in the USA – two readers – apparently purchased the cloth format somewhere besides Amazon is amazing. It never happens.

After all, it’s Amazon who routinely drops the price of the Ingram hardcover to less than the price of the paperback. Which is to say, Ingramspark never lowers the price. A sale price meanwhile understandably prompts a sale of that format. Amazon tracks a book’s sales timeline in this way and it helps. Meanwhile, with the onset of the sale of their own case laminate hardcovers, Amazon now buries the cloth version deeply within the “see all formats” section of the book’s page. You have to further click on a “down arrow” to see the cloth/Ingram version as available. Such is the nature of the beast. They prioritize their own product, I get it.

What’s the takeaway? That authorpreneurship is not glamorous. Rather, it is a cage fight for survival and legitimacy and relevance. Outside of what it takes to write a good enough book to begin with. One that nurtures an audience. A tribe. I swear I feel as if I’m always a desperate week or two away from never selling another book and getting trashed in the ratings and having to give it all up. Rejection and refusal of one’s boon. These are the risks, the trials to be overcome when you’re on the adventure. We authors require so very little to keep going, to be sure. But we nevertheless require something.

Rate and review books, then, especially books with few ratings and reviews. Because especially in the beginning of a book’s public life, it matters. Be enthusiastic. Be disappointed. Be honest. Be mindful, too. As an author I’m not asking for sugar coated feedback. But know that thoughtful feedback is priceless. Sometimes a rating is all that we have in us, the idea of writing a review seems a bridge too far, so to say, I get it. But reviews, bad or good, tend to humanize things by way of putting things in context. Sometimes I fire off a two-star rating and nothing else. Otherwise, “Could have been better.” Again, I get it. It’s tough out there. But professionals can take it. They have to. I’m a professional. Time Crime 2 is going to be published if it kills me. Perhaps it’ll help transform that 2-star into something more…, well, starry. Perhaps not. Either way, what doesn’t kill you makes you… crazy. Thanks to my reviewers and thanks to all my readers so very much for reading. It means everything.

Lavender Fields Dispatch: Official Review – “God Polaroid”

Go Ahead, Call Me a Fan Boy, author image

Sometimes I see a pale bird

Wheeling in the sky

But that is just a feeling

A feeling when you die…

Nick Cave, “Lavender Fields”, from the album Carnage, 2021.

The Cave Thing polaroid arrived yesterday, coinciding almost exactly with my posting of the last post. I plucked it from the porch (thank heaven, pun intended, I was home to do so otherwise it would’ve spent the 80F afternoon in the blazing U.V. getting roasted out there) and the whole experience of it, from the unboxing, so-called, to the curious object itself – a Polaroid of all things – and the curiously intimate mythology it evokes, well, it works.

I frankly half expected to be disappointed. I mean, anticipation oftentimes spoils things with expectation. And some things inevitably seem silly to own. But I’m wholeheartedly glad to own this. Perhaps it’s something to do with the little big thing phenomenon – the manner in which something of such close-to-the-heart (again, intimate) and modest proportions renders an image of such unlimited, as it were, dimensions. That, and there is something that Nick obviously gets about the nature of both the medium – the object, the whole package – and of course the subject matter that makes it so impossibly right-sized. It’s personal, but curiously so. All the little affectations (I had initially mistyped “affections” and that fits, too) contribute to itself. That there are iterations, sold out by the way, also works its magic. Further narrating the mythology and the psychology within while leaving room for the rest of us. Nice work.


It attracted me or more accurately affected me, by way of its conflicting indications, let’s say. By way of the never quite collateral question it proffers – what is God? – the unashamed answer (in the form of a hermeneutic) that it suggests, and the clash between its hyper-self-awareness (all the glitchy, ticky, tacky, tasty stuff about it). I could have perhaps videoed an unboxing, hoping to communicate the mindfulness of the package, the Oriental awareness, one might say, of the papers, textures, surfaces, inks, colors – the narrative of the packaging as part of the experience, but it’s one of those things that somehow has nothing to do with that, either. Original art-craft ought to always perform this rewardingly. Get one for yourself and see what happens. Oops, sorry, sold out!

Unselfconscious art-craft? Hardly. Borderline kitschy and derivative? Maybe. Too obvious? Absolutely. It all could just as easily have ended up being crummy and trite. Even amateurish. To say nothing of a waste of money. Are you making fun of me, Nick? Are you making fun of religion? Of mysticism? Of spirituality? Of mythology? Of commerce? Of all of us? Are you kidding, a Polaroid entitled “God”? This guy’s work tends to make you wonder. Humor, yes, it has to be there. But is he also an asshole?

Modern art, you know, too much of it seems intended to make you do something – Joyce called it pornographic in that sense. Piss you off. Affront you. Baffle you. Make you want to buy it. Or burn it. Or something. I don’t know. Nick Cave. I’m not an archivist of the man. I haven’t collected Cave stuff with anything like intention. I haven’t watched, listened to, seen or read all of his work by any means. I just really dig a lot of the stuff he does. All these things poked me in the ribs, looking at the iteration of this polaroid. Even as a thumbnail image on the computer screen.

God. Is it sublime? No. Better than that. Evocative. In the manner of evocation. Utterly hand crafted and weirdly manufactured, too. Sea and sky and spiritual light? C’mon, I recall thinking. No, really, it somehow says. Look closer.

It helps, I think, to appreciate something of Nick’s method of playing with all this imagery; namely, the imagery of art house expectation, intellectual criticism and learned connoisseurship that gets perpetually emasculated by unabashed, earnest earnestness. And honesty. That, and his advancing of mythology by way of humanizing its most regal and iconic images. His fearlessness with it all that speaks, somehow, to me at least, of truth. And a way home. That’s all we’re ever really seeking, after all, isn’t it? The way home?

Anyway, nothing and nobody is safe around the Nickster. To his credit. Then again, it seems to me, everyone is.

Squelched. Squealing. And Quintessentially Quenched.


Blast. Here I’d come home last night emboldened and restored by having sold an eBook in Australia, yay! Then this morning, I noticed the royalty had disappeared from the KDP data and, to my utter disappointment, the sale had been “refunded.” I’ve experienced three of these so-called refunds – once for an eBook in Germany, another for an audiobook in the U.K. and now this. I scratch my head. With the “Look Inside” function available that allows somebody to read significantly large portions of the text prior to purchase, what in hell would prompt somebody to indeed go through the process of reading or listening, click the buy button, pay for the thing, receive it and only then become so unhappy with it that they request a refund? Who the f*ck requests a refund on a book to begin with? I like to believe they aren’t finding a way to steal it but how to rationalize this stuff?

I don’t know. I’ll never understand the epub culture to begin with – how anyone can enjoy a novel as an eBook is beyond me. By the same token, I appreciate that sometimes it’s all about the money. I have spent years borrowing books from the library that I would rather have purchased because the money has not been there. Cheap reads and all that. But goddamn $5.99? Albeit a little more, perhaps, in Australian dollars. You don’t have a sense that you got that much value out of the purchase? Jeezus.

I see it at the home improvement all the time, this cheapskate (I’m going to call it that), I want my petty cash back bullshit. It’s exemplified at worst by the weird morons who insist upon pilfering plumbing fittings or whatever else that amounts to pocket change. Stealing stuff. It’s beyond me. I’ve discovered tiny little packets of silicone O-rings, for example, in the return bin and sometimes, when I’m feeling curious, I take a second to count the parts and damned if there isn’t one or two missing. So, buddy, you had to yank out what you needed and either return the thing as whole or just stand there in the store and steal them out of the package and toss it aside? You can’t pay a measly f*cking goddamn dollar for that? Or two or three? Meanwhile, all the returns that glut the end of my workday. I have to put all this nickel and dime product – again, a dollar here and five bucks there – back on the shelves. Money is money, I get it, I’ve returned a couple plumbing fittings in my day but they cost me closer to ten bucks.

Anyway, I don’t know, it just sucks. Did somebody manage to steal this copy from me? Are they the type that finds a way to copy an eBook to something else besides a Kindle and then request a refund so as to get their freebie? I’m sure these folks are out there, the I-won’t-pay-for-my-books type. But if you read my blog at all you’ll know that you can get the eBook cheaper on this website – $2.99, almost a giveaway! – or, if you email me, I’ll just gift you a copy. Really. If you’re keen on reading it and really can’t get yourself to buy it or you really can’t afford it, I’m okay with making it happen. For the tribe, and all that, you know. I’m willing to risk being taken advantage of in this way.

Meanwhile, that a refund doesn’t completely shatter my soul or wreck my being or completely break my heart surprises me a little, I must say. I chew glass, yes. I’m hurt. But why aren’t I summarily crushed by a return? I don’t know for certain. Except that I suppose I appreciate to some extent the interest bestowed to even click on the book and then go to the trouble of buying it – it means something to me to escape oblivion even in this pathetic manner. That, and I simply do not know the circumstances of the purchase. I literally cannot know why it was refunded – there is nothing within KDP (besides a bad review, perhaps) that allows for that explanation to be communicated. Perhaps for the best. Meanwhile, my twenty-four hours of bliss from a sale has been snatched away from me and it makes me feel shitty.

I imagine a day when I’m selling my thirty-plus copies per day, every day, and a once-in-a-while “refund” wouldn’t mean a thing. Well, it will probably always be a disappointment. But someday, perhaps, when I’m no longer hinging upon onesie twosie pathetic-ness, when my sales somehow, someday attain something beyond the pitiful, if ever, gawd, fuck it. It feels like winter in my heart.

But then again, somehow it steels my resolve, too. Quenching a heated blade in water can further harden it, after all. In other words, not for a moment do I really believe that TC1 deserves a refund. Hell no! That it’s a silly cheapskate and insensitive thing to ask an artist-craftsman for a refund when you investigate their work goes without saying. And that, as I just said, you had a chance to read half the damn novel before buying transforms the transaction into absurdity. Go away – I don’t want your type as a damn customer. You’re enticed by something but then can’t work through your own mixed experience? The hell with you. I know what’s good and TC1 is good.

So, there. I am a professional. Intuitively. Because rejection in my biology, within the context of my true work, at least, immediately transforms, mostly in spite of myself, thank heaven, in alchemical style into more faith in what I do and more drive to deliver it to the world. I will not be denied. You’ll have to kill me.

Hey, Nick? You’ve done well to discuss your own sense of doubt and likewise to express your insights into it symptoms or manifestations. In your long and shamelessly and courageously openhearted career, you must have encountered the refund mentality. How do you cope with it?

Answer. Making the unconscious conscious in this way, perhaps akin to me writing things out, serves to alleviate the suffering and to get on with the properly productive, present and future oriented energies. The past is powerful, perhaps the most powerful thing in our lives besides our fears and it takes a lot to counterbalance its affect and effect.

It’s interesting how I don’t need to engage the real Nick Cave in order to benefit from his wisdom. I considered actually firing off a question to his Red Hand Files but then I realized it was just a silly and selfishly compulsive form of grasping and ultimately, manipulative. What kind of answer, anyway, did I expect? Any answer at all, was my first inclination. And what is that except a whiny type of PAY ATTENTION TO ME BECAUSE I’M SUFFERING obnoxiousness? I suppose it’s the kind of thing a successful art-crafter with a significant public career has to endure from their otherwise heedlessly neurotic fans, that’s all. It’s a price to pay for being a cosmic conduit of all of our personal mythologies. Energies of all types get fueled and released, it’s part of the game. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I have to surrender to the impulse.

After all, Nick’s wisdom, clearly, if you connect with the man’s work, merely invokes the wisdom accessible within us all. If we let go and try to let it be. This may in fact indicate something of a particular work’s success. Certainly in mythological terms success can be measured in a thing’s access to or quality of invoking and evoking the best in things oftentimes, paradoxically of course, by way of its opposite. Namely, the dark, shadowy and unsightly energies we don’t like to admit are driving us from the backseat, so to say.

I recall Joe Jackson (and I may have written about this back when I read it a couple of years ago but it’s worth repeating) ranting about a concert goer (who happened to be from my hometown of Detroit) who had written him requesting a refund because, and I’m paraphrasing, I came to see your acerbic, biting and barbed more or less punkish energy on display for me, your Look Sharp persona as I see it and, well, where the hell was it? You gypped me. Out of yourself. Or myself. Or something. I WANT MY MONEY BACK.

I don’t recall how Joe responded to this guy, if he did, but it’s important that years had gone by and Joe, successful as he has been all these decades and having made all sorts of great records since Look Sharp and never getting hung up on repeating that gem – good for you – well, it still bothered him enough, this “I want a refund” attitude when you’ve given your all, that he had to comment on it. Because the negative sticks with you like gum on your shoe. It won’t go away. It takes a truckload of positives and fucking ten years and then not even to get over some of these slights, these stings, these wrongs that life insists upon wronging you with. I get it. Boy, do I.

I arrive, then, at the end of this post (because damn the torpedoes I intend to post this) with a renewed sense of galvanized purpose in all things Time Crime and authorpreneurship-oriented and thank you, thank you, thank you, dear reader in Australia who did not like the book or just decided against it, I don’t know and I don’t need to. With all sincerity I thank you for giving my work a shot; for paying attention to it, to making an effort with it. There are so many things vying for our time and money, after all, I know. That I almost made it around the bases with you is a far, far better thing than nothing. Nothing is what sucks. And this wasn’t nothing.

Empire & Oracle. And a Brand New Blurb.

2nd cover Iteration, TC2

I spent the morning ranting and raving in my journal, which is mostly what it’s for – writing it out, that is – and rather than succumbing to the temptation to post any of it here and thereby blab about current events that in two or six months time will seem silly and irrelevant and otherwise tangent to the plot, such as it is, I’ve decided to keep all that to myself and focus on what really matters. Namely, book covers!

My editing of TC2 isn’t finished by a long shot. And this isn’t the final version of the cover. But it’s close. The subtitle? Empire & Oracle. Now that is nevertheless final, yay! And it’s all fun and good and makes me feel happy to look at it and talk about it and perhaps, if you’re a member of the tribe, you’ll appreciate this sneak peak. I may as well include the blurb, too. Enjoy!

THERE IS WAR IN THE HEAVENS. AND BLOOD UPON THE LAND. The Great Conflict rages and the Mothmen, desperate to wrest control of space-time from the megalomaniacal clutches of the Molemen, nefariously seek the Cosmic Clock component – the Golden Ball – igniting a diabolical battle for galactic supremacy that will shatter the foundations of the universe. Welcome to TIME CRIME 2: EMPIRE & ORACLE, where the warped machinations and mysterious influence of the Scarab Cult lure Mr. Z. headlong into the past – 1954 Bombay, 19th century Haida Gwaii and beyond – fracturing the forces of the Time Detective Contingent and plunging Vixy and Neutic into the dark heart of 13th century Angkor Wat. Only supernatural redemption, uncanny courage and the fraught heroics of a familiar yet alien outcast can avert pan-galactic chaos and cosmic ruin.

The stretch goal is, again, to publish in the fall. But no later than September or, in a pinch, October. I’ve been told that end-of-year releases are problematic for potential professional reviewers and publications that like to compile annual lists, if I were to be so fortunate. They rather prefer to consider and include things within the proper year of publication. Instead of, say, this didn’t come out until December of 2021, we didn’t get to it until January of 2022, or later, now where do we put it? I completely understand. Hence, I want TC2, akin to TC1, to reside completely within its publication year with a lot of elbow room to get noticed, heaven help us all.

Meanwhile, hey, fake it till you make it! And if nothing else, it’s wise to get out in front of the holiday season so as to give folks time to perhaps notice a book that otherwise doesn’t make any reviews or lists. Worst case, too, I may decide to publish a chapter or two as teasers along the way, in the manner, somewhat, of the old-fashioned serialized novels that appeared in magazines, piece by piece until finally arriving a novels.

Which reminds me that Amazon is offering another new thing (besides their own case laminate hardcovers) – a beta version of VELLA, which is apparently intended to allow writers to publish and get paid for their stories appearing as ongoing episodes versus finished books. Whether this type of option turns out to be a value-add for writers like me, I’m not at all sure yet. But there you have it, the ever-changing phenomenon of indie publishing. I suppose they could’ve called it samsara….

News flash: I’ve just heard from my book designer and she anticipates getting the final cover to me sometime next week, we’ll see – ya’ll will be the first to know!