Dog and Cat

When I was 18 years old, I declared my college major even before I’d set foot in the first class. A lot of students hold off–and I knew many of my friends were–but at the time, there was only one thing I wanted to do with my life:

Be a doctor.

Looking back, I don’t know where the inspiration came from. I used to attribute it to having watched my grandfather lose a battle with prostate cancer when I was four years old, but I’m not so sure. It certainly sounds like a good story though, doesn’t it? Maybe even then I was telling them.

“Be a doctor” was what I told everyone I wanted to be when I grew up. Maybe I thought the question was more than just a thought experiment, and becoming a doctor was less about luck than, say, become a ball player or a firefighter–or even a writer. Becoming a doctor is one of those rare professions wherein you put in the time, dedication, and effort, and you emerge as what you set out to be. There’s no guarantee taking acting classes will make you a movie star (perhaps far from it); there’s no guarantee excelling on the college field is going to get you to the big leagues; there’s no guarantee that going to one of the most prestigious universities in the world to study the craft of writing is going to get you a publication contract with a giant conglomerate (trust me on that one).

But you go to college to study some science or other–often biology, which usually also requires semesters of chemistry (both general and organic), physics, and basic anatomy and physiology–and then you take the MCATs and go to medical school, and four years after that, you’ll be a doctor.

Well. A resident. Or a doctor. To be honest, I’m not sure how it all works. I never got that far.

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This week, two publishing deals made big news, each for very different reasons.

Early this week, in an interview with Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler revealed he’d declined a six-figure deal from a major publisher. Instead, he will publish his books independently, on Kindle.

On the other end of the spectrum, Amanda Hocking scored a seven-figure deal with Saint Martin’s Press. Hocking made a well-recognized name for herself by publishing low-priced Kindle-exclusive novellas and novels. Recently, she’s mostly known for having sold more than one hundred thousand books in January, which isn’t surprising given that she published eleven books since, like, April of last year.

I’m sure many of them were in a trunk somewhere, and she didn’t write them all in eight months.

Actually, considering their quality, I’m not sure of that.

This particular pair of writers has created a total binary in terms of discussion with regard to so-called “self-publishing.” It’s an easy black and white to paint.

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Finishing my MBA at Regis University.

Regis splits semesters into two eight-week sessions, and this year, this Spring 2011, my first eight-week session was devoted to what they call the capstone, and which is actually titled Strategies in Global Environments. So the reason I disappeared was that, for the past eight weeks, I’ve been part of a five-student team acting as consultants, in a simulation, running an athletic apparel company called Mercury International.

Given that it’s a simulation, the whole experience has been rather like one long, turn-based RPG videogame. Well. I think that’s what it’s like. I tend to prefer third-person, plot-drive shooters when it comes to videogames (inFamous ftw!), and this was nothing like that. It was divided into weekly rounds, and every week, we held a conference call during which we discussed and agreed on strategies going forward, based on previous results and future objectives.

I had a great team, and a great time. But I’d wanted to finish this strong, and I feel, now, like I have.

And now, just one more course to go. Product Management.

Product management is interesting from my side of things. I’m a writer, but if you think artists are selling art, well, at least in a digital context that becomes slightly problematic. Ross Pruden has an #infdist hashtag on Twitter that discusses Infinite Distribution, which is basically how creators can make a sustainable living from their creations in an age where information pretty much, at this point, demands to be free.

Of course, that’s not even to mention how many creators actually ever make a sustainable living, anyway. Stephen King and Jo Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, sure, but they’re modern-day exceptions. Shakespeare pretty much made a living as a real-estate agent when he wasn’t collecting money from some lord or other (to whom he may or may not have dedicated his sonnets).

Really, nowadays, with sites and Kindles and apps and independence, what writers are selling is more themselves. Which tends to be even more problematic from the self-promotion side of things (because no writer wants to be Tila Tequila).

Which I think is going to be helpful for me, in approaching this final course. For years, now, I’ve been trying to work out the kinks in what I’m doing, between MySpace and Facebook and Amazon Kindle and this site and Twitter and work and teaching and writing. I go back and forth in terms of how rewarding any one endeavor is, but there’s so little cohesion between everything. I look at authors who have nine different profiles across seventeen different sites, and all I want to do is take a nap.

And write.

So wish me luck. Hopefully, after I finish, I’ll have some better ideas, some better strategies, and some better writing for your better reading.

“Blues’n How to Play’em” is the second (other) of my stories from the Sparks collection I published with Simon Smithson that I’m now making available individually for anyone who missed that limited-edition collection.

It was one of the most challenging stories I’ve ever written for a couple of reasons, not least of which was that it’s written in a Blues-y patois.

I realized when writing about “Struck by the Light of the Son” that both it and “Blues’n How to Play’em” began their lives as two-page stories based on Janet Fitch’s writing prompts. I know that I wrote an early draft of “Struck by the Light of the Son” as a story for the “fret” prompt; I can no longer recall the word for which I handed in what later became “Blues’n How to Play’em.” I do remember that the prompt was just an excuse; I’d already started the story a couple of times.

Honestly, I no longer remember the inspiration for the story. I know I workshopped it a few times, both at USC and in one of the myriad writers’ groups I once-upon-a-time found and joined on MySpace.

Wow that seems like eons ago.

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I first started using Kindle on my phone, a Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile’s network, last summer while commuting into Manhattan every morning. I’d had the app on my iPhone but never used it; cellular displays just aren’t really meant for long-form reading, and I don’t really read much besides books. Usually novels, but lately more non-fiction, too. But it was much better to read my phone than to lug around a paperback everywhere I went, and I quickly discovered the convenience of using a device that built-in bookmarks every time you close a book.

Which is awesome. I love that. I never used to use bookmarks, anyway, but I always used to end up thinking I was on a page ten before the last one I’d actually read.

When Amazon announced the third generation Kindle, I knew I was going to buy it, because I knew I wanted to put Meets Girl on it. I also knew I was lusting after it.

I went sort of nuts downloading samples via Amazon (on the web. Because the device purchasing side of Kindle sucks), and was enjoying a lot of what I was reading. Neil Gaiman’s were among the first books I bought, and Amazon, knowing my predilection for Gaiman, suggested Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. So I downloaded the sample and began to read.

And the thing about the samples are: it takes about as long to read one as to commute. Long-form reading of books on a device blows. But reading samples is about the same as reading short stories, and reading samples is awesome.

I had picked up the book to browse (I think at the Strand, maybe?), but never gotten past the first couple of pages. Now, with the sample and a train ride, I had the better part of two.

And the better part of two was good. The better part of two were so convincing that I decided to make The Magicians the first novel I actually read on my Kindle.

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After several years in a will-they/wont-they purgatory, the digital revolution in publishing has finally become more a matter of when than if, where “when” seems to be 2010. Apple’s launch of the iPad–which featured five of the big six corporate publishers as partners and only ignored the sixth because someone within the company had outed the device the day before official launch–got the ball rolling and demonstrated that ebooks were not just a novel trend but rather new media for novels and all sorts of other forms of storytelling. In late August, Amazon’s third-generation Kindle, with its improved screen and form factor and its lower price, effectively killed the counterargument. The only thing left to really argue about is price.

But really, that’s fodder enough.

Since Apple got all those publishers on board and got its iBookstore rolling (or did it? Has anyone heard anything about the iBookstore? All I hear about are the devices–Kindles, nooks, iPads. Not so much about the stores), there’s been a debate about what’s a “good” price for ebooks. One common idea discussed when the iPad launched was the so-called “agency model,” which basically meant that publishers got to set their own price. Tech Eye mentions that this is in opposition to allowing, say, the vendor to decide the price. In other words, it’s the difference between, say, Harper setting the price of its books and Amazon doing so.

Publishers, of course, want high prices. This was why $10 ebooks were so common during the beginning of last year. Right after the iPad? Seems like publishers–corporate and otherwise–got a little high off the power of the partnership and suddenly decided that the right price for ebooks was between ten and fifteen bucks. The New York Times discussed the phenomenon.

To really get into the discussion, though, we have to consider factors regarding price. There are myriad.

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When Simon Smithson and I published Sparks, the deal as we had discussed it always included a 6-week clause. When Sparks did so well at the outset–flying up the Amazon rankings in multiple categories and hanging in as a “Hot New Release” over Christmas–we briefly discussed keeping it live longer, but ultimately decided against it.

I think it was the right decision for Sparks. The 6-week window introduced an element of scarcity it didn’t otherwise have.

Digital publishing, however, seems to favor what many businessfolk call the long tail and I like to call the long game, mainly because even though I (mostly) have an MBA, I still like to play.

Now, just a week or so ago, Amazon announced a new Kindle Singles program, which Wired hailed as a beacon to “save long-form journalism.” Basically, it’s Kindle-original content that’s longer than a magazine piece but “much shorter than a novel,” clocking between 5,000 and 40,000 words, it seems. According to Wired. According to that press release, the lengths hew to approximately that midpoint.

I liked the idea. When I first published Entrekin, I used Lulu to implement what I called the iTunes publishing model; the collection was available, but each individual story was available as a 99-cent PDF.

It was a rousing success. It sold way more copies than I’d ever expected. When I made the digital content free, the downloads skyrocketed.

And now that Sparks‘ time has passed, and now that Amazon has announced this Kindle Singles–which is pretty much exactly the model I implemented nearly four years ago–well, it felt rather natural to published both of my Sparks stories the same way.

So I’m going to, and I’m going to start with “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and I thought, hey, what a great opportunity to talk about it a bit.

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Pretty much every year for the past several, I’ve tended to get a note from a friend or loved one, right around Christmas, wishing me a happy one and asking if I’d seen all this information about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They’ve known how intent I’ve been to be a writer, you see, and they figure it sounds like a promising contest for a novelist who hasn’t yet gotten a huge break.

And they’re right. It does.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award tends to attract a big-name judge from one of the major corporate publishers–usually an editor or author (or both); a big-name judge from a prestigious literary agency; and a lot of aspiring writers. No, no: a lot. Of various degrees of ability, too: some are young, just starting out at the writing thing, just penning their first drafts of their first novels; others have been writing for years, and have completed multiple drafts of multiple novels that perhaps haven’t gotten them offers of representation (which are, as every rejection letter that ever was reminds, completely subjective, and based solely on the tastes of the agents reading them. Agents, for their part, are also generally quick to remind that they base their decisions neither on quality of writing nor perceived saleability but rather on whether they “fell in love with” the manuscript).

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (hereafter the ABNA) seems like a great idea, almost like an American Idol for books. Entrants submit their manuscripts, excerpts, pitches, synopses, and even a photo (if desired), and progress through multiple rounds of judging, some of which are merit based and others of which are popularity based.

This year, I thought about submitting Meets Girl. It’s gotten solid reviews across several venues, and the response has been positive. People seem to like it, for the most part, and even, like any good book, seem split on their reactions; some people think the opening drags before it gets to the story, while others have noted they loved the opening but sensed a shift of tone and execution later. The manuscript is obviously finished, and I’ve written a good enough pitch–though for a different project–it’s been a Galleycat finalist. And hey, new headshot!

The contest entry period for 2011 begins this coming Monday, January 24th.

But I’m not submitting my book. And I’ll tell you why.

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So, how about Monday’s final chapter of Meets Girl? With the kissing and all? I don’t think I’m spoiling too much if I tell you that chapter thirteen is actually “Kissing Veronica Sawyer,” because how could our young hero narrator resist rhapsodizing about said making out?

Of course, if you want to read it, you’ll have to pick it up here. It’s still only $2.99. I’m keeping it there for the time being. I figure anyone who buys it right now has been following along, and keeping it inexpensive is my way of saying thanks for keeping up.

At this point, it doesn’t look like I’ll be posting any more of the story online. I mean, I won’t rule it out, if someone asks to run an excerpt or something, but here and now I like the cliffhanger, and really, three bucks for the rest of the story–which is really picking up–is a total bargain.

Already, it’s been a solidly positive experience. Reviews are good: Shannon Yarbrough of The LL Book Review said “So it’s romance and fairy tales. But it’s magic and whimsy too. It’s a writer’s lament and a coming-of-age tale (for lack of a better cliché.) It’s experimentation and taking chances. It’s poetry and music. It’s love and art. Boy says so himself…”

Which I thought was great. I liked that Shannon called it a coming-of-age tale, because while the hero-narrator of the story is in his mid-twenties, he still seems pretty immature, for the most part, for most of the story.

And there is a solid chunk left. Somewhere around twenty thousand words.

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In which we skip ahead.

The astute among you will notice that we’re skipping chapter eleven (and the not-so-astute, of course, know it now). I debated how to convey the action that occurs therein, in fact—do I skip it without mentioning it? Do I include it and release all the tension?—and decided I was best off acknowledging the skip and noting the intention to return to it later, at which point I am reasonably certain that my reasons for skipping it will become clear. For that you will have to take my word.

For now to the following morning (so it’s not really a large jump, just a handful of hours), to my crummy apartment. I can’t quite explain why I suddenly want to block this scene like I would a movie, but I do, and so I’m going to, which means I’m going present-tense for a moment: no lights are on, but the sun shines through the windows and lights up the hardwood floor. The hard-drive on the XBOX360 spins next to the old, beat-up television in front of the slightly newer but no less beat-up couch (it was there when I moved in, but I assume somebody bought it fourth-hand if they didn’t simply pick it off the curb).

The doorbell rings.

Nothing moves besides that hard-drive, which continues to spin with a tiny electronic whir.

Cut to my bedroom. White walls and all, old bed. My sleeping form huddled beneath my Calvin Klein comforter.

The door bell rings again. Nothing continues to move.

I snore. When the doorbell rings a third time, I shift and pull the covers over my head, but the movement might be more subconscious than anything else.

Now: a quiet few seconds. Not too long, of course, because you can’t hold your movie audience hostage. That wouldn’t be nice at all. Just a beat.

Close on my cell phone as it rings, as its display lights up, but not close enough to see the caller ID.

I groan. Shift again. This time pulling the covers down. I reach for my phone, which I pull to my face and squint at, because I haven’t put on my glasses yet. And now you get to read the caller ID: VERONICA.

I drop the damned thing when I flip it open. I pat the comforter until my fingers find it, and then I pull it to my ear and croak into it. And not a real croak either: this is the croak of a deaf frog who’s never actually heard a croak and so can only produce a reasonable facsimile.

Now here’s a dilemma: do we want to stay inside, with me on the phone, and hear Veronica that way, or do we cut to the stoop of my apartment building, where she is even now standing, out there on a chilly Saturday morning? Movie-wise and drama-wise, it might be better to hold that revelation, but then again, given that her first words are, “Are you awake? Are you in bed? Can you get up and open your door?” it’s not like the dramatic tension would exist very long anyway. And yes, that’s what she said.

Which was the verbal equivalent of mainlining a double-shot espresso. Not that I know what that’s like, but I was trying to think of what would make a double-shot espresso more powerful than drinking it.

We can go back to past tense now, because I only wanted the movie thing for those moments I wasn’t actually awake (look, I told you at the start I was going to pull out every trick I knew, so you shouldn’t exactly be surprised if I make some up on the fly, should you? But hey, you trust me—

really? Why?

right?), because once I awoke, I can I stumbled out of bed, pulling on a pair of jeans I was even still buttoning as I padded across that same hardwood floor to the door of my apartment. Which I opened onto the little vestibule, then the lobby door, and finally the outer door of my apartment building, beyond which I found Veronica and her storm-black hair and her storm-blue eyes and her storm-grey coat. Or at least I was reasonably sure it was Veronica; I realized as I opened the door that I had left my glasses on my night table, so I started squinting like Mister Magoo, except with more hair.

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I’ve had my Kindle since September, and it’s one of the few electronics devices that, even several months later, I’m completely satisfied by. (That’s rare for me. Usually I fall in love with a new gadget for about a month before I start wanting something later and greater. See also: Vibrant, Nexus S, etc.) I’ve been positively hyperbolic in my praise, really, but I can’t stop using it, which means I can’t stop talking about it.

Right now, I’m reading Frank: The Voice, a biography of Sinatra. I like reading about Frank when he was my age, and it’s a good book, written by James Kaplan, who’s usually a novelist, apparently. Which I suppose helps the dramatic build of the story.

***

Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which is a major event in which myriad companies display what will hopefully become next-gen technologies. New 3D LED televisions. Better wireless speeds for networks like T-Mobile and Verizon. New phones from just about everyone, including Motorola, Samsung, and even a new iPhone to work on Verizon’s wireless network.

Electronic readers–ereaders–are becoming trendy in gadgets. The category used to be niche, with little selection, but basically Amazon’s Kindle changed that. Not right away, of course, but now that Kindle’s on its third generation and selling strongly, pretty much everyone is getting in on the action. Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sony’s been updating their line to match Amazon, and the devices are becoming more common. Apple’s iPad isn’t really in this category, though it can fulfill the functions of said category; as more companies release more tablet computers, we may see some decline in ereaders.

Which would be a shame. The nook color is in the same category as a Kindle–a dedicated digital reading device–and it’s got some impressive features, but it’s least good at the one thing it’s supposed to be for; it uses an LCD screen, and that sucks. One of the great features of the Kindle is its gorgeous screen, which uses e-ink for display.

Now, the Kindle doesn’t do any color whatsoever. And it’s merely adequate at pictures. And if you want to read a magazine, you’re probably better off, you know, buying a magazine.

But for reading books? It’s almost perfect.

Almost.

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In which certain things, which may or may not already have been obvious, are, if not revealed, at least made explicit

(the story so far)

where I found waiting for me a letter. The envelope addressed to me in my own writing.

Crash course: back when the events of this story took place time, aspiring writers would query their aspiring manuscripts (whose dreams are to be bound into real, honest-to-goodness books that will be shipped to real, honest-to-goodness bookstores, where they will be placed on real, honest-to-goodness shelves from which they will one lucky day by plucked by real, honest-to-goodness readers) to prospective agents by mail. As I record this at this very moment, many agents have switched to using e-mail, and who knows what tomorrow will bring (hopefully this very story will have something to do with whatever happens next)? The first time I wrote all this, nobody’d ever heard of Kindle or digital distribution.

Nowadays, I can read books on my Android-powered smartphone.

Back then, however, was different. Back then, writers had to use the good ole’ United States Postal Service to send literary agents query letters, and given that many agencies received hundreds, if not thousands, of queries every week, they simply couldn’t possibly keep up with the price of return postage, so writers had to include self-addressed stamped envelopes with their paper queries.

(Quicker crash: a literary agent acts on behalf of authors to negotiate publishing contracts with publishing houses.)
I mention all this so you understand why I was so excited to receive a letter addressed to me in my own handwriting; I’d included that very same envelope in the query I’d sent to Merrilee Heiftetz only a week or so before.

It may not be possible to open one of those letters calmly. Too many of us writers associate too much of our identity with our words and the possibility of the publication, and each new letter brings with it the blackjack rush of a gambling high: not the euphoria of winning but rather the uncertain glee of going all-in on a straight flush. That gut-clenching, icy feeling of knowing how much rides on the current hand.

Me, my hands have always shaken. Every time I have one of those moments—which don’t come often—I try to remain calm but never succeed. I know they shook, then, as I withdrew from the envelope a single, twice-folded sheet of high quality paper, thick and off-white. Fountain pen letter head, business address, and, below—

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Which is the one you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?

Because of course I got in touch with Angus. I mean, as much as I’ve built up his presence in this story? But first: I needed a job and had no idea what to do. I was lucky that my crummy Hoboken apartment was really just a room in the three-bedroom unit/ground floor of a house I shared with two other guys, which meant that my rent was ridiculous by most standards and positively ludicrous by those associated with Manhattan and its outer satellites. Still, I had a several hundred dollar rent bill due on the first of February, and while I had some money saved up, I’d still need a couple hundred besides.

I thought about calling my temp agency, Force One Entertainment, but decided to go to their office, instead; I liked everyone who worked there and was tired of spending time in my apartment. January might be cold, but walking in Manhattan tends to get one’s temperature up, and there are few more awesome places to be. So I took PATH up to Herald Square, where HMV gave way to the progress that is Victoria’s Secret, and headed uptown. Past glitzy-electronic shops with pocket calculator-sized laptops next to only slightly larger cell phones modified for web-surfing and e-mail receipt, because who needs a desk in the digital age? Up past Virgin Megastore, likely the last remaining on the entire island, then a few blocks East, to a building I only call non-descript because it was in the center of a Manhattan blockful of buildings nearly identical.

Elevator up to the fourth floor, with its two doors: directly opposite the elevator was the bookbinder, with a sweetsmell of glue and a sharper one of leather, then right to Force One.

I loved Force One, but didn’t often have occasion to visit their office, nor even to call it until very (then) recently; why would I, considering my long-term gig at the New Yorker? I got there in the middle of the afternoon, when it was full of both new graduates and the recently career-displaced, the former of whom wore, like their professional business attire, anxiety like puppies hoping for a treat. The latter tended to possess a more deliberate demeanor, their nerves less result of worry of not finding a job but rather the right job.

That first room looked as much like a doctor’s office as one associated with an employment agency: the same bad prints on the wall, the same particle-board furniture on which sat semi-recent Entertainment Weeklys and a few copies of the latest Village Voice, the same half-wall beyond which the receptionist, Joanne (Jo to her friends) sat at a desk to accept incoming candidates and juggle seven or eight different phone lines. I approached that half-wall, ready to greet Jo (who had become my friend shortly after I had broken up with my fiancée, when we went out for obligatory, post-break-up drinks), but I stopped up short and surprised.

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Seems like this week is always rather retrospective. Years in review, all that. Lots of sites running “Top Stories of 2010″ posts, as though what wouldn’t have been news again last week suddenly is solely by virtue of when it was news. It’s like the East Coast blizzard froze the whole world, which is stuck hoping for thaw to begin tomorrow.

I thought about doing some best-of posts. The decade-best lists are some of the most popular posts on this site. Yesterday, however, I glanced through a list of movies that came out in 2011 and found precisely two I thought were remarkable: How to Train Your Dragon and The Social Network. The former was a surprise; it had a lot of heart and was a lot of fun, and it managed that rare thing of being a movie aimed at a younger audience that appealed across a wider age range without using irreverent humor and other such innuendo-based means. With Shrek, one of the things that increased its appeal was jokes that kids wouldn’t have gotten; it worked on multiple levels; Dragon, on the other hand, stuck mainly consistent in just trying to tell its story, and I think it was a better movie for it.

The Social Network demonstrates that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Panic Room were flukes from a guy who’s been getting better since the beginning, by which I mean that David Fincher had shown signs of improvement over his career and development as a director in years previous by making movies that were consistently better than the ones before. Se7en was fantastic after Alien3. The Game is underrated, and then there’s Fight Club, and then, just when you think that he’s got a style, signature shots, all that, Zodiac, which was the first time he just turned the camera on and followed the story (which isn’t to say his obvious style didn’t serve his other movies). And now The Social Network the rise and continued rise of Zuckerberg and Facebook, which was, on all levels, fantastic.

I read other movies people were raving about, but didn’t much like them when I sat down to check them out. Inception, in particular . . . just didn’t do it for me. Funny: I remember when The Matrix came out, and all the people who claimed not to “get it,” that it just never made sense to them, all that, and then watching Inception . . . my initial thought was “So it’s The Matrix but with dreams and less action?”

That thought never went away. It eventually became more negative, in fact, but one of my resolutions this year is to be more positive. Exciting is not about negativity, after all.

Other things that were exciting:

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In which I demonstrate some initiative, not to mention: meet Angus (finally)

Conventional wisdom dictates that, upon completion of any first draft, a writer should step back. I think Stephen King noted (in On Writing?) that the magic number is six weeks; finish your first draft and then stick it in a drawer, and for six weeks do anything at all that doesn’t include reading that finished draft, after which time you may retrieve your manuscript from your drawer to mark it with your editor’s pen, and you may moan and groan and lament your general lack of creativity when you’re not admiring your own genius, though you may be in a spot if there don’t exist more moments of the former than of the latter (which may sound backward but, when revising, better to groan than preen). After all that time, you may proceed onto work on another draft, which, mathematically (at least according to Stephen King) should equal approximately your first draft minus ten percent.

I note all that because it’s so totally not what I did. After attending a brunch at my grandmother’s house, I spent part of Christmas evening polishing the first chapter of my manuscript, then wrote a single query to my dream agent—Merrilee Heifetz, an agent with Writers House, who represented Neil Gaiman, my own personal writing hero/mentor. Gaiman’s a guy who, since the events of this story took place, has topped nearly every bestseller’s list the New York Times can offer him, who’s not only had several novels and stories adapted into television series or movies but even written a few himself (including an adaptation of Beowulf directed by Robert Zemeckis). Neil maintains a blog in which he manages to refer to Zemeckis as “Bob” without its ever feeling like name-dropping, and of all the writers I can think of, I think I’d like a diverse, varied, and successful career most like his, which is why Heifetz was not just at the top of my list of agents to query but managed to be the list in its entirety, at least to start.

Because why not, right? What had I to lose?

(you’ll find out)

So I wrote up my query and polished up my first chapter, then printed both out. I signed the query with my lucky fountain pen, folded query and sample and a self-addressed, stamped envelope into another envelope, and headed down to the post office to mail it out. I wasn’t sure it was the best idea to send it out so fresh and new, but then again, I figured, most agents cite a response time of no fewer than two months, and many request two to three times that many before you even hear from then, and even then, that’s usually only in the case of a rejection. So if a rejection can take six months to arrive . . .

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I haven’t yet mentioned here: Exciting Books is doing well. Like, really well.

Like, bestseller-dom well.

The still-new reality of Amazon and a current literary marketplace is staggering. Used to be, bestsellers were determined by pretty much one place, and one place only: the New York Times. The infamous grey (or is it gray?) lady? The venerated bastion of journalism and culture, the heights to which every author aspired. Theirs always was the list to be on.

I’m not saying this is changing.

However.

Do you go to the paper for your news any more?

I don’t. I can’t remember the last time I even saw an actual newspaper I wasn’t picking up solely to throw away. Though I did download an issue of The Washington Post to my Kindle. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

If I want news–real, right now, happening-outside-my-window news–I come here. Well. Not here. Not to my site. I used to post, sometimes, about news, and mean to start again, but obviously not right here.

No, I come online. I come to dot-coms. CNN and MSNBC. I come, in fact, to Twitter, to see what’s trending.

Right now.

Which is why I think cracking the Amazon bestsellers list may be even more relevant than hitting the grey lady. Especially considering Sparks, a Kindle-only publication.

I don’t know how the NYT ranks its list, nor what figures it bases its tabulation upon. I know that it doesn’t include every sale in America; that’d be impossible.

For a newspaper.

Not for Amazon, though.

When Sparks broke the top 50 on Amazon, it legitimately meant that, right then, Sparks was selling more at a faster rate than other books. It wasn’t select bookstores. It wasn’t a sampling. It wasn’t a pre-tabulated list merely being confirmed.

It was in real time and based on real sales.

***

And speaking of sales:

Did you just get a new Kindle? Do you have an iPhone? An iPad or iPod? Any Android device? How about a PC or Mac?

Most importantly, do you like good books? Or know someone who does?

If so, you can take advantage of the Winter 2010 Exciting Books Fire Sale. Because that’s what you get when you apply sparks to kindle.

For the next few days, while I’m sitting around a fire with my faithful friends who are dear to me gathered near to me once more, Exciting Books is slashing its Kindle prices. Are you looking for stories for your new Kindle? Are you looking for something to read on a long weekend off? Have you had your fill of nog and ham? Ready to kick back, relax, and fall asleep next to the fire with your Kindle in your lap?

You need Sparks. Every Kindle does.

You also need Entrekin and Meets Girl.

So for the next week, for the low-low price of just 99 cents, you can experience Exciting Books. You can read fiction that inspires and thrills. You can read the sort of book that isn’t just going to stay with you but is going to make you want to approach a friend and say, “Hey, you know, I read these cool stories the other day.”

Exciting Books has a mission, and that’s it: to be the stories you want to share.

So this holiday season, fill your Kindle with Sparks and Exciting Books. Share Sparks and Exciting Books with those same friends who are dear to you, whether they are gathered near or not. Because Amazon and Kindle have a great, new function: you can gift a book to your friends. Just use the one-click.

Here’s Sparks.

Here’s Meets Girl.

Here’s Entrekin.

Over at Amazon, Meets Girl gets its first-ever review. Five stars. “Catcher in the Rye meets Macbeth.” “Smart, unpretentious, and funny.”

I’m thrilled that the first review of my first novel came from a reader who gave it five stars. Hell of a way to begin one’s career as a novelist. Really, also, kind of appropriate given Meets Girl‘s themes.

Amazon.com: Meets Girl eBook: Will Entrekin: Kindle Store.

The night I attended Galleycat’s Book Pitch Party, I stopped into Barnes & Noble Union Square, hoping to check out the nook color they’d recently announced. I had already purchased the newest Kindle, but I think part of being a writer in the new digital age includes a working knowledge of the platforms on which content is available. In other words, it’s important to know the medium on which you’re delivering a message, as the one can inherently affect the position and reception of the other.

Now, I declaim: I love my Kindle. I seriously haven’t loved a gadget this hard since I first jailbroke and unlocked my first iPhone. I think there might have been something about the tinkering with it, the feeling of empowerment, that really made the phone feel like mine in ways others haven’t. I’m using a Samsung Vibrant now, and I love it, but with some reservations (Dear Samsung: Get Gingerbread on it, hey?). In fact, my purchasing the Vibrant was what ultimately led me to getting a Kindle; the Vibrant comes with Amazon’s app preinstalled, and I’d had it on my iPhone, but hadn’t fully used it.

But I found myself working shite hours and riding the PATH train at 4am for a new gig, and so I did more reading on the Kindle app. And when Amazon announced its newest generation, I bought one sight unseen.

Mainly because I’d already seen the others and knew they weren’t what I was looking for.

What I was looking for: a digital reader.

The iPad is not a digital reader. It’s a tablet-form computer. It runs software, and that software is versatile enough it runs other software. It has apps, little programs that performs different functions like . . . well, mainly launching birds at targets, streaming music over a data connection, and display various media. There are apps for everything.

Some of those apps happen to display books. The main thing that demonstrates, in fact, that iPad is not really a digital reader is that it has not only the iBookstore, but also both nook and Kindle apps.

(This is extraordinarily important.)

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From Simon’s copy:

A sleepless traveler; a blues player who ain’t got soul. A lovelorn young man; a rising son. In the four short stories of Sparks, writers Will Entrekin and Simon Smithson bring you these characters and their journeys, over and through the streets and cities of the USA. Sparks contains a quartet of literary tales; of chasing dark dreams and falling sick with love, of trying to keep a house together and hoping just to get back

Introducing Sparks! The collection of four pieces of short fiction from Simon Smithson and Will Entrekin, published by Exciting Books, available for six weeks only, on Amazon.com. It’s a collection of stories about travel and loneliness, music and blues, love and alcohol, and family and frustration. And I guarantee that it will fix anything you’ve ever been sad about, ever, although that’s by no means guaranteed.

***

You’ve read what we’ve said about paradigms shifting, the changing of publishing and distribution. We haven’t mentioned the fetishizing of dead wood bound in cloth. We haven’t talked much (lately) about how bassackwards the business model of most corporate publishers is. I’ve stopped talking about Sarahs and vampires.

Because this is bigger. This is better.

This is Sparks. This is six weeks, four stories, two authors, aiming at 1,111,111 ebooks.

Simon’s a great writer (and I hope he’d say the same of me). His two stories are terrific, redolent as they are of air travel and gin. He’s the sort of writer who doesn’t tell you a story so much as allow you entrance into a new experience, and that is such a rare and bold talent to have.

So Sparks.

It’s here, for your purchasing pleasure. For a buck. So buy one for yourself and buy one for any of your friends.

Because it’s on Kindle. Which is on everything. You don’t need a Kindle. Do you have an iPhone, or an iPod, or an iPad? You can get the Kindle app from iTunes. It’s in the Android Marketplace for your Android Device. It’s on Blackberry. It’s on PC and Mac.

And like any scout worth his salt knows, the one thing kindle needs is sparks.

That’s how you start the fire, after all.

We hope you like it, and we hope you’ll share it.

And Hell, why not attend our Facebook event while you’re at it?

In the realm of the every day, the word “exciting” generally means something fun, something that gets the old ticker going, but in the realm of science, physics, and chemistry, excitation has a more specific meaning. In quantum mechanics, for example, excitation means any particle’s assumption of a higher state of energy.

When I think of excitation, I think of electrons. It’s been years since I formally studied chemistry and physics, but I remember electrons and their shells. Every electron has a nucleus: positive protons and neutral neutrons. Around this nucleus exists an electron cloud difficult to study because of the way it exists–in a quantum sense, only sporadically. Consider a city block, and imagine that some of the buildings exist only on days that begin with a T while others exist on days that begin with an S and others exist on all other days, mostly, you get a sense of quantum uncertainty and the existence of electrons–as particles and waves that are both only partially there simultaneously.

Most atoms–save those of the first few elements–have electron shells with multiple energy levels. The number of electrons is generally equal to the number of protons, but sometimes that leads to certain instability, or even propensity to react. Consider, for example, lithium, which has three protons and three electrons in its shell. Its first energy level is full, with two, but that leaves a third electron to react with just about anything it sees: imagine a horny, hyperactive dog who will hump any leg it finds and you’re thinking of lithium. On the other hand, back up one: helium has two protons, with two electrons in its shell, a full energy level. Helium also has a monocle and a top hat, and it wipes its white-gloved hands with disdain when it encounters any other elements. It will only speak to one under duress.

The thing about those energy levels is that, under the right circumstances, an electron can be induced to assume a higher state. This higher state of energy is called “excitation.” An excited electron is one that achieved a higher level than it had reached just a moment before.

***

Very exciting news around these parts. I’m thrilled, honored, privileged, and humbled (simultaneously) to be working with Simon Smithson.

During the past few months, I’ve found my excitement for all things stories and words and books rekindled. Which is a pun, mainly because Amazon’s Kindle might be the most significant source of my newfound enthusiasm. I swear, I haven’t had so much fun, nor read so much, nor bought so many books, since I don’t know when.

Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Kindle, though, is all it makes possible. It throws open the doors, kicks wide the gates.

There’s a new world of possibilities.

When I published my collection in 2007, neither Kindle nor iPhone actually yet existed. eReaders were niche gadgets, novelties at best and absurdities at worst, expensive and awkward and not really able to deliver a quality reading experience. The first Kindle was still six months away and would be expensive, even if its e-ink display would become (and remains) the best in the market.

Now Kindle is on every device out there. Jeff Bezos has been really smart to deliver the platform across devices, tying the reading experience to software, rather than hardware.

And it’s rather perfect for a couple of emerging authors to take advantage of.

Which is what Simon and I plan to do.

This week, we’re launching Sparks. He told you all the news with regard to the book.

What he didn’t really much go into was what it means for Exciting Books.

***

When I published my collection in 2007 and effectively founded Exciting Books, I’d already conceived of the model I aimed to ultimately follow with regard to writing and publishing. Back then, I wasn’t sure what sort of path my career would take, but I did know the sort of projects I ultimately hoped to work on: highly commercial, genre-busting blockbuster novels, which I’d intersperse with projects I saw as smaller.

Meets Girl for all intents and purposes, would fall into the latter category.

What I ultimately hoped to do was exactly what I’ve found myself doing, even if I wasn’t quite aware of it: leverage my experience and knowledge to bring publishing up to a new, and higher, energy level.

And now, with other authors.

Because this is how things change. A couple of blokes with a bold idea to excite things. Shake things up a bit while taking them up a notch. Which may mix metaphors, but hopefully doesn’t conceal my intention.

In the past year or so, I’ve reveled in quietude while trying to figure out how to do what I meant to do. I’ve moved to Manhattan, studied marketing, dedicated myself to writing better.

And now, I think it’s time to try some exciting things. In the spirit of which I figured it was time to redo the site header, retitling this here endeavor. In the spirit of which I intend to publish more often more exciting and interesting things, including but not limited to the stuff I’ve been learning over the past few years.

In other words, here goes everything.

Sparks marks the first Exciting Book that isn’t solely mine.

Exciting Books: When people talk about ebooks and epublishing, the ‘e’ they’re talking about is Exciting.

Please, allow me to introduce myself. I hope you guess my name.

If you don’t, it’s Simon Smithson. I’m a co-writer of Mr. Entrekin’s from The Nervous Breakdown.com, the online literary magazine that features authors from around the world. It’s a cool thing.

Will and I met on Myspace, originally, years back. We were part of a writing and editing group called Writers Who Don’t Suck, which, suffice to say, was a fairly ironic name. It was a busy hive of emo kids who wrote bad poetry about being tormented, misunderstood, and just waiting for the vampire who would see the real them, middle-aged sales reps who wrote bad fiction about assassins and snipers (so many assassins and snipers. You have no idea. If the assassin was a woman, it was a given that at some point she would survey her own breasts critically in the mirror), and twenty-somethings with a badly-disguised grudge against an ex or current (and soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover (and, on one memorable occasion, all three).

There was also, as a saving grace, a core group of writers who cared about literary merit, good editorial practice, and getting better at their craft. They were easy to pick, and Will was one of them. We tended to stick together, and one of the discussions we usually had was about the changing face of the business, and how the very existence of WWDS was something that would have been impossible in earlier times. This whole electronic world was undiscovered country, and the opportunities it yielded for networking, co-authorship, and writing groups were new and exciting.

Fast forward to 2010, and we’ve moved far beyond that. The Kindle and the iPad are grappling for a killer chokehold in the field of e-publishing, people are (once again, as they do every time anything happens in the world ever) predicting the death of the book, and the publishing industry, if reports are to be believed, is staffed entirely by a Keystone Kops-esque cabal of panicky idiots who are running shrieking through the halls of their golden palaces, terrified that Amazon is hiding in the closet and scrambling to steal all the computers before they go out of business forever.

In an era like this… two guys like Will and I can really clean up.

Which is why it’s my pleasure to introduce Sparks, the debut collection of stories by Messrs. Entrekin and Smithson from Exciting Books. Four pieces of short fiction, two apiece, available only on the Amazon Kindle platform, for six weeks only, from December 15, 2010, until January 26, 2011. It’s got a sale price of .99 cents. I think the stories are good, and if I were you and I had a Kindle, I’d pick up a copy.

Oh, and also, we’re going to be doing our damndest to sell 1,111,111 copies.

Why? Because we can.

The game has, officially, changed. Johannes Gutenburg never saw days like this coming; if he did, I would have asked him to write a foreword. These days, the role of the publisher is more dispensable than ever before. Authors can – and do – distribute their work directly to the reading public, because the delivery system has been put in place by Amazon, by iTunes, by this wonderful thing called the Internet. No one’s really sure which way is up at this point, but I believe there will always be a market for good fiction.

I’m also really curious to see if we can.

Our gameplan is this: the first day, we’re hoping to sell one copy. That’s it, that’s all, just one. The first week, ten. The second week, a hundred, and the third week, a thousand.

You can see where we’re going with this.

The stories are diverse in scope; music and travel and love and family are all themes, as is fate and choice and humanity. I’m proud of mine, as I hope Will is of his. What’s next is to see if we’ re right about the market – in this day and age where electronic dissemination has changed how we absorb music, news, TV, and gaming, what’s the next move for literature? Sparks is designed for the Kindle; the pieces are short fiction. Sparks is available only on the Kindle, and nowhere else. It’s the product of two guys who want to see what they can do in a world of exciting new opportunities, and we hope you’ll join us for the ride.

The presale for Meets Girl went so successfully for physical copies I thought I would do one for the digital ones, as well.

At first, I wasn’t sure how. The presale copies were signed (and, where desired, inscribed), and included a tarot card. But it’s not like I can sign a digital copy. And including a bonus poem, or something?

But then I started seeing all the Black Friday deals. The door-busting events. We all know people will start lining up at 4 am to buy socks at Walmart.

Is it just me, or does door-busting sound frightening? And heck, don’t forget, I’m the writer who likes to blow shit up. I will be avoiding retail locations from now until Christmas. I’ll purchase any Christmas gifts online.

And then Amazon announced it was giving people the ability to give Kindle books as gifts to anyone they’d like.

I’m sure you see where this is going.

So, you early adopters, you better readers who want to give the people you love great books this holiday season, now you can: you can buy it right here, from Amazon, for the insanely low price of 99 cents.

That’s a full-length novel for less than a dollar.

The Kindle sample includes the first two chapters (or so).

The chapters so far posted are collected here for your convenience.

So seriously, what are you waiting for? For one dollar, you can give a copy to everyone you love, resting assured in the knowledge that it’s a high quality, professionally edited, optimally designed novel written by a guy who knows prose well enough to have taught it in colleges. For, like, a third the price of a cup of coffee, you can give someone a book they’ll never forget.

Heck, for that price, you can buy a copy for everyone you know and not even feel bad about treating yourself to one, as well. Because it’s been a long year, after all, and you deserve it.

Because that’s the way you’ll get it.

I’ve spent the past week coding Meets Girl for Kindle.

(I think more writers should be able to say stuff like that, but that’s probably another discussion entirely.)

I’d originally considered making it a Kindle exclusive. Given that publishing for Kindle doesn’t actually restrict one to the device because Amazon’s app is available on pretty much every platform (PC, Mac, Android, iOS, etc.), I thought just going with Kindle was easiest for everyone.

But I’m rethinking that. Because I started thinking, wait. What if I were a reader who’d bought a nook because I liked Barnes & Noble?

In terms of digital distribution, exclusivity doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

Plus, Barnes & Noble’s Pubit platform went live last week. And you know the first thing I did when I got that particular email was sign up for a publisher account.

I’m not going to promise ubiquity to start with, but I am going to make as much available as I can as soon as I can. Meets Girl will go live on Lulu and Kindle on November 29th. I will begin serializing it four weeks before, on November 1st. I haven’t yet decided how much I’m going to ultimately post. I think the first nine or ten chapters, which will basically carry through into 2011.

More to come in the next few weeks.

Like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a contest?

Meets Girl: Sometimes the Greatest Love of All Is Unrequited.

I think I forgot to mention, here, I posted a new essay over at The Nervous Breakdown. In which I fawn hyperbolically over the new Kindle. In an era of totally undeserved hype (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Franzen), the Kindle is a magical device. I’ve been using it for about two weeks now.

First book: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which was a little like Harry Potter Goes to College, and started crazily strong, but then flopped in the final act, sadly. Disappointing, ultimately.

I like reading on it, and after a couple of weeks, I’m very glad I chose it over the iPad. It wasn’t merely a financial consideration. I just already have a laptop and a phone, and I wasn’t sure what I’d be using the iPad for. I need a keyboard to write (and I know I can get a bluetooth attachment, but that’s beside the point). Still, I understand why the iPad is overtaking the netbook category, mostly.

In terms of a dedicated digital reader, however, so far, the Kindle has been excellent. I like that it’s dedicated, too, like a book or a novel; when I’m reading a book, I’m reading the story. Not clicking around, not opening apps, not tweeting and Facebooking.

In the spirit of making Meets Girl available on it, I’ve been doing the necessary formatting and lay-out. It’s not difficult; Kindle mainly uses html. I’ll explain more about it at some point, when I’m done experimenting and learning it.

I think you’ll agree it looks fairly good already, though:

I should note that first image is not actually the Kindle file; it’s a PDF. Which the Kindle can display, natively. In terms of lay-out, though, the pagination and formatting both leave much to be desired.

Today, I woke up to an email from Barnes & Noble. Pubit, a program they had announced several months ago with the intention of going live over the summer, was finally implemented today. I’ve already signed up for an account and can start uploading files.

I’d originally planned to make Meets Girl a Kindle exclusive (given that Kindle is cross-platform and available, as an app, on pretty much anything), but then I started wondering why I wanted to limit choices. The whole point is to make the story available to anyone and everyone who wants it, including all the people who are getting a nook anytime soon.

So it will be. It may be a little while longer getting to the nook, but I’ll have it there, too.

“Once upon a time, I fell in love with a girl who didn’t love me in return.”

New York City, circa 2006. A young man lucking into any temp job he can while following his dream to be a writer. A dream girl and a bad case of unrequited love (is there any other kind?).

If the story ended there, it wouldn’t be extraordinary. It would be just another tale from the big, bad, glorious city; just another romance that never was; just another friendship that never got the chance to be anything more.

But the story doesn’t end there.

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