Black Squirrels Matter

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The paying job has since April when I started it destroyed any sense I used to maintain of weekdays versus weekends. So be it, for better or worse at this point in my life such predictability and orderliness has vanished in general. Such is the nature of the unconventional life, I suppose. And while I very briefly toyed with the idea of accepting a full time position it seems an impossibility – that’s how fully invested I’ve become in doing whatever it is I have ended up doing. Writing. Marketing the novel. Doing my best to feed the proper wolf, to fuel the proper energies come what may.

Of course not much seems to be coming. The audiobook has not sold in sixteen days and it feels like sixteen years. Ugh. It’s difficult to avoid rushing to judgement in the sense that it was the audiobook, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, that I’d tried to convince myself would benefit from so much less competition compared to the other formats. And here it is, so far, tanking; selling a mere four copies and garnering zero reviews. Has the sham-demic poisoned the audiobook market? That is, are there that many less commuters no longer listening to audiobooks in their cars?

My twenty-five thank you cards to my Goodreads giveaway winners have disappeared into the void. No response, no reviews, no ratings. One card was a return-to-sender – did the person move with no forwarding address? This is how it goes, of course, for the wannabe, for the emerging author struggling like hell to architect a reliable foundation beneath their otherwise perilously flimsy excuse for a so-called platform.

Keep at it, you say. Don’t give up. It takes time. The cream will rise. Good things come to those who wait. What have you. The fact is, from what I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur in two different fields of endeavor – food and novels – to say nothing of my devoted, life-long investigations as appreciator and discerner and my ten years as an indie scholar, most success stories in whatever field seem to include the bestowing of at least a modicum of early legitimacy. The first record album, the first restaurant, the first art show, the first novel receives enough press, enough recognition from important influencers and enough sales to allow it, by way of marketplace momentum, as it were, to bridge the chasm of oblivion. The chasm of oblivion claims perhaps 85% of all entrepreneurial efforts within what do they say, the first five years? I would correct that data. Because having survived perhaps their first crazily expensive and riotous opening year, if that, the ensuing four likely entail a form of denial whereby the body is on life support, a hopeless, living corpse awaiting the pulling of the plug. Most businesses, as Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s once suggested, are going out of business either quickly or slowly. Regardless of the economy. It’s brutal. It’s the way it is.

I remain an outsider. My vision for the novel and the series remains that of an outsider. I’m an indie wannabe in the worst, no connections, no-platform sense of it. I have not made the leap into legitimacy that, say, First Sister, a first novel I’d mistakenly assumed was struggling at my level of obscurity but instead managed to appear within the NPR Book Concierge and, damn it to hell I’m jealous, a book cover appearance in Locus. In short, The First Sister, sales aside, has accomplished everything my book so far hasn’t. So that if there’s a Second Sister it will steam past TC2 on the buoyancy of a readership and previous critical awareness – the awareness of influencers. So that it has a goddamn chance. Good for you, Linden A. Lewis.

I only single out The First Sister, which I haven’t read (I recall it utilizes first person and the author taps LGTB themes) because it was side-by-side with TC1 in my first Goodreads giveaway, so that I assumed it was starting from scratch like my book. But aligning and promoting a thing, anything at all these days within the accommodating and arguably newly privileged and hotly protective LGTB family, such as it is, sets it apart from my work. I’m the middle-aged white guy sci-fi author who, by default, is regarded as exactly the enemy to be overcome, despite the hard fact that middle-aged white American men established everything about the sci-fi genre as it exists today. So be it, facts are facts and likewise times change. That being a sci-fi author had anything to do with so-called “white privilege” (which is to say white male privilege) in the genre’s Astounding early heyday – the Campbell, Asimov and Heinlein years, for instance – I simply refuse to consider a legitimate issue, despite the ugly reality of modern day authors feeling empowered to voice a bitterness and vehemence against an oppression they never suffered, that doesn’t apply to their own success as they stand clutching their award statuettes at conferences in front of wannabes like me. Hey, life is nothing if not a relentless struggle between insiders and outsiders. And now perhaps I’m the outsider.

I’m not whining, either. It just is what it is. You’ve got to pay to play in all kinds of ways, it’s never been any different in any field of endeavor and especially within art-craft. If I were a black lesbian, for example, that would be my number one marketing angle for TC1 and the book’s cover, as it stands, would lend itself readily to that pitch. For the record I am not “anti” anything regarding race or lifestyle and frankly I’m a little disappointed in myself behaving here, within my own damn journal, as if I have to somehow justify or establish my position on things that, in a perfect world, would be irrelevant to the genre of science fiction. Science fiction to me still stands for freedom and that includes freedom from the burden of the stance of freedom. Science fiction to me always seemed, if nothing else, refreshingly egalitarian and happily subversive in the manner of rock and roll. Geeks. Nerds. Suburban ciphers. Outsiders. Outcasts. Exiles. Sci-fi authors and rock bands were rebels with a cause. The cause being a wholehearted longing to connect. With as wide an audience as possible.

Sure, some rockers just like some authors seem to prefer the same polarization most of us readers and listeners simply don’t give a damn about. But I’ve never listened to music or read a book to set myself apart, let alone piss anyone off. No. It’s always been the exact opposite for me: I seek to connect, to join the club, tribe, gang, what have you. Or start a club. I seek inclusion. And that’s the irony and poignancy of the outsider life: we only really seek to overcome exactly that which empowers us. Namely, the same sense of exile and resistance to arrival and belonging that fuels so much significant art-craft, so much worthy, even game-changing creativity is the otherwise burdensome, crippling, ostracizing dark energy we so often are merely seeking to overcome; to purge and to transform into acceptance, welcome and, for the writer, a readership. None of us desire to sell out, as it were; rather, we long to participate. Knowing, of course, that we ought to be careful what we wish for; that success – acceptance and commensurate reward for one’s work – will bring everything else besides individuation with it. That’s the mythology we all live by.

Perhaps that’s why I get so many clicks on my Amazon adds and so few purchases. And the purchases I do get don’t result in reviews, ratings and any kind of buzz. That is to say, TC1 gets what appears to be relatively (for an emerging author) significant visibility on Amazon or Goodreads but something, unless I’m mistaken, is getting lost in translation. Perhaps I’m just impatient. Perhaps it’s that the book cover entices but the content disappoints. I have to allow these incongruities as possible explanations. I’m convinced the writing is at least competent. But a buyer’s expectations have to be not only met but exceeded if there’s to be any opportunity to generate a buzz. Meanwhile, regarding the judging-a-book-by-its-cover idea: (1) TC1 isn’t about pandemics (Vixy isn’t wearing a mask; her face was intended to be half in shadow or, in my interpretation, evocative of the veil she wears in Egypt); (2) Vixy is of combined European/Haida Canadian heritage and her dark complexion on the cover is indicative of her desert-tanned skin and, (3) Vixy is a co-protagonist alongside Mr. Z. and Five and various other characters – TC1 is not, that is to say, a feminist, girl-power,  strong-female-lead focused novel. Rather, it’s indeed a classic sci-fi vibe with a modern mythology twist! Does that sound familiar to anyone?

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DEVOTED READER GIVEAWAY ALERT! If you’ve read this far and would like a signed hardcover, first edition, first state (the current version is so-called second state which means I corrected a handful of typos and increased the size of the text in the running heads), email me and I’ll send you one for free if you live in the U.S.A. or Canada.

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Meanwhile, I once again wholeheartedly thank everyone who has purchased a copy of Time Crime. Again, you are the intrepid risk takers and, if you liked it, the essential first adopters and if it weren’t for you folks I’d have lost heart long ago. Nevertheless, sales are sales and TC1 is merely limping along. Is Humble Hogs Press, then, three-quarters into its first year of operation already a goner? Am I kidding myself that this holiday season may generate a life giving surge of attention and sales for the novel, that it will get the patient off the table? Is the TCT and my vision of authorpreneurship otherwise a living corpse? Ought I to just pack it in? Would indie publishing TC2 next year be throwing good money after bad?

I don’t know. I do know that I’m going to keep at it. And political correctness be damned I’m going to publish this post in the spirit of inclusion and mindful intelligence and friendly, wholeheartedly happy subversion that drives my reading, listening and writing. That drives all good science fiction and all good rock and roll. And I will continue to reach out in this way, to seek my tribe until, I don’t know, the cosmos deems otherwise. Differences are important and human and necessary. Black squirrels matter. So does a sense of humor. We aren’t all the same and shouldn’t be if only because it would be boring as hell. May you live in interesting times is of course a famous Oriental curse. These days it all seems a bit of a curse. Things aren’t as they should be. But when are they? When have they ever been as they should be? Read your mythology and there’s a place for all of us even it’s only in our own heads. And hearts. And while I’m convinced there isn’t any such thing as unprecedented times – not if you read your mythology, that is – I’d admit that 2020 is something more or less atypical.

And the U.S. presidential election is going to be divisive, there’s no getting around it. There will be conflict. Conflict is essential in a novel. Trials to overcome are part of any mythology, any worthy story. Conflict is part of life. Hence, I’m not here to suggest we ought to work to eliminate conflict, either. Neither am I here to tell you which way to vote. Or to vote at all. Have your opinions, live your passions, be who you are – the careful reader knows this all plays to the subtext of Time Crime. None of us have all the answers. Our shared predicament necessitates moving forward, making decisions without all of the information. That’s life within the Mystery. Life imitates art-craft. Life is a play of opposites. When we meet in the middle it’s called humanity. When we meet in the middle good things happen.