Category: Vladimir Nabokov

Ten questions for the author

I receive a good number of private communications from readers, colleagues, aspiring writers and the occasional troll.

I’ve put together a short roster of the best of the best of these queries and my responses (though, in some cases I’ve pared the original question down and added more detail to my replies).

Here are the top ten:

What’s the difference between calling yourself a “self-publisher” and an “independent author”?

In a word, talent. Oh, and professional credentials. Oh, and the seriousness with which you approach your craft.

Before I started my own imprint back in 1990, I’d already received a Canada Council grant and published a good number of tales in various venues around the world. I toiled every day on my writing and though the money was almost nonexistent, I didn’t care, it was all about becoming the best writer I could possibly be. I was focused, obsessed with my work. I created Black Dog Press because I detected a dearth of vision and intelligence among the editors I was dealing with and since I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t take rejection lying down, I decided to empower myself, rather than accept the verdict of dingbats.

Most self-publishers, however, are hobbyists, part-timers, dolts with little knowledge of what entails good writing, they merely want to see their name on a book, regardless if it’s any good. They don’t labor over their work, endlessly polishing and editing, growing and developing as artists. Such notions are beneath them. Some have the decency to confine themselves to giving copies of their amateurish efforts to friends and family and I have no bone to pick with them. It’s the morons who’ve written a memoir about their so-called interesting life or a spin-off novel lifted from some popular franchise and are deluded enough to believe they are “real” writers that raise my ire.

Why are you such an asshole?

Yes, I’ve received a number of communications along these lines, usually from the aforementioned amateurs and wannabes. They demand that I take their vampire porn or zombie splatter or “poor me” memoirs seriously and resent the notion of applying professional standards (y’know, like spelling, syntax, grammar) to their abominable tripe.

To them, there’s no difference between great writing and garbage, since such standards are arbitrary and unfair (usually they have trouble with big words like “arbitrary”, but I digress). As I’ve written previously, I have nothing against aspiring writers, beginners, folks who genuinely care about the printed word and want to create the best work they can. It’s the ones who foolishly believe their 10-book vampire series (released as super cheap/free e-books to inflate their “sales”) is imbued with true genius that I take exception to…and vilify accordingly. They read shit, they watch shit, they write shit. I dismiss (and diss) them out of hand. They are part-time turd-peddlers and pretenders and they deserve nothing but contempt. And I give it to them…in spades.

How much money do you make?

Seriously? Dude, you think I’m gonna open my bank records to you? Let’s just say that if you got into writing (or any art) for the money, you’re a fucking prostitute, and I mean the kind of gutter trash that solicits around public toilets and drops to their knees at the slightest indication of praise or approval.

I doubt I’ll ever become rich from my writing but a number of my favorite writers lived and died in poverty and anonymity, yet their body of work out-lives them and most of their popular contemporaries. I’m in this for the long haul and will trust posterity to determine my stature as an artist. I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I’d rather have a million readers than a million dollars and anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m not joking or resorting to hyperbole. I’m an author’s author…and it’s unlikely that the fuckwits who read Fifty Shades of Grey will have much affinity for my work.

No regrets there.

You’ve been called an “elitist”–do you agree?

Yup. No question. I place high standards on my work, set the bar higher and higher with each new effort. I don’t confine myself to formula and refuse to cater to anyone’s expectations. Sales figures (see above) are irrelevant, the most important thing is releasing a work that is a celebration of the best in literature, a novel, poem or short story that pushes me to the limits of my abilities and sometimes beyond.

I write with intelligence and insight and I demand that from every film, book or artwork I see. I don’t waste my time on “popcorn movies”, mind candy or escapist entertainment. I feed my spirit and get inspired by innovative, original work.

Are you a horror writer? A fantasy or science fiction writer? How do you categorize yourself?

Well, I don’t. Not really. I utilize some of the devices and tropes from all three of the genres you mentioned but only to further the aims of my storylines. I suppose you could also call me a fabulist or surrealist…but I think any niches or slots are distinctly unhelpful when it comes to work as singular and unusual as mine.

I’m a literary writer, that’s the way I perceive myself. As for the rest…

I really think you’d like my writing. Can I send some of my stuff your way to critique?

No.  Absolutely not. It’s not my role to be your editor or ego booster. Real writers write and that’s that. A thousand rejections and the opinions of others should have absolutely no effect on you if you’re truly devoted to the calling. Nabokov talked about “writing in defiance of all the world’s muteness” and that’s advice you should take to heart. Write and write and write. If you need feedback, there are plenty of opportunities for that through local writing groups and guilds and God knows how many on-line venues where up and coming writers gather to talk turkey and swap story samples. But leave the pros alone. We have our own schedules, deadlines and pressing projects. Don’t annoy us with your self-centered, egotistical lobbying.

You seem to genuinely hate traditional publishing and your harsh language must have drawn their attention. Don’t you worry about ruining your chances of becoming a truly famous writer?

Yes, I’ve heard through the grapevine that some of my remarks have made poobahs in publishing extremely cranky with me. How dare I question their intelligence, their professionalism, their psychopathology and their integrity? But, see, I’ve dealt with these bird-brains (editors, agents, publishers) for over twenty years and as I wrote in a recent post on RedRoom, I despise the vast majority of them. I hope I run into a few of the biggest arseholes before my arthritic hands wreck my chances of punching their fucking lights out. A substantial proportion of the people who decide what books get published are too stupid to be trusted with sharp objects and should be, if there was any justice in the world, employed as assistant managers of a fast food restaurant, a job more befitting their low intelligence quotient and lousy inter-personal skills.

As for being famous…it just isn’t a priority. Obviously.

I want to become an independent author too–how do I get started?

First of all, I wish you’d take a long, hard look at your work and decide, as objectively as possible, if you have anything to contribute to literature. Is your writing really that unique and unprecedented? Is it even literate? Have you spent years learning the craft of editing, ruthlessly paring and polishing your poetry/prose until it shines? There are quite enough bad, self-published books out there, why contribute to the dung pile?

But, really, if you’re determined, there are sites you can go to for advice (a couple are on my blog roll). A good ol’ Google search under “independent writing and publishing” will probably take you somewhere helpful. It’s a long, arduous process and the learning curve can be steep. And once your book is published, then you’re faced with marketing and distribution—and good luck getting your self-published offering into most book stores. I still find it a chore and I’ve been at it a long time.

Why are you so jealous of writers more successful than you (i.e. Amanda Hocking, Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James)?

Jealous of…?  Er, no, I’m not jealous of rich writers or sub-literate authors who manage to score a book deal. Literary whores with the skill set of a Grade Eight diarist and the aesthetics of a village idiot.  Personally, I’m envious of scribes whose talent leaves me gasping like a fish washed up on some sandy shore. I’m referring to giants like Thomas Pynchon, James Crumley, Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard—artists of the highest caliber, whose books will stand the test of time. I labor in the shadow of greatness. Daunting? You betcha. But it’s a challenge I accept every time I enter my home office, sit at my desk and commence another day of work. I crave to be an author of stature. And that has nothing to do with the size of my bank account.

I sense you’re a lonely, bitter, isolated man. Is that an accurate representation?

I’m still chuckling over this one. I don’t think the correspondent in question was trying to be offensive or “trolling”, merely curious and so my response was quite tolerant (for me).

I’ve been a loner all my life and require little in the way of companionship. I belong to no professional writing organizations, nor do I seek out other authors to befriend or chat up. I’ve been happily married for over 20 years and have two teenage sons. Between my work and my family, there’s little time left over for leisure or company. It’s just never been a priority to me. I have a small, intimate circle of friends who are fiercely loyal and who have been around me long enough to inspire my affection and trust. They understand my hectic schedule and introspective lifestyle and place no demands on me. But they also know I’m the kind of guy who’d walk through a wall of fire for a loved one and would defend a pal to my dying breath. It’s the Scotch/Irish in me, I suppose. The rage, the violence…and the passion I bring to every aspect of my life. Those who know and love me respect that and tolerate the long silences that are part and parcel of my calling.

As for everyone else…who cares what they think or believe? They don’t know me and I don’t spare a moment for their views and opinions.

Fuck ’em.

* * * * *

Thanks for the questions and feedback. My email address is blackdogpress@yahoo.ca.

Always pleased to hear from you…

Once More Into the Breech

“I have no desires, save the desire to express myself in defiance of all the world’s muteness.”

-Vladimir Nabokov

 

Sorry, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Well, the news is good: I’ve finally summoned the nerve to start a new, long project and have completed an outline/first draft in just over two weeks. About 150 pages, partly typed, mainly handwritten. Raw footage. Tuneless, inconsistent, fraught with continuity errors. Really quite dreadful…

I’ll take it. Whatever form it’s in, I’ll take it. Anything is better than the alternative.

Previous postings have alluded to my confidence problems resulting from the overwhelming lack of success I had peddling my last attempt at a novel, So Dark the Night. When you spend three years on a project, beating the shit out of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually and said manuscript goes absolutely fucking nowhere…well, it can dampen your enthusiasm for attempting anything similar for a long time.

Candidly, this is actually the second full-length project I’ve taken a crack at since So Dark the Night. I wrote the first draft of a SF tale set two or three thousand years in the future, completing it…hmmm, I think it was last November. About 180 typed pages but…again, the confidence thing. After I finished typing it in, I started second-guessing myself: is it good enough? More to the point, is it worth spending a year to eighteen months researching and writing a decent draft? And even if I do write something that verges on the terrific, what chance do I have of seeing it published?

So the SF project was shelved. Not for good, there are some neat ideas and an intriguing central concept but…for now.

This new manuscript falls more into the horror category but you’ll excuse me if I don’t disclose any particulars as to its plot, characters, etc. It’s not that I’m overly worried about someone ripping me off, it’s just that I have a superstitious reluctance to talk about a project until I’m very close to finishing it. I recall a story I once heard about the great Civil War historian, Shelby Foote. For years he claimed to be gathering material for a book, rhapsodizing to friends about it, providing a surfeit of details including character summaries, etc. When Foote died, archivists looking through the voluminous amount of boxes and files he left behind couldn’t find the slightest trace of Foote’s big book.

The lesson here: don’t talk about writing something, DO it.

So I don’t usually talk about a story or poem or novel that’s in-progress. Not to you, not to my wife, not to anybody. Sherron knows nothing about this horror book I’ve got going, not even the title. The only thing I’ve told her is the page count.

I am determined that this new work will not go the same way as the SF manuscript. I’m going to find the courage and inner strength to nail this fucker. Because while I’ve been nursing my wounds and feeling sorry for myself, less talented authors, hacks and wannabes have been tapping away, foisting their horrible shit onto unwary readers.

Why should I withdraw, leaving the field to these no-talent, feeble-minded, derivative shitheads?

Last night I read an interview with Will Self, maybe one of the five or ten best writers in England. During his chat with Rick Moody (in Tin House #28), Self, not a big fan of the internet and new technologies, made the following observation:

I do think electronic publishing is likely to further subvert the print media in the next few years, but I’ve no doubt that the medium isn’t altogether the message. Simply because there’s another way of making views known, it doesn’t mean that good style, research, or engaging opinions aren’t required. There’s an aspect of the internet forums that presupposes—and enacts!—that old canard that everyone has a novel in him. I don’t think everyone does at all—and the Net is a medium which unfortunately makes it easier for those who have bad novels and miscellaneous other screeds to get them out.”

God, bless ya, Will. I’ve said much the same in various forums, including a LibraryThing chat group made up of writers-readers and was labeled an “elitist”, a “snob”, etc. etc. A glance at the profiles of those who cried foul revealed that few of them had anything close to professional qualifications. As I remarked to my colleague John Sunseri, “there seems to be a fuck of a lot more readers in this group than actual writers”.

Listen you wannabe cocksuckers: you’re not writers until you’ve paid your dues. That means writing every single day of your life, perfecting your craft, working your ass off. You are not a writer if you once scribbled a poem about your dying grandfather or make occasional journal entries about how no one understands you, boo-fucking-hoo.

I claim the honorific as writer because despite the pain and rejection, I still pick up my pen or sit before this keyboard and do the job. Every day, rain or shine, sickness and health, wherever I am. Got that? If you aren’t doing the same and try to claim the same status as me, you are a poseur and a fake. Go fuck yourself. The people at iUniverse and all those other POD publishers will be happy to take your money and give you the illusion that you’re really something special. If you gits are the future of publishing, then God help us all.

So I shall go on, in defiance of failure and discouragement, despite editors with double digit IQ’s and readers who anxiously await Dan Brown’s followup to The DaVinci Code. I’ll write ’til my fingers break, my back gives out and the spirit leaves my body. They’ll have to pry my Ticonderoga “Executive” pen (with the thick, light barrel I prefer) out of my clawed hand.

I’ve been banging about for over 20 years now and I just don’t see surrender as an option. There’s something inside me that rebels at the notion of giving up. Especially when I know that I have more talent that 98% of the scribblers out there. What has hurt me is my refusal to compromise, my refusal to cede final say over my work to an editor who needs to write L and R on their shoes to figure out which foot goes where.

Does that sound harsh? Let me tell you something else: you may see some writers who thank editors on the acknowledgments page of their books but I guarantee you that in most cases the writer is simply reflecting his/her relief at finally seeing their book in print. The writers I know detest their publishers and denigrate their editors but if sucking up to them is what’s required to get their book out there, fuck it.

Editors today don’t have the status or intelligence or erudition of someone like Maxwell Perkins and they certainly would have little truck with Michael Korda who once said that the greatest lesson he learned as an editor was to leave writers alone and not interfere with their work.

As for genre editors…well, I’ve met more intelligent marsupials. They aren’t well-read, have no aesthetic sensibilities and possess the social skills of those inbred Appalachians in “Deliverance” (the only difference is, editors have slightly better teeth).

All right. Enough. This will have to suffice for the next couple of weeks as I bend my brain on—shit, I almost gave away the title. Clever buggers, aren’t you? I’ll pop back in for the occasional progress report and to whinge about how hard I’m working. In the meantime, I’ll gratefully accept any and all the good vibes and prayers you send my way.

Believe me, I’ll need all the help I can get…

 

Update:

* Our little hedgehog Promaia continues to hang in there. Part of her problem may be that she (like yours truly) has obsessive- compulsive tendencies. We switched her to a water bottle some months back and she drank and drank constantly…to the point that her bladder distended and that might be the cause for her swelling and not, as the vet initially suggested, a tumour. We’re cutting back her water, only giving it to her at night; we’ll see what happens.

** Nothing new to report on the movie front. As far as I know, “Kept” is in pre-production but whether or not it will ever go before the cameras…er, well, that’s why I insisted on a 2-year limit for the option. If filming hasn’t started by then, I keep the dough and all rights revert back to me.

*** And, finally, a tip of the hat to all you folks who have sought out this site and come in for a look. I should receive my 10,000th “hit” in the next 20 days or so and that completely blows me away. When Sherron talked me into starting “Beautiful Desolation” seven months ago, I didn’t imagine numbers anything close to that. Thanks for coming by and for the comments (good or bad). I hope I’ll continue to provide you with posts that amuse, disturb and annoy. I promised myself when I started this I’d never bore you and I’d like to think I’ve kept my word.