Coast to Coast

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Who are these guys? You’ll have to skip to the end of this post to find out.

Otherwise, if you’re up for it, what follows is a more typical journal entry and it’s intended for those interested in the process, the day-to-day authorpreneurship grind, as it were. What’s it like to be a so-called emerging author? What’s it like as an author to be between books? It’s for fellow writers, too, of course, if we’re seeking commiseration. We require it sometimes, namely, what amounts to shop talk that for a writer can only be experienced by way of reading about it because we necessarily work alone.

These past weeks I’m struggling to let go of what isn’t and to allow what is, to accept things as they are and move forward with the situation at hand instead of getting wrapped around the axle (as an ex-Director of mine used to say) of what could be. Instead of trying to fix what isn’t working so as to give myself impetus – what amounts to a commensurate reward – to move forward, I know I ought to be trying to find a way forward anyway. It’s called being stuck. It’s an expression of psychological, hence personal mythological schism.

What to do? What’s next? How to crack the schism? How to break through? Well, it’s called scrubbing floors. Doing the scut work. Keeping your feet moving and, to borrow a hockey analogy, your stick on the ice. So that when the puck arrives you’re ready for it.

Which is to say there is only the next novel and the paying for it. And the journaling and research and reading. And the surrendering meanwhile to employment. Which to me somehow has always felt like surrendering to cancer. It occurs to me, in fact, that that is exactly it, the essence of my anxiety concerning employment. All these years employment has seemed to me like a disease. More than a game and an exercise in play acting, in donning an ill-fitting mask and assuming a persona it really does weaken me from the inside out. Just like a terminal illness. A disease of the soul. The sense that I’m participating in the world-of-action is a false sense of connection. It’s feeding the wrong wolf, as the Buddhist’s say. I’ve spent most of my life it seems struggling against this, trying my best to accept and allow and comply with the social expectation along with, of course, putting food on the table, as they say.

Writing doesn’t pay and it never has – Thoreau had to live off the family pencil and graphite business and job himself out as a surveyor to pay for things and his publishing. His books never earned themselves back in his lifetime let alone turned a profit. Yet he persevered and by the time he died he’d attained a certain reputation as a legitimate author. I suppose that’s all most of us can realistically aspire to. Except it doesn’t seem enough. Why go on? Why endure the exile and financial disparity? Why advertise, why work on TC2 (which I haven’t been doing), why continue to chisel away at being a professional author when it simply doesn’t pay and likely never will?

Because that’s all there is. I write and that’s that. That’s why. I only feel properly alive when I’m writing and when I’ve devoted a certain quantity of energy to it. Despite the lack of outcome. Well, the outcome is that I pay to do it, that I’m subsidized by my lousy part time job that I can barely tolerate and the wife’s income, too. It’s a fairly miserable condition, again, akin to enduring a disease or at least a long illness, description that I’ve used before, borrowed from a cookbook writer who borrowed it from someone else, I can’t recall, it’s all in the DOP somewhere.

So that this is yet another lament. If Richardson were researching me and slogging through the DOP he’d be skimming all the parts where I just rant and rave and whine and cry about things. Who wouldn’t? It’s too bad most of the DOP is comprised of autotherapy but so be it, the writing life is no easier and no harder than any other authentic existence, I know. I know, I know, I goddamn know. Except knowing doesn’t make it any easier to live with.

Meanwhile, frustratingly, I’ve been striving to get over my vague idea of a vocational hump, of a level of sales to put it plainly that will bestow a sense of having arrived and having attained legitimacy. I have it in my head that then, having arrived, I can better advance, move forward, continue, edit the next book and publish it and do all the things in between – blog, journal, work on non-fiction, advertise, market, what have you – that comprise my idea of a proper career as an author. Oh, and I desperately seek a success that will allow me to quit, forever, the maddening, bothersome, interfering, energy sapping, impossible distraction of employment. God, I hate it. Not the job in particular – hell, this is nothing against the home improvement store, I’ve endured far, far worse – but rather the nature of being beholden to work that is not my own.

All the while I know that I must find a way to advance, to move on, to keep going, to edit TC2 and publish it and to work on everything else to do with authorpreneurship in spite of everything that’s in the way of that, that does not contribute to that essentialness. It’s essential that I not quit on my work. It’s essential that I evaluate things in a clear minded, unemotional manner and regard my position at the end of this Book-One-Year-One adventure as indeed legitimate and worthy and as an achievement. I tend to want to write it all off as a failure and a waste and one step up and two steps back kind of thing. When it isn’t. It’s the building of an author platform. There are writers out there at my level of talent who have not progressed to the level I’ve attained. What level? (For it seems so often more akin to a hole in the ground). Prouds:

  • A year ago I got off my ass and devoted myself to my VAPM, my true work, my bullshit paying career be damned.
  • I used the career money to seek, acquire and pay for a professional editor.
  • I did well to work with my editor and get the job done.
  • I did well to seek out and hire a book designer who nailed the cover and I meanwhile further tweaked the manuscript including the text, notes and citations to allow for a fine example of professional formatting.
  • I learned the business of indie publishing, including audiobooks and I learned it well.
  • Regarding marketing, I learned many lessons, some very surprising and disappointing lessons; namely, the irrelevance of brick and mortar bookstores and social media and the painful difficulty of getting noticed by reviewers in general and Locus Magazine (my perceived niche market), in particular. I have learned much about what works and what doesn’t.
  • I have sold copies in the USA, U.K., France, Germany and Canada at a rate, in total, of at least one sale per month and a peak of three sales in a day and five sales in a month.
  • I’ve enjoyed making a connection with Eranos administrator and fellow author T.S.
  • I’ve enjoyed collaborating with my editor, book designer and narrator – whether or not I hire them again the experience has been fulfilling.
  • I have established my author presence on Goodreads with 26 followers, active or otherwise, to date, a synced blog, and three five-star ratings.
  • I have established by ecommerce-capable author website which includes my blog posts and I’ve implemented data tracking.
  • I have an Amazon author page likewise synced to my blog and with a snappy video that, at least by way of the response on my Facebook author page, people seem to like.
  • I have advertised in Locus Magazine in their September issue and it generated some buzz for my website and perhaps some sales.
  • I have garnered a three-star rating on amazon.uk and a five-star rating on amazon.com (U.S.).

I have established, then, a not insignificant author platform. I am going for greatness. I am perhaps on the cusp of significance as an author. What will take me to the next level? What next?

First, I must let go of TC1 as my primary effort. This adjustment of priorities, I’ve learned, apparently requires a period of transition, a gradual loosening of my psychological grip upon the first book and a tightening of my attention upon TC2. Despite my fraught sense that TC1 ought to be capable, by way of sales and readership response (my tribe) of supporting the work of TC2, it simply isn’t the reality. The reality is that my little tribe is still too insignificant to influence my further work.

That is, if anyone is awaiting TC2 with interest they are not known to me. So be it. If I try to look at things from the perspective of a reader, in the context of being the appreciator and fan of things that I still am, then I would likely be one of those who didn’t even notice the debut of Carnegie Olson for I’ve very rarely been a first adopter type. Rather, given my broad interests in art-craft, especially music and mythology, I’ve been one to scan the horizon with the patience (ironic given my naturally keen level impatience) of the connoisseur. That is to say, if I were not Carnegie Olson I would be in no hurry at all to get behind the man’s debut novel. I may have added the name and the book to my watch list, perhaps, and when the second novel arrives, bestow a tincture of added legitimacy, relevance and hence interest to it. I would regard it as a more significant, which is mostly to say commercially viable player, say, within the author and reader culture. Indeed, I may be more intense in my evaluation, too: Okay, I’d may say, here’s this guy going for a second crack at it; is this guy for real, is he the author of a significant series, is he going places and doing things of interest or was he a flash-in-the-pan, here and gone? Or is he yet to hit his stride and this is merely him still grasping at things? In short, do I identify with the work of Carnegie Olson enough to follow the developments – has he got a hook in – or is he an author I will only come to after the oeuvre is complete because the work, as I interpret it, only makes sense to me at that finished state?

These are the mostly straightforward realities of the life cycle of art-craft. Namely, it hits fast and hard as if filling a vacuum, it gets a little critical and early adopter buzz in the beginning and hits on the second or third iteration or it requires an extended period of very gradual accumulation of significance. Or it gets ignored right off and stays that way regardless of continued efforts on behalf of the artist-craftsman. There is also a fifth condition that describes the unmitigated, perhaps lifelong welcome of a thing by the masses that for whatever reason comes to an eventual and unrecoverable halt – the thing enjoys a long period of supporting zeitgeist and then sooner or later goes permanently out of fashion.

But all this is really only an unnecessarily complex reiteration of a version of Campbell’s more efficient description of what it is to return across the World Division with one’s boon: it is (1) welcomed, (2) refused or (3) greeted with an initial indifference that patient, devoted pedagogy may transform into eventual welcome. These are, as Campbell said so plainly, the only three outcomes. I get it.

Where does Time Crime really fit, then? Well, on my worst days I’d classify it as refused, as a flop, hence an inarguable indicator that the cosmos wants me to do something else. Alternatively, on my manically enthusiastic days I think, wow, this is it, it’s happening, the book is just about to take off. While either reaction is dramatic neither is indeed accurate. The novel hasn’t crashed and burned because, as an indie author, I don’t have to allow it crash and burn: I can support or otherwise subsidize it – keep it on life support, say – indefinitely. Whereas a traditionally published author would have already been provided their walking papers – the contract would be killed, their publishing rights returned and, if any copies were printed, they’d be perhaps made available for me to purchase with my own money before they were pulped. Because indeed my contract would have been considered a loss and the books less than worthless. So, here’s to being indie because frankly I don’t think Time Crime is finished yet. Given its very modest yet reliable forward motion – its legitimate progress beyond zero – it’s too early to categorize it as an outright failure. But can I sustain the nurturing environment?

Which returns us to the question of what’s next? Which is exactly the question asked by many voracious readers. C’mon, where’s the mother fucking next book, asshole? What’s taking so long? I mean, you call yourself an author of a series then where’s the damn series? This while they point to a bookshelf packed with nine-volume sci-fi compendiums cranked out between somebody’s breakfast and lunch.

I get it. If I liked TC1 I’d be anxious to see TC2. However, my generation, as I’ve discussed elsewhere in the DOP, grew to maturity through the seventies and eighties when music and books and movies were understood to require years of work to produce. But I ought to qualify that in terms of music and even books – there have always been the poppy, so-called top-forty songs, for example, that are cranked out like sausages and consumed like candy and any idea of an artist-craftsman oeuvre, of the maturation of a career, is regarded as an absurd and irrelevant pretention: strike while the iron is hot and your audience has yet to outgrow, literally and figuratively, its interest in you. You want to have a career as an artist-craftsman, what’s wrong with you? Consider The Beatles: they harbored no pretentions during so-called Beatlemania of surviving on the charts past – what did they say in interviews back then? – four years. Life being mostly composed of irony, then, here they are the most enduring, most celebrated and iconic – most mythologized – band of all time, a seemingly permanent archetype akin to Beethoven or Mozart. For The Beatles it turned out not to be four years but forever.

What’s next, then, apparently, if I’m being mindful about it, is nothing. Or nothing special. No changes. Just keep chugging. It’s up to me to keep doing my best to deliberately practice my personal mythology, my VAPM while enduring the inevitably frustrating requirement and energy drain of employment. Going in today to the home improvement at 3:30pm and coming home at 10pm will leave me tired and burned out psychologically and worth nothing in terms of writing until tomorrow morning. And knowing that makes me anxious; it fills me with an anxiety that I have to work to hammer back. But it helps pay for things.

And so it goes. Because while things could be better and my writing could be more than paying its way and I could then write even more and publish and achieve mastery instead of having it all undermined by chores, that’s not how things are. They aren’t that way for most writers. Thoreau, after his nagging tuberculosis caught up with him and he died at forty-four years old, had volumes of notes and ongoing research and designs for publications that would have kept him busy for perhaps decades. Instead of witnessing the completion of his oeuvre, the eventual celebration of his work and the establishment of his uniquely durable legacy he died in middle age, acknowledged as a legitimate author, having published, having established a platform but, for better or for worse, yet to really arrive. For better or worse because, it’s true, none of us know for certain which is the better outcome for us: individuation as artist-craftsmen and global success in our lifetime or to die in harness, breaking ground in fresh fields, still obscure.

Okay, enough whining, right? Here’s my inspirational whiskey shot for today, Ducks Deluxe, a treat for all those who like rock-n-roll, who may be struggling like me to make it happen and managed to get to the end of this post. Notice Martin Belmont, the lead guitarist who from this point joined Graham Parker’s Rumour – he owns this tune! The singer, Sean Tyla, passed away this past May at the age of 73 and the Ducks, acknowledged now as the seminal pre-pub-rock pub rockers, had been meanwhile doing some gigs and releasing some records in the later years, good for them. Anyway, here’s to following the bliss and the blisters, too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6fegotswzs