FULL BLEED: DANCE WITH ME
Wow, where to begin. Where even to start up.
What's it been? Six months? More? Probably more. (It's fewer. I posted a couple times after my Twitter account got nuked for about six weeks at the end of the year.) I know. I'm letting everyone down by not keeping up a regular flow of that Good Free Content. Regular infusions. Endless now. Smash that like and subscribe. That's how the algorithm goes around. That's how you land those tiny piles of mils.
When last I wrote, I was pretty sure that I was going to have a book called _My Drowning Chorus_ coming out this year. Now I'm pretty sure it's not going to be that title. I'm less sure if it's even coming out. That's something that's gonna get settled next week one way or another. But I'm bracing myself for the reality that I'll have to do it myself. I have not been given any indication to think that this will *not* happen. And in the absence of positive evidence, well, you gotta plan.
And that's a bummer.
I suppose before I go on, I need to make it clear to each and every one of you reading that books don't exist without having been read. Sure. There's an electronic file that you can point to, or if you're privileged enough, a physical object made of paper bound together between two covers. Super-privileged and you get the deluxe hardback treatment. Now, privileged you might be, but you are probably not getting rich off that. And, for the record, my work under my name has appeared in I think three, maybe four books that have hard covers. I'm a big deal. Couple of those I was even paid for.
So, there's the physical object of a book. And that's nice. Looks good on a shelf (or not so nice - there's a lot of not-great design out there.) You can pick it up and feel good that yes, you exist. You're real, as a writer. Validation.
But the real book, the real work, is what happens when a reader engages with the work and that makes stuff happen in their head and their heart. That's the actual magic. The writer has created, wow, this is gonna sound clinical, prompts or instructions or designs for an experience to be co-created by themselves and the persons who read the book. Look, it's just math. Sure, there's one abstract and ineffable text out there in the universe. And it's incomplete unless it's been experienced by the reader. Which, of course, leads to a multitude of reads of any given text, a panoply of books from the one. Sure, there's going to be a sense of congruence in the whole of them. At least one would hope that.
But all the interpretations and experiences of a single book be the same thing? That there's only one right way to read that book? I'm sure there's one that the writer intended (if they were indeed in absolute control of everything coming through them, which I suspect is not the case and I know for a certainty it is not the case for me.) I have a plan of what I'm steering things towards but sometimes things happen along the way or it turns out what I was writing about wasn't really what I was writing about.
Or... People never pick up on that and instead pick up on something equally or even more interesting, even if unintended.
Or maybe the whole gets through, but tone is read differently (I can't say "wrong" except in the case of obvious bad-faith reads like "The Empire was the good guys!").
The book is the experience of reading the book. An unread book is a dead thing. Or maybe it's a seed and it can grow into something with time, but even that metaphor falls flat. It's incomplete. It's unfinished. And it will stay that way until it's picked up and becomes the basis for an experience, no matter what level that experience takes place at, whether it's engagement with the plot or the structure or the imagery or the word choice or a combination of all those things (but generally plot and its implications is the level that readers work at, oftentimes because they've been trained to. This is another blog entry or five, though.)
So what is it to write a book that doesn't get read? What is it to shape, for half a year or more, a thing that simply is itself. Yes, the writer has to get some level of satisfaction out of the writing of the book. And there is some, even for a hopelessly broken (or as I almost wrote "borked) writer like myself. Sure, you've written the book. You're satisfied with what it is. You have made the thing. But the thing is itself an incompleteness. Until it's read.
I know. The author themselves can read the book, but I'm going to argue that this doesn't really count. You may choose to differ in that opinion. That said, when I'm writing a book (aside from the WFH books I've done and more on that later) it's the kind of thing that I'd like to see happening out in the world. Usually that means a stubborn refusal to adhere to genre limitations, or a unique setting (okay, 80s LA is not unique, but it's one I love), or whatever concerns you want to see addressed (magic, language, crime and the interrelation of all those; also depression, self-alienation, the weight of history and the importance of being comfortable in your own skin, which I am not but I can pretend.)
So back in 1991, I wrote my first novel (eventually released by myself under the title _Black Trace_ - look it up on Amazon in paperback now) with the stone belief that someone would pick it up and publish it. That I had something to say worth saying or at least in an interesting enough way to hide the fact that I didn't have much to say. That delusion sustained me through writing it for most of that year. Of course, it was never picked up. Nor was the one after that in 1994 or so. Nor were the short stories that I wrote around that time and later on. Nor the graphic novel series that I wrote and paid for and edited and laid out and right to the back of the catalog with all the other indie books.
At least the comics got read. And yeah, I did work for hire that never came out under my own name and honestly, I was brought on do to A. Then the publisher decided they wanted more G, which is not my strength, nor could I fake it. So that was suboptimal, though it paid well for a time. And got a few of my unchanged sentences out in hardback. I still see 'em in used bookstores and get a funny twinge about that whole period. No, I don't have them on my shelves in my office. They're not my work.
Anyways, back to the now. What is it to write and self-publish in the time of the Howling Pit and know that the book is going to maybe connect with a handful of people if you're lucky. Maybe more if you want to burn up any potential profits in it with advertising. What is it to cast incomplete pieces out into the world in the hopes that they connect.
Now, it's not entirely that bleak. But it's not far off. For instance, I know that my latest novel (written a couple years ago now) was read and enjoyed by a couple writers who I have a great deal of respect for (and have even put their names to that.) That is a source of great personal satisfaction. A veritable load of coals in a horn still kept burning in the cold night and please tell me you got that reference otherwise you're missing out. That feeling, however, is still incomplete. And honestly, I was very lucky in that I could approach these writers as an actual, literal nobody, and get a positive reaction from them. Not everyone will have that. And I suppose I should use that as fuel to keep me going. Even then it's tough.
I'm reminded that the opposite of love isn't hate but indifference. Or have we decided that this is a basic opinion to hold? I can't keep up. The Discourse keeps changing. And indifference is a killer. Why do you think cosmic horror is made of indifference. Oh, it's really about humans being consumed by systems that they can't hope to comprehend and the systems themselves are utterly indifferent to what they do. The Blind Idiot God is the most appalling and horrifying plot device because it doesn't do the one thing that humans do, which is to care about anything.
So here we are on the outside, without publishing deals, without marketing teams, having to do it all ourselves. And we get to watch as opportunities for publicity are systematically bought out (or we are welcomed with hands open requesting we pay advertising budgets). We get told that if only we hustled right, we'd have publishing deals (and, honestly, those are not what they used to be -- thanks Howling Pit!). I know, for instance, that the deal I'm currently involved with (and that may itself be ending shortly) is not paying any bills. But it was a publishing deal, which itself gave the veneer of respectability and yes, it's safe to cover this book because it's not self-published dross. Please do not tell me that self-publishing is accepted and welcomed in genre. It is largely tolerated and not celebrated. Sure, an author can make a *giant mountain* of money via Kickstarter. If they were immensely popular to begin with.
I'm no longer sure where I'm going with this. That sentence is true on at least a couple of levels. Maybe even more than that.
So, yeah, still trying to exist in a world that is largely indifferent to it. Yes, there's exceptions. Yes, my books have been read by a literal handful of readers, they get to grown and breathe that much. And yes, the world of the last few years has been absolutely crushing to everyone in it. I'm far from alone in that. I see it every day amongst friends and acquaintances who are out there in the trenches and trying to make things work while the world does its level best to grind away and not care.
It's funny. The last couple books I worked on (one a novel and one a set of linked short stories, which yes are actually linked, just some more tenuous than others), I pretty much powered through. Consistent. I got up and 4-5 days a week, I was right at the computer. No doubts. Some days were better than others, obviously, but I was able to work right through these, surprises still popping up and changing the stories and that's okay. Roll with those.
I was able to work on these because I knew, knew, that they were gonna get read. They were going to get released by someone not me and that was at least a place to work from. They weren't simply going to be shot off into the Howling Pit. They'd get read. Maybe not by a lot of people. But some.
Now I ain't so sure. It's entirely likely that I'm back to square one.
Oh sure, get another publisher. You've looked at publishers lately, right? They all line up real square in those genre gates. They have to. I can't blame them for that. Whereas I can tell you for sure that the last books I wrote are tangentially horror, certainly fantastic. Probably not upmarket (hat tip to Silvia Moreno-Garcia for reminding me that that portmanteau even exists and is a way to just create another mode, not a genre. Just like YA and triumphalist are modes, not genres. Deal.) The books are what they are. Not easily categorized, for sure. I believe the weird is beautiful, not necessarily horrible. It's not a dominant mode. Nor is it urban fantasy.
And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it won't be back to self-publishing and packing books to sell by hand at shows, assuming shows are a thing that will be happening again. Hell, at least in comics there was a single distributor to sell to, well, at least there was once.
Anyways, it's frustrating. It's not easy. And there are days I wonder if it's worth doing. There's been a chain of those. I suppose that part of it won't ever stop.
Fingers crossed for at least knowing which direction I'll be going after next week.