Here We Go Again…

One of the problems with reading about the addictions of your heroes is that you stand a very good chance of getting infected yourself.  For instance, you might read a memoir by a guy who got a little too obsessed with consuming movies and come away with a whole list of movies you feel compelled to see.

My psychic burden from reading Silver Screen Fiend doesn’t appear to be too bad, at least at the outset, I don’t think.  I’m reading Clark Ashton Smith, one of those authors I knew in my gut I should read but assumed would be dripping with that 19th century purple prose I find so taxing.  That’s not too far off the mark, his prose is far more dense than what we think of as the modern style, but it’s actually kind of beautiful.

The first story was so lyrical — I’m listening to the audio book — that I thought it was a poem placed in the forward for purely thematic purposes.

I have to be honest about something here before we go any further.  I’ve always been a big fan of H. P. Lovecraft — in theory.  I love his stories and his ideas, but his writing has always been a little too wooden for my taste.  That’s what I was expecting from Smith.

That’s not what I got.  Instead, I find myself jotting down phrases and similes that are startling in their clarity.

Note: I do this because I live in constant terror I’m going to subconsciously plagiarise something I’ve read.  So whenever I come up with a really good line, I check my notes to make sure I didn’t rip it off.

I also jot them down because I want to be able to enjoy them on their own merit.  Here’s one I took note of from Oswalt’s book: He was someone who left a noxious fragment behind that led others to evil.   That’s something that would fit perfectly into the novel I’m working on so having it on hand both urges me to do better, to reach a little further, and keeps me honest.

IP theft is not a joke.  It’s poison to your career and it kills your legacy.  Let’s face it, no one not currently trying to roofie a coed wants to be Dane Cook.  And speaking of Dane Cook it’s probably time I explained what all the hubbub is about with that guy.  Or maybe not.  This post is going to be long even without a proper excoriation of the alleged joke thief.  So let’s just push it to another day.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

The other tenebrous hook Oswalt’s book sunk into my pasty, willing flesh was a movie called I Wake Up Screaming.  The title hints at something Karloff might have done during his heyday, one of the overlooked gems like The Devil Commands — which I just obsessively added to my Netflix queue and pushed to the top because now that I’ve thought of it, I have to see it again — but it’s actually a film noir starring Victor Mature who turns out to be a much better actor than I remember.

The problem: I went through a film noir addiction ten years ago when I settled down to write The Vengeance Season.  The idea was that if I was going to get into that mindspace, I would need to truly submerge myself in the era and the zeitgeist and film noir seemed like the best sensory deprivation tank for the job.

I got around to seeing all the classics — The Killers, Criss Cross, Out of the Past (who knew that the 1984 movie I loved so much at the time, Against All Odds, was a remake of this classic noir that was even better?  Not me until I finally saw it), Touch of Evil (which I don’t think really counts as a Noir), Night and the City, The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity… okay, so the list is too long to enumerate here so let’s just take it as read that I watched all of them multiple times with and without the commentary track.

Except for I Wake Up Screaming which is one of the best. In and of itself, it’s a strange thing, but however off kilter it feels, it works just the same.  It’s like two movie productions got together to make two different movies, one a romantic comedy with Betty Grable and the other a gritty murder mystery with Victor Mature.  You wouldn’t think the result would be anything more than an odd mishmash but it actually comes out as a super hybrid that succeeds on both sides.

Plus, Laird Cregar.  If you don’t know that name, go watch this movie now and then listen to the commentary.  Nuff said.

But the existence of I Wake Up Screaming raises a terrible, almost unbearable question for an obsessive completist: If this one is out there and I didn’t know about it, what others have I missed?

So now I’m quietly filling up my Netflix queue with titles off of Best Noir lists even though I have given up crime writing and no longer have a reason to see these movies.  Except that they’re, you know, great.

Oh, look, here’s one with Bogart.  In A Lonely Place.  I’ll give that one a try.  It sounds fun.

See you guys in… a… while, I guess?  I’m going to be kind of busy for the foreseeable future.

Here’s another one with Bogart: They Drive By Night.  Into the queue it goes.

How long could it possibly take to see every movie in the film noir category and jot down every quotable line in the script?  Cool, here’s one from I Wake Up Screaming: I’ll follow you into your grave. I’ll write my name on your tombstone.

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

 

 

Me vs. Change – Round Three

As I’ve probably said before (I’m too lazy to look it up), the publishing industry has changed mightily since I got my first publishing contract in 1979.  Back then, editors were editors and you didn’t have an agent until you wrote a best seller.  Along the way, the editors started letting agents man the front lines of over-the-transom submissions. 

Bill Thompson, my first editor, didn’t offer me a contract because my novel was flawless.  He did it because he saw some talent in me, something he felt he could work with over time to produce a solid writer.  Had I had another book in me when Bill asked for it over thirty years ago, my life would have undoubtedly turned out completely differently. 

Had I sent in that early draft of Sending Down the Fare in today’s publishing climate, I would never have even heard back from the agents.  Not that it’s their fault.  The internet has increased the volume of submissions to floodgate levels.  No one in the business can afford to spend any appreciable time on work that isn’t, basically, ready for the printer. 

But at the same time, more than half the books published by physical publishing houses go on to sell less than a thousand copies. 

We all know that the industry is changing again.  We just aren’t really sure how.  We know it has something to do with the internet but we’re not entirely sure what.  Oh, and eBooks.  But what about them? 

The reason I’m back to puzzling over this issue is that I discovered B. V. Larson over the weekend.  I’m not really even sure how I found him.  I was looking for a new book to listen to and I just sort of came across him in the Science Fiction section of Audible.com. 

I always want to know about an author before I commit to reading his work, so I found his site and started reading.  He had been writing novels for ten years with zero to show for it when he tried just putting everything on Nook and Kindle.  After a decade of rejections from agents, he puts all his books online and in three years, he has moved over 250,000 copies. 

Now, this is impressive but whenever I see an author who puts out 36 books in three years, I get suspicious.  I bought the first book of his first series, Swarm, and fired it up on my phone.  Not only is not badly written, it’s actually very well written – certainly better than the little bit of Breaking Dawn I was able to get through.  It’s face paced, literate and fun science fiction. 

Yes, he has put out a lot of books in a short period, but the truth is that half of those books were written over the previous ten years.  No mistaking it, though, the guy is a machine.  It appears he’s written over fifteen books across three genres in the last three years.  What is that?  A book every two or three months?  For me, that would mean publishing partial first drafts.  But, you know what?  Legend has it that Harlan Ellison does everything in one draft.  So who knows?

Anyway, all this new information got me wondering where I went wrong with my detective novels.  I’ve moved just under a thousand units of all four books combined.  Five star reviews and quite a few readers of The Vengeance Season go on to buy all my other books, but the spark failed to catch.  Where is my sales report saying I moved 250,000 copies over the last 36 months?

I can tell you where: in my flawed plan of execution.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I’ve come up with a list of mistakes that I’m about to try to rectify.

1) Wrong genre.  Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (truthfully, all sub-genres of Fantasy) are far more likely to get gobbled up in eBook form than detective novels.  The demographics of who is buying books in those two genres make it pretty obvious why.

2) Not enough content.  I put out The Vengeance Season and the other three books and then ran a huge promotion that moved 750 copies.  Then nothing.  Why?  Because what I should have done was write all five volumes of the Roy Doyle series, put them all out at the same time and then run a huge promotion on the first volume to drive purchases of the other volumes.  eBook readers, especially science fiction/fantasy readers, aren’t will to commit to volume one of a series until they know volume five has already been written.

3) Bad attitude.  I still, in the back of my mind, have the same opinion of Kindle and Nook publishing that I got from the vanity press self-publishing industry from back in pre-internet days.  Vanity press books were for deluded wannabe writers with no grasp of grammar, plot, characterization or dialogue.  They had to self-publish for a reason.  They stunk.  But we’re seeing something different now with eBook publishing.  Agents and publishing houses are using sales in the electronic market to weed out the weak for them.  They just watch the numbers and then send out offers to whoever is moving units.  It makes sense.

My attitude was very half-hearted when I went out with detective novels.  I didn’t see it as an avenue to reaching readers so much as a place to dump novels I hadn’t been able to get New York interested in. 

I also took my time.  If you read this blog at all, you know that I routinely take three years to get to the final draft of a novel.  That’s not acting like a working writer.  That’s acting like an amateur with all the time in the world to pursue his hobby.  Even though I write every day and I produce a ton of material, the pipeline is still three years long.

What am I going to do about it?  I’m not entirely sure yet, but a plan is coming and you will be the first to hear it.

Ding!

Thinking is weird.  I have done it for a living for the last thirty years but it’s still weird to me.  There’s just something indolent seeming about sitting at your desk and staring off into space.  Especially when you’re not being very productive.  I’ve developed a nervous habit of typing notes periodically while I think just to provide external signs of life.

The reason I’m thinking so much today is that I had an epiphany at two o’clock this morning – one of those loud ones that wakes you up with the answers to everything that’s been troubling you about the latest draft – and I now know what I’m going to do with the next draft of the fantasy novel I put aside a few months ago.  In the sense that I know the direction and basic plot changes and the ending.  I still have to write it.

And that’s what I’m thinking about today.  All day.  Over breakfast.  Walking the dog.  Going to the grocery store.  Down to get the mail.  While I’m typing this sentence.  I’m just so drenched in all this possibility that my forebrain processes are dragging down the rest of my mental capacity.  As a result, I’ve been traveling through my day far slower and far more deliberately than I usually do.  I didn’t even drive like a maniac on the way to the store.

This isn’t a page one rewrite, exactly.  It’s more like a page 100 rewrite, but more importantly, it’s not a blank canvas.  It’s a coloring book outline with a large empty space in the middle for connect-the-dots.  This will be the fifth and final draft of the fantasy novel.  All else after this will be polishing and editing.  It’s been a long journey, going on two years now with another six months to go, but I feel like the tumbler has finally exposed a gem.