Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: short stories

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.

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

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

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

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

Wow that seems like eons ago.

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I 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.

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 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?

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, 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.

(pretend there’s a little accent thingy over that ‘e’, please, because I think there should be one there. I could be wrong)

Wired‘s Paul Boutin notes that “blogging is so 2004.” Basically, Boutin seems to think that Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook have not so much rendered blogs obsolete as taken their thunder. Why blog when we can micro-Twitter and Flickr to our hearts’ content? His first paragraph indicates I need to quit blogging, because it just ain’t worth it, and I’ll never reach a level of, say, Gizmodo, the popular gadgets blog with a team of writers producing dozens of posts per day.

He’s probably correct. I think I hope he’s correct, in fact. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with blogging, I’ll admit, for personal reasons; while I do love to do it, and I love the instantaneous and often-collaborative nature of it, I feel like . . . well, I feel a lot like it takes away from my real writing. And I hate to say this isn’t my ‘real writing,’ but I’ve never thought of it that way, probably because I use different writing ‘muscles’ to blog than to write . . . well, pretty much everything else. I’ve been discussing with my students the idea of frameworks in writing, and I’ve always thought blogs have a different framework than anything else, probably because everything has its own framework.

Then again, that may be just me.

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I get another batch of student papers tomorrow, so I’ll have that to do over the weekend, but I’m also trying to finish a couple of other projects I’ve been working on. They’ve all been slow going, probably because I’ve got a lot going on.

So far, it’s two novellas and three short stories, though either of those novellas might end up longer than I think. The one I’m concentrating on most right now is called Meets Girl, and I’m hitting the end of the first act of the story but am already past the fifty page mark.

I’m hoping to finish all five by the end of November.

But I’m also winding down the publishing experiment I conducted over the past year and a half, and I do want to blog about it. It’s set me to thinking about a lot of different things, all related to writing and publishing and reading. I’ve been rethinking removing my content from Lulu, because so far it’s worked pretty well and maybe I shouldn’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke. I will be talking about my experience with Lulu, though probably not here (more on that to come).

Galleycat is the publishing industry news blog over at, which is one of the single most valuable resources for writers and people in the creative industry I have ever encountered. A membership in the AvantGuild costs, like, $80 for two years, but it gets you exclusive interviews with agents, editors, and various other industry gurus, as well as access to content regarding both jobs and freelance opportunities. I’ve been a member for a while.

Anyway, Galleycat ran an microinterview/blurb about me this morning. I’d been following their recent coverage of iPhone e-book readers, including Stanza and Feedbooks, and dropped a note to point them the way of my collection. I thought it was a rather nice post.

It’s also worth pointing out that when I note “sales ain’t much,” I generally define “much” as go-jillions of copies. I’d be so bold as to call the actual sales robust, with an additional exciting to further downloads. To wit: so far, Entrekin has raised nearly $700 earmarked for the United Way NYC, which works out to a little bit more than a dollar for every book sold. In about a year and a half, I’m up to nearly fifteen hundred downloads overall, with a little more than a third of those accounted for by the collection itself and new downloads trickling in every day.

Which is, largely, why I called the sales “ain’t much.” Then again, I’ve made about as much so far as I probably would have had I tried to sell the stories to various magazines, journals, and ezines; readers seem to like it; and as I note in that interview, I’m proud of the experiment that is the final product.

One fun thing about it all?

Technically, I think Entrekin may be the bestselling e-book on the iPhone.

Over at BookChase, Sam Houston reviews Entrekin:

there is a lot to like here and Entrekin is a fun look at the beginning of what just might turn out to be a very successful writing career

From his lips to God’s ear, I say.

And here’s the link to buy the book. It’s only a couple bucks, both of which go to the United Way NYC in honor of those we lost on September 11th.

My classes at Regis began this week, at the same time that I set in motion my departure from Lulu and wound up the assignment I’ve been guiding my students through.

The class, so far: meh. I don’t have a business background and, indeed, never took any such courses in college, even despite two degrees and graduate school. Which means that, though I’m currently attending Regis, I’m really doing a conditional acceptance sort of thing. I have to pass a couple of Foundations of Business or somesuchlike courses.

Which would be fine. I get that I need to know stuff like statistics. And I can’t wait to get to marketing.


(you knew there was going to be a but, right? Which gives me an opportunity to try out this “more” function thingy I’ve been wanting to use)

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I’m coming, once again, into the final heat of my novel. It’s a space I feel like I’ve been a thousand times already, which is funny, really, and a situation you’ll see the humor/irony in once you’ve read it. I’ve realized it needs a bit of restructuring, consolidation here and re-chaptering there, and I know there are now three key elements to write (after which, it’s mostly just pruning).

But I feel like I got it last time. The last draft, reading it (and writing it, for that matter), felt like an epiphany. Felt like the first time I really understood the story I was trying to tell, and what it was about (what? I’m dense like that sometimes).

I think part of the issue was that the story changed so hard between the first draft and one I wrote just as I started graduate school; not just because my writing improved, but also because of September 11th, which is somewhat significant in the story. The book itself is set on October 31, 2001, so the world is still, in a way, feeling the impact of those planes, and, in many ways, hasn’t yet understood how it will continue to be affected.

And now at the real end. Because I’ve realized that it’s time to move on. After this draft, I’ve said all I can of this story. I’m going to finish before the end of the month, and then next month will be devoted to job searching and submissions, two process which, I think, probably share a lot in common. I’m also going to finish a couple of short stories I’ve been thinking of, and then . . .

Well, lots. There’s a lot I’m uncertain of, considering the next project, considering what forms they may take, considering a lot of things, but then again, there’s a little voice in the back of my head I imagine as spoken by a sweet old man with giant spectacles and the sort of mischievous grin only someone familiar with magic can pull off, and he’s whispering in my ear, “Just sit down and write write write.”

As advice goes, I’m not sure there’s better at this point.

In light of the discussion on what editors actually do, and why they may or may not be necessary, I thought I’d point to a piece I found over at the New Yorker (though I’m not sure whom I found it by. Someone in my blogroll, probably). The article concerns Raymond Carver and his editor, one Gordon Lish.

I’ve not read much Carver. My sister is a big fan of his, and even won a bet concerning plot and structure by showing her professor a copy of one of Carver’s collections, but I’ve not really yet explored much of his stuff. I don’t know much about Carver at all, really. He just ain’t my cup of tea, to be honest. I make jokes all the time about blowing shit up, but Carver’s stories, while minimalist, also seem a careful study in the “not much happens” school of short story telling. Which always makes me say, “Wait, nothing happened? Then why the fuck are you telling me the story? Is there a point?”

Personal predilections aside, his voice is distinctive. Nothing may happen, but somehow, you still sort of feel the nothing happening. His stories are weird that way.

Anyway, Gordon Lish was editor of Esquire for several years. Judging by his Wikipedia entry, he was involved with the “Merry Pranksters,” including Kerouac, Casaday, and Ginsberg in SF before he and his second wife moved to NYC. He earned some renown through his career: DeLillo, Kundera, Nabokov . . . the list goes on.

From the Wikipedia entry on Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”:

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is actually a heavily edited version of Carver’s original draft, “Beginners.” His editor, Gordon Lish, cut out nearly half of Carver’s story, adding in details of his own. Carver’s version, released by his widow, Tess Gallagher, in December 2007 to The New Yorker magazine, shows the extensive, and sometimes apparently arbitrary edits.

Now I’m going to speak about this from some personal experience, and admit something; I was, for other writers, not a very good editor. I always tried to make the writing better, the story better, but often to the detriment of the original material, the original voice, and the original content. A good editor maintains that original content; I really wasn’t one. I wasn’t bad, exactly; I just wasn’t good.

Here’s the New Yorker article on the story.

I think it’s worth reading if only for the glance into the sometimes esoteric realm of what occurs behind the scenes in writing and publishing. Considering Lish’s edits, is the story really any better, or is it, in fact, worse for the wear? I’ll admit I found Carver’s original final several paragraphs rather poignant, especially the horses bit, and especially the end; does their loss negatively affect the story? Or was Lish correct that they were stronger without them?

Or is Lish just some editor who was never good enough to be a writer and so had to butcher other author’s works? Sure, he “introduced” major writers of the 20th century, but what did he do to their stories? Considering the finalized state of Carver’s story compared to its original, I cringe to think what he did to Nabokov and Kundera, personally. And I don’t even really like either of them.

Questions, questions.

At what point do you, as Carver say, “You know what? Sorry, but that’s not the story I wrote. You can publish that, if you like, but you’ll have to write it yourself.”

It’s almost like Lish was the P. Diddy of his time, sampling a classic song, laying a bit of new vocal on it, calling it his own, and cashing in.

Or maybe it’s almost like Lish helped those writers transcend their otherwise mediocre writing?

I’ll admit, I haven’t a clue.

Which is, largely, the reason I chose to self-publish my collection. Not because I didn’t want editorial input; I’d already gotten it, several times over. Rather, just because I just don’t know how important editorial input is to short stories anymore.

Finally, also, some thoughts on how to become an editor, over at et cetera.

Caught this article on the New York Times site this morning. Seems to be a day or so old, and it’s supposed to be about a movie that takes place in academia, but the article seems to be about how strange it is for a fiction writer to work in Hollywood, and what a difficult time of it said fiction writer would have.

I actually get that, at least considering the author in question, one Mark Jude Poirier. I’ve never actually heard of Poirier, but he’s apparently got two short story collections and two novels under his belt, and he studied at both the University of Iowa and Johns Hopkins, both of which have renowned writing programs, though the article doesn’t mention what Poirier studied. It does mention what Poirier writes about, to some degree:

His published writing, which also includes a second story collection, “Unsung Heroes of American Industry” (2001), and a second novel, “Modern Ranch Living” (2004), is distinguished by good, dry jokes, a fine appreciation of messy families (he is one of 11 children), a tremendous affection for teenagers and losers, and a strange fascination with amusement-park rides. Only the last is missing from “Smart People.”

I could see why that might not work in a movie, or at least might become one of those pointless, “character-driven” pieces that inevitably come up for Oscars. Rafferty uses this dichotomy, though, to make some blanket statements:

But mostly nothing happens, except in the sense that novelists and short-story writers understand. For them moving a character from not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event.

And that may be why so few writers of fiction manage to succeed, or even to be minimally comfortable, in Hollywood. There was a time when the studios, hankering for prestige, would throw money at well-known literary figures and set them to work on projects to which their actual talents were almost risibly irrelevant: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, William Faulkner, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, among others, all did their stints and went home, for the most part, baffled. (Playwrights, with their expertise in dramatic construction and ingrained audience-pleasing instincts, usually fared better.)

These days Hollywood — even “independent” Hollywood — doesn’t frequently come calling on novelists of any literary stature. John Sayles, who directs his own screenplays, has had a productive career, and Richard Price and Larry McMurtry get work too, but it’s a short list. Producers care less about prestige than about marketable stories, and what in the world do fiction writers know about stories?

The fact that “not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event” for many current writers of short stories and novels is I think, for the most part, why some many current short stories and novels suck worse than a gaping chest wound and are crappier than a sewage treatment facility.

I can’t argue with Rafferty’s list of writers of the golden age, nor with the quality of their output; I’ve often said that the best thing William Faulkner ever wrote was The Big Sleep, and the thing about it was that Ray Chandler had already done all the heavy lifting for him. Most successful novel adaptations weren’t written by their novelists; The Shawshank Redemption was written by Frank Darabont, and Jo Rowling hasn’t touched any of the Harry Potter scripts (well. Except to approve them). There are a few writers I can think of who do both successfully: Alex Garland (The Beach), David Benioff, and Neil Gaiman are, roughly, it, but the thing about them is that each seem to have an understanding that, for stories to work, something must happen and someone must change.

If nothing happens and nobody changes, is it really a story?

Or is it actually just a handful of competently composed sentences, told by idiots full of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing?

I’d argue most fiction is the latter, nowadays. Which I suppose makes Rafferty right, in his way, but for all the wrong reasons.