Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: Meets Girl (page 1 of 2)

Last week, after having enrolled several books in the Kindle Select program and taken advantage of a few free promotions for essays and short stories, I decided to see how my novel, The Prodigal Hour, would fare. And fare well it did, hitting high ranks, breaking into the top-1oo Kindle Bestsellers, and so far, at least, it’s been maintaining more sales than before. You can find it here, for $4.99.

In fact, it went so well Nick Earls and I decided to do something Exciting.

I’ve been thrilled to work so closely with Nick, an internationally bestselling author, and not just on the Kindle store. Nick’s books have hit many lists in more countries. He’s had books published by Saint Martin’s in the US and Random House in Australia and several other houses and publishers besides.

Now he’s partnered with Exciting Press to bring stories, novellas, and novels to Kindle. Today marks a new publication of a story, “Cabin Baggage,” and a new option:

For the first three days of its digital existence, “Cabin Baggage,” will be free. In addition, it includes a free excerpt of Nick’s novel Monica Bloom, which in its turn, and for the next week only, includes a bonus novella, Grass Valley.

And that’s not even all.

I know! A free short story from an international bestseller! For any other publisher, that’d be enough, wouldn’t it?

Exciting Press isn’t any other publisher, is it?

Well. We’re hoping not to be.

Which is why we’re also offering Meets Girl free, also for a limited time.

Two exciting stories. One lower-than-low price.

This Valentine’s Day, make romance Exciting.

I never do anything today. Black Friday keeps me safely home, away from bargain-seeking crowds in the retail jungle.

Still, who doesn’t like a good deal, right?

Which is why, for a limited time only, all my books for Kindle are just 99 cents.

This includes the essays and short stories, of course, “Jamais Plus” and “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and “Blues’n How to Play’em.”

But it also includes both:

Meets Girl


The Prodigal Hour

Both of which have been consistently well received and so far well reviewed.

So if you’re looking for some Exciting books to give to people you love, filling up their digital readers or sending them a gift for their phone they can read during their morning commute, they make for a perfect gift. And just 99 cents for a very limited time only.

A year ago today, I began to serialize Meets Girl, then published it in paperback and on Kindle over the Thanksgiving holiday, three weeks into its serialization. I refrained from writing about it for a couple of reasons, the most major being that I didn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. However, given that a year–give or take–has passed, I feel the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired.

So I thought I’d take a moment to write about it. If you haven’t read it yet, pick it up here, for Kindle or in paperback, and come back.

If you have, more after the jump.

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In November 1913, Nils Granlund, a manager at a theater in Marcus Loew’s chain, produced a promotional video for an upcoming musical, which he intended to show after other movies had already finished, which was why such short promotional videos were called trailers. The Marcus Loew chain ultimately became Loew’s Theaters (now AMC), and savvy theater managers began to run trailers before movies, rather than after.

Now, of course, the trailers/previews/coming attractions are one of the highlights of going to the theater.

And they’re not just for movies anymore.

It was easy to appropriate the idea for television. Trailers were just commercials for movies, anyway, so previews for new and upcoming episodes and shows were just that. And then came MTV, which was basically trailers for albums in the form of music videos.

In recent years, authors and publishers have taken up the idea. James Patterson, who was successful in advertising before he became the brand-name author he has become, was pretty much the first author to use the idea successfully in 1993 to support the launch of Along Came a Spider. His publisher wasn’t exactly for it, but Patterson wrote, produced, and paid for the commercial himself, and if it wasn’t the first-ever commercial for a novel, it was certainly a milestone in the current big-name publishing landscape and brand-name authors. Now, the internet, YouTube, and digital cameras have made it simple for authors to make and distribute promotional videos for their books even more easily.

Now that the idea is more popular and more authors are using it, however, more people are wondering about how effective teasers are (I like to call them teasers. They’re not trailing after anything, after all). Should authors really be worrying about them, or are they a waste of time?

To answer those questions, we have to back up a ways.

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I should open this post by noting that Lulu made possible many of my achievements as an author, and for that I’m grateful. Back when I first decided I wanted to experiment with publishing and make an actual book people could actually buy, Lulu was the best way to do so. CreateSpace was, of course, another option, then, but from what I gathered from research, Lulu put more of an impetus on the author. Lulu seemed to give me more control. In addition, it was totally and completely free. There was no “pro” option. There were marketing and cover-design plans and offers, but for the most part, I could do absolutely everything myself, without interference.

I could make better mistakes, in other words. And boyhow, did I. But I also did a lot of cool things.

Lulu, for example, made it possible to offer digital singles of my stories, allowing me to implement what I called, back in 2007, the iTunes model of publishing. I priced those stories, to start with, at 99 cents each, with the full collection download priced at $10 for the digital version and $15 for the print.

Without that option, my collection never would have become the first ebook, ever, on the iPhone, just a week after that device was launched, at a time when Steve Jobs was claiming nobody reads books anymore.

I’m still proud of that. I’m still proud of that collection, in fact, because it’s a good snapshot of where I was at the time, both personally and professionally. I think it was Hemingway who said something like, “Fuck ’em all. Let ’em think you were born knowing how to write,” and my collection, I think, very much demonstrates that wasn’t the case. It’s very early work. Nascent, if you will.

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About a week ago, I got the final edits of The Prodigal Hour from my editrix. Though her education and training are as an editor, her current job is unrelated, so this most recent round of edits took a little longer than before. I think she turned Meets Girl around in about a week, give or take.

There are reasons unrelated to work that this particular edit took longer.

The Prodigal Hour is her favorite novel. It’s the project I was working on when we met at USC, and I think my first work she ever saw. In a way, that made it as personal a project for her as it always has been for me, and that made her want to be really careful and make it ever better.

Now that I’ve gotten the edits back and finalized a revision, I think she’s right.

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This weekend, I turn 33 (seriously? 33? When did this happen?). Well. I have a lot of things planned this weekend, including a luncheon tomorrow and a Walk for the Cure on Sunday and various parties and destinations between, so I’m trying to figure out where I’ll pencil in the “Turn 33” part, but I’m hoping to get to it.

Maybe next weekend.

Who knows?

This past week, I completed my MBA. I got the “Congratulations graduate!” email yesterday, and today found that my final grades had been posted. After acing this past semester, and solidly, I pulled my GPA up to a respectable 3.769. Not bad for a guy with a background in literature and science.

If you’d asked me, when I packed up my car to drive to Los Angeles for USC, where I saw myself in five years, I don’t think completing an MBA in Pittsburgh would have occurred to me, but then again, I never would have predicted much of the past decade.

So in celebration of completing my MBA, and probably turning 33 if I can get around to it, and everything else that’s been going on, I thought I’d have a big Exciting Writing sale. May has always been my favorite month, because finally it’s actually spring, now boubt adout it as my pop used to say, and flowers are in bloom and the world’s turning green again and pretty soon it’s going to be summer and that means bikinis and reading.

Two of my favorite things ever.

So, for the weekend (and probably a couple extra days), Meets Girl is just 99 cents.

As is my collection. As are all Exciting books, for that matter.

So you’ve got a novel, a collection, two short stories, and a long essay concerning literature and poetry and medical education to choose from. Heck, get it all for less than five bucks, and you’ll have enough reading material to last you a month or two.

At which time, The Prodigal Hour will be available.

Pretty cool how that’s gonna work, right?

And again with the link. Right here! Exciting writing for a dollar! Read all of them!

I’m still unsure how much I want to talk about Meets Girl. I’m still unsure how much I want to talk about a lot of things, honestly. I read an article last year-ish, I think in either The Atlantic or Harper’s, in which the author discussed the temptation to write a book on writing. Apparently, books on writing sell tons of copies. It makes sense; I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t think he or she had a book–whether novel or memoir–in them.

I guess, for me, it comes down to a dilemma. I think, for a long time, I thought one should let the work speak for itself, but I wonder if that’s outmoded in a world of social networking, where everyone is not only a writer but a publisher, too.

And, of course, where everyone seems to have a position on how to write. Or how to market. Or how to fill-in-the-blank.

I guess maybe one aims at maintaining a balance. Here’s what I did, and here’s how I did it. Or something like that.

I’ve also always been the sort of writer who believes that the author’s role is finished once a reader opens the book. Up until that moment, the book itself is a vision of the author, but the moment a reader sees that first word, it becomes a mutual vision, and sometimes I wonder, when considering that mutual vision, how much authority an author has in it. When readers pick up, say, symbolism in Meets Girl, who am I to say that there isn’t any?

When writing, does an author really get to say whether a cigar is really just a cigar if readers think there’s more to the cigar than the cigar? Perhaps an author has intention, but if an author doesn’t fulfill that intention, well, the novel mightn’t either, right?

Yeah. You can tell I’m a writer because this is the shit I think about.

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Last week, Meets Girl got a review from Nicole Ireland of The Evolution of Nikki, who called it “beautifully written” (aw, shucks).

This week, Nikki did an interview with me, which you can read here.

Gave me a chance to talk a little more about Meets Girl (and note that I think of it as The Colbert Report of debut literary novels, which I intend to elaborate on). Also, some more on The Prodigal Hour.

Which has been with my editrix for a few weeks now. I’ve put in a few of the revisions already, and I think it’s already gotten to be a better book (and I already, obviously, thought it was good).

I’m hoping to be finished all the revisions this week.


In other news, I think all the coursework for my MBA is finished. I have an email in to my most recent instructor. Just waiting for confirmation, I think.

More news to come.

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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Let’s say you’re a business. You have a product that you dedicated a lot of time to. You’re not sure you can properly distribute that product on your own. Sure, you might be able to handsell your product door-to-door, but you realize that, maybe with some help, you can get your product distributed on a wider basis, and maybe even generate some great attention for the product. There are a few companies who specialize in distributing your product, companies who have a stranglehold on distribution, in fact–if you don’t partner with them, chances are you’ll never get that wide distribution.

Already it’s a problem.

Here’s the big question, though; say one of those specialty companies came to you and said they’d help you distribute your product. Would you enter into any business arrangement with them without reading a contract? Would you sign said contract without reading it?

That’s exactly what all the writers entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award are doing.

Now, I’d mentioned I considered submitting Meets Girl to the contest. I think it would have a solid shot at winning on merit alone, and that’s not even to mention that I think it would probably be right up the alley of Lev Grossman, who wrote The Magicians and who is one of the major judges of the contest. The Magicians was the first full-length novel I read on my Kindle, and it was solid–if not great–in a genre-bending sort of way that crossed literary with fantasy, which is what I think Meets Girl does.

I mentioned, in passing, there are other, better contests writers could enter. And commenter Sid (the only Sid I know is my graduate writing advisor, Sid Stebel, but I can’t tell by the email address if the commenter and my advisor are the same person) asked after those contests.

So here are the top-five writing contests I’d submit Meets Girl to over the ABNA.

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The other day, I mentioned a positive review from Shannon Yarbrough at the LL Book Review. Today, I’m going to mention a few others, and make an announcement about something I’m rather excited about.

Today, Raych at Books I Done Read gave it high-caterpillar review. A juicy blurb:

Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot card battle royale

Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.

I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.

I felt the same thing about Veronica’s brother Tom, in the novel. I could see his band–Foolish–doing something silly and poignant and real. Some of what I think are exactly those moments in the novel–the ones that are silly and poignant and real–belong to Tom. When Tom handed our young hero-narrator Foolish’s CD, I saw him offering one with a jaunty, silly, hand-crayoned cover because leave it to the wise-fool to leave the name of the band off.

So it fit, and when I needed a title for that album, I cribbed Raych’s blog.

She doesn’t seem to have minded. Thank goodness. I’m glad she didn’t sue my ass. For cookies. Because who’d sue a broke-ass grad student/novelist/professor/personal trainer for money?

I do wonder about objectivity. Not Raych’s. Just in general. Like, is anyone objective anymore?

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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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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.


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.

Christmas at the Sawyers

Comin’ on Christmas, people decorating their trees. I printed out my newly finished manuscript I had dedicated to Veronica and jammed it into the backpack I wore across midtown Manhattan as I made my way to Port Authority to catch a Greyhound home. One of those slate-grey, nondescript buses down the Jersey Turnpike blur the spindly trees along the side of the highway, all the way back to my hometown by way of connections and cars, at which point I called Veronica to ask if we could meet up, because I had a serious surprise for her. I guess she could hear in my voice how eager I was to see her, and perhaps even that I had specific reasons for being so eager. She told me she didn’t have much free time, but I could attend Christmas Eve mass with her family.

Perhaps that’s the most you need to know about Veronica: not that she is beautiful, though she is; nor what she studied; nor what she’s accomplished since college; nor any other thing, because perhaps nothing will tell you so much as that Veronica Sawyer is the kind of girl for whom you attend Christmas Eve Mass at midnight. It’s the crowded mass, full of not just the fervent but also all the people who go to church solely on Christmas and Easter. I can’t tell you I was among the faithful; by then, I’d swung closer to agnostic, which was a major step in my own spiritual evolution—finally accepting that I didn’t know all the answers was slightly out of character for me. I had grown up attending Catholic schools but had transferred out on the first day of my junior year, after which I’d swung hard enough the other way that other people might call it over-compensating, filling my days and studies with classes about cold, hard, rational science and the kind of philosophical discussions that excluded God in favor of morals and “quality.”

But Veronica told me I could meet her at the mass and then return, with her, to her family’s house, where she and Tom would be up until the wee hours, wrapping presents over hot chocolate and Christmas tree cookies. I wrapped the manuscript folder I’d bought in my mother’s leftover wrapping paper and set it on the front seat of my car as I drove to the church and then, afterward, her house.

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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. Meets Girl eBook: Will Entrekin: Kindle Store.

A New Act

I think I want some quotes here; writerly types call them ‘epigraphs,’ and I’ll even tell you I briefly considered opening this whole thing by quoting the first stanza of Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me,” but ultimately I decided against it, for the same reason there is no ‘Chapter One’ head—that ‘once upon a time’ opening.

Which I got.

Which means it’s okay to tell you that, as I begin this here brand new act, I’m thinking of lyrics of popular music. I would quote them, but doing so would require obtaining licenses from the artists’ record companies, which costs quite a lot of money I would presume the artists themselves rarely see—Neil Gaiman tells a story that he’d wanted to quote a song by the Brit band Blur, but their company demanded ludicrous remuneration that worked out to something like a hundred bucks per “ooo-wwo!”

So: do you remember City of Angels? That depressing movie with Nicolas Cage as a melancholy angel and Meg Ryan as a doctor? Because the Goo Goo Dolls wrote a song called “Iris” for it, and I can’t imagine it would be difficult for you to Google it to check out the lyrics, or even to bust up the iTunes store and download a copy. While you’re at it, check out the last few lines of their song “Name,” which was one of the earliest hits. Those are songs I’m listening to right now, plus one called “Driving With Your Brakes On,” which is by an Irish band named Del Amitri I would know only for its single “Roll to Me” had I not heard “Brakes” on a Greatest Hits CD I borrowed from my local library.

I mention all those not only because I’m listening to them right now but also because all those feelings those songs convey help set the mood for all the events about to occur. I’ll tell you now it’s going to be another chapter before I end up in the bar where I met Angus, and another chapter again before his nature in the story, or at least his function in it, becomes completely apparent, but suffice to say for now that Angus perhaps knew that I thought about Veronica all the time but wasn’t sure I needed to write. As for the offer he made . . . well, first Christmas at the Sawyers, and then Angus can enter stage right and you can see for yourself.

Wait, what? That’s it? A few song choices? But what did our narrator get Veronica for Christmas? And what will she give him?

Tune in next week for a very Exciting Christmas!

Chapter Six, in which I finish a novel, get drunk, fall in love with Veronica again, buy a tattoo, and finish up the first act, pretty much all at once (though perhaps not necessarily in that order)

Because that’s just about what happened. That woman brushed aside the curtain to allow me entrance back into the foyer, where Veronica looked up and asked: “Already? I thought you’d take longer.”

I didn’t think much of her question then.

The woman chuckled and ushered us out of her home as she admonished me that my fortune and reading were mine and mine alone; I could share them if I so chose, but nothing required me to do so. She told me, too, that if I chose to tell anyone, I should choose those people carefully.

Veronica and I walked back toward the mall, where my car was still parked, and I attempted to tell her about the reading, but she stopped me. “You heard her. That was yours. Maybe you should keep it for yourself for a while. Besides, what’s really important is what you’re going to do.”

I considered that, the woman’s talk of choices and changes. I would’ve given anything for that threesome.

“I think you should finish your novel.”

I didn’t respond.

“What else are you going to do? You’re just going to stick what you’ve written in some drawer and forget about it just because it’s a little tougher than you thought it was going to be? I think we both know that’s bullshit. You’re all paid at your apartment, so I think you should take the next couple of weeks to finish it. And when I say finish it, I mean do it right. I’m not talking about just writing on and on until you hit a spot where you can type ‘the end.’ I mean finishing it like a sprinter just totally shattering the world record at the Olympics, the kind of finishing where people aren’t like, ‘Well, he won,’ but where they’re like, ‘Sheeit, I didn’t realize a dude could go that fast.’ That’s the kind of finished I think you need. And you know your novel deserves it.”

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Which may or may not reveal my fortune, or my heart’s content, but certainly contains a first-act gun above a mantle

It was like walking into an alternate dimension.

If you had asked me what I expected while I’d stood in the curio-foyer with Veronica, I’m not sure what I would have guessed. Nothing much after having seen that other room; mismatched furniture, a threadbare rug, an old coffee table. Something ordinary, the kind of sitting room you grew up in, the kind of living room your great-aunt had, perhaps with plastic covers on the furniture.

Instead: a hall grander than I would have imagined and larger than seemed possible, given the dimensions of the house Veronica and I had entered. A marble floor with a deep, dark rug that could only have come from Persia, so intricate I would have believed it had taken several generations to handweave. A large, rough-hewn stone fireplace, in which crackled away bright orange flame that smelled like autumn and above the mantle of which rested a large, antique rifle—

If a gun is on a mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.

with a coal-black barrel and mahogany finish. Solid, dark wood rafters decorated the high ceiling in even intervals; I could have believed we’d just crossed the pond to end up in a castle in Scotland.

“Wow, it’s—,” I started to say, turning back toward the beads, but the woman pulled me farther in. Two burgundy leather chairs in front of the fireplace, between them a small table that looked as if it had been carved centuries before.

“It’s home. Come, sit,” she ushered me toward one of the armchairs as she sat opposite me. “Let’s get to know each other,” she said, as reflections of orange flame danced in her eyes, so lucid that I could have believed they weren’t actually reflections at all.

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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.

Meets Girl and its preorder is not the biggest news in books and writing this week.

I know! I’m as surprised as you are.

No, but seriously, I do hope you’ve been enjoying the serialization, and I hope you’re looking forward to launch day as much as I am. Or maybe even more; I’m looking forward to it with equal measures of excitement, hope, and terror. Especially considering that I’m a totally unknown writer, and especially especially given that what I’m doing flies against the conventional, the traditional, the Way Things Are Done.

Because let’s face it, this ain’t it.

The Way Things Are Done right now, really, is simple: if I wanted to go the conventional, traditional route I’d write up a nice, succinct query letter, and I’d go to Twitter and Agent Query dot com and literary agents’ websites, and I’d read their guidelines and I’d choose, say, ten agents to send that query letter, and the first chapter of Meets Girl, to. After which point, I’d hurry up and wait. I’d try to forget I’d sent anything out, because remembering so is a sure path to crazy, but mostly I’d be waiting for rejection emails if I got any responses at all, because so many agents, nowadays, don’t send them.

I’d do that because so many publishers–most especially the big six, but every day, others, too–don’t accept unagented manuscripts. Like there’s some sort of vetting. Kept gates, the theory goes.

Used to be–once upon a time–I followed that path, those rules. I queried out The Prodigal Hour, and before that Twilight Brilliance.

And maybe–onceuponatime–that system worked. It worked then, I sheepishly admit, because though I plan to do the same thing with The Prodigal Hour that I’m doing with Meets Girl, that’s only because I rewrote and revised and rewrote it again until it was actually a good novel.

You’ll probably never see Twilight Brilliance. Even my editrix had to wheedle and cajole it from my old hard drive.

But now?

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Some great entries to the Meets Girl contest. Also, some private comments from people who would have entered but didn’t want to share their stories of unrequited love, whatever the reason.

Because it takes some guts to do it. Takes some guts to put yourself and your story out there like that, for all the world to see.

I might know a little something about that.

In the spirit of the moment, I decided that everyone who entered gets a signed copy of Meets Girl, as well as an exclusive Deviant Moon tarot card. Just one, from a deck that’s been used. A deck I’ve used myself, in fact.

The copies are ordered.

In fact, more than those copies are ordered.

Want one?

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Maybe it’s because I worked for more than a year as a broadcast production assistant at Young & Rubicam, but I find the relatively new popularity of so-called “book trailers” in the publishing world fascinating. I bunny-quote “book trailers” because really, they’re not actually that, and neither are previews in front of movies. People called them “trailers,” originally, because they actually trailed movies and played at the end.

But then Hitchcock and Psycho came along. Hitchcock didn’t want the ending of Psycho spoiled, so he decided audiences couldn’t walk in halfway through the movie. Before then, one could buy a ticket, walk in to any showing, stick around for the end, and then wait until it started over to catch whatever you’d missed.

I like to call them teasers. Because I like to tease.

So here’s another tease of Meets Girl, a little more elaborate than the first one. Hope you dig it.

Meets Girl Teaser Two

Before Meets Girl.

I wanted to talk a bit more about the project before the launch, though. Because, honestly, I’m basically doing it completely backwards at this point. Ask any of the so-called or self-proclaimed writing gurus or marketing Internexperts or anyone else on Facebook and Twitter . . .

Look. Am I the only one completely exhausted by all the writers nobody’s ever heard of expounding their advice on how best to reach wider audiences? I can’t be, can I?

The situation is daunting at best. In terms of social media and networking, at least, never before have so many people said so little so loudly. The signal-to-noise ratio is crazily lopsided to the latter. There’s so much advice out there and so little of it actually sound. Anyone would tell you, if you want to become a successful author, you need a platform. You need a steady readership, which you gain from getting on Twitter and Facebook and updating your website and creating a fanpage and all those sorts of things.

In an ideal situation, of course, the implication is that all those things come after producing a solid novel, but I’m not sure how many people infer that fact, nor even that it’s true. In many cases, platform is the primary gauge of saleability. Indeed, corporate publishing is less a vehicle for writers and authors than for people with platforms who wrote books. There’s a huge distinction there.

According to most advice, I should have posted endlessly about how to write. How to structure. I should have reviewed more books so I could be a book blogger, and I should have posted links to other writers’ blogs. I should have done it daily, or nearly so, or even more frequently, an endless push of writers talking about writing and bloggers talking about blogging and let’s not forget about marketing and buzz and et cetera (and let’s be frank and call it ad nauseum).

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