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…
For ten years I’ve kept track of my random thoughts and reflections in two slim Moleskine notebooks.
Next year, I’ll be releasing a short book containing the best bits.
I’m posting an example of what you can expect, a snippet penned on my back deck a few days ago.
I’m not a big fan of the so-called “cancel culture” and reject any attempt to limit free speech or stifle debate. And so:
“Dialectics taught me that societies emerge out of a clash of ideas. By ignoring or suppressing dissenting views we rob ourselves of that special friction and, thus, are consigned to echo chambers that endlessly reproduce our tiresome certainty.”
But, as I’ve said before, if I’m not blogging I’m undoubtedly at work on some project that is utterly consuming me.
In this case, it’s actually three projects.
I should explain.
Last year I was supposed to release a collection of short stories with urban settings called Electric Castles. But that one sort of got over-taken and set aside when I wrote and released an e-book of topical and controversial non-fiction material titled Mouth: Rants and Routines.
I’ve gone back to work on editing the stories in Electric Castles...but I’ve also been assembling a collection of new poetry as well as making additions to Notebook, a compilation of thoughts, reflections and meditations I’ve been gathering for nearly ten years.
The order of publication is: Electric Castles in June-July, 2020, Notebook in 2021 and the poetry collection in 2022 (I have a tentative title for that one, just not willing to share it yet).
Putting the finishing touches on Electric Castles has been time consuming and intense (my approach to editing obsessive and exhausting), especially the last tale in the book, a 50-page, 12,000+ word novelette. Still pondering a cover and hoping to nail that down soon. A couple of possibilities, including some of my own visual efforts.
* * * *
I realized recently that it’s now been a decade since I rebooted my Black Dog Press imprint. It sort of went into hiatus after the release of The Reality Machine in 1997. PS Publishing (U.K.) published my book Righteous Blood in 2002 and I retained some hope that finally I would be able to find presses out there that would provide a venue for my writing.
That turned out to be wishful thinking and by 2008, I’d had enough. I wrote up a venomous press release and sent it out to a couple of writing forums, announcing I was tired of playing the game, submitting work and waiting sometimes YEARS for editors/publishers to grace me with a response. Fuck that and fuck them. Basta!
Shortly thereafter, I started this blog and began posting big chunks of material, short stories and novel excerpts that thousands of people read and downloaded.
But I still wanted print versions of my books and that meant familiarizing myself with POD (print on demand) technology (and terminology) and in 2010, I published my first Black Dog Press offering in 13 years, my occult thriller So Dark the Night.
I was back, with a vengeance. Since then, I’ve produced a dozen titles, doing my best to satisfy my small but vocal cadre of readers.
The indie world is the place for me and I have permanently (I think) set aside any notion of commercial success or mainstream acceptance.
I hope those of you who are familiar with my oeuvre will continue to support this eccentric venture of mine and that new readers will drop in and discover an author who defies expectations and subverts preconceptions, creating wholly original and provocative titles for those who love challenging, literate books, short stories or poetry.
Welcome to Black Dog Press.
Pull up a chair, make yourself at home.
There’s a lot to see here and we’ve got all the time in the world.
Another long interval between blog posts and, once again, I have a writing project to blame.
My collection of rants and essays, as yet untitled, moves closer toward publication. I have been writing and editing this book since November, 2018 and have been very pleasantly surprised by how quickly it’s come together.
How would I describe the general mood and content of the book? I would represent it as a kind of purging—I confront inner and outer demons, situations and subjects that infuriate me and, in my view, trivialize our society. Some of the pieces are intensely personal, others take a broader view. Most of the “routines” are satirical and drip with venom; no sensibilities are spared, no quarter given. I guarantee there will be folks, even among my own small circle of acquaintances, who will be offended by my take on hot button issues. Religion, identity politics, the climate crisis, the rise of the “idiocracy”, are among the topics I address and, you can imagine, there’s plenty of invective to go around.
I’m pondering publishing this collection first as a free PDF on this blog and, eventually, as a very cheap e-book (Kindle and ePub versions).
The release date is still somewhat up in the air but I hope to have the aforementioned PDF posted on my blog in the next two months or so.
Sigh…yet another Black Dog Press release that is nothing like the 12 previous books. Satirical, sharp-toothed, non-fiction essays…is there a market for such things? I guess we’ll find out.
No excerpts or teasers yet…but I will say that right from the beginning I wanted to attack political correctness from the hard Left. Many conservatives and Right-wingers have taken their shots but few people on the other side of the ideological spectrum are willing to confront PC and point out how intolerant and anti-democratic it can be. Freedom of expression is a longtime obsession with me: anyone who seeks to limit or control the terms of a debate is my ENEMY, regardless of their politics or rationale.
This latest book absolutely demands reader feedback and I encourage you, once it’s posted, to download it (free), dive in and let me know what you think: which parts work, which parts make you scratch your head…or want to sever mine. Are there places where I’m unfair or go too far? Drop me some lines with your thoughts, we’ll have a sober, mature dialogue, see if we can attain a meaningful meeting of minds.
I’d better get back to work, I’m anxious to finish this brute then sit back and watch what happens.
Once the dust settles, there won’t be a single sacred cow left standing.
Hand me that bolt gun, will you, and let’s get down it it…
You knew I had to be up to something and you were right.
A month between posts? C’mon, you know me better than that.
This summer has been my most productive, writing-wise, in several years. It’s like the taps were turned on again and I’ve been writing with all my focus and concentration, feeling the juices flowing again.
Two, count ’em, two long stories since June, quite a few poems, a short prose piece that’s one of the best things I’ve written in quite awhile…
And everything registering strongly on the aesthetic Richter Scale—nothing slight or inconsequential. Intelligent, literate efforts, not pandering to any school or taste.
I haven’t lost a fucking step.
Oh, and I’ve started work on a new novel. Well, not quite a new novel—I’m completely overhauling a 250-page manuscript I originally conceived around 2002. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m looking at 12-15 months worth of revisions, so you shouldn’t expect to see that one in print until, ballparking it, mid-2019. No teasers, except that it references a classic Victorian thriller and will be darker and more horror-related than some of my recent work.
But fear not, impatient readers, I shall be releasing not one but two full-length efforts in 2018: first, The Algebra of Inequality and Other Poems, a selection of verse culled from the past five years. The title is nicked from a line in a Don Barthelme short story that caught my eye. Ol’ Don had some zingers.
I know poetry is a hard sell to some folks but I believe it gives me the opportunity to address profound philosophical and spiritual and existential questions in the most spare, personal, unforgiving literary format. Poetry permits no artistic missteps—it really is like walking a tightrope.
And there will be (drumroll please) a new short story collection next year, Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends. Original tales, all centered around everything magical and terrifying about cities, near and far, real and imagined. Killer stories, spanning just about every genre, guaranteed to amaze, disturb and warp your puny perceptions and sensibilities. Consensual reality? What the hell is that?
Both books will feature, as per the custom here at Black Dog Press, gorgeous cover art and will be professionally formatted and bound. There will be an e-book version of Electric Castles, still mulling it over re: the poetry. Poetry is so unique and personal and analog…does it really belong on a tablet or phone screen?
Lots of writing and revisions in the months ahead, some highs and lows, good days and days when, as they say, “the bear gets you”. All part of the creative process: painful and terrifying, but also exhilarating and inspiring. No doubt you’ll be reading something of my triumphs and travails here…and I hope it will serve to remind you that the writing life is not easy and requires a great deal of courage and fortitude. Perseverance and sheer guts get you a lot further in any profession than mere talent. Surely you know that by now.
Some mornings I can’t imagine facing that page again.
And yet I do.
That’s the difference between an author and a poser.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for real writers, girls and boys, every fucking month is “National Novel Writing Month”.
You heard it here…
Photos by Sherron Burns
Except…wasn’t Virginia Woolf a “self-publisher”? After all, she released her work through Hogarth Press, which she co-owned along with her husband, Leonard. It was a going family concern—Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell designed some of the book covers.
And I know for a fact Ezra Pound wasn’t averse to paying out of pocket, if it meant seeing his erudite, obscure poems get into print.
Robert Browning, ditto.
If I’m not mistaken, James Joyce put up part of the publication cost of his first collection, The Dubliners (regardless, his nervous publisher held the presses for years, wary of violating Ireland’s stiff obscenity laws).
I guess I’m saying that historically self-publishing, the vanity press, whatever you want to call it, wasn’t always the province of the hack and the wannabe. And I think the same is true today. There is a lot of shit out there, don’t get me wrong, but there are also a few genuinely talented, innovative authors in amongst the dross.
Don’t give up on us.
This blog is now ten years old. Ten years to the day.
Well, well, well.
Who could’ve imagined “Beautiful Desolation” would still be around? I’ve seen the stats: most blogs sputter out after a year or two, the individual(s) involved eventually losing interest or not finding the time or unable to post regularly enough to keep it up to date and viable.
I can understand that. Over the lifetime of this blog, I’ve written 450+ posts, averaging about one every ten days or so. Which for a full time scribe and stay-at-home dad is a pretty hefty investment of time and energy. Plus, I’ve never posted just for the sake of posting, I’ve always had something to say or share (even if it’s frequently, especially in the early days, invective and bitter, icy fury).
Right from the beginning, “Beautiful Desolation” was a platform, a bully pulpit from where I could hold forth on subjects near and dear to my indie, contrarian heart. My thirty+ years as a professional author provides me with a host of experiences and encounters to draw from, and I must say it gives me considerable pleasure when young writers contact me and tell me how a certain article or mini-essay or rant I’ve posted inspired them or bucked up their courage during a low patch in their life. My entire career, from the get-go, has been all about empowering myself as an artist and not allowing others to tamper with my work, diluting its emotional, aesthetic and spiritual intensity and passion. That was an obsession for me even before I “turned pro” way back in 1985. I have always fiercely defended my work and questioned the effectiveness/competence of editors who take it upon themselves to “improve” my writing, “smooth out” the rough spots, etc.
I made it plain from those initial posts that this blog is devoted to the celebration of literary, intelligent, innovative, genre-busting fiction that defies fashion and formula and seeks truly new and unique representations of the world around us. I’m contemptuous of amateurish drivel and people who think insisting on proper grammar and syntax is “old school”. I respect authors who make herculean efforts to write and revise their work, laboring tirelessly, excellence their only goal. I’ve been a full-time author for a long time and struggle each day to find the courage and inspiration to go on. It takes me weeks to polish a story, years to finish a full-length manuscript. So you’ll excuse me if I say that, by those standards, dabblers and weekend scribblers and NanoWriMo wannabes just don’t make the grade, sorry.
It’s been interesting to go back to some of those early posts on “Beautiful Desolation”—some of them are very, very angry and confrontational. I’m thinking of my pointed words on contemporary science fiction, Cormac McCarthy’s rather lifeless interview on “Oprah”, the mediocrity that is CanLit and my repeated diatribes against the idiocy that is National Novel Writing Month (“part-time writers unite!”)
The nastier stuff kind of flickered out after the first couple of years, though I’m still capable of delivering withering scorn on command. I’ve said a few things about paranormal romance and shapeshifter-erotic-fiction that had a few people gnashing their teeth and hastily “unsubscribing”.
Ah, well. Some folks are touchy about being sub-literate and dull-witted.
Recently, this blog has taken on a more overtly political tone, which reflects my growing interest in leftist politics, socialism, Marxism…really, anything that is an alternative to the capitalist juggernaut devouring all the resources on this planet, rendering it unsuitable for a growing number of species (a list that will eventually include, y’know, us).
The election of CEO Trump to head Corporation America, the emergence of the far right around the world, as well as the on-going shenanigans of the neo-liberals and their wealthy sponsors, have alarmed progressives and activists, who view the rising intolerance and racism as part and parcel of a system that disenfranchises and impoverishes the masses, in order to fatten the wallets of the elite.
A concerted effort to unite disparate voices and causes under the banner of freedom, true freedom, must be undertaken or we are headed down a long, dark, scary road. I hesitate to predict what our society will look like when we reach the end of that particular journey. My imagination quails at the notion, quite frankly.
But, as I’ve come to realize, one can’t always dwell on these gloom and doom scenarios; for the sake of balance (and sanity), you have to be able to conceive of a better, healthier, more equitable world, a chance at a brighter tomorrow. And so I’ve sought out individuals and organizations, voices that offer entirely different perspectives on where the human adventure might lead us, given the right kind of moral and spiritual leadership. I’ve been fortunate enough to discover people like David Harvey and Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Zizek; Paul Mason, Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali. The LEAP Manifesto and the existence of good, ideologically committed leaders like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders offer at least the hope for change, the introduction of real ideas into a partisan, over-heated discourse.
Books like Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalism, Klein’s This Changes Everything and Karl Marx’s Capital provide us with workable blueprints for correcting our course, indicating different, less spooky paths to travel, and once absorbed they alter your whole mode of thinking—I’m talking a complete paradigm shift. We don’t have to live the way we do, there are methods we can employ, mindsets we can adopt to alter our lives, our ingrained habits and actually make the world a better place, just by our example.
I’m sure I’ll be writing about this in more detail in the months/years to come.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed “Beautiful Desolation” in its various guises. Ten years has given me the time and scope to cover a lot of ground and during that interval I’ve undoubtedly said some things I probably shouldn’t have and managed to piss off an impressively wide assortment of people. But all along I’ve made it manifestly clear to even the most desultory, unwary visitor: if you’ve come to this blog looking for reassurance and treacle, a collegial atmosphere and warm, fuzzy support system, you’ve opened the wrong door, I’m afraid. This site is about the price we pay for having feelings, for being alive and sentient in a world that’s increasingly chaotic and disorienting, our “civilization” gradually losing its thin veneer of humanity, revealing the glistening skull beneath its skin.
“Beautiful Desolation” is, in that sense, the perfect title for this blog.
The more I think of it, what could have been more appropriate?
* * * * *
A few recent developments I should mention:
The Mindful Word, a site devoted to conscious creativity and holistic wellness (hey, how can you argue with that?), has published two short essays I composed, offering advice to young, developing writers…and warning of the possible perils of semi-autobiographical fiction and memoirs. Pop over there to check them out and then take some time to poke around–it’s a cool site.
I also somehow managed to place an extremely odd piece, “A Personal Cosmology”, with The Oleander Review, a literary journal published by the University of Michigan—the issue in question is due out in April. Here’s a sample from “Cosmology” I posted awhile back. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Finally, “Happy Birthday” to my pals Laird and Karen—who share the same birth date and the unfortunate tendency to root for two historically dreadful hockey clubs (the Leafs and Canucks, respectively). This lifelong Bruins fan tries not to hold that against them, although sometimes, I admit, it takes concerted effort to restrain my natural tendency to trash talk. But, then again, it’s hard to feel smug when your favourite team includes an unrepentant arsehole like Brad Marchand.
Note: the accompanying pictures are drawn from our Summer, 2016 visit to Greece, Turkey and the Czech Republic. Istanbul, in particular, continues to haunt our memories (and sometimes our dreams). What a magical, terrifying, wondrous metropolis. One day, we hope to make it back…
You’ll find my list of favourite films over at my blog, Cinema Arete.
Read slightly more non-fiction than fiction last year, a bit of a worrying trend. I’ve really cut back on my genre fiction in the past while; I’ve found the suspension of disbelief rarely works for me any more. The last horror novel I read, by Peter Straub, struck me as completely implausible and I barely finished it.
More and more, I’m looking for quality reads, books that are innovative, literate and unique.
And, more and more, contemporary fiction just doesn’t meet that criteria.
* * * *
Best Books Read in 2016
Fortune Smiles (Stories) by Adam Johnson
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
The Execution by Hugo Wilcken
The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo
The Heavenly Bible by Donald Ray Pollock
Today I Wrote Nothing (Stories) by Daniil Kharms
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken
The Adulterous Woman (Stories) by Albert Camus
Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
Without by Donald Hall
Felicity by Mary Oliver
Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes
Ghost Wars: Secret History of CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden by Steve Coll
Contrary Notions by Michael Parenti
When the Facts Change by Tony Judt
Disaster Capitalism by Antony Lowenstein
Young Orson: The Years of Luck & Genius by Patrick McGilligan
We Learn Nothing (Essays) by Tim Kreider
Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk
The Idea of Communism by Tariq Ali
Goebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich
My Life & Travels by Wilfred Thesiger
Hogs Wild (Essays) by Ian Frazier
Over the holidays I devoted a considerable amount of thought to what should happen next with Black Dog Press.
So far, my imprint has released eleven books, a couple of limited edition chapbooks…but now what?
I’ve come to the determination that I won’t be publishing anything in 2017—and before the emails and complaints start flying, let me elaborate.
Despite my considerable efforts, Black Dog Press remains a very marginal enterprise. It is a constant struggle to draw attention to my writing when there are so many tomes being published and self-published, churned out like dumb, identical widgets. I want to pursue new methods for advertising my books, trying my best to overcome my aversion to self-promotion (a particularly ugly manifestation of narcissism). I’ve never been an author who haunts forums, always looking for an opportunity to reference my own work, and I’m not much a joiner, if you get my drift. More like your classic lone wolf.
In the past, I’ve sought out other, like-minded indie authors/publishers but, candidly, haven’t found many who take the printed word as seriously as I do. Very few scribes these days produce genuinely original, literary work; their prose is often derivative (fan fiction) or stuck in a genre of little interest to me (zombie, shapeshifter romance, etc.). Sadly, the proliferation of technology, the growing number of publishing platforms, means that the amateurs and wannabes out there can publish all the crap they excrete, with the minimum of editing or critical scrutiny. Pounding their chests and calling themselves writers, having a fit when anyone dares question their professional credentials. As petulant as they are untalented, vicious, rather than visionary.
Sending out review copies doesn’t work—that much has been made clear. Again, too many books, too few good publications (even fewer qualified critics)…and then there are the unnamed rags that want you to buy advertising space before they’ll even consider your book for review. There’s a special red-hot poker in Hell waiting for that scum.
I adamantly refuse to purchase a positive, five-star review from Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. Never, never, never.
What does that leave?
I’ve been looking into hiring a publicist, but that would mean leaving my comfort zone and putting my books, my personality, my face in the hands of a stranger. Granting them permission to do what’s necessary to “raise my profile” (I’m literally squirming as I type those words).
But something has to be done. I’m publishing terrific, intelligent, compelling novels and stories and they’re not getting the attention they deserve. After over 30 years as a professional author, my stature isn’t anywhere near what it should be…and the fault lies with me.
I have to do better at promoting my growing body of work, even if that means trying things I’ve never dared attempt before.
It’s an approach I’ve always shied away from, but there’s no other option.
If I want to continue growing my readership, keep Black Dog Press afloat, I have to cast aside my aversion to, gulp, selling myself to the public.
This isn’t going to be easy…