Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Visit from the Pulitzer Squad

I had a friend back when I worked in Seattle who set himself a goal of reading every Pulitzer Prize winning novel. This was in the late '90s, so he would have had 75-80 titles to work through at that point. The list is much longer now. Combing through it, I can't imagine how long it would take me to catch up to my buddy, even if he quit halfway through.

I have read a stunningly low total of 4 Pulitzer winners. And at least 3 of those were by sheer coincidence. Here's the list:
  • The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1953)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1981)
  • Empire Falls, Richard Russo (2002)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan (2011)
I bought The Late George Apley (1938) at a used book store about 15 years ago, but I don't think I ever made it very far. If I did, it made no impression. I don't remember any of it, so I won't take credit for having read it. So, 4 Pulitzer winners. Pretty weak.

A Confederacy of Dunces is my favorite book, ever. I've read it 3-4 times, and I'm probably due to give it another read. It's hilarious, and the kind of book I read and know I'll never ever come close to matching, quality wise. And I'm fine with that. It's brilliant. We're not all brilliant. Then again, we're not all troubled, either. John Kennedy Toole killed himself long before his book won the Pulitzer.

If I figured every Pulitzer would bring me as much joy as Dunces, I'd read them all. Empire Falls was somewhere a peg or two below it for me. I like Russo, but I enjoyed Nobody's Fool more than Empire Falls, and it didn't win. I also liked The Old Man and the Sea, which I read back in my Hemingway phase. Not a fun story, but well written and there was a fish and an old man, and I really couldn't tell you much more it's been so long.

This is all kind of a long way of saying I finished A Visit from the Goon Squad this week, and ... eh, not sure I get the Pulitzer here. Actually, I think I do, and I think this is the main reason I don't add many recent Pulitzer winners to my to-read list. I wonder if they value experimentation a little too much. Because to me, Goon Squad felt a little gimmicky, if that's the right word. It was all over the place, with different chapters about different people from wildly different points in time. There was one chapter done up like a Power Point presentation (which, from some reviews I read on Amazon, didn't go over big with people who read it on an e-reader). By the time I got to the end I still didn't know who the main character was. Or why I should care about most of them. It's not that the writing was poor. It was really well done, if you take a tree by tree view of it. It's when you back out to see the forest that the whole things falls apart. For me, anyway. I want to latch on to a character when I read a book, root for them, feel for them. That's really hard to do if I don't know who they are.

So, while I won't avoid books just because they won a Pulitzer, I'm not in any hurry to hunt down recent winners and pile them on my nightstand. Even if it might make my reading resume sound a little more impressive.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

At play in the dusty corners of my brain

There's a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry rips George for his obsession with books, in particular some he lent to an ex-girlfriend, which he enlists Jerry to reclaim so as to avoid getting sucked back into the relationship. "Books, books, I need my books," he mocks, then makes a crack about how the ending of Moby Dick changes if you read it a second time.

I'm a re-reader. When we finished off our basement, we made one room a library, with floor-to-ceiling shelves, to hold mostly my books. Every so often, I pick something off the shelf and give it a second (or third, or fourth) read. And when it's been long enough between reads, it's almost like the ending changes. Maybe not quite like Seinfeld implies (Ahab and the whale don't ever become good friends), but the story I remembered doesn't always jibe with the one I'm reading.

I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through At Play in the Fields of the Lord, by Peter Matthiessen. I bought it in a used book shop shortly after moving to Rochester in 2001, and read it sometime not long after that. I remembered the characters, generally, and the setting, generally, and the plot, generally, but, man, so much of it has seeped out of my brain over the past decade and a half. Like I forgot Billy Quarrier died halfway through, even to the point I was rooting for him not too, because he's just a kid and I hate it when kids die, even in books. I forgot how far Wolfie fell after Lewis Moon ran away (though I still picture him in my head as looking like Leo from That 70s Show, which I remember doing the first time). And with 110 pages to go, I can't remember how it ends. It's like reading it for the first time. Though somehow I don't think they're all going to wind up friends at the end.

I need to get to the end so I can get back to writing, which is why I started back in on At Play in the first place. I needed a semi-controversial--but not cliche--novel for the book club within my story. When I hit the book shelf I was set back by how little I remembered of any of the books that seemed to fit the bill. Even The Sun Also Rises, which I've probably read 4 times, starting in American Lit back in college, had a lot of holes for me. Then again, I'm not sure how well I remember the books I've written myself. After being so completely immersed in them throughout the writing and editing process, I have to set them aside once the next one begins. It's not often I have the time to pick them back up. At least I still remember the endings.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Opting out of KDP Select

It's been 4 1/2 years since I first released The Greatest Show on Dirt. A lot has changed since then. While I just missed the days when indy authors were riding free promos up the Amazon rankings, I saw some steady sales figures that first year, with relatively little promotional effort on my part. I went off and on between exclusivity with Amazon and branching out to other ebook retailers, before eventually settling on an Amazon-only approach about 2 years ago.

The tradeoff was worth it for me, because I never seemed to gain any traction at B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc. The little revenue that had ever trickled in from those sites was more than offset by the money I earned from borrows via Amazon's KDP Select program. And when that started to slow, I was able to push it back up with Amazon's pay-per-click ads, which paid for themselves once I found the right price point.

But over the past few months, those have flattened as well. And I've decided to give the other ebook retailers another crack. Effective immediately, my first two books will no longer be exclusive to Amazon. Both The Greatest Show on Dirt and Nine Bucks a Pound are already available on B&N, and I'm working to get them live on other sites as well. In time, I may go the same direction with Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed as well, though for the moment that still seems to be faring okay in KDP Select.

Publishing is a game where you need to be flexible and willing to try something different, just to see what happens. It's time for me to experiment. We'll see how this goes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The First World Problems of Jason Gunter

It's been 15 months since Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed was released, back in May 2015. It could be another year until my next book comes out. What in the heck have I been doing all this time?

Well, after a series of false starts, I finally found the right story last December. The First World Problems of Jason Gunter (working title, always subject to change) is the tale of a young man who has been waiting nearly 16 years now for his parents to grow up. While his dad loses his paycheck one ante at a time and his mom cruises the happy hour scene, Jason haunts Seattle's coffee joints and independent cinemas with his best friend and fellow intellectual Drew. The often hilarious accounts of his ill-matched odd jobs, summer fling, and the mysterious and exotic new neighbor lady are detailed in emails to Drew and others. This will be one summer Jason will never forget--try as he might.

The first draft was finished earlier this summer. There are still several rounds of buffing and polishing to go, but that isn't the real holdup. No, the delay is the next book. The sequel. I'm actually envisioning a trilogy eventually and would like to have at least two ready to go before releasing any of them. And considering I'm only a few days into the second one, it's a long road ahead. Early days.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

New blog, new name, same price

Okay, so here we are, on yet another blog. Why? Well, since you asked, it boils down essentially to two things: cost and spam. My existing (since 2011) site, has become one of the most prolific spam magnets ever to fall between the cross hairs of bored Russian hackers. The comments require much more regular cleansing than I care to monitor. And the cost, well, let's just say there's something darn attractive about a Google blog. (For me; for you, the price is the same as always, just whatever you value your time at.) Actually, let's make that two darn attractive things. I think they're easier to maintain than WordPress blogs. Maybe that's on me for not investing the time to become a blog wizard. But that's kind of the point, innit? I don't want to invest that kind of time. I just want the damn thing to hurl words out into space. I don't want to deal with the rest of it. And I used to hand code the HTML and XML for my sites myself. Can't be bothered anymore. Not if I'm actually ever to finish my next book.

Second question on your mind. I can read it. I know. "What does Loose Vowel Movements mean?" Well, if you'd carefully read my second book, you'd know it was the name of Milo's band, back in the day. And I figured it kind of fit a blog as well as a band, because both songs and blog posts essentially break down to loose vowel movements, the churning of language, i.e., a word dump. Plus, was already taken, so I had to get clever, and that's about as clever as I get. So there you have it.