Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: reading (page 2 of 3)

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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Yesterday, JA Konrath posted an interesting essay titled, simply, “You Should Self-Publish.”

I agree with him, for the most part.

I just wish he would drop that modifier.

Because forget it. You should publish.

You should publish essays on your website, tweets to Twitter, status updates on Facebook. You should use your Kindle to share quotes from books everywhere. You should join online forums filled with people who have similar interests–Konrath mentions the KindleBoards and how great they are for writers but sort of neglects how amazing they are for readers.

Which we all are. And we’re active readers. We’re better readers. We’re exciting readers.

I thought, for a long time, that what was so game-changing, what was so paradigm-shifting, was that we’re all now creators. We’re all publishing all the time. We’re all contributing new information to the cloud and the world.

I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about that. All those things mostly hold true.

But then I got to thinking, that’s not really what’s changed. That’s a by-product of more activity on our parts.

The biggest companies in the world right now are Google and Facebook. The former is, I think, the more important because it signals a new service. It’s a search engine. It took away passive Internet browsing. No longer was the Internet a place of CD-ROMs and free subscriptions to AOL and “You’ve Got Mail.” What Google changed was our ability to seek new and more information (as well as our ability to sift through it). Remember before Google? Back when we had AltaVista and Hotbot and Metacrawler?

No longer do we wait for information. That’s pretty huge.

We Google things. I have a Google search function on my phone. We go on Wikipedia, though we know the information we find there might be erroneous, but maybe we do that because we know that even if the information is erroneous, we can find more information right away. We can find better information. We can find commentary on that information.

We can contribute to that information, and we can change it, and we can create it.

And the faster all that occurs, the less likely traditional modes of media can keep up with it all.

It used to be, in ways, that media created culture. Radio and television delivered sounds and images to our living rooms, and our only control over what we received came in the form of dials and switches; we could change the channel or turn off the set, but that was about it. If we wanted books, we had to wait to see what corporate publishers had deemed worthy of our attention two years before. Movies, too: from optioning of screenplays to delivery of celluloid, at least a year would pass.

The time it takes to create something worthwhile might not have changed (and continues to vary), but the time it takes to access and manipulate it has. Do any of us merely read when we come online anymore? Or do we all go to news sites we frequent, share posts on Twitter and Facebook, contribute to commentary?

When was the last time you got news from CNN or MSNBC? How about the last time you got it from Twitter?

It seems like we’re moving into times of cultural responsibility, and we’re taking such responsibilities away from the people who traditional took control of them as we notice that many of those institutions gave up their reins. One of the biggest arguments people tend to make against so-called “self-publishing” is that it’s not vetted, there’s no quality control, etc.

And then they buy and publish A Shore Thing by Snooki.

We’re the upstart crows. We’re the Johannes Factotums. We are the creators and contributors, channels of inspiration and information. And we’re not just living in exciting times.

We’re exciting them.

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.

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.

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.

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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(Note: this post is stickied. Newer posts, I think, will appear below it. At least, that’s how it should work in theory. That’s how I’m meaning it to work. We’ll see how it ends up working.)

I’m really pleased people are already wanting to buy Meets Girl. In formatting the text for Kindle, I noticed a few details that needed cleaning up, so I’ll be making the necessary changes. I just want it to be perfect. Which I realize is probably impossible, but I can still do everything I can to get it as close as I can, anyway.

So I’m going to.

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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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Yesterday, I talked about how I thought a bookstore like Barnes & Noble might survive. How the retail model seems busted to some extent.

I fear my solutions to the problem seemed vague. I thought I’d fix that.

I think we need to remember that books are not stories, and vice versa. That reading is as much about the experience as the object being sold, and as such, retail publishing must change to meet new needs of the market.

The market needs a few things, based on what is changing. The biggest change is the proliferation of digital in an almost completely analog environment, but that provides both challenges and opportunities.

As I see it, what the market really needs is simple:

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Big publishing news: Barnes & Noble, as a corporate entity, has put itself up for sale. It’s probably not big news to anyone watching the publishing industry in general, lately. B&N’s nook has a more aesthetically pleasing form factor than the Kindle, but its interface–which runs a version of Google’s Android–is clunky at best, its input system awkward, its overall experience lacking.

The only other experience it offers, unfortunately, is coffee, really.

No, seriously, consider a Barnes & Noble. Or a Borders, for that matter. With so many new books published at such an incredible rate, do you really think that’s where they make their coin?

I live in Manhattan, basically. There are a bunch of Barnes & Noble stores. Why do I go to them?

For the bargain-priced hardcovers (which are mostly remainders, and which I’m pretty sure B&N makes no money on), for the free wifi, and for the author events.

Other than that, I’ll find someplace else. If I want to buy a book, I either go to Amazon’s Marketplace or the Strand.

The reason Barnes & Noble is floundering is because the business model of selling books is starting to make less sense as more retailers find new ways of doing it. iTunes is now the nation’s leading retailer for music, purchases from which, by extension, must be digital.

One wonders if we’re on our way there now.

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Last week, I had a few hours’ break at work. I’m now working at the Equinox gym on 12th and Greenwich, which may well be the premier and largest, most active gym in America; I think we get thousands of members coming through every day. It’s a really nice gym, too; I worked at Easton Gym Hollywood while I lived in LA, and it was a small, private, boutique gym–Equinox has that same private, boutique feel but is probably four times as large.

Working on 12th and Greenwich puts me in the heart of the Village, and so, with a few hours off, I made my way just a bit north and east, to Barnes & Noble Union Square, which is even larger than the B&N at the Grove in Hollywood.

Going there made me think a lot about books. Not just because I was surrounded by them.

Used to be, if I went to a B&N, I couldn’t leave without an armful of books. Last week, I had no inclination to buy any at all, and not just due to lack of fundage. Lots of books getting some buzz: I know I need to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo relatively soon, but otherwise? I heard a lot about The Imperfectionists, but I browsed it and didn’t make it past the first half-dozen pages, after which I gave up out of boredom.

This troubles me.

I used to read a copious amount of books, read books the way some people chainsmoke, beginning a new one even before I’d finished the previous one, letting the last few pages of one blur into the first few of the next.

Lately, I haven’t been so interested.

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Crash-course preamble: before Apple announced the iPad, it spoke to many publishers about providing content for its new device, which it hoped could be used as an e-reader. Perhaps hoping that the iPad could somehow do for books what the iPod did for music, many publishers–including the six largest corporate publishers, who include companies like Harper Collins and Penguin–made arrangements to distribute content via the new device at a price point of $14.99, 30% of which Apple retained. This seemed a coup for publishers, and flush with excitement over the deal, Macmillan decided it was going to use its new leveraging power to re-negotiate terms with Amazon and its Kindle, where e-books tended to run $9.99 when published by the big six. Why, Macmillan figured, should it accept $9.99 when it could charge $14.99 (nevermind that $14.99 is, at this point, mythical, given that the iPad right now only exists on Steve Jobs desk. So far as I know, we can’t even pre-order it yet)?

Amazon held firm to its price, and then a couple of old white guys fought like only the knew how, by digging in their heels and refusing to budge. If John Sargent and Macmillan were going to refuse their pricing scheme, Jeff Bezos and Amazon decided, well, they no longer needed to sell Macmillan books. Which included a lot of imprints, like TOR, Forge, ROC, and myriad others.

And readers, who tend not to care so much who publishes their favorite authors so long as they can buy the books, got hurt. Collateral damage.

Writers? Hurt too. Because most authors have no control over those sorts of things. Certainly not over how much their books cost.

The resulting mess and its Twitstorm highlighted the bigger issue, which is digital distribution, pricing, and information. The appropriate cost of an e-book is endlessly debated because the market is still nascent and nothing has yet emerged as the “right” price point. When Apple’s iPod came out, it established price points: 99 cents per song, $9.99 for most albums, with some bargains thrown in.

Apple came late to the e-book party because Steve Jobs didn’t want to admit he was wrong when he declared “Nobody reads anymore” several years ago. Also because, of course, he wanted to get it perfectly right. That’s what Apple tends to aim for (whether the iPad manages the feat is still anyone’s guess. My thought is close, but not yet). Amazon got to set a price–$9.99–that was widely but not universally adopted. I didn’t hear much about publishers grumbling over the price; all I really heard then, mostly, was publishers hoping to be saved by the Kindle.

For my money, I think even $9.99 is too high. I tend to think e-books’ price should fall around the price we’ve always paid for mass market paperbacks: ~$7.99 or so. Over here, Jeff Vandermeer notes why he thinks the mass market paperback analogy doesn’t work, but I’m not convinced by his argument, if only for the fact that he bases his argument on the mass market paperback business model–i.e., that a book needs to sell a lot of hardcover copies to justify the bulk order of paperbacks–which for me doesn’t make sense because why are we talking about printing books?

I understand why the publishing industry feels the need to justify its own existence. I’m just not sure it can.
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I just caught a tweeted link to this blog by Mitch Joel on publishing and blogging.

Those of you who’ve read my “The Trouble with Blogging post know that this is something I’ve been thinking about. Hell, it’s part of the reason I’m doing an MBA.

Right now, I’m teaching my students about structure and plot using Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone as a demonstration of a Hero’s Journey plot archetype. Reading it, I’m rediscovering just how excellently Rowling hits every plot point and necessary element note for note, from the Call to Adventure to the Crossing of the First Threshold etc. Harry Potter is really an excellent example of someone who becomes a hero; he certainly doesn’t start out that way. Yesterday, while teaching, I was asking my students what makes people heroes. What do we look for as a demonstration of heroism?

One mentioned worthwhile purpose, and intention.

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Just read a post by Jane over at dearauthor.com: “Books as a Business”. It’s a mostly good article with some interesting analysis, though I would change the title, at least; books are what we read, while publishing is a business.

Which aligns with my previous couple of posts, staying on the theme of writing as creative endeavor and publishing as business endeavor. The other day, I was chided on Twitter by dietpopstar for using the word “monetizing” with regard to writing, and who told me I’d “lost my way” as I’m supposed to be “a fucking artist,” and such considerations were “vulgar.” She’s arguably right about my using the word “monetize,” I admit; I probably should have chosen a different word or phrase, like maybe “I gotsta get myself paid, too, yo.” Which, at least, is funnier.

And that’s the trouble with blogging. Not the funnier part. The part about having to get paid.

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In the spirit of continuing discussion begun yesterday, as I had planned to, today I found this article at Publishing Perspectives, which muses about whether famous authors should even bother with traditional publishers anymore. It cites as examples authors including Steven Covey, of whom I’ve not yet heard and will research more shortly, as well as Timothy Ferris (The Four-Hour Workweek) and Seth Godin. I’m very familiar with Godin; I’ve read a lot of his blog, and he’s primarily a businessman concerned with marketing and branding but also has myriad interesting thoughts about how to harness the power of social networking and tribes.

All three seem to be businessmen of some nature, and all three seem to make their income primarily through speaking engagements and presentations. Their books are extensions of their content, and not vice versa, which I think is an extraordinary distinction to make.

I think this is precisely the sort of practice that may help us rethink publishing. Let’s face it: in the age of the Internet and at the advent of a new paradigm of digital distribution and consumption, the model as has been used since the Great Depression no longer seems appropriate. Does it make sense, in nearly 2010, to use a content distribution model that has existed since before television?

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In taking business classes to earn my MBA in international business and strategic marketing, I have had to come up with a lot of plans. Plans for businesses, plans for marketing, plans for management teams. My latest course required a leadership profile; I had to analyze my three major leadership traits (I chose service, participation, and charisma), as well as create an action plan to not only maintain but also enhance those traits. Those traits weren’t difficult to choose: all my life, I’ve pursued leadership, mainly because I tend to think that leading can often be the best way of serving (which is why service was my first and primary trait). The plans–especially the marketing and business plans–required a lot of research into specific industries we had to choose for ourselves.

Now, I’m pursuing an MBA as an extension of my master’s degree in writing, which I earned in 2008 from USC. Among my most valuable classes (and in some ways my most difficult) were courses with Shelly Lowenkopf and Paula Brancato; I studied the Literary Marketplace with the former and the Business of the Business with the latter. In that former, I learned lots about the differences between book formats, genres, and etc., while in the latter I had to write my first business plan. I struggled there with Paula, because I used the novel I was writing as my thesis, The Prodigal Hour, as my example for marketing and promotions, which was difficult both because I was still writing the damned thing as well as because it’s a difficult piece to sell/market/promote (it’s main plot device is a time machine, but it’s not really a science fiction novel). After graduating from USC, I realized that I was a good writer but still had a lot to learn about the business side of things, so I set about figuring out how to learn what I still needed to know. Given living situations and the state of the economoy, I also wanted to put off student loans, so I enrolled at Regis.

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No?

How about now?

You should totally read the book before you go see it, and if you can get your hands on the audio version: listen to it. Gaiman reads it himself, and it’s brilliantly creepy and hauntingly charming in all the best ways.

When I first researched graduate school, what seems like all those years ago, one of the first things I did was order books from faculty members at every institution that caught my interest. Some great programs, like Johns Hopkins and Iowa, I had dismissed early because they hadn’t seemed to jibe with my direction, which left places like North Carolina and somewhere in Arizona. I don’t remember all the institutions, and only a few of the authors.

I didn’t have to do that this time around. This time around, NYU came to me with the same certainty as USC; all that’s left is getting in.

Which meant I felt I should familiarize myself with some of the work of some of the faculty members, the stand-outs of whom include E.L. Doctorow and Jonathan Safran Foer. Neither of whom I’ve ever read. Nothing against them, just never seemed like my thing; I’d rather read Neil Gaiman and Harry Potter and Joe Hill, most of the time. For me, the novels whose scope doesn’t stretch much beyond characters coping with ordinary lives have never really excited me so much. I’ve tried reading guys like Tom Wolfe and John Updike, and I generally feel decidedly meh about them. I hate to call it “serious” fiction, if only because it seems to imply that people like Gaiman and Rowling aren’t serious about writing and stories, and I think that’s foolhardy. I’d hate, too, though, to attempt to claim it’s all about marketing, because it’s really not.

Before this becomes a discussion of genre in fiction, though, let’s move on to the reading. Because the first book I picked up was Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

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A fun article:

Axl Rose’s favourite books | Books | guardian.co.uk.

What would Axl read, indeed.  Somehow his list of four (?!) books surprises me a little, at least given the presence of Dick (whom I’ve always found a little weird) and Stephenson (whom I’ve always found a little baroque).

The article fixates on the similarities between Rose and J.D. Salinger, basically on the whole “reclusive genius” thing.  Me, I just like that someone’s saying Rose is a genius.  Too often, I think, people who create extraordinarily popular work are looked down on, which has never made sense to me; people acknowledge the Beatles are geniuses, but Stephen King is not?

NB- I would love to somehow get The Prodigal Hour into Rose’s hands.  That’d be so rad.

Technorati has released its latest “State of the Blogosphere”.

From it, Mediabistro’s Galley Cat pulls that only 2% of bloggers cite blogging and their blogs as their primary source of income.

Which sounds about right.

Mainly because: isn’t that about the same as the number of writers who make their living at writing?

I’m not. Once upon a time, I hoped to be, but then again in recent years I’ve realized that I don’t think writing is all I’d want to do. I love to write, but when it starts to become all I do, I think I feel like there’s imbalance in my life. The whole “all work and no play” thing, to some extent. I mean, I go back and forth on it, because I think that writing is playing, to some extent, but I guess what it comes down to is that writing is a largely solitary activity, and I can’t very well be in the world if I’m being all solitary and such.

via Only Two Percent of Bloggers Can Make a Living – mediabistro.com: GalleyCat

Some new changes to coincide with all the other ones going around. Trying out a new theme, most obviously.

Also: Entrekin in the World replaces the old Reviews page. I like it so far but will probably tweak it as I go. It’s something I had included as an album on MySpace and was trying to figure out how to integrate it here. From the get-go, I’d asked people to photograph themselves with the book; Los Angeles Times best selling author Brad Listi was the very first.

Since leaving MySpace and switching computers, I’ve misplaced a couple that I’d really like to include. So if you don’t see yourself there and you’ve got one you wouldn’t mind my putting up, send it to me via willentrekin at yahoo dot com.

Please. That’d be rad.

I left comments open over there, too. So if you’d like to put your own review there, be my guest. Especially if you, you know, liked it.

Finally, I mentioned I’d considered removing the collection from Lulu. I looked into hosting the file here, because I still like having it as a free .pdf, along with the “singles.” Problem is, the process of doing so is not nearly so straightforward as Lulu’s system, nor does it seem to track downloads/sales so well. Part of the reason I’d considered removing the book was its ‘community,’ but then again I wonder if those problems aren’t actually a function of the self-publishing community and not necessarily Lulu’s. Regardless, I’ve decided to continue using their printing services as the tool I had meant it to be, and I feel okay leaving it up.

Plus, the downloads just keep coming in, and, well, the whole point was to share it. I’d feel bad keeping the book from someone who wanted to read it.

I’d say to bear in mind that I’m still working out kinks all over the place, but I’ve realized that part of the interesting thing about blogs and the Internet (and, it seems, life in general lately) is that: well, yeah. It’s all evolution all the time, really.

I have to admit, I’ve not yet read a John Connolly novel, though by all accounts, his books seem right up my alley. He’s an Irish writer who writes ostensibly crime novels that have, according to his Wikipedia article, become in recent years increasingly concerned with the supernatural.

So yah, got to look me up some of those.

Dude’s won a bunch of genre-type awards: a Stoker for best first novel and a Shamus. And two of his books have apparently come with soundtracks, which is totally awesome (note to self: what is the soundtrack for my writing?).

Connolly recently posted a great blog on the old argument concerning ‘genre’ fiction versus ‘literary’ fiction. It’s well worth reading just to enjoy the pretension of some writers. I mean, holy shit, you think it’s a joke some writers think the way he portrays, and then you meet those writers who not only think that way but even speak that way, and you know for a fact those are the same damned annoying writers who appropriate agent/editor panels at writing conferences to ask deeply personal questions about their deeply personal pet projects and who believe the publishing world is totally against them because it’s a covert and Cabalistic cadre of secret societies and secreter handshakes one can only break into if one compromises one’s ‘artistic integrity.’

He makes a lot of points I agree a lot with, but the money one comes toward the end:

I believe that art and craft are not mutually exclusive. One works at one’s craft, and one hopes that, along the way, art may possibly emerge. Even if it does not, one can still take pride in the fact that one has done one’s best.

Because, seriously, totally

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