I’ve been a professional author for 30-odd years now and I think it can be fairly said that I’ve earned a reputation as someone who stubbornly (ruthlessly?) defends my aesthetic autonomy.
With that in mind, I guess it’s understandable that I field the occasional question from other artists who find themselves wondering whether or not they have the right or strength of character to resist the suggestions and/or demands of editors, agents and fans.
I tell them:
Listen, as far as I’m concerned your inner editor should always take precedence over any external influences. It’s your name on the story or book or painting or piece of music, not someone else’s, which means you have a personal, vested interest in making sure your work is presented exactly the way you envision it. Brook no compromises or attempts to dilute the power and integrity of your project.
Editors and agents aren’t collaborators, that is a mindset that must be impressed upon them right from the get-go. You might welcome their opinions, but their input is not necessarily required and won’t be followed if it runs counter to your own thinking. I have encountered more than a few inept, dim-witted editors in the past three decades and I’ve learned to take everything they say with a grain of salt. They aren’t all bad, of course, but, truthfully, most are poor-to-mediocre, their contributions to literature existing largely in their own heads.
Agents, well, agents want to make money. That’s their primary focus and never think otherwise. They aren’t interested in developing the next DeLillo or Nabokov, they’re seeking clients who follow trends and deliver bright, shiny, commercial product. For which they will collect a tasty percentage. It’s all quite cold-blooded and transactional. Why should they hold your hand when they’re more interested in the contents of your wallet?
As for fans, who gives a shit? Your role as an artist is to frustrate expectations and short-circuit preconceptions. Your work shouldn’t reassure or offer words of comfort; if it does that you are kowtowing, truckling to popular opinion. Wrap everything up into a nice, tight bundle, adhere to formula, offer happy endings and you might as well be a ten-dollar hooker on a seedy street corner. You’re laboring on behalf of filthy lucre, rather than contributing to the legacy of creative endeavors extending back to the timeless cave paintings of Lascaux.
Art that resists imitation, that refuses to be derivative, is the work that lasts, achieving posterity because of its uniqueness, a courageous, unprecedented approach to your chosen discipline.
Why yearn for fifteen minutes of fame when you should be seeking something far more permanent and profound?
Finally, on a completely unrelated topic, let me say to those idjits who insist there are no new stories to tell, that they’ve all be told, you are out of your tiny fucking minds.
Every single minute of every single day, billions of human beings are interacting with each other, talking, engaging, sharing space, and each of these encounters represents a narrative that is distinctive and unrepeatable.
Each restorative walk you take, a trip to the bank or back fence discussion with your neighbor is a short story waiting to happen. No two individuals are exactly alike, every encounter potentially fraught with drama or humor (or, ideally, a bit of both).
Open your eyes, ears, hearts to possibility and it will find you.
Remember that the next time you’re out and about.
Turning a corner, bumping into a stranger…watch what can happen when two ancient souls meet for the first time.
Sometimes it makes for great Art.
A solid week of windchills in excess of forty below.
So, I’ve been hunkered down, editing my Notebooks, prepping for a May release of what will be my fifteenth book.
Fifteen books, not one of them a dog, all of them written out of love for the printed word, rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a contract or meeting some hairy-palmed editor’s neolithic expectations. Let’s see you top that, all you hacks and wannabes.
The editing process is always incredibly intense for me, driving myself nuts finding the exact right word (and, as Don DeLillo insists, “the right sounding word”).
At the same time I am still not back to 100% from my hip replacement surgery so can’t stay seated for the prolonged periods of time I’m accustomed to—gotta get up frequently to stretch, move about, which, of course, interrupts my train of thought and then it takes me awhile to re-focus on the manuscript. I’m having trouble adapting to the new regime but that’s the reality I have to deal with now, no use bitching about it.
When I’m not editing, I’m reading and some of the excellent books I’ve finished since the beginning of the year include N.K. Jemsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, The Cold Millions (Jess Walter), The Great Glass Sea (Josh Weil) and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a stunning exposé of how wealthy special interest groups are undermining democracy.
Movies with Sherron to unwind after a hard day of polishing my book: last night it was “Hud”, a classic starring Paul Newman; other favorites are David Fincher’s “Mank” (best movie of the year so far), Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.
I tend to devote the first part of the morning to catching up on Twitter, checking out the headlines and snorting with laughter as I read other writers’ self-congratulatory posts about their latest zombie novel or slasher offering. Sometimes I can’t help firing a comment their way and am always amazed by the sheer vitriol of their replies. The moment you bring up literary standards to these arseholes they completely lose their shit. Their reactions always serve as a reminder that genre people tend to have the smallest brains and thinnest skin.
But once I’ve had my fun it’s back to the business at hand.
Giving myself a deadline/release date is always an effective way of directing my nose to the grindstone. Otherwise I’d drag the process out past the point of sanity.
As I wrote in the introduction to the Notebooks, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would have even the slightest interest in the thoughts and reflections of a cult author with a tiny readership and a marked propensity for misanthropy.
Nonetheless, come May Notebooks: 2010-2020 will be released into the world and we will just have to wait and see how it’s received.
I’ll probably be posting some teasers in the coming weeks so I hope you’ll pop in for a look.
Have to say, I love having another title in the publishing pipeline.
It’s not for all tastes but, then again, that pretty well sums up my entire body of work, don’t you think?
After 30+ years, why would I change my approach now?
A peek at the cover of my next release through Black Dog Press, ELECTRIC CASTLES: A BOOK OF URBAN LEGENDS.
Chris Kent performed his usual design magic and special thanks to Gabriele Marras, who supplied the original photo.
My odd little imprint has always focussed on releasing the best and most beautiful books, but this cover surpasses anything we’ve come up with before. As you can probably tell, we’re mighty pleased with it.
The proof has been printed and is already winging its way toward my mailbox and the ePub and Kindle versions should be available later today.
Place your order with me if you’d like an autographed copy, otherwise buy ELECTRIC CASTLES at your favorite independent bookstore.
Support indie publishers and booksellers!
Once the manuscript was corrected and perfected to my satisfaction—three months overdue but that’s par for the course—I immediately logged in to my Upwork account and posted a job listing for someone to handle the interior design and formatting for the book.
It’s always a tricky process working with someone outside my creative bubble but because of the complexities associated with using Lightning Source as a printing service, interior/text layout is not a job for amateurs and bumblers. The Lightning Source templates are very unforgiving and inflexible and the slightest glitch will get your formatted file tossed from the system. And there you are, back at the drawing board.
I’ve always had good fortune with Upwork: you post a job description and graphic designers from around the world bid on it. I tend to use people who have a lot of experience, especially with Lightning Source/Ingram Sparks. Communication is essential so folks must be very fluent in English (not too mention tolerant of my perfectionism).
Electric Castles is the 14th book to be released through my Black Dog Press imprint and other than my first book (So Dark the Night), I’ve always had someone else handle the formatting of the interior text. We tried it ourselves with So Dark and the experience was so miserable and difficult, I swore I’d never do it again.
Once again our old pal Chris Kent will be handling the cover design. I found the perfect image purely by accident and secured the rights from the artist in question, a London-based chap, Gabriele Marras.
I’ll be “leaking” a sneak peek at the cover in a couple of weeks and you’ll understand why I’m so pleased to have stumbled across Gabriele’s work.
I know I can count on Chris to deliver another beautiful looking book—he hasn’t failed us yet.
As I made my last pass through the manuscript, scrupulously checking every last comma, I couldn’t help thinking it’s a good thing I publish my own work and therefore not beholden to anyone else or subject to their taste.
The stories in this collection are amazingly diverse, veering from crime fiction to dark fantasy to mainstream literary. How that would go over with an outside editor/publisher, I don’t know. The only thing these tales have in common is that each features an urban setting of one kind or another. That’s it.
There’s always a dialogue between my inner publisher and inner author and sometimes the exchanges can get mighty ugly. I mean, Jesus, my last three books were: a volume of poetry (The Algebra of Inequality), a non-fiction book of satirical tirades against the minions of political correctness (Mouth: Rants & Routines) and, now, a collection of short stories.
All pretty much guaranteed to sell poorly, none of them featuring the kind of crowd-pleasing tripe the vast majority of readers seem to prefer.
My inner publisher wonders why I don’t come up with something more commercial and the author inside me tartly insists that the point is to release good work, not popular fluff. The publisher’s response to that point of view is too vitriolic to reproduce here.
I don’t tend to write cheery tales with happy endings. I don’t utilize common tropes or adhere to accepted formulas. Not my bag. There are plenty of other writers out there who are only too delighted to play that game and I leave you to them.
I feel more at home in the dark…a familiarity I assure you I’ve earned.
I get a bit, ah, strange when I’ve reached this phase in the publishing process: a book in the pipeline, a few weeks from publication. I exhibit symptoms of agoraphobia, part of me believing if I venture too far from home something untoward might happen to me and I’ll never live to see the book in question published. It’s a hard feeling to shake; I fully recognize this mindset is not rational or defensible, but it is, nonetheless, persuasive and insidious.
So you’ll pardon me if I reluctantly decline your dinner invitation, offering a rain check with no date filled in.
I’m this close to releasing a brand, new book.
It’s a heady time for me and nothing will distract me from getting it into my readers’ hands.
Back to work…
This catalog of my books is incomplete (you can find all my titles here), but it illustrates just what beautiful volumes my odd little imprint produces.
See anything you like?