Gypped of the G-Force?

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bros & Big G, author image

Above is a rare photo of me and my brother (we are fraternal twins), he of HWG fame but also a painter of Godzilla imagery – that is his work blurrily rendered above our heads. We were having beers and watching some old G flicks on DVD prior to heading off to a matinee of the new film. Like any ritual, it is a form of participating in the myth, I’ll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, the employment is adversely affecting the true work. Six out of seven days on the job at near fulltime hours hardly feels like a part-time goddamn job. I’ve worked to back things off but the schedule nevertheless keeps creeping into twenty-plus hours which perhaps doesn’t sound like much unless you’re like me, a person who finds it difficult to keep the energies in their proper silos. That is, Time Crime is an engine that is continually running and to commit to doing something else at all well is, for me, exhausting and TC2 suffers. I must find a way to manage the energies properly or I don’t know what. Quitting the employment would be a failure; I don’t want to have to do that. However, what’s most important is the book and not enough progress is being made on the editing, it’s that simple.

Just back off, you say? Let it ride, quit making a big deal out of things? It’s just a job, it’s just a novel, it’s just life. Let it go and see what comes back. This is where the truth lies, of course. Nobody needs another novel. And whether I need to publish another one isn’t certain, either. I’m not reading enough, I’m not writing enough, I’m on the job too much and it’s up to me to make the adjustments or not and so be it. Actions have consequences, come what may.

Nevertheless, scheduled work on the TC2 book cover ostensibly begins today – R.V. will be reviewing the information I supplied – the blurb, my comments, the images and all that – and I have a sense that ready or not, I’m going to force this thing forward by any means possible. Even if it means having a cover before I’m even confident I can edit TC2 into a proper book. Well, it’s already a proper novel, I’m perfectly capable of indeed completing the editing and I’m willing to risk it, this juggling of the process, this experiment with perhaps putting the cart before the horse (shouldn’t I have all the editing done before the cover gets addressed?) to keep the fires burning. I’ll mix metaphors and everything else to shove this thing into completion.

Worst case scenario? I fail and the cover is rendered irrelevant. But there is no mythology without an image, hence, I have a sense that my intuition is correct and I need to allow the experience to be as different from that of getting the first novel published as it needs to be to move forward. And I’m confident that it is exactly this struggle against the inertias of expectation, self-awareness and arrival – I will never have another first novel experience – that separates the winners, such as they are in the publishing world, from the losers. It’s a different series of trials, the adventure of the next novel in the series – the next novel, period – isn’t it? So be it. I have the advantage of having written the first draft of TC2 and TC3 and the first fifty pages of TC4. It’s merely the editing I need to focus upon. The story of TC2 is holding. Akin to TC1, it’s not the plot that needs editing; rather, it’s the infusion of detail followed by the removal of excess and finally the polishing of things – a minimum of three drafts beyond the original – that must be done. It seems dreadful and to some extent it is, but any writer will admit they do not enjoy rereading let alone rewriting their work. It comes to the point, eventually, that we can’t bear to look at the manuscript again.

Which is its own form of release, I suppose, because it allows me to send the thing out into the world with its inevitable faults. While my experience proves that resisting the inclination to rush a book into publication pays off with a better book because any writing can always be improved, somehow one also must beware the so-called point of diminishing returns – you can hash anything over too much – hence, it is this delicate holding on and letting go that manufactures both the anxiety over the failure to achieve perfection and the sought-after release from the burden of care.

All this has application or analogy within the context of the new Godzilla film, or at least ought to, except that Godzilla vs Kong seemed mostly a King Kong movie, with Godzilla appearing as a kind of character actor. Kong is an entirely different myth than that of Big G, hence, I’ve always struggled with the film industry’s compulsion to blend these two stories.

I wouldn’t categorize the film as having failed but it certainly failed to properly develop its new human characters, including rendering Mechagodzilla mastermind Walter Simmons almost irrelevant. That is to say, the writers ditched the idea soon after Mechagodzilla’s appearance by way of making the mechanical beast suddenly sentient thereby killing off any sensible plot. It was a weirdly overstretched irony anyway that the antagonist, a mostly too agreeable versus compellingly charismatic villain (his lethally attractive daughter Maya – “Dump the monkey!” – was more interestingly sinister but they unfortunately killed her off) merely sought to establish Man as the ultimate titan by way of building, ironically, a better machine. That is to say, it’s a different story (see, for instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey or read The Moon is a Harsh Witness) where the machine becomes or threatens to become the antagonist itself.

Meanwhile, G, having rightfully conquered Kong is subsequently so manhandled by Mechagodzilla that it left no time or psychological room for even feeling compassion for G – our compassions and identifications were continually shoved Kong’s way throughout the film as it was anyway but the action within this final smackdown left me feeling vaguely gypped. Recall that in the original Mechagodzilla film we see the great G conjuring a natural force (magnetism) that overpowers the manufactured and mechanized failures of, as always, Man and his inherent slavery to his own hubris. But here, G, a pummeled wreck of a monster, “breathes” G-force, of a kind, into Kong’s axe and otherwise only half participates in Mechagodzilla’s destruction, the kill shots delivered by the back-from-the-dead Kong. Writing this it all seems even more problematic than it appeared in the movie.

Myth? Well, the best, most mythologically potent line in the movie, “It’s Godzilla,” isn’t even in it! Crazily, the trailer version apparently didn’t make it into the film itself, the Jane Goodall character, Ilene Andrews, merely utters, “Godzilla.” Huh? Yes, it’s true. And while she mentions “myth” several times early in the film, the whole idea of a hollow Earth ancient future mythology which could have, I suppose, functioned as a mythologically potent tangential plot, drifts into an unwieldly Kong-returns-home appropriation of the film that by the time the final smackdown arrives the energy of G’s unhinged, single-minded attack upon the origins of Mechagodzilla seems beside the point. It is Kong’s movie, emotionally at least, all the way to the end. Furthermore, why is G so mindlessly driven to attack Kong that he diverts his Mechagodzilla-seeking mission to wreck everything in sight on those ships? That G stops at nothing to restore cosmic balance makes sense given the character’s history and the image of G as horrific manifestation resonates throughout the decades. But that he takes time out, as it were, to function as a mortal enemy of Kong? The idea just never rang true to me.

Otherwise, there are too many characters merely walking through this movie (mostly via darkened Death Star style corridors). Mark Russel, for example, had nothing to do or say, his daughter Madison merely coopted the initially engagingly neurotic insight of Bernie Hayes (eventually reducing him to babbling incoherency) in service of an overbold, unappealing forcefulness, Josh Valentine served as not-quite-funny enough comic relief while Jia’s innocent, child-mystic appeal and Nathan Lind’s unintentional hero quality were run over roughshod by the overall death-by-committee trying-to-please everybody dilution of vision and, as expected, the overdose of too much and too glitzy CGI. Except in regard to the hollow Earth transports which seemed ever so nineteen eighties, somehow, with their minivan proportions and Back to the Future neon-blue tendrils of, what, energy? Anyway, the rules of CGI, apparently, forbid the intimation of directional lighting.

Meanwhile, for any of us not up on the intricacies of the backstory this film will be baffling and it didn’t have to be – the best Marvel comics, for example, always took time to reacquaint us (and new readers) with the plot. And did I already mention that Walter Simmons was too likeable? Not charismatically villainous but rather just plain likeable. He had a nice accent, could wear clothes, happily drank whiskey in a tumbler and read books. He was a dreamer more than a tyrant; keen to establish humanity as the alpha titan which, frankly, I could sympathize with. I mean, what’s with all these monsters running around? “Release number ten.” Wait, is this Return of the Jedi? Anyway, even Bernie Hayes expressed disappointment at not getting a chance to hear the man finish his megalomania speech. Oh, and poor Ren Serizawa, the story’s only overt nod to the Japanese origins of G (and if the franchise is being handed back over to Toho, why not use Tokyo instead of Hong Kong as the final battle city?), was relegated to either looking sideways through his hairstyle or sitting motionless with his eyes rolled back in his head. He gets his one good line, something about how Simmons ought to rather heed the risks of going too far too fast with the technology, or something or other, before his function as the brains of Mechagodzilla and his very existence is unceremoniously and fatally short circuited.

I wasn’t going to mention the unintentionally funny (it was unintentional, wasn’t it?) scene where Kong is galloping, ape-style, across the hollow Earth wastelands towards home, trailed by Lind and company, with a shot of Kong’s hairy ass filling the screen and Ilene Andrews says, “He can really move, can’t he?” Yikes.

In short, Godzilla works when “he” (it could be argued that Godzilla is asexual or even possesses, for instance, Tiamat style female goddess power) is a manifestation rather than a flesh-and-blood beast. Yes, perhaps he bleeds and perhaps he can be killed but then again, not. Mostly, and necessarily, he arrives as the balancer within the context of Nature – G is a manifestation perhaps of our human nature as it resides commensurately within the indifferent realm of Nature with a capital “N” and only returns to deep sea slumber, as it were, when cataclysm is averted, when the unwieldly yet eternal play-of-opposites balance is restored. G in fact can be said to not only defend eternity – timelessness – but to symbolize it. And it is we, the humans, in our perpetual folly who inevitably invoke and evoke the god (and the G-Forces) just as the sinners within Occidental religion can be said to do with, say, Yahweh. In other words, without us, the gods don’t exist. And without the gods, we are gypped of the G-force.

That said, it’s not ever quite fair to pick on a G-flick for not demonstrating exemplary filmmaking. Despite all the money involved, if the G-mythology were to take itself too seriously, well, it wouldn’t be any fun and this movie, for all its faults, pulls off its share of thrills, too, especially in the beginning and most especially via the battle at sea. If it so happens that once again the trailers were better than the movie it’s only perhaps the modern problem of this information age. We get too much, too soon, and too much editing in advance of our own.

And in the end, even Gojira isn’t a great film; rather, it’s the idea and the handful of fantastically potent images and our ability to fill in the gaps, such as they are, that make it so. That, and the original, spine-tingling “Skreeonk!” that I swear was lacking in this movie (and other modern versions). Gypped again? Hey, if that sound alone evokes its own unique G-force horror, its own cosmic fright in us, why would anybody be compelled to screw with it? Oh well. Maybe I’ll watch the new movie again tonight, at home, with the wife and reevaluate. Meanwhile, I’ve said enough, I think, and damned if I don’t have my own story to attend to….

The Veil of Virtue & the Devil You Know

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Detail of Saturn, Francisco de Goya

Book sales have tanked this past week. Who knows why? Spring weather in places? The cover putting people off instead of drawing them in, perhaps because the epidemiological nonsense is finally considered passé (devoted readers will recall that the cover of the novel, created in January 2020, was never intended to imply a mask but rather, and rather unintentionally yet effectively, a veil). Or do book sales always plummet in early spring? Again, who knows? Somebody does, perhaps, but not me. And what does it matter, anyway? My task is before me regardless of sales. Write and write and write and let the rest go….

Such is a vocation. One does what one does, in other words, regardless of the world’s reception. Hence, following one’s bliss doesn’t translate necessarily to happiness but rather fulfillment on behalf of personal mythological authenticity and Jungian individuation. Be who you are and you do your proper part and the cosmos is satisfied to apply its play-of-opposites influence to things. It’s your influence against that of the world-of-action, that’s all. Employ it or don’t. If you don’t, you’re in schism and your contribution, in cosmological terms, isn’t. You become a schism, a problem to be overcome by way of the activity of everything else. It’s a shitty way to be and a shitty thing to do and so be it; some folks prefer to be shitty. Or can’t help being shitty. Hell, we’re all shitty at some point. Life contains this aspect.

Alternatively, deploy your proper energies and they empower other proper energies within and without. Things are furthered, in the Daoist sense. Alongside compassion, frugality and humility, the so-called three treasures idea that permeates this ancient Oriental philosophy.

What are the corresponding opposites? What could perhaps be termed the three curses? Heartlessness, extravagance and pride. But we need these, too. For there is no play-of-opposites without opposites. And to seek to transcend this condition of things, arguably the condition or the nature of reality, is to first and foremost, allow it. We’re better than this, you say? No we’re not. And this is where, for example, the world ties itself up in knots of righteousness on behalf of current affairs and agendas, inevitably political but originally personal. We only criticize what we fail to recognize within ourselves. Me included.

The so-called times, then, which differ very little from any other time in human history, merely demonstrate a particularly intense (or at least intensely communicated) example of a strength being transformed into its opposite, namely weakness. So that hyper-liberals, once so compassionate and inclusive, have somehow set themselves upon a path of viscous, selfish, agenda-laden righteousness at all costs. They decry violence, exclusivity, elitism, disempowerment, adjudication, oppression, imprisonment, consolidation of power in the State and what do we witness besides a systematic appropriation of freedoms, widespread censorship and the ruthless tyranny of a single-minded agenda designed to benefit the in-group and the expense of the cancelled and the outcasts? The worst thing about being righteous, in the end, is becoming what you hate.

Meanwhile, the true leaders and the agents of change and the hope for humanity take refuge in the arts, as they always have. For the arts express mythology as a whole, uncensored, bestowing our own reflection before us, uncensored, and at the same time offering a glimpse of the truth available to us in this life. There may or may not be another life. Yet the idea of something transcendent is the sliver of freedom that aggravates and weakens and ultimately serves to split the unholy timber of inhumanity and wrath upon which the crucified Christ, for example, hangs. Purple prose? Or the prairie rose?

I long day yesterday on the job, sore bones, the inevitable period of recovery that consumes too much time and energy but so be it. The home improvement accommodated my request to back down my hours and next week I’ll enjoy a more moderate schedule. Which coincides nicely with my need to surrender to the demands of TC2’s book cover design, the process of which begins April 1st. The book cover image being an example, even a symbol, of something that means everything and nothing, a little version in itself of the play-of-opposites that defines our predicament.

A book cover is everything because for an emerging or struggling or unestablished indie author – call us what you will – it inevitably speaks to the content, to the writing, more than, well, the writing. Which describes exactly why an established author’s name is routinely the prominent feature of a book cover, the artwork upon a Stephen King novel, for instance, being rendered essentially inessential. The name sells it, the imagery doesn’t. For me, it’s the opposite. I get clicks on my ads based exclusively upon the cover design, the imagery – the image symbolizes whatever integrity, vibe, theme, intrigue, energy that the potential reader may be seeking or responding to against the wealth of the competition.

Conversely, to place too much importance upon the cover art, to obsess upon what it communicates or doesn’t is a good way to snuff the potential synergistic life out of it. Which is probably why it’s not only not required for R.V. to read the novel but is instead rather inadvisable. The impressions and intuitions and sleights of hand, as it were, involved in getting the feel of the novel more or less rendered in an intriguing manner, in just the correct balance of evocative and accurate chemistry – the little magic trick – is fascinating in psychological and mythological terms. Mythological especially because a book cover mythologizes the novel. And while a second or third version of a popular book’s cover further mythologizes it, the very first cover (again, on behalf of an unknown author) has to do infinitely more work on behalf of the story. Because for a time, the image is the story. There is no mythology without an image, after all, and for better or worse in the beginning the book cover is it almost despite the writing.

Meanwhile, Easter is in the wind, and the mythology of rebirth. And a powerfully super natural (sic) mythology – conquering death and all that. And it prompts me, as a card carrying member of this screwy human race, to risk a little righteousness on my own behalf, come what may. Namely, for all yea who are so keen to declare your virtue in the form of, say, a yard sign, I would counter that you merely risk communicating its opposite; namely, the same antagonism you seek to dissolve. Perhaps better, then, to keep it to yourself until, well, it was Nietzsche, wasn’t it, who suggested be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you.

Black Pipe, Toadmen and the Mysterious Power of Empowerment.

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Detail from De Dulle Griet, Peter Brueghel, Flemish, 16th century

I spent a day, more or less, installing a new clothes dryer. Well, installing the dryer was the easy part. What took me so long was reconfiguring the natural gas line. Otherwise, free next day delivery and my little ten percent discount from the home improvement made it all good. It was the delivery guy who noted that the previous natural gas line was not to code, something I’d pretty much assumed when I examined the fifteen feet or so of puny quarter inch copper tubing that ran up to the three-quarter inch black iron pipe in the ceiling and connected with a saddle valve of all things. Can it get any more dubious? Who f*cking uses a saddle valve on anything, water or gas? I mean, poking a hole in the side of a pipe and relying on a non-threaded seal to prevent a leak? I would’ve cut the damn thing out and ran a new line from a proper tee-fitting but I can’t reach it; it’s in the ceiling above the home theater build-out some other home owner did. So, this house, built in the mid-fifties, has so many jury rigged, half-assed, fucked up plumbing, electrical, communication and gas line jobs (there was a gas line for an oven, which I tapped to supply the dryer), to say nothing of… well, if you own a house and do at least some of your own improvements, you get it.

By the way, speaking of gas ovens, it is apparently within building code to have one in your house, of any size. Unlike a gas water heater, for example, which requires an exhaust vent. But I can tell you that the way I use an oven and stove top, cooking for hours and hours at a time, sometimes with a pot of stock simmering overnight, it seems impossibly foolish to fill your house with combustion gasses like that. I don’t get it.

The dryer install. Ugh. I’d not worked with gas lines before but having spent fifteen years or more dealing with hazardous materials and having been around the block a few times regarding the do-it-yourself scenario and having access to all the online videos out there, I figured a new gas line with a proper shut-off was doable. Except the lack of shut-off for the appliance meant I would have to shut off the gas main. Which also meant the furnace and water heater would be down while I worked on first getting the shut-off installed and then firing the furnace and water heater back up. If I could. Was there any issue with shutting down your house’s gas main and turning it on again? Likewise the furnace – would it need to be reset somehow by a repairman? And the water heater of course had a reigniting-the-pilot procedure. I did my reading, yanked the cover panels off the furnace and lo, I’d forgotten that the lower panel had a kill switch, so I’d accidentally shut the furnace down mid-operation. But when I put the panel back on and, thank Thor, it started itself up again, everything seemed entirely possible. I bought my piping and fittings and knick knacks – I needed a couple new adjustable wrenches, for instance – and went to work.

The Shut-Off, author image

Well, no I didn’t. Because I got nervous, all of a sudden, right as I was set to go and reviewed some additional information online and otherwise hemmed and hawed and tried to weigh the odds of having gas leaks after fitting the pipe so that I’d have to shut the main off again and then what? What about the furnace (it was forty degrees Fahrenheit) and the hot water? Would I have to call a plumber to fix everything and how long would that take? Would the gas company somehow find out about my having shut the main off (“this meter is owned by [insert gas company here] and tampering with this device…”) and show up and require a permit and inspection and pressure testing…? Then I thought, what the fuck am I worried about? I know what I’m doing. I’ve done more than sufficient due diligence, I have the tools and parts, I understand the hazards and the risks and why can’t I just do it. Otherwise the damn dryer is going to sit there until I schedule a damn plumber and what’s he going to do except everything I can do myself?

I turned the gas off and started at the old oven line with a hack saw. Which sucked because it’s a workout without a saws-all. And what if there was a shitload of natural gas in the line and the heat from my hack saw blade would… Christ. Just cut the motherf*cker. When I got to the interior I heard a quiet “hiss” and that was it. Not much gas. I couldn’t even smell it. So away I went, finished the cutting, twisted out the rest of the pipe from the fitting, replaced the elbow with my new reducer elbow to get down to one-half inch and just kept going, piece by piece, fitting by fitting until I’d installed the shut-off and then I could work to get the gas main on and the furnace and the water heater and leave the dryer for later if necessary. Oh, and check my fittings for leaks, of course. No leaks. Furnace on. Water heater re-fired. This had taken me, I don’t know, a few hours.

Now for the dryer itself. The connection kit made it a breeze. The vent line had been done by a plumber we hired a couple of years ago to fix the drain for the washing machine (which was its own special previous homeowner mess) so that was just a matter of disconnecting and reconnecting. The only thing that sucks about the install at this point is access. Which is to say the lack thereof. Why in f*ck the gas fitting and the vent fitting are at the very bottom of the back of a dryer is beyond me. We can’t design internal components that allow for the connections to be perhaps at least at the top of the machine?

I cross my fingers and turn on the dryer, soapy water bottle at the ready, me sniffing for gas. No leaks! The only thing left was reversing the dryer door and getting a foam pad under the dryer to keep it from sliding around on the shitty basement floor tile (that is popping up all over, yet another doomed, hack job homeowner mistake). And fine tuning the black pipe hangers so they’d actually properly support the gas line. Done.

I feel good having conquered my trepidation over working with gas lines and while it took too long and my body is sore and I’m tired and still have to slog away at a couple of days in a row on the closing shift at the home improvement, I’m glad I did it. The money? It’s just a tool, the dryer was old when we moved in, it had to be replaced, yadda, blah. It’s done and now I can get back to my real job. Which is selling books and writing new ones.

Sales are at nine copies (1 x hardcover, 3 x paperback, 3 x eBook, 2 x audiobook) exactly halfway through the month compared to last March when I only managed a single sale. So that I’ve maintained five months or so averaging four or so sales per week at least which means I often sell two days in row and when I don’t, I only go a day or two, perhaps three, rarely longer, without some action. So that my one-sale-per-month goal has been achieved and even my once-per-week goal has been reliably smashed, so much so that I think perhaps I ought to commit to expressing my next goal: a sale every day. And a stretch goal of more than one sale every day. With my super stretch goal being a sale in a single day of every format: cloth, case laminate, paperback, eBook and audiobook.

My advertising cost, from what I can tell without a detailed analysis, stands at approximately four times my sales revenue, give or take. But I’m happy to endure being in the red as long as I see continual improvement, as long as more potential tribe members are being reached and the adventure roles onward. Additional four or five-star reviews would help but the devoted reader understands that for that we do not ask. Meanwhile, with the book now better copy edited (knowing there will always be something to fix) I’m feeling better about the reader experience and I’m looking forward to that translating into more published enthusiasm. Let’s face it, all this stuff is not only additive but multiplicative and, eventually I hope, exponential in its effect on sales. More buyers and readers create more buyers and readers.

A. is working hard to escape the Poseidon Adventure that her job has become, interviewing multiple times per week and more than once at certain places and we’re frustrated that she can’t get the call from one of these joints and move on. It takes time, yes. But she’s put in the effort and it wears her out and it’s frustrating just like it is for everybody going through it but she’ll get there. It just sucks to endure the lousy position she’s in, mired within completely f*cked up company preparing itself from what I can tell, with my experience, to sell out piece meal to a holding company.

TC2? Well, this past week or, more accurately, ever since Sunday when I worked a ten-hour day and then spent all yesterday and part of another getting the dryer installed and tweaked, it’s been all about employment and household chores. So that I’m happy to be journaling this afternoon before heading off to the job again. Ugh. It’s tough to keep toggling back and forth between my two different lives, between my two different brains, between my obligation to my heart and my obligation to life’s practicalities.

I’ve learned to keep chugging. Because I’ve learned it’s mostly persistence that separates those who get what they want from those who don’t. Talent and timing? Yes, but the third component of the Gladwellian trinity, namely that of drive, is the thing I’m completely in control of and the drive to endure the stop-and-start nature of following my bliss, my VAPM and to keep going back to the journal, the blog and the manuscript no matter how long I’m forced to remain away from those things is all I can reliably contribute to the goal of getting me from where I am to where I want to be.

***

I’m rereading The Power of Myth, a little non-illustrated paperback version of which I purchased recently. I’ve never owned it, ironically perhaps, because it’s not only the most popular of his works but it’s also the first and only of his publications that many who are familiar with Campbell have ever read. Or in the case of the Public Television series from which the book was transcribed, it’s their only exposure to the man and his ideas at all. I rather began, as the devoted reader may recall, with Pathways to Bliss, another transcription (from lectures) and a posthumous one at that.

As such, it always strikes me that Campbell was well spoken enough that he could be transcribed essentially without editing such that his lectures and spontaneous public speaking compares in terms of refinement, let’s call it, with most people’s writing, my own included. In short, he speaks better than most people write. Hence, I think, given the attentive editing the transcriptions of his recorded lectures and interviews received, be it the famous television series or the posthumous publications by the Joseph Campbell foundation, it all stands as essential.

Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing how this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity, and experiencing the eternal aspect of what you’re doing in the temporal experience – this is the mythological experience.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers), Betty Sue Flowers, ed., (New York: Anchor Books, 1991 [1988]), 111.

If someone asked for a so-called elevator speech version or a nutshell encapsulation of what mythology is, I think this would be it. Moreover, if somebody demanded the practical application of the mythological experience, I would point them to this:

The ancient myths were designed to harmonize the mind and the body. The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things that the body does not want. The myths and rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the way of life in accord with the way that nature dictates.

Ibid., 87.

Now, I don’t think Campbell would argue against the notion that these ideas are sophisticated, existential and Romantic (in reference to Romanticism) interpretations of myth and mythology; that for the connoisseur and the scholar this is what myth and mythology ultimately is and what it does. And when the mythology is fully functional, it indeed works in both personal and cultural terms: it orients the individual within himself and within his culture commensurately. But that the folk interpretation, which is to say the on-the-ground, day-to-day application of mythology is rather very often – I was going to say quirky or messy – best described as incomplete.

What do I mean? Mostly, the affecting images of myth, whether seen or invoked (imagined), do not operate entirely consciously; in fact, rarely do they operate consciously. Hence, their images and effects are unwieldly, oftentimes evocative of the shadowy components of Nature and our nature and reliably weird, spooky and disturbing. Mythology ultimately centers but when encountered by the uninitiated (literally and figuratively) is just as often uncenters, unseats and unsettles. Guides help, timing is imperative (when the student is ready, the teacher appears, as they say) and the myths can eventually transcend their shock-and-awe affect, their invocation of aesthetic arrest and properly work on you as guiding images – metaphors – themselves.

I still often find the reading of myths to be a baffling, frustrating, unsettling, sometimes humorous but mostly challenging experience. Archaic language, contextual lack and the vagaries of translation add to the difficulty. The imagery, to say nothing of the story, such as it is, can seem so transgressive, contrary, obscure, obfuscated and intentionally impenetrable as to be impossible. What in hell are some of these stories trying to communicate? How to unravel their knotty metaphors? Are they metaphors at all? How to bring them forward in time without stripping them of their intention and essential historical otherness? How to apply a legitimate and still relevant hermeneutic? And why? How is the investigation and study worth it?

Campbell himself apparently would have first rather been the artist type – namely, a novelist – who references myth rather than the scholar and gifted interpreter of it that he eventually surrendered to becoming. While an aspect of Arthurian legend was the topic of Masters thesis, he subsequently tried his hand at short stories (and sold one), sought teaching as a kind of compromise to his abandoned academic ambitions and otherwise floundered a bit, akin to so many of the deeply motivated yet perilously uncommitted among us. An easterner, he embarked westward, all the way to California and stumbled, famously, into a brief yet potently affecting camaraderie with the young John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. When he headed back home to New York, he was still looking for work amidst the Great Depression and finally ended up at Sarah Lawrence, at the time a private, liberal arts oriented women’s college. He published the still well regarded A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, edited Heinrich Zimmer’s notes into several landmark books and even published The Hero with a Thousand Faces before finally, in his early fifties, amidst a research sponsorship to India and Japan bestowed by the Bollingen Foundation, he declared or more accurately surrendered, as I’ve mentioned, to comparative mythology as his field. In fact, he eventually credited his students at Sarah Lawrence with having steered him from a career as an intellectual dilettante (my phrase) to a commitment to his life’s work.

In a women’s college (at least, of the kind in which I have been teaching), there is, so to say, an open-field situation. We do not have required courses; nor do we have examinations. On the other hand, we do have a strict and very demanding system of education by dialogue and discussion. I see every one of my students individually, in conferences, for at least one half-hour every fortnight. This makes it possible to follow the growth, direction, and dynamics of each student’s individual development.

The instructor in such a situation has to be willing not only to give generously of his time but also to participate in the student’s discovery of interests – even to the point, on occasion, of abandoning his own academic plans and point of view. It was in such a fluid environment as this, then, that the course which I am going to describe came into being – in relation to a context of interests not primarily academic but experimental.

During my first two or three years I taught a survey course in comparative literature, but at the close of the second year, three students came to me, separately, to ask for a course in mythology. Apparently my interest in this subject had become more evident in my teaching than I had supposed.

At the end of that year, four students came to me for such a course. Then the year following, there were seven; and from that time on, this course has been both an established part of our curriculum and one of the great joys of my life. I have given up teaching anything else, and since about 1939, have been busily trimming it here, expanding it there, and keeping it up to date.

Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Dimension, (Novato: New World Library, 2007), 3-4.

Hence, we can see that he lived the example of a synthesized cultural and personal mythology – the departure, trials and return and the abandoning of plans, the being led into the metaphorical woods – that eventually defined his legacy. His was not, in spite of himself, merely an intellectual or academic journey; rather, his life amounted to an authentic mythological adventure.

The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things that the body does not want. Who hasn’t experienced this schism themselves? I’m convinced it is indeed very few of us. Otherwise, mythology would not remain the fundamental means of expression, insight and the pedagogical crucible – the true fiction as I call it – that it is. Expose yourself to mythology and things inevitably heat up and transform. Mythology would not both describe our predicament and provide a means to endure it if it didn’t work, if it didn’t help, if it wasn’t imbued with epistemological veracity, empirical authenticity and ontological resonance. Mythology, after all, in spite of its seeming otherness, cannot be other. We create the myths and their four functions – (1) a sense of awe, (2) a cosmology that supports that awe, (3) a sociology that establishes ethics and cultural norms, and (4) a pedagogical, supportive psychology – are neither fanciful constructs nor empty embellishments; rather, perhaps since Man first pondered death, hence life, mythos has transcended method and means and described our experience.

Mythology, then, is part of our humanity. And of course one of the themes of Time Crime has to do with the possibility that mythology is part of molemanity and mothmanity and the nature of every other self-aware species across the cosmos. Consider, for example, toadmanity. (TC teaser: Toadmen are introduced later in the series, past TC2). Why should mythology be an exclusively Earthbound phenomenon? Especially if it’s a truth? Truths, arguably by definition, are intended to reference the universal. Within local iterations everywhere – Bastian’s elementary ideas that Campbell references – we ought to encounter the universals, the truth of things that transcends hermeneutic, that transcends interpretation and pivots upon facts, upon reality, upon how things are. Unless it can be said that everything is subjective, that our experience is inevitably, impossibly individual; that by way of our senses and our biology we can never discover a Platonic ideal, a Kantian thing-in-itself, a Jungian archetype or experience a single sliver of unmitigated, untarnished, undistorted reality.

It won’t be the end. Maybe it [an atomic blast] will be the end of life on this planet, but that is not the end of the universe. It is just a bungled explosion in terms of all the explosions that are going on in all the suns of the universe. The universe is a bunch of exploding atomic furnaces like our sun. So this is just a little imitation of the whole big job.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth…, 22.

Meanwhile, assuming that truth, such as it is, exists somewhere within the play-of-opposites, within whatever still point and glimpse of eternity we’re capable of discerning or unveiling or penetrating or manifesting and that there exists a real that is real enough for each of us to be of use, it strikes me as curious, even a little humorous that Campbell, for all his keen mythic perception grounded in scientific sympathies, when Moyers asked him, “Can you imagine that somewhere else other creatures can be sitting, investing their transient journey with the kind of significance that our myths and great stories do?” responded thus:

No. When you realize that if the temperature goes up fifty degrees and stays there, life will not exist on this Earth, and that if it drops, let’s say, another hundred degrees and stays there, life will not be on this Earth; when you realize how very delicate this balance is, how the quantity of water is so important – well, when you think of all the accidents of the environment that have fostered life, how can you think that the life we know would exist on any other particle of the universe, no matter how many of these satellites around stars there may be?

Ibid.

This doesn’t seem to fit at all with Campbell’s otherwise expanded view of things. He doesn’t claim, akin to many of the world’s origin myths, for instance, that his own planet is the literal center of the universe – that would truly be anathema to his mythological acumen. And his writing includes references to numerology, which implies a certain mathematical readiness, at least, but then numerology is not statistics and probability. The cosmological and astrophysical numbers are so huge, so essentially incomprehensible that to assume this planet’s biology hasn’t been and couldn’t be mirrored elsewhere seems silly. To me at least. I rather view the situation, intuitively of course because I’m no expert, from the opposite end, as it were, so that it would seem to me that the enormity of the cosmos implies nothing if not a guarantee of sameness, somehow, somewhere, just given the numbers. Earth, I would suggest, is not to be regarded as uncanny, as a winning lottery ticket, as being struck by lightning. No. Earth, even as Campbell agrees, is merely one of unfathomable zillions of satellites orbiting unfathomable zillions of stars. Hence, it seems inevitable that intelligent life, even life virtually identical to ours here on Earth, exists elsewhere.

Anyway, we never jive one-hundred percent even with our heroes and guides and this singular cosmological schism, so to say, between myself and Campbell is something, had I been in Moyers’s position, I would have found impossible to reconcile with Campbell’s other views. I might have poked that hornet’s nest a little to see what I could stir up. Joe, what gives with your blind spot with probability? It’s also impossibly ironic given that a large portion of The Power of Myth was filmed at the Lucas ranch and Campbell had recently watched the Star Wars trilogy. Perhaps this is all just my way of maintaining a healthy distance between myself and Campbell so that I can proceed with my own work, the fiction portion of which he might have found entirely fanciful. Despite one of the subtexts of sci-fi being its reference to things that could be whereas fantasy references that which can never be. And despite the unquestionable truth that mythology at its very best is often presented within each.

News flash: I told the home improvement that I need to cut back to the twenty hours or less per week that I requested when I started a year ago – I keep getting scheduled for more hours and next week I’m at thirty or so. No way. It’s bad enough when I’m consuming my time off with chores around the house but anything more than that and I can’t get any writing done. I haven’t posted a blog for I don’t know how long and I’ve only edited a paragraph of TC2 in something like two weeks, ugh! I can’t shop for and cook a decent dinner. I’m overcommitted. I’m doing many things poorly instead of a few things well. So, despite A.’s tenuous position at her job, I’m making the empowerment move, acting as-if and deciding to do less of what I don’t want to do and more of what I do want to do. The money? I’m just not making that much to justify sacrificing my true work. So be it and come what may.

News flash II: A. scored a new job today, hooray! Her persistence and tenacity has paid off! EMPOWERMENT!

Chewing Glass, Burning Books & Why Moby Dick Won the War

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Inflammatory. Author image.

Another birthday (a couple days ago), another trip around the sun. And I’ve spent the better part of several days messing around revising TC1 and resubmitting the new file for publishing on KDP and Ingramspark, ugh. There were the handful of annoying typos that I’ve known about for a year and finally fixed, the new stuff that L. alerted me to that prompted the Third State (what some folks refer to as a third “printing”) to begin with and, as I plowed through things, here and there something else – another typo or the requirement for a subtle rewording. Three words in particular generated a maddening and embarrassing quantity of fixes: (1) “rein” to replace “reign”, (2) “taut” to replace “taught”, and (3) “vise” to replace “vice.” Unforgivable? Yes.

It’s crazy, this copyediting nightmare in particular that, once you peek into the book again, assails you with seemingly one impossibly obvious thing after another that for whatever mysterious reason slipped past all the eyes of readers and the so-called “grammar checks” that Microsoft Word provides. It’s as if some little demon or a ghost in the machine got busy slapping around the manuscript behind my back because I’d swear those errors weren’t present. Yet, there they glaringly are and what used to be apparently invisible becomes a series of flashing neon signs emphasizing words that are wrong, wrong, wrong.

I could reread the novel front to back, of course, and make myself crazy reworking everything in terms of line editing – how many things would benefit from tweaking, after all? Too many things. So that I am not going to reread the book. I can’t. I want to shoot myself as it is what with all this nitpicking, essential or otherwise. I think, how in hell could I have written that and then left it that way…? And so on until, well, how petty and silly and maddening does it get? I’ll tell you. The very last fix was a fix of a fix – these are the worst, of course – where I reworded the handful of sentences at the end of The Fall of Phaëthon that have been driving me batty and somehow typed in an extra period on the ellipsis at the end. Are you kidding me? Yikes.

I won’t describe the other changes here, they’re minor line editing things, nothing substantive, suffice it to say that I’m convinced I bettered things but then again I understand exactly how a book buyer would prefer the first edition, first state over anything else just because that’s how the mysterious mythologization of things goes: that first iteration stands as the goddamn “original” for better or worse. Otherwise, I wish all you authors the best with your own tedium and travails regarding dabbling in revisions. Crack that book open at your psychological peril!

I bitch and moan and meanwhile wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine, that is, being a traditionally published author and besides having my book title, cover and much of the content in the hands of somebody else, not having access to revisions and pricing and marketing. To put your life into your writing and then suffer as the thing gets remaindered because it isn’t meeting sales goals and then if you’re lucky the rights revert to you eventually and you have to start over? Ugh. Horrible. Better to sail the seas of indie authorpreneurship as captain of your ship.

Why change anything? Why not just leave the first-first (first edition, first state) alone? My excuse for drilling into this thing a third time is the learning curve I’ve been on since diving into novel writing, indie publishing and authorpreneurship; namely, that in the end it’s all up to me. Because of that, the professionalism that I seek has been not so much elusive as relentlessly fickle. It’s there and then not. Help from others has been essential, indeed, but the discernment and quality control is my responsibility. Moreover, self-editing has been an exercise in humility: I used to think I had an eye for detail, that I was a good editor but the copyediting blindness alongside the occasional eye-opening word usage gaffe, to say nothing of the ceaselessly tweakable line editing weirdness is enough to oftentimes convince me that I’m incompetent.

And the idea that somebody has purchased the novel only to be put off by the editing issues (I’m not blaming anyone but myself, again, the responsibility is one-hundred-percent mine) gives me fits – have I missed out on good reviews because of it? Has word-of-mouth been lacking because of it? Are there readers who set the book aside disappointedly and were yet kind enough to bite their metaphorical tongue at what they viewed as writing that wasn’t ready? Did they have an urge to savage me? If it was the typos, I’m sorry and thanks for not taking it out on me in public. Or, perhaps typos don’t bother you so much and it was the writing or the story? Likewise, if TC1 wasn’t for you and you kept it to yourself, thank you. Not that anyone who didn’t like the book will be reading this.

Perhaps truly visionary and forward-thinking art-craft will always tend to subvert and inspire debate and controversy. Or at least piss somebody off in good fun. Nick Cave posted a great story about Anita Lane as a newsletter for his latest offering on cavethings.com.

I met Anita Lane in 1977. We went to separate art schools in Melbourne and we met at a party and just sort of clicked. Anita was a rule breaker and a troublemaker and I consider her to be one of the original and founding members of The Bad Seeds, even though she never played a note with the band — because she had the best ideas, the great ideas….

https://cavethings.com/collections/cave-things/products/crucifixion-art-print?utm_source=Cave+Things&utm_campaign=f749afa519-email+-+idiot+prayer+final+reminder_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f1ba9b1e11-f749afa519-54019178

But I’ve never been a rule breaker or a troublemaker on principle, at least intentionally. And Time Crime isn’t intentionally subversive. Unless you understand sci-fi to be inherently so, which it might indeed be as a genre. As such, my fiction hopefully rises to the occasion, humble as it may be, and gets there at least in terms of authenticity and ends up mostly in sympathetic hands at least at first and gets read in context – context is everything, isn’t it? – and not tossed aside as hackneyed. And so far it hasn’t been publicly disparaged and I’m grateful, the gods have looked kindly upon it so far. That said, I’m chewing glass at the idea that one-hundred fifty or so copies are out there saturated with gaffes. Saturated? I overstate things. But I think I deserve a bitch-slap and I am driven now to put the microscope on TC2.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping the handful of line editing revisions in the third state to myself – it will be up to posterity to reveal them, if anyone cares. I’ve indeed done my best – within reason! – to tighten up all iterations of the book and now I have no excuse at all for not devoting myself completely to editing TC2.

Of note, alongside publication of the third state, as it happens, the new Amazon KDP case laminate hardcover version of TC1 is available – I assigned it its own ISBN to differentiate it from the traditional “cloth” version (with dust cover) available via Ingramspark print-on-demand (POD).

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1734283289

Ingramspark has offered case laminate for some time, even a case laminate with a dust cover, too, but I’m not certain Amazon will even continue to offer the dust cover version as I’m sure they’re keen to prioritize their own manufacturing. I’ve priced it, for now, between the paperback and cloth and we’ll see if I perhaps need to lower it. Again, I make only two dollars per Ingramspark hardcover at $31.99 so I need to be careful to assign a price for the Amazon version that likewise clears my expenses with a little profit. But I’ll be monitoring the marketplace and tweak as necessary to remain as competitive as I can. I may even consider having R.V. reformat the cover to mirror her design instead of the hybrid version I had to cook up using Amazon’s “cover creator” – at this early stage my version seems serviceable enough and the author photograph serves to further differentiate the thing. The photographs fail to render the appealing chunkiness of the thing – it looks pleasantly bookish in hand. Anyway….

KDP case laminate version. Author image.
Ibid.
Ibid.

***

I’m convinced that as an art-crafter, the most effective way to wreck the message that you’re here to communicate is to allow yourself to get political. In the sense of participating in the ceaselessly idiotic controversies that we like to call “current events.” First, because most often a so-called current event or news-of-the-world is merely yet another iteration of something that has innumerable historical, hence mythological parallels, let’s call them. Secondly, because there’s always another tyrant and more accurately, more than one. Thirdly, if I’m really that concerned about maintaining my author image, I ought to just write my books and shut the hell up about everything else. Except that I’ve been posting this blog for a while now. Call it a newsletter if you want. Whatever it is, it communicates things that are important to me; things I seek to communicate because that’s what people do: communicate. For better or worse. And in a free country you can write what you want. And not be imprisoned or killed for it.

In this vein I’ve indented and italicized what follows because that way I can more easily locate, later when my writing career has perhaps tanked, where it all went wrong within the context of not following my own advice. But damn the torpedoes.

I don’t believe anyone is actually capable of insulting, mocking or bestowing disrespect upon any mythology. They can try, but the effort is inevitably ineffectual and as often merely reinvigorates the original myth into a vitalized up-to-date, otherwise modernized context. Try to insult Jesus or Muhammad (don’t get on me about the spelling) or the Buddha or Godzilla or Dr. Seuss, for that matter, and especially in the name of your own personal righteousness and you merely make all these symbols – these affecting images – more relevant and affective. Even effective.

Which is to say that any fully functional mythology can stand on its own two feet and take it. And art-craft is free to subvert anything likewise. I always say, if it doesn’t appropriate one’s freedoms or possessions and it doesn’t physically injure anybody, so be it. Think your thoughts, write your words, sing your songs, talk your talk, paint your pictures. Walk away or turn it off if it bothers you. It’s what freedom of expression is and it’s always better than the tyranny that results, even when it begins with the best of intentions, from righteousness. Which is today oftentimes disguised as what I call militant courtesy. Freedom is a cosmic birthright. Psychological “safety” is not.

AND: righteousness always backfires; it begets its opposite. Which is to say it immediately transforms itself into, well, wrongeous-ness. Har! Life is like this, isn’t it? The Dr. Seuss book in the news right now is just another example of the crazy militant courtesy phase that will right (pun!) itself in time. Hopefully. I mean, let freedom ring. Or don’t and suffer the consequences which are spelled out via history which it would be very nice, for once, not to repeat.

Meanwhile, the mythic symbols are free game because we made them. They are ours to f*ck with. And when you f*ck with them, what happens? You help reactivate them. Dr. Seuss books, for example, going for a mint online, now that some righteous asshole thinks they can essentially burn books. Yeah, dumb ass, whomever you are (the devoted reader will know that I do my best to avoid internet news) look what happened – you made the opposite point that you apparently intended. Dr. Seuss is mythology. His work has entered the mythological oeuvre. His intention was the opposite of righteousness and insult and appropriation and injury. He was inclusive. He bettered the world and will continue to do so long after the righteous morons have died and been replaced by the next righteous morons. I recall some newsy quip that got blurted when the White House violence happened, “We’re better than this.” Well versed in mythology as I like to think I am, I immediately thought, No, we’re not. People are people the world over and throughout the millennia. It’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Stop lumping me into your personal version of right and wrong. I think for myself. Which is to merely point out that I am not always right but I’m damn sure keen to be allowed to be wrong. So, this person was wrong to imply that somehow we’re better than we really are. But, so be it. It’s still a free country. For now. Even if these days it oftentimes doesn’t seem like it.

Ahab, in Moby Dick. “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.” Yay! Now, Ahab of course got yanked out of his little enlightenment boat, as it were, by his neck. Literally. The White Whale wins. But I don’t think Ahab was wrong to attempt it. He had the perfect right to be wrong. He sought the essence of things. He was willing to tempt fate or challenge Nature or the Cosmos, what have you, to figure things out. His way. The lesson, such that it is, is that when you attempt to hurt a thing so as to get what you want, well, come what may, you’ll be answering to those fates. I am not arguing for or against whaling, by the way. In the time of Melville – context is everything! – whaling was not freighted with all that it is freighted with today and within the context of that novel it was just another paying vocation. Starbuck was on to Ahab’s psychological excesses, I’ll leave it at that. Otherwise, I defer to J. Campbell’s concise description of our predicament, namely, that life feeds on life. Vegetarians are killing carrots, after all, so don’t think you can get out of this via your eating habits, either.

Is it Dostoevsky? The Brothers Karamazov, where the one brother believes in God but nevertheless is convinced, to his infinite anxiety, that God is a dick? I love it. But, hey, if you want so badly to change things, to change the mythology, to rewrite history and design the future according to your plans and to meanwhile suppress ideas and burn books to get there, so be it, too. There will be consequences. And none of them are pretty. Just read your mythology. Which will inevitably teach you a lot about history (written and oral). Go ahead, then, invent your new politics and your new religion – invent a new mythology and see how many folks you can get to agree with you. It’s what we humans do. Yours isn’t working for you? Change it. Just don’t appropriate my freedoms, my stuff or attempt to injure me while you go about it. And don’t burn or ban books, either. Write a bad review about Dr. Seuss if it bugs you so much. But then leave it alone.

Carnegie Olson, 3.4.2021

Big deal, Carnegie. I mean, you read this and probably thought, yeah, I get it, so what? I know. I’m not any good at being controversial. Or pushing people’s buttons. I don’t write shockingly subversive novels that change the game, either. That’s somebody else’s job. Heck, John Lennon was pretty high on the F.B.I.’s list of troublemakers for a while. Me? Even my blog isn’t anything to get anybody’s underwear in a bundle about.

But I’m super glad and happy to have sold another paperback yesterday (in the U.K., yay!), the first Third State version to get out in the world. Ah, it feels good to have fixed it up a bit, to have straightened its tie, so to say, so it can get out there and do its best. It’s still the very same tie, after all. That is, I don’t have any plans at all for publishing a second edition. Typos, yes, fix them. Wholesale rewrites? Hell no. Oh, I know the intrepid first adopter types will decry the Third State as exactly the version not to want to own. I really do get that. I have a first-first of The Masks of God series that I cherish. For those folks, then, I’m keeping my little collection of twenty-five or so old “printings” (that I haven’t torched) and if anyone wants one of ‘em – I have paperbacks and hardcovers – email me, make me an offer and I will autograph it and ship it out to you. Keep in mind that I have to cover my shipping costs, but otherwise, I’m serious. I mean, I insert these little value-adds or whatever they are at the end of some of these posts just to see if anyone is reading this far. Or something. And if you did get this far, thanks.

Writer’s World Episode #147: Treading Upon the Tail of the Tiger

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Yesterday saw the amazing – yay! – debut of the first amazon.com review of the novel, double yay! Here’s to L. for taking the time and trouble to not only write it but post it to both Goodreads and Amazon, Amazon of course taking a couple of days to vet the thing but there it is!

Any authorpreneur who has done any research on the topic of reviews will understand the unequaled value and importance of this; namely, the manner in which there exist un-reviewed books and reviewed books and the difference between the two is, well, galactic in scope. The impossibly unequaled data on behalf of Amazon speaks for itself, this from statista.com, a site that tracks this stuff:

During September 2020, Amazon.com had over 2.44 billion combined desktop and mobile visits, up from 2.01 billion visits in February 2020. The platform is by far the most visited e-commerce property in the United States. As the most popular online shopping platform, Amazon’s influence on consumers shopping behavior extends beyond its own website. According to a February 2019 survey of U.S. Amazon users, 66 percent of respondents stated that they started their online product research on Amazon. Of course, Amazon is not only popular for product research but ultimately, also for making the purchase. The most important factors driving users to purchase via Amazon are pricing and low shipping costs.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/623566/web-visits-to-amazoncom/

I venture to estimate that now, following the global epidemiological weirdness, let’s call it, the data is pitched even more in Amazon’s favor, what with 2020 having ramped up internet shopping. The numbers are simply staggering and while breaking down the data into, say, how many hits KDP itself gets, or sci-fi books, what have you, doesn’t interest me a person in business for themselves at any level has to acknowledge, for better or worse in the end, the dominance of Amazon. Ignore it at your peril. It may change someday – look at the rise of youtube, for example, beyond its video posting function into “channels” that support ecommerce and ad revenue, etcetera. In short, work the system or risk oblivion.

Work the system? I’ve been writing the occasional review on Amazon for more than a decade (jellymoon is my moniker) and some of us find it a form of creative expression on its own; a communication that seeks to interweave the personal experience with the communal, as it were. And of course there are all levels of quality regarding reviews – some folks are truly talented – and we all know how to discern the tossed-off, thoughtless, unmindful, opinionated, off the mark “opinions” and uninformed commentary (that too often references the shipping/delivery experience and not the content) from the worthy insight and analysis. “Book arrived damaged, 1-star.” That kind of crap. And your star rating suffers this idiocy.

Meanwhile, composing a quality review is not easy and I appreciate that Amazon does its best to manage the authenticity and integrity, as best they can, of the source of the reviews. That is, most of us know that an author cannot post a review of their own book and it’s dicey to even have anyone you know – family member or coworker or anyone you’ve got a trackable electronic history with – do it. If Amazon sniffs out a connection they feel extends to an intimacy that surpasses that of an otherwise objective customer experience they will pull the review and send men in black to kill the offender. Well, perhaps not men in black but it’s a very serious business, if you read about it, these reviews. And as an author the very last thing you want to do is somehow get on the wrong side of all this and get blacklisted within KDP because you will be and you risk having your account cancelled no questions asked and then you’re banished forever.

Oh, it’s not that serious, you say, don’t exaggerate. I’m not. Look this shit up yourself. Let’s face it, just about anywhere else on the web you can post either your own reviews (or that of your family and friends) or pay somebody to cook up a review and post that. Not so at Amazon, folks. All of which is to say that for the most part, there is a great deal of time, money and effort spent upon maintaining the integrity, hence value of an Amazon review. It’s not bogus. It’s not bought and sold. Of course all of this vetting inevitably promotes a ceaseless form of gaming the system, a topic that I’m not inclined to try to describe here. Suffice it to say that Amazon is tasked with continually updating  their policing and if anyone is interested they describe their policy as it currently stands on their website:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-review-guidelines-faqs-from-authors

How to encourage more Amazon reviews without getting on the wrong side of things? I’ve decided very simply not to get involved. I make my suggestions and communicate my encouragements from the distance of this blog and leave it at that. Reviews matter. Positive reviews are gold for the emerging author, no doubt. Negative reviews? Well, I try not to think about it. It’s enough that a person otherwise on the fence about your book can look to a positive review and establishes a level of social proof that is priceless.

Of course, if you’ve established yourself as a writer the value of reviews diminishes accordingly – the debate over the quality of a Stephen King novel, for instance, becomes for the most part irrelevant because his reputation as a worthy novelist goes without saying and folks buy his books prepared to bestow their own opinion. And Stephen King himself is probably wise to shy away from the reading of his own reviews so as to remain grounded in his work, I don’t know, I’m speculating.

Nevertheless, some authors shamelessly pummel and otherwise coach the book buyer with blurbs within the back matter or printed on the back cover: “If you liked this book please review it on….” Yadda, blah. I myself don’t need to be reminded, thanks, and it comes off to me as pushy so I’m not about to risk tarnishing a reader’s experience of my work with thoughtless self-promotion. Believe me, I’ve considered how to best maintain the balance between art-craft authenticity and commercial viability but in the end, you just do what feels right, you have to trust your heart. Garnering reviews, then, for me at least, after much pondering, is a thing best left to fate. Do your very best with your work – give it all you’ve got – and let it go. There is always the chance, after all, that for every enthusiastic and supportive reader you may suffer the opposite – a disgruntled buyer equally motivated to put their criticisms in writing. The genie grants your wish, as the mythology goes, and you get everything else that comes with it.

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed, then, to admit that receiving such a well-written, attentive and gracious review and to see it appear on the website of the biggest bookseller on the planet has been transformative to me as an author. It’s a dream come true, no doubt. If it never happens again, it has at least happened this once. You write, you publish, you tread upon the tail of the tiger and, heaven help you, you don’t get torn apart by the dynamics of your dreams. You envision success. But you can’t buy it. You cannot coerce it. And you cannot ensure it no matter how hard you try. Neither can you measure it, in the end, in financial terms. You can only exert your influence and endure that of the world-of-action. When the work is welcomed it’s a gift and a special form of legitimization – somebody gets it! – that makes it all worthwhile. Sure, we write for writing’s sake, for the sake of the story and the sense of individuation that it brings but we also write to be read and beyond that enjoyed and understood. Art-craft is nothing if not an impossibly earnest therefore impossibly vulnerable attempt at communication. When it works it’s not a letdown, rather, it’s the best thing ever. Thanks L. And thanks to everyone for reading.