I had a dickens of a time with the cover of Righteous Blood.
For some reason, I resisted doing what I’d done on previous occasions: go on-line, to a site like RedBubble (or some place similar), tap in “dark fantasy art” as my search term and see what came up.
For So Dark the Night I must have looked through over a thousand images. Easily.
Not only was the effort of actually finding art to match the mood and message of Righteous Blood daunting, if I did manage to identify an illo that appealed to me I’d have to locate the artist (not always easy), secure their permission to use their art for a reasonable fee (ditto) and then, y’know, come up with the money for the transaction.
Earlier this spring I needed a break from writing, retreated to my basement dungeon where I like to paint and shoot my strange, short films, and slopped away happily on a couple of canvases. Both pieces turned out well, but my favourite was inspired by apocalyptic thinking: global warming, the massive wild fires that have raged around the world due to drought conditions and human tampering. I titled it “Red Skies” and quickly recognized how it might be the answer to my cover art woes.
Mark Rothko was definitely an influence, wouldn’t you say?
I sent a Jpg of “Red Skies” to Black Dog Press’s longtime cover designer Chris Kent last week, told him to use it as source material but not feel slavishly bound to the original. We had to be careful with other people’s artistic efforts but I wanted to give him permission to play with the image to his heart’s content.
Chris is a full-time teacher, a husband and father, an athlete constantly in training…but he also has an artistic side that he loves to indulge, a passion for design and art that’s very much a holdover from childhood.
Over the next few days, he tinkered with my painting, spitballing me a few initial notions like this one:
But I got a sense these first salvos were sort of tentative, Chris not sure how much license he had to tamper with my work.
But then, with his next flash of inspiration, he abandoned all fealty to the original and just fucking went for it. I opened up the file he sent, sat back and gaped at the shattered, fractured version of “Red Skies” that now graced the cover.
And went absolutely mental over it.
Sent him a few minor suggestions, nothing of any great import, he went away did some more polishing and then delivered the final version. His masterpiece.
What do you think?
You know that’s always the case. When I’m hard at work, the last thing I think about is composing another blog entry. Don’t get me wrong, you folks are great, love hanging out with you, but writing, the creative act…well, that’s my lifeblood. My raison d’être.
This time, yes, there’s been creativity, a new short story…but, in all honesty, I’ve been devoting most of my time and energy to promoting Disloyal Son. With the hundreds, thousands of books being released every month, how do I draw attention to a solid, literate novel that anybody with two neurons to rub together will love? How do I compete with shapeshifter erotica and zombie porn and glorified fan fiction? Well, first of all, I send out review copies. Lots of review copies. To the major newspapers, mystery magazines, selected bookstores. Along with promo material and fliers that we agonize over, striving to come up with the most enticing wording. Again, trying to separate this book from the herd. The dung pile.
Good God, there are a lot of terrible books out there. Not just “self-published” either. The traditional publishers apparently believe the vast majority of contemporary readers (especially women) have the I.Q. of brain-damaged marsupials. If you’re looking for a quality book to read this summer, good luck. The trads no longer have any interest in cultivating authors, helping them find their voice and develop as artists. They’re staffed by corporate drones who merely seek “product”, mass market releases—swiftly excreted, endlessly repeated. Passionless, derivative, facile, inept.
You want to know the difference between my approach to writing, as opposed to just about everyone else’s? I care. I respect language, the traditions and legacy of literature. I treasure a well-constructed sentence and expend enormous efforts honing and shaping my work. I’m a freak when it comes to editing—meticulous to the point of, well, insanity. While many of my colleagues seem content with one or two drafts, getting their slop out as soon as possible, I drag out the process of creation to the extent that completing a short story takes weeks and a novel like So Dark the Night required over three years before I was finally satisfied and released it. And that was working on it full time, every single day.
Writing is not a craft to me, it’s an art. There’s a difference. A big difference. Most scribblers can’t make that leap. I can. Every single one of my books is intelligent, challenging, innovative; none conform to expectations or fall back on formula. I try to get that across to readers, reviewers but it’s hard. They see that Black Dog Press is my imprint and right away start thinking “this is more self-published crap”. Dismissing me out of hand. Never giving me a fair shot.
I defy anyone to read the first 5-10 pages of one of my books, choose whichever you like, and then stop. By that point it will no longer be a question of the origins of the book, the circumstances of its publication—you’ll be too caught up in a great read. Of that, I am 100% certain.
Reviewers have written about the element of surprise in my books and stories and I think that’s key. When you’re reading one of my tales you have no idea how it’s going to end or what’s coming next. I love pulling the rug out from under you, leaving you in a whimpering heap. Never saw that coming, did you?
That quality is very much in evidence in Disloyal Son. It’s a mystery, within a mystery (and then some). The truth revealed in bleeding layers. If you give it a chance, it will be the best book you read this summer, maybe this year. And I don’t need to buy a four-star Kirkus review in order to know that.
Awhile back I noticed that sales of the e-book versions of So Dark the Night and Of the Night had really flattened. No growth, which meant my best marketing device (word of mouth) wasn’t having much of an impact.
Then I came across a blog entry from a gal who had read the e-book of So Dark the Night and complained that its formatting was funky and created a number of annoying glitches. Not good news.
Not long afterward I learned about the ePub format, which supposedly renders text compatible with most tablets and reading devices. So I contacted my chum Daniel at Scribe Freelance and had him whip up ePub versions of both my “Ilium” novels and dispatched them to Lightning Source, instructing them to replace the old files with this latest batch. Now we’ll wait and see if this helps re-ignite sales.
I admit (eyes cast down) I’m a very poor self-promoter. As a publisher, I complain bitterly but as an author I won’t be moved. I leave it up to readers to discover my work and I’m absolutely convinced that once they do, they become fans for life. And only too happy to spread the word about this whacked out Canuck writer who defies all conventions, tackles every genre and has carved a different path for himself, independent of the mainstream.
I’ve sent out some review copies of The Last Hunt to some western-themed magazines but, honestly, does anyone read book reviews any more? In those few publications that still deign to leave some space for something as retrograde and uncool as books…
It can be disheartening. How do you draw attention to one particular title when the media is flooded with thousands of new releases (books, e-books, CDs, DVDs, games) every day? You begin to feel like a tiny, insignificant figure lost amidst all the others in one of those Where’s Waldo? books.
On the other hand, this tiny press has been responsible for some pretty fine books over the past twenty (+) years and my readership is growing, albeit very, very slowly. My wife reminds me that I’m always been a late bloomer…let’s just hope it’s not too late. At some point, I’d like to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Instead of getting pelted with them.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to make the “Grand Tour”—see all the great capitals of Europe, capping things off with a long-anticipated visit to Thermopylae.
But will it ever happen? Will my workaholic nature and bouts of agoraphobia allow such a scenario? I’m dubious.
If nothing else, it’s a helpful, distracting fantasy.
A possibility, however remote, that some day all this craziness will lead to better, happier times.
A golden age, yet to come.
The show starts promptly at 7:30. (Here are the details.)
Yeah, I said “show”. Because readings are public performances and I do my level best to make them as interesting and entertaining as I can. The best I’ve ever seen was Timothy Findley; man, could that guy read. And, natch, Tiff had a background in live theater. He knew how to turn it up a notch.
Others…not so much. I was at a reading once (no names!) featuring an award-winning poet, an icon of Canadian verse…and it was so appalling, so utterly fake and ridiculous, that it was all I could do to keep from shrieking with laughter. Cripes, he was funny. My wife kept trying to catch my eye but I refused to look at her, knowing we’d lose it and make a spectacle of ourselves. Little beads of sweat trickled down my temples as I fought to keep my composure.
He’d speak in this silly, affected voice, dragging out certain words: “The wind…moved through…the grassssss…”
Hee hee. Still makes me chuckle. What an arsehole.
I gave a reading on Baffin Island, sharing the bill with another writer who read so long that the candles in the wine bottles burned down and fell to the glass bottoms, extinguishing themselves. The room getting darker and darker as more and more of the stubs dropped. Pshh. Pshh. Pssh.
About seventeen years ago, I made the mistake of agreeing to read in a bar in Ottawa. The regulars tuned in for about the first six or eight minutes but then the noise level began to rise and I started frantically cutting passages as I read, rushing to finish the performance as quickly as I could. Anyone who was listening (probably damn few of them) would’ve found the narrative completely incoherent.
There won’t be any horror stories tomorrow night at McNally-Robinson. Nossir. I’m well prepped and I’m reading some of the most exciting passages from my supernatural thrillers, So Dark the Night and Of the Night. Anyone who shows up is gonna enjoy themselves, guar-an-teed; they sure as hell won’t be bored.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my rehearsing…
This question has been much on my mind for the past while. I’ve been accused of being an “elitist” and what have you because I insist that if you write for the purpose of making money, seeking fame and fortune, you are little more than a whore. I have also been pretty clear that I have no interest in pursuing some big, fat publishing contract, nor do I give a tinker’s damn whether you’ve won a Hugo, an Edgar or the fucking Nobel Prize for that matter. Baubles and trinkets. Bullion and bullshit.
Kids, I’ve been offered the chance to write franchise novels (“Star Wars” or “Star Trek”) and told the agent involved to shove it. As far as I’m concerned, you do something like that, “sharecrop” someone else’s universe, you are off the artistic roll call. (Thanks, Bill, couldn’t have said it better myself.)
I don’t go to conventions, suck up to editors, try to flog my work to them like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
I don’t shill myself by teaching writing workshops—such ventures help spread the abhorrent lie that good writers can be stamped out like fucking cookies. I’ve written about that in more detail here (the more delicate among you may have to avert your eyes at certain points in the essay).
Okay, so that’s what I don’t want…but what is my greatest aspiration as a writer?
To be the best. To push myself to the limit and produce work that breaks new ground, written in language so finely wrought it’s like reading through a score by one of the great classical musicians. Note perfect. I want to be held up there with the finest authors in the world and not be found wanting.
I have no interest in being average. A “decent” writer. Ugh. Better to be forgotten than instantly forgettable, which pretty much sums up most of the books being released these days.
Because I have chosen to go the indie route, I have automatically rendered my writing suspect in many people’s eyes. If I’m acting as my own publisher and printer that must mean my stuff is no good, rejected by mainstream places because it fails to meet their exalted standards. Which automatically begs the question: have you been in a book store recently, seen the kind of shit the traditional publishers are spewing out like a drunk’s partially digested lunch?
I expend an incredible amount of time and effort revising and polishing my work—my novel So Dark the Night took over three years to write (not including the research that preceded it). And I’m a full time writer. Imagine that. Day in and day out for 3+ years. (Shudder) But I knew I had a wonderful book, was confident that once it was finished and released, people would love it. And I was right.
But, again, because I’m not a self-promoter, I think I’ve hurt sales of both my novels. I even resisted sending out review copies, partially because I knew that no matter how good the books were, how professionally executed and bound, there would still be the stigma of the indie/self-published label. This despite a professional writing career spanning over 25 years, many publication credits, anthology appearances, critical raves. I haven’t sent copies to some of the famous authors I’m acquainted with, seeking their praise and approbation. There’s just something within me that balks at the notion. I want my books discovered, not read because of some kind of viral ad campaign.
So Dark the Night and Of the Night are superb literary efforts. They are sprinkled with genre elements (mystery, horror/dark fantasy) but they are intended for an intelligent, discerning mainstream audience. They have enormous cross-over appeal thanks to winning characters, snappy dialogue and homages to film noir, pulp fiction, and cult cinema and TV. Fans of Paul Auster, Jonathan Carroll, Nicholas Christopher, David Mitchell, Philip K. Dick and Jorge Luis Borges will find a lot to like in both novels.
What they won’t find is the kind of incompetent, derivative, semi-literate drivel that is prevalent both in the self-published world and, as I’ve just related, on the traditional publishing scene as well. You wanna read the next Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown or J.A. Konrath? I’m sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m a real writer, boys and girls, I seek to create ART. I want to destroy your preconceptions and offer you prose that is exciting, intoxicating and pitch perfect, right down to the placement of commas.
I want to be the best writer in the world.
There. I’ve said it.
It’s a pipe dream, of course, there’s no such thing. But for me, the bar is raised to the highest possible peg and I won’t lower my expectations for any market niche, slot on the bestseller list or dollar figure you can name. My literary heroes are men and women who slaved away tirelessly, selflessly, stubbornly, refusing to conform to the whims of agents, editors or readers. Iconoclasts and artisans, defending their work, their legacies, with the ferocity of pit bulls. Facing penury, enduring lives of desperation, anonymity, pain and hopelessness, yet never forsaking their vision or abandoning their ideals.
With role models like that, it’s impossible to even entertain the possibility of selling out.
My idols would never forgive me.
The date: Wednesday, October 12th
The time: 7:30 p.m.
Alicia Horner, the affable and hard-working Events Coordinator at McNally Robinson, has put together a promo page which provides all the relevant details.
Copies of both books will be available for purchase and, natch, I’ll be happy to sign them for you.
Don’t get to do stuff like this often enough and I miss it. My readings are very performance oriented (so to speak); I hate a boring author/reader and feel a genuine sense of accomplishment when I’ve entertained a live crowd and won over some new fans. Always seem to find a receptive audience whenever I read in Saskatoon—yet another reason why that city figures prominently on the list of my favorite places on Earth.
Jot “October 12th” down on your calendar (see how much advance notice I’m giving you?) and, if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by and hang out with us for awhile. And, afterward, browse the store, buy some books, keep the sputtering flame of literacy alive.
Hope to see you in October and I look forward to introducing you to a couple of terrific page-turners.