Category: mystery

Twenty years as an indie publisher

Last night we had the official launch of my new novel Of the Night at the North Battleford Library.

A heartfelt thank you to Wendy and all the hardy souls who braved the first serious cold snap this winter to celebrate the birth of my latest literary offspring.  Sherron and my two sons handled the lights and tech and made sure everything went off without a hitch.  Thanks, guys!

Naturally, I over-prepared, endlessly rehearsing my introductory remarks and the three excerpts I had chosen to read.  Ah, well.  I think it went off well and the good vibes bubbled over into the book signing afterward.

Speaking of those remarks:

I’ve decided to post them, since they’re a good, concise description of my experiences over the past two decades as an independent author and publisher.  I hope these words will inspire others while, at the same time, providing insights re: some of the difficulties and frustrations I’ve endured for choosing the less-travelled path (my essay “Solace of Fortitude” covers similar territory, albeit at greater length).

To all the indie authors out there, struggling to make themselves heard:  write on!


* * * * * * * *

 

What do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

Twenty years ago, when faced with that dilemma, I made the somewhat irrational decision to go ahead and print it myself.  I knew nothing about what went into producing a physical book but, to my mind, that was beside the point.  Getting that book, that gruesome little book, into the hands of readers was paramount.

Because the alternative—giving up, throwing in the towel—means that a good book never even has a chance at finding a readership.  It languishes in a box somewhere, years and perhaps even decades pass and it doesn’t see the light of day.  It might be a lost classic…or a piece of garbage.  We’ll never know.  Book-lovers aren’t accorded the opportunity to render their verdict.

And let’s take a look at the recent track record of the folks who decide what gets published and what doesn’t.  Hardly encouraging, to say the least.  Sales figures are dropping precipitously, bookstores and chains all over the U.S. and Canada are closing or seeking bankruptcy protection; independent bookstores have almost entirely disappeared.  Venerable publishing divisions have been lopped off or dramatically downsized, layoffs announced, the demise of the book predicted, onset of a post-literate culture looming—

Doesn’t sound like publishers and retailers have succeeded at capturing the contemporary zeitgeist, does it?  Why have so many people, apparently, stopped reading or scaled back to the point where a substantial number of respondents in one poll indicated they hadn’t read a single work of fiction in the past year?

Could it be that the industry is printing and selling books that nobody wants to read?  Perhaps in their efforts to meet the lowest common denominator, rehashing the same types of books over and over again, scraping the creosote off the bottom of the barrel, traditional publishers have alienated serious readers; worse yet, bored them with formulas, derivative prose, copycat covers and cookie cutter authors.

Publishing today has been debased by celebrity and dumbed down to attract people who normally wouldn’t tackle anything more demanding than the back of a cereal box.  This mentality is abetted by greedhead agents looking to nab their 15% of the pie and corporate editors who know full well the suits upstairs want big numbers, bestsellers…and if they don’t deliver, they’ll lose that rent-controlled apartment, all those sweet perqs and per diems that make their lousy lives bearable.  Shit, let’s face it, the markets take one more big dip, the guys in the boardroom start getting nervous and anyone could end up in the street.  There are more than a few ex-CEOs and executive vice-presidents living behind 7-11’s, begging spare change so they can get their Blackberrys out of hock.

So let me ask you something:  why should I, as an author, defer to anyone affiliated with an industry that publishes godawful tripe by the likes of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Sophie Kinsella and…well, feel free to fill in the blanks with your most detested hack of choice.  Those inept scribblers aren’t better writers than I am:  their prose has all the symmetry and grace of someone slipping on a wet floor with an arm-load of pots and pans.  Understand, I don’t resent their big money contracts, but I sure as hell detest them for taking up valuable shelf space and making mince-meat out of the printed word.

I love good writing and revere authors who trust and respect their audience enough to break away from convention, fearlessly leading readers into strange, unknown terrain. But it’s getting harder and harder to find work that seems fresh and exciting.  You have to look farther afield, to some of the small and micro-presses out there…because traditional publishing is a wasteland of zombies, vampires, tepid romance and poor-me memoirs.  It’s enough to make a book-lover weep.

But there are alternatives.  Those small presses I alluded to…and a growing number of independent authors who, taking a cue from their musical counterparts, have gone their own way, demanding total autonomy over their career and creations.  Seizing control of the means of production, refusing to be exploited and humiliated by a system as ancient, obsolete and calcified as a dinosaur turd.

Independent authors…like me.  Back in 1990 I knew I had a good book, a cool collection of short stories that counted among its fans none other than the great Timothy Findley.  How could it fail?  But that volume, titled Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination, was turned down by literally every press and publisher you can name.  So I released it myself.  We sold out the entire print run in 4 1/2 months…and I was hooked.  I loved the sense of empowerment the process of self-publishing gave me, loved how every decision–from the selection of cover art to the choice of interior font–was left completely up to me.

This year, 2010, our imprint Black Dog Press is two decades old and it’s my 25th anniversary as a professional writer.  Usually I’m not one who displays much interest in birthdays or anniversaries but I felt compelled, on this occasion, to do something I hadn’t done before, which is release two books in one year—just to prove my oddball micro-press is still alive, still kicking.

I think the books in question, So Dark the Night and Of the Night, are representative of the best of what independent presses are capable of producing.  Thrilling, literate, original fiction; books for readers who still treasure a well-told story.

And aren’t they beautiful?  For that, credit belongs to our long-suffering cover designer, Chris Kent, working his magic with lovely artwork created by Ado Ceric and Adrian Donoghue.  I also want to say special thanks to Sherron, for the invaluable role she has played in the conception, creation and release of literally every single thing I’ve written for the past quarter century.

So…what do you do when you’ve written a good book and no one wants to publish it?

D.I.Y.  Do it yourself.  Use new technologies like print-on-demand and e-books and blogging to get your work out there.  Let your readership decide if your prose is worthy…or not.  Write as well as you can and edit your work carefully; do a better, more conscientious job than your traditionally published, over-paid counterparts.  Help defeat the impression that the indie movement is nothing more than a haven for amateurs and never-will-bes.  Most of all, don’t let anyone deny you a voice, your rightful place at the campfire.  Your story is important.  It’s part of a long tradition, a Great Narrative as timeless and enduring as the very fabric of Creation.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

And don’t you ever forget it.

Happy Birthday…From me

Every year my birthday rolls around and I do my level best to ignore it, dismissing its significance.  This drives my wife crazy (that awful epithet “fun-killer” fired at me like a curare-tipped dart) but, on the other hand, it definitely simplifies gift-buying.

“Anything you want?”

“No.”

“Nothing?”

Firmly:  “Nothing.

And so forth.  But this year, okay, I have to admit, there’s a lot to be thankful for.  We had a health scare in our family recently and that really put things in perspective.  My daily mantra of “health, happiness and wisdom” assumed new relevance…and poignancy.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  But we had a renewed appreciation for the frailties of the flesh and the bonds of family.

Then there are the two books I’ve released this year—yeah, sure, the e-books had been bouncing about for awhile, but to walk into a bookstore and see my work sitting there, waiting for some curious reader to happen along…well.  Sends a shiver through me just thinking about it.

Yeah, it’s official.  We’ve cleared the proof and Of the Night is good to go.  For sale as of…NOW.  You’ll find pricing and shipping info in my Bookstore.  Click on the book cover (above) and ogle the artwork, browse the jacket copy.  If you order your copy from me, I’ll be happy to sign it.  Otherwise, you can get it through your local bookstore, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

I love this book–it’s a fitting companion piece to So Dark the Night.  Scary, darkly humorous, a short novel you’ll zip through in one or two sittings.

To accompany the release of Of the Night, providing a kind of fanfare, is a CD worth of new  instrumental/ambient music I’d added to my Audio page.  I call this selection of musical oddities Language With No Vocabulary and I’m making it available to you free—play it, download it to your heart’s content.

Here’s a sample cut, a luvly little number I call:

Cidades Fantasmas (Ghost Cities)

(Photo by Jason Minshull)

The Latest Poop

What can I tell you, it’s deja vu all over again (with apologies to that immortal sage of the baselines, Yogi Berra).

God bless the people at Lightning Source (our printer), they turn out a fine product, the look and binding of the volumes they produce of consistently high quality.  But the hoops you have to go to to make your text and cover files conform to their rigid parameters will, eventually, drive a teetotaller to drink and a man of faith into the arms of the Great Dissembler hisself.  We had similar problems with our first book with LS, So Dark the Night, and it seems experience hasn’t made us any wiser.  I give Sherron credit for not throwing up her arms in frustration on at least a dozen occasions…her patience is one of her greatest virtues.

We’ve submitted the interior (text) files twice now and, thanks to the Columbus Day holiday, we’ll have to wait until Tuesday (October 12th) to find out if we got the formatting right this time around.

Still hoping to have the proof in my hands and ready for approval in 10 days.  Is that merely the errant wish of a terminal fool?  We shall see.

In the meantime, I checked out prices with my chum Les at the local Canada Post outlet and got some figures re: shipping costs for Of the Night.

If you’ll recall, the book retails for $11.00 (USA & Canada) and postage is as follows:

Canada:  $3.00        USA:  $7.00           Europe/Overseas:  $14.00

First Class airmail.  From my door to yours in the time it takes you to say “UPS”.  And, natch, there will also be Kindle and e-book versions available, likely for around $3.99.  Yesterday I posted an excerpt from Of the Night on my Novels page, the first 30 pages or so, just to sink the hook in.   Those who read the previous incarnation of this book (I posted it as a free e-book until a few days ago) will notice the improvements I’ve made.  It’s a leaner, meaner effort.

Feel kind of bad leaving things so up in the air in terms of the book’s release date and availability.  I’m already getting inquiries…hang in there, folks, it’s coming.  In the meantime, here’s another one of my Garageband efforts, an instrumental number I’ve dubbed “Uncertainty”.  Give it a spin:

Uncertainty

“Of the Night” (Cover art & design)

Well, here it is, unveiled for the first time.

The cover of the next novel in the Ilium “cycle”, Of the Night.  Coming soon to a bookstore near you (we hope)…

Our pal Chris Kent completed work on the cover this weekend and I have to say he’s come up with another beauty (Chris also executed the cover for my previous book, So Dark the Night).  Australian visual artist Adrian Donoghue created the original image and Chris, as designer, supplied the fonts and conceived the “look” of my book without damaging Adrian’s wonderful work.

(Click on the cover if you want to see a larger version)

Final edits on the text will be complete this week and both the text and cover files will be sent to our printer, Lightning Source, by the weekend.  Then we get a proof copy, check it out and if everything looks A-okay, Of the Night will be available for sale.  I’m anticipating an official release date somewhere around October 20th.  Keep checking back for the latest updates and news.

My deepest thanks to Chris, Adrian, and my wife, Sherron, for combining their talents and visual acuity to give me the loveliest cover an author could ask for.  Folks, you’re the best!

Job Satisfaction

A good day of work yesterday:

I think I nailed down the final version re: the jacket copy for Of the Night.  That’s one of the great things about being an indie writer and publisher, I have complete control over every aspect of my book, from the title and cover art to the selection of layout, fonts, even the composition of promo copy.  Some authors may not want the responsibility, the expenditure of time and effort, but I sure as hell do.  I have final say over the content and how it’s presented to readers.  I love it.

I’d decided to add an Afterword to Of the Night but for some days had been stymied as to what I wanted to say.  Yesterday the dam broke and the Afterword came in a rush.  Spent most of the day editing and cleaning it up and last night, just before bed, read it to my wife and sons.  They had some suggestions for revisions, small corrections, but for the most part they loved it.  So I’ll be adding the short essay to the end of the manuscript in the next day or two.

The book itself is close to completion, really just little niggling things that need to be touched up and smoothed over.  98% of it is finished, in the can, and I pronounce myself delighted with the end result.  Of the Night is a stand-alone effort but it’s set in the Great Lake city of Ilium, just like So Dark the Night, so it’s a short and sturdy companion piece to that longer tome.  It is not a sequel; it features a new cast of characters and an entirely different storyline.  Perhaps not as ambitious or immediately endearing as its predecessor, but Of the Night possesses a special charm of its own and readers are going to fall in love with it.  Take my word for it.

And since I mentioned So Dark the Night, let me say that it’s doing quite well, sales-wise, though it seems to be selling better in the e-book and Kindle editions than as a physical book.  The times they are a-changing.  The new technologies (e-readers et all) leave me cold and, candidly, I’ll keep buying books until the last forest is felled and converted to pulp.  Sorry, but it’s the truth.  When you buy my book, the actual “dead tree edition”, you can hold it in your hands, ogle that gorgeous cover, feel the rasp of the pages with your fingertips.

Sorry, techno geeks, your gadgets just can’t compete with that sensation.

But I’ve said my piece, given you an update so I’ll leave it there.  Gadgets/technology (pro and con) is a discussion for another time, another place.

The important thing for you to know is that Of the Night is on schedule and it looks very much like I’ll meet my self-imposed deadline and will be holding a proof of the book in my arthritic hands by my 47th birthday (end of October).  A short time later, it will be ready for ordering and reading.

Thrilling times ahead.

Watch this space…

Cut-up story…and accompanying artwork

My, my, how time flies.

It seems like only yesterday we were having the book launch but I see that a significant amount of time has passed since then, the summer well in progress…and I’m overdue for an update.

You know how it is, when this blog goes silent, that means I’m working.  So deeply immersed in a project, I’m thinking of nothing else.   Including food, water and most of the other basic necessities of life.

I’ve been feeling in a rut, writing-wise, which sometimes inspires me to bend my brain in other directions.  I know very little about visual art, theory or practice, but every so often I like to pick up a paintbrush, find an old slab of board and have at it.  This time around, my medium of choice was collage.  I keep files of visual images and dozens of issues of old magazines lying around just in case I get it into my head to try something like this.  Collage is a cumulative process; I moved the images here and there, tried them against different backdrops…but the key for me came when I decided to incorporate small blocks of text, usually relating to economic theory (the most savage form of social Darwinism imaginable).

It struck me as I was going through the literally hundreds of images I’ve collected over the past X amount of years, that I am an astonishingly morbid person.  I mean, Jesus, click on the image (above), you should get a larger sized version.  Would you trust someone who saves pictures like this to babysit your kids or date your daughter?

This is some sick, sick shit.

But as I was piecing everything together, as it all started to fall into place, I realized that what I was creating was a depiction of humanity run amok, the awful, indescribable damage we, as a species, have inflicted with our ideologies, our stupidity and greed.  Depressing, yes; sick-making?  Undoubtedly.  But is this vision inaccurate, flawed or misleading?  Well, like any creative endeavor, it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves.

The end result of that little experiment pleased me to some extent but I didn’t feel like I was quite done with cutting things up.  My eyes happened on a pile of books I’ve snagged from various thrift shops and library book sales over the years.  I decided I wanted to create an homage to one of my literary heroes, William Burroughs.  I’m sure you know all about the “cut-up method” that was developed by Burroughs and his mentor, Brion Gysin.  Take any number of literary texts, carve them up, piece them together and marvel at the wonderful word collisions and strange juxtapositions that are created.

My project started out as a noble venture but, as with most activities that involve me creatively, my Muse took over and things quickly got out my control.

I used scissors to pare out sections of a 1960 thriller called Operation Terror! I then snipped out various portions of the other books I had lying around:  an anthology of detective fiction that included Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a forgotten novel by Ngaio Marsh, etc. etc.  Found a heavy sheet of black cardboard, set up on our basement workbench and proceeded to play with the various passages I’d selected.

At one point I realized I was probably defeating the purpose of the whole intention of “cut ups”, that my method was too conscious and controlling but by then it was too late.  I was caught up in creating an all new narrative, trying to come up with a satisfactory climax–

Good Lord.

Once I’d arranged the text into a coherent storyline, I decided I wasn’t done:  I would then write a story based on the outline I’d created using the borrowed snippets.  A completely original work utilizing pre-existing text.  And I’d frame it as a teleplay for a long-forgotten TV series…

I repeat:  Good Lord.

But there’s no use trying to talk sense to my Muse:  she simply won’t be reasoned with.  Once she gets an idea into her head, I am powerless to resist her.

So at the conclusion of this article you’ll find a link to the PDF version of my weird, whacky “mashup”.   It’s an homage to Mistah Burroughs in the form of a script from a 1950’s crime drama that never was.  Go figger.

I make no apologies for this story and predict it might annoy a significant proportion of readers.  But fans of Burroughs and Gysin might be more inclined to give grudging approval to the thought behind this bizarre creation.  They would see it, quite rightly, as a labour of love and even if they found fault with its execution, they’d think kindly of me for at least making the attempt.

Click on the link directly below for a free download of my story:

G-Man (PDF)

Scenes from the book launch (June 17, 2010)

Sorry, these pics are long overdue.

Scenes from our evening at the library here in town.  The official launch of my new novel.  My pal Laird Brittin and I performed to an appreciative audience of about seventy and, afterward, I was set up at a table near the door and chatted with a long line of folks who waited patiently to get a book (or two) signed.  Sold 35 copies of So Dark the Night and that doesn’t include the three extra copies the library region ordered the next day.

It was, as promised, a terrific evening of words and music.  Folks were still buzzing about it afterward.  Let’s face it, when most people come to readings, they have pretty low expectations.  And with good reason; the majority of writers, however skilled they might be with the printed word, are dreadful readers.  Dull, no energy or charisma.  We were determined to add some theatricality to our evening; we employed spotlights and borrowed a black backdrop from the Community Players.

Laird came perilously close to stealing the show with his set—must make a mental note to pare down his time considerably or mess with his mike to throw him off.  If we ever decide to do this again.  A big nod of thanks to Wendy and the library for sponsoring the event and to my family, who did technical stuff and handled all the lifting and toting so the “artistes” could concentrate on their work.  They had it set up so that just after Laird finished his tunes, the lights came down and we debuted the book trailer for So Dark the Night.  Great reaction and a fabulous lead-in to my reading.

Clearly, I must do something about that blue shirt.  It’s a size too big and billows about me.  I look like freakin’ Meatloaf.  And I’m only 168 pounds, honest.  Surrounded, in the preceding shots, by the local glitterati, Mercedes and Lamborghinis purring outside, waiting to whisk them home…

Can’t remember enjoying a reading as much as this last one; not for a long time anyway.  Readings have become a chore to me, they don’t excite me like they used to.  But this time it was different.  I was showing off the best thing I’ve ever written, introducing friends and readers to the two most endearing and fully realized characters I’ve come up with in my 25 years as a professional scribbler.  I chose four short sections and scored a hit every time.  I fed off the crowd’s approval, getting stronger with each excerpt.

I could feel Sherron’s smile from the podium.  Knew that we’d carried it off.  The applause was nice but it was more what people said afterward.  Hugging their copy of So Dark the Night.  Thrilled at having it personally inscribed.  Book lovers, every last one of them.  Still not immune to possibility.  Daring to be amazed.

My kinda people.

“So Dark the Night” (Various)

Where to begin?

Let’s start with the fact that orders for So Dark the Night are rolling in.  The book continues to sell on Amazon and in a variety of formats.  Friends and people who’ve followed my work for a long time have been clamoring for their copies and I have done my best to oblige as quickly as possible.  On Friday, Sherron and I made a quick trip in to Saskatoon and hit some of the major bookstores.  Now readers in my favorite city will be able to buy So Dark from McNally-Robinson, Indigo Books, Turning the Tide and Stu Cousins’ fabo music emporium, “The Vinyl Diner” (on Broadway Avenue; tell him I said “hello”).  Even donated one copy of the Saskatoon Public Library.  Why not?

Jim, the manager at Indigo, provided me with my most gratifying reaction of the day.  I introduced myself and I could tell he was hesitant about taking on any new stock but as soon as he got a look at the cover, he grabbed the copies I’d brought in with me.  Thanks, Jim.

I’ve been plugging the book wherever possible but, of course, one walks a fine line when doing any promo; I don’t wanna come across as a “shill” but, at the same time, I’ve got a wonderful book that should make everybody’s summer reading list so I want to do what is necessary to spread the word.

I’m preparing for the reading and book launch we’re having here in town on Thursday, trying to decide which excerpts to read, rehearsing, etc.  I like to put on a good show…especially when I have my pal Laird Brittin “opening” for me, playing a couple of original tunes, including two we wrote together.  It’s going to be a fun evening so if you’re in the area, swing on by.

Last night Sherron and I searched out locations around town and shot footage for a book trailer we’ll be cutting together this week.  Plan on releasing it on YouTube and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s up and running.

My thanks to the people who’ve already bought and read So Dark the Night, dropping me notes filled with kind words and praise.  Folks, you’re the reason I keep putting pen to paper.  It sure as hell ain’t the money or any desire for fame, I’ll tell you that.

To you, this author dedicates his work…and his life.

“So Dark the Night” is here…and ready for ordering

All right, readers, it’s official.

So Dark the Night is now available and ready to be added to your bookshelves.  Maybe you’ll take Stefan Dziemianowicz’s advice and slot me in between Jorge Luis Borges and William S. Burroughs.  I think that would make a very nice fit, frankly.

There are a number of ordering options open to you.  You can purchase my novel through Amazon.com and a number of affiliates there or you can pick up the e-book OR you can buy the Kindle version.  However, if you’d like signed, personally inscribed copies, I’m afraid zipping your orders my way is the only way to manage it.  If that’s your choice, click on this link and it will take you to my bookstore where you’ll find So Dark the Night and several of my other titles (though most of them are available in very limited quantities).

You’ll find all the necessary info there, including shipping rates.

What can I tell you, folks?

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exciting read, a thriller in every sense of the word, So Dark the Night is for you.

Imagine a combination of “The X Files”, H.P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler and you’ll get at least some idea of what I’m talking about.  It’s the perfect “summer reading” adventure, featuring the most likable and endearing tandem of sleuths since Holmes and Watson.  Plus the book will scare the living crap out of you.

What more could you ask for?

So…check out So Dark the Night, buy it, request it from your local bookstore (tell them it’s distributed by Ingram and, likely, Baker and Taylor) or your public library.  Spread the word, tell your friends, Facebook about it, text each other your favorite quotes…or just kick back and indulge yourself with a powerful, literate offering, “a spook show that delivers everything it promises”.

And, needless to say, drop me a line here or at blackdogpress@yahoo.com with your thoughts and impressions.

I guess you can tell:  I…am…pumped.  Who wouldn’t be?  This book cost me 3+ years of my life and now that I’ve got it in my hands, I can honestly tell you it was worth every moment I devoted to it.

But don’t take my word for it:  pick up a copy and see for yourself.   Or, if you like, here’s an excerpt you can browse, a sneak peak at the best supernatural thriller since Linda Blair puked pea soup all over Max von Sydow:  

So Dark-excerpt

The Waiting Game

The latest communication from Lightning Source indicates the proof of my novel So Dark the Night will be printed tomorrow (Tuesday, April 20th) and, if there are no obvious glitches, sent off to me a short time afterward.

(Sound FX:  Fingers drumming anxiously on desk top.)

In the meantime, I’ve decided to post more of my strange, ambient music—it’s on my “Audio” page, just scroll down past the spoken word stuff and you’ll get there.  Really love these pieces, which I’m calling (collectively) Intervals.   There’s been a big progression since my first offering and one tune from this latest batch in particular stands out for me:  can you guess which it is?

Busy days around here:  Sam, Liam and a number of their friends (shout out to Sean, Dylan, Jess and the rest of the crew) are deeply involved in a short film project that keeps getting bigger and bigger.  I applaud their ambition.  Sherron has her own film on the go, an abstract bit of business for which I’ll be supplying music.  But the deadline for the local, library-sponsored film short film competition is looming, so I hope their post-production efforts go well or they’re gonna be scrambling.

Meanwhile, I’m fretting over the impending arrival of the proof, beating my brains out trying to find ways to better promote and distribute my independently produced books.  I welcome your input and advice on both these points.

Let me know what you think of Intervals too.  And keep watching these pages for more info on the release of So Dark the Night, a supernatural thriller with a heart of gold.  Your summer reading is on its way.  And I promise, you won’t be disappointed.