And here it is, as promised, an early peek at the cover art for my western novel The Last Hunt, due out in mid-March.
Special thanks to Bobby Rockwell and the Rockwell Museum of Western Art for allowing me to use William Robinson Leigh’s original painting and to Chris Kent for a superlative job on the design.
The Last Hunt.
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.
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?”
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:
(Photo by Jason Minshull)
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!
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…
I’ve been working, what else?
Plowing my way through Of the Night, polishing a bit here, snipping a word or two there, prepping the manuscript to send off to the printer by the first week of October. Which means I’ll have achieved my goal and published two books this year. I thought it was important to do something, well, special to mark my 25th anniversary as a pro writer and getting my two “Ilium” novels out to readers and fans in the same calendar year seemed like just the thing to do. It’s been crazy hectic, frustrating and maddening…but it looks like we’re going to manage it.
Of the Night is a far shorter novel than So Dark the Night—I like to call So Dark my “A” movie and Of the Night my “B” picture. One is a bigger, bolder project, the other smaller and more modest. But I love ’em both and you will too. We’ll be using Adrian Donoghue’s cover art for Of the Night and Chris Kent (as far as I know) will be designing the look of the book once again. We’ll have it out in time for Christmas and the novel will likely retail in the $10-11 region. There will be further progress reports so keep checking in periodically for more details.
Wild summer here in Saskatchewan, the weather verging on freaky. Rain, rain, rain. We have an old house and a basement with a stone foundation so I’ve had a fan running constantly downstairs because of the damp seeping in from outside, the surrounding soil saturated. I have several hundred books down there, my boys have a TV and their XBox set up so they can have their own little space. Must work to keep the area habitable, no killer mould growing in the walls, etc. The lousy weather has made it abundantly clear the roof tiles and eaves need replacing, the trees trimming back (again); yikes, when I think about the pending expense, it makes me wanna cry.
Ah, well, we’ll get by. Somehow. We always do. Just when I think we’re going under, some respite arrives in the nick of time. But there are some periods, nerve-stretching intervals, when things look pretty bleak and occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the very real risks and terrors that accompany life as a full-time independent writer and publisher. I’m 46…is life ever going to get easier, will there be some kind of reward waiting at the end of the rainbow? Or just a tarnished piss pot?
“Theirs not to reason why…” and all that. Thanks, Alfie, but all those guys died, as I recall.
Hasn’t been much time to kick back and indulge in my other passions: films and reading. Watched a few cool flicks like Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” and “Pickup on South Street”, two Herzog efforts (“Grizzly Man” and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”) and Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” but not too many more. And I haven’t yet gotten around to reviewing those few movies I have watched for my film blog. Sigh.
As for reading, I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s Diaries (1969-79) and I’ve completed almost all of Denton Welch’s books, marveling at what a magnificent writer he was (no wonder William Burroughs revered him). Presently absorbed by Charles Simic’s The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, which is composed of entries from his writer’s notebook(s). Wonderful, wonderful stuff. If you haven’t read any Simic, rush out and find some.
Lots of music playing while I work—some ambient stations I found on ITunes, as well as albums like The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Who Killed Sergeant Pepper”, the definitive Joy Division compilation, “Heart & Soul”; old favorites like Interpol and Elbow and Black Rebel Motorcycle are always on hand to get me revved up. Soundtracks (“The Thin Red Line” and “The Fountain”) to give me mood music to write to.
That’s enough for now. I have to get back to, y’know, editing. Of the Night awaits my full attention.
In the meantime, why not take a few minutes to browse through this site, check out some of the stories, essays, excerpts, spoken word and music I’ve posted here over the past 3+ years? All of it FREE to read and download. Honest. No strings attached.
C’mon, whaddaya say? You wanna hang out for awhile?
Great, make yourself at home.
If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, first door on the left…
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.