Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: writing (page 2 of 6)

Happy Fourth of July!

On July 4th, 1776, the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence, a formal explanation of why it had declared itself independent of Britain on July 2. It was widely distributed and, most historians believe, fully and formally signed nearly a month later, on August 2nd. It is not the key document in the formation of the US; that distinction belongs to the Constitution, which formally founded our government, but it is arguable that the Declaration made the Constitution possible. It was issued near the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, which would last another 7 years.

Independence is a wonderful thing. And it should be celebrated.

There’s a new revolution in independence occurring, this time around in media and culture. The Internet has made possible instantaneous and widespread distribution of information, an unprecedented degree of sharing never before imagined. It’s a glorious thing, and many people are taking terrific advantage of it.

I’m one of those people, but I am not the only one.

This July 4th, I’ve made my novel The Prodigal Hour available on Amazon. It’s the world’s first pre-/post-9/11 novel, and Elizabeth Eslami, author of Bone Worship, called it “A thrilling head rush of a book.”

It’s right here.

Again, however, I’m not the only one. This isn’t about sharing one novel. It’s about independence, and it’s about tellers of stories and makers of films and players of songs, all of whom are doing so because they love it and want to share it with the world. So it’s about helping to share those stories and films and songs. It’s about the beginning of a revolutionary new era, and one that can only be made better with support from each other.

So share this. You don’t have to buy anything; this isn’t about money, or destruction, to allude to the Beatles. Just tell your friends. Tell everyone about the most recent indie movie you saw. Tell your family about a new indie novel. Go to a bar and listen to a new indie band.

I’m Will Entrekin, and this is my declaration of independence:

When in the course of telling stories it becomes necessary for one author to eschew pursuing engagement with corporations and to assume among the powers of the word the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Stories and of Written Words entitle him, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that he should declare the causes which impel him to that decision.

I hold these truths to be self-evident: that all books are not created equal but deserve an equal chance among readers; that they are written by their creators with certain inalienable hopes; that among these are dreams, passion, and the pursuit of ideas.

I, therefore, but a single author among legion, do independently publish my work.

What’s yours? Feel free to share your work and link in the comments. In addition, I created a Facebook event page; feel free to attend it and share it among your friends.

New to the novel? Start here.

Southwark, England. 1606.

The first public performance of Shakespeare’s
The Tragedy of Macbeth


The Globe Theater was exactly as Leonard Kensington had expected: an open-air amphitheatre with three levels of gallery seats looming up and over him. Crushed hazelnut shells on the ground didn’t quite mask the body odor of 2,000 people who lived in a society that hadn’t yet discovered underarm deodorant.

Onstage, Richard Burbage, as Macbeth, began the fifth act to conclude the play. “Hang out our banners on the outward walls,” he pointed out over the audience as if he were seeing Inverness, and so the Globe pretended it was a centuries-old castle in Scotland, the river Thames pretended it was Ness. “The cry is still, ‘They come.’ Our castle’s strength will laugh a siege to scorn. Here let them lie till famine and the ague eat them up. Were they not forced with those that should be ours, we might have met them dareful, beard to beard, and beat them backward home.”

The quantum implant in Leonard’s temporal lobe began to buzz. He squeezed his earlobe, quietly cleared his throat, which meant: wait. He looked around at the people standing beside him, all of whom were enthralled by that big man on the stage and his words.

Backstage, and so in the bowels of Castle Inverness, several women screamed. Macbeth turned toward the sound. “What is that noise?”

“It is the cry of women, my good lord,” Will Shakespeare, playing Macbeth’s attendant, Seyton, answered. Shakespeare was a small, pale man with fine features and quick, lively eyes. He hurried offstage to investigate.

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“It is not unknown to me that many have been and still are of the opinion that the affairs of this world are so under the direction of Fortune and of God that man’s prudence cannot control them; in fact that man has no resource against them. For this reason, many think there is no use in sweating much over such matters, but that one might as well let Chance take control.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli, in The Prince


Part I

Present Fears

“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute, there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”



Chance Sowin hoped only for a new beginning.

Halloween 2001 found Chance driving the narrow streets of the development in which he’d grown up, headed home. Six weeks before, he’d hustled out the main entrance of the World Trade Center only an hour before it fell, taking all that business and life, along with Chance’s temp job at a law firm, down with it.

Chance hadn’t been sure what to do next. His father, Dennis, had suggested he come home. “Take some time,” his father had said. “Sort yourself out. All the time you need.”

Chance had been uncertain about it until he’d realized there was no longer anything keeping him in Manhattan, and familiar sounded good. Familiar sounded just about right. And so he’d packed everything he owned into a compact rental car and taken the Jersey Turnpike south, and now he pulled that car to the curb in front of his childhood home, a long, flat rancher. He squeezed the steering wheel as he took a deep breath, as if to steel himself, though for what he didn’t know, and then he got out of the car and stepped up the curb and was struck by déjà vu like sudden density goose-prickling up his neck: You’ve been here before.

Of course he had: he’d grown up here, after all, played stickball at the foot of the cul-de-sac, even tripped and busted his baby teeth on the very same curb he stepped up, but what crawled his skin was not simple familiarity. It was stronger, stranger, and it made the world seem hyper-intense, the October leaves speckling the lawn more vibrant, the afternoon light more glaring. It persisted as Chance crossed his lawn, until he saw the front door: brief space between the edge of the door and its jamb, wood splintered where the deadbolt had broken. Chance felt two simultaneous emotions collide.

First: uncanny familiarity—of infinite broken doors on infinite splintered days, over and over again—followed then, as lightning by thunder, by cold, brutal fear.
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Mark Coker’s Smashwords seems, ostensibly, a rather brilliant idea. It’s sort of the ebook equivalent of Amazon’s Author page; whereas Amazon’s page lists all the work an author has available on Amazon in one spot, Smashwords makes available a single title in myriad different digital formats, including the usual ePub and mobi formats (for pretty much all readers and for Kindle, respectively), as well as PDFs (people still read those?), html (for web viewing, I figure, whether by desktop, laptop, or tablet), Microsoft’s Word (er. For people who want to word process it?), and even text (for people who . . . I give up. You can tell me why people want text files).

I like the idea in theory. My job, as I see it, is to both write the story and make it accessible, and accessibility works on several levels. I want to make the story appeal to readers, but I also want it to be available in any way a reader wants. Even if I can’t imagine why a reader wants a certain story available in a certain way.

Nowadays, there are myriad ways for people to read stories. There are no fewer than four different Android tablets available right now, and that’s only Android. There’s also the iPad and now the new HP tablet running WebOS. In terms of ereaders, we’ve got Kindles and nooks, of course, but also Kobo and Sony’s efforts and several other somewhat generic readers all of which have e-ink displays and most of which display ePub files and etc.

So far as I can tell, Smashwords seeks to solve the actually legitimate problem of making one story available for every platform. Maybe that’s the reason for the txt file?

And it’s not a bad solution, by any means.

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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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One of the most interesting parts of this new job I’ve got (and believe me, there are many. I seriously can’t express how excited I am about this gig) is that I’m working on a special project that in many ways combines everything I’ve ever studied and written and challenges me to take it all up a notch. Writing? Better. Researching? Better. Reading? Better. Brainstorming? Better. Publishing? Better.

It’s totally exhilarating.

And it feels like every day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked a very simple question:

“What’s a story?”

I love this question. It so totally and completely summarizes–at least for me–the entire dilemma of the internet and new publishing and new writing and web 7.6 and social networking and connection and etc.

Used to be, there were such clear delineations.

You write a short story, you sent it off to a magazine. You knew The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Playboy, and Esquire were the most desirable markets, so you sent cold queries to them before you slunk off, rejected, to try out one of those smaller magazines nobody ever heard of that paid you in a copy and the prestige of being published.

You write a novel, you sent it off to agents. Because publishers and editors, of course, wouldn’t accept unagented manuscripts. Mainly because they hoped to use their collegiate, unpaid interns for esoteric tasks unrelated to managing the slush. Agents were okay assigning slavesinterns to the slushpile. You hoped for a four figure advance you might see three of after everyone else had taken their shares.

You wrote private thoughts in your journal. If you had one. If not, you bored your friends.

I’m kidding.


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(besides time travel)

I thought I’d share the as-it-stands cover copy:

“Chance Sowin hoped only for a new beginning.”

On October 31, 2001, six weeks after escaping the World Trade Center attacks, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary as his father, Dennis, is shot and killed.

What begins as a homicide investigation escalates when the Joint Terrorism Task Force arrrives. Where he hoped for solutions, Chance finds only more questions: who killed his father, and why? Was his father—a physicist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study—working on dangerous research? Why did Dennis build a secret laboratory in his basement?

Chance might not know the answers, but Cassie Lackesis, Dennis’ research assistant, thinks she does. She isn’t certain that Dennis discovered a way to time travel, but she knows who told her: Chance.

Together with Cassie, Chance will go on a journey across time and space that will challenge his every notion of ideas like “right” and “good.” One young man’s desire to make a difference will become, instead, a race against time as he tries to prevent forces he could never understand from not just destroying the universe but rendering it nonexistent.

When every action has a reaction, every force its counter, Chance will find that the truest measure of his character is not what he wants but what he will do when the prodigal hour returns.”

My aim was concise, elegant, and hook-y. My aim was those people who, inspired by the WTC-Light tribute that is the cover, flipped over the book to scope the back cover.

What do you think? It’s not final, yet, after all. Still a month before it’s available.

Are you excited?

Because if you’re not, you’re gonna be.

In April 2006, I left the corporate world to go back to school. I didn’t know much, only that if I hoped to do what I wanted to do, I needed to be a better writer. For a long time, I had no idea how to go about becoming one. It’s not as though there are standards and qualifications and credentials, sadly. It’s not as though writing is the sort of thing one can study hard enough long enough and pass a test and be appointed one.

It’s not like law or medicine, in other words. It’s not like most things.

Still, I had, then, an inkling. I had a start. I had an idea that felt right, and so I left Jersey and went to USC. I was about to say I left everything I knew to embark on a new journey at the culmination of which–but let’s be honest, that’s overwritten, and I didn’t go to school to learn to overwrite.

Truthfully, I learned one of the best ways to be a better writer is to shut my trap.

USC felt galvanic, the sort of right decision that compels one to forget caution and take a chance. Any chance at all. So I did.

By then I had already joined MySpace, and this gets all wrapped up together, and sometimes I think is why I stop and start at this posting and maintenance thing.

Ah, MySpace. Sometimes I think that MySpace was the worst thing that ever happened to my writing, and it might be, but on the other hand it might simultaneously be the best thing, as well. MySpace is kind of like a zombie movie where so many of us had a dream vacation that went rapidly south because of some virulent outbreak that was caught–in opposition to dramatic theory–just in time, so we all left and quarantined the whole shebang, and now we smile about the memory of all those groups and a few of the bands that flashed there and then got a paragraph’s worth of coverage in Rolling Stone and some putz with a hat while simultaneously expressing relief that whew, thank goodness that’s over.

But boy did I lose sight of writing.

I think, in some ways, I realized it. When I think back, I remember I took a lot of breaks. I’d just check out for a couple weeks. I always have been sporadic when it comes to maintaining the sort of ever-constant vigilance building-a-readership-through-social-networking seems to require.

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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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Yesterday, just the day after my birthday, I got the copy-edited manuscript of The Prodigal Hour back from my editrix.

She had let me see some of the pages before she’d finished, so I’ve already started the final polish–which is basically what this is. A couple outright grammatical errors–I think every manuscript has a few, and Gaiman’s law, of course, states that the first time you open your newly published novel you will do so to the page that contains the most egregious type–but otherwise it’s a fairly clean edit.

Makes sense, of course.

The Prodigal Hour was originally called A Different Tomorrow, and then All Our Yesterdays (which is referenced in Meets Girl) before I went to LA and USC and the title finally came to me. Up until then, I’d been working on a draft of it for several years, but it was only when I got into workshops and began adapting the novel into a screenplay that I really started to make headway on it and improve it.

Kersh helped me reduce the technical gobbledygook, which can become a problem when one is dealing with time travel and attempting to be, if not scientific, at least credible about it. My adviser, Sid Stebel, helped me figure out structure and beats and really carry it off, hewing closely to genre while at the same time allowing breathing room beyond it. It’s always tough when a project outright refuses a simple genre and starts crossing them and uncrossing them and meeting them back around again.

So this week, I’ll be revising, and then I’ll code the book for Kindle for proofreading.

And advanced copies.

Stay tuned for some news on that, and details on how you can get your very own Kindle copy of The Prodigal Hour weeks ahead of its release date.

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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Today, the Association of American Publishers released their findings for February sales figures in publishing.

They are both encouraging and daunting.

I think the most important trend is the simplest:

For the year to date (January/February 2011 vs January/February 2010), which encompasses this heavy post-holiday buying period, e-Books grew 169.4% to $164.1M while the combined categories of print books fell 24.8% to $441.7M.

Yesterday I posted about going to a going-out-of-business Borders, and included some thoughts about the future of the publishing industry. Which, I think, is very much up for grabs.

One thing I keep reading is people proclaiming that publishing is a business. It’s one of the first reasons people cite when corporate houses bestow ridiculous advances on unproven writers who have good otherwise platforms–by “otherwise platforms,” I mean they’re reality show stars, or actors, or political candidates. The overarching idea seems to be that publishers can use those platforms to make those unproven writers successful authors, and there are varying degrees of success achieved.

It is, however, a false assumption, on several levels, not least of which is that initial one of publishing as a business.

Because, you see, publishing is not, actually, a business.

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Consider so-called “self-publishing” for the past several years and you’ll find that every year, someone writes that its “stigma” is disappearing. Perfunctory research dug up this 2002 Wired article, and articles every year following up until now, including this one at the Washington Post. What’s odd is that extensive searches for stigmas associated with either indie filmmaking or indie music-making yield no such results—in fact, the closest I came when Googling for any stigma associated with indie filmmaking were results lamenting the difficulty of an NC-17 film-rating. I thought, at first, I might be using invalid search terms, so I tried “independent”—rather than “indie”—filmmaking; ironically, I found only this Yahoo! question-and-answer post regarding the distinction between the stigma associated with self-publishing and the lack of any associated with independent filmmaking.

What’s interesting about that question is the response thereto: the poster proposes that the distinction is that, when considering writing, often the author is the only person associated with the work (say, a novel, or memoir, or book of poetry). The general thought seems to be that filmmaking can only be collaborative—with a producer and writer and director and actors—while a self-published novel’s creation is isolative—just one writer, in one room, with one keyboard and one screen.

If that is the case, however, wouldn’t it be true that, except in very rare circumstances, neither filmmaking nor music are ever truly “independent”? How often does one encounter a movie written, produced, and directed by one actor in one room? And that doesn’t even mention lighting, sound, and crafts.

Really, sounds like those self-shot YouTube videos one sees, in which users turn on their webcams and talk/rant at it for a few minutes.

(Regardless of your feelings concerning authors who have published their own books—through whatever means—it’s simply not equivalent to ranting at a webcam.)

What it comes down to is simple: for some reason, people respect independence when associated with music recording or filmmaking but not writing, even though writing is the only endeavor of the three that is ever actually accomplished independently.

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You’ve known it’s coming.

I hope you’ve prepared.

I just went over the proof myself, and just handed it to my editrix, who’s informed me she’s attacked it with her red pen.

This summer, I’ll be releasing it to you.

I plan on a similar schedule as with Meets Girl, with some differences, the most notable being that The Prodigal Hour is a vastly different book with a vastly different structure, and I intend to post through to the end of the second act. That’ll be 30 chapters.

You won’t have to wait for each one, though.

I’m aiming to make it available in time for July 4th weekend. The Prodigal Hour has always been my huge, mainstream, uber-commercial, blockbuster of a time-travel novel, and with that in mind, at what better time to make it available than over a big summer weekend?

And for an independent author like myself, what better big summer weekend to do so than the one that celebrates independence?

To celebrate, I’m releasing the first teaser today:

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

Be a doctor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one’s personal.

Exciting Books.

Many people seek meaning all their lives. Who are we, people ask, and why are we here.

I don’t.

I won’t say I understand it all fully, of course, but from the time I was eleven years old, I’ve known I’m here to tell stories, and I’ve known those stories must be exciting.

I remember reading Stephen King’s Needful Things; before then, I’d read the Hardy Boys and A Wrinkle in Time, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Novels and whatever superhero comic books I could get my hands on (I wanted to fly, like Superman, but identified way more with Spiderman and the X-Men. The ones who were different, and knew it, but felt responsibility to the world). Before I read Needful Things, books were just words on paper, images I created in my head. Sure, they were fun, and I loved reading, but not a single one caused me to experience so singular a moment of transcendence as Stephen King (aided and abetted, as he was, by Alan Pangborn and Leland Gaunt).

The climax of that book was a moment I’ll never, ever forget, and partly because I knew I wanted to create moments like that for others.

It’s never been enough for me to write adequate, competent books. Which is good, because for many years, I never did. For many years, I wrote and rewrote bad Dean Koontz rip-offs.

I want my books to change the world. Not the one out there, but this one, here.


I want people to read my books, and afterwards for their lives to have changed, however slightly. I don’t want people to set aside my books and stories like literary detritus, enjoyed but then forgotten when everyday life resumes; I want my stories to cling to people by heart-barbs and brain-catches. I want people to chat with their friends and to start relaying a story that happened to a friend-of-a-friend only to realize, mid-anecdote, that really, they don’t know anyone who had that experience but rather read about it in one of my stories.

That is what I aspire to when I come to a keyboard. One word after another, each one leading toward some moment of revelation, epiphany, and transcendence. One word after another until one world changes the perspective of whomever reads it, so deeply is it felt.

To that end: Exciting Books.

Books and stories that change your world.

It’s so easy to settle for adequate, competent books. There are so many adequate, competent books out there. There are so many books that get the job done, provide mere escapes, momentary distraction from the routine and mundane.

Those are not what Exciting Books aim to be.

Exciting Books aims to be the choice for discerning readers who want extraordinary literary experiences. Exciting Books are meant for readers who don’t want another vampire, another zombie, another mash-up, another spy; Exciting Books are meant for readers who want to read better than incompetent pundits, stoned actors, bedwetters, and sparkly vampires.

For now, Exciting Books is concentrated on the Kindle platform. Why? Because Amazon’s latest Kindle is the most exciting thing to happen to reading since an eleven-year-old boy finished Needful Things and realized he was a writer. Apple’s iPad and Barnes & Noble’s nook color don’t compete, for two reasons. The first is their LCD displays, which are great for just about everything except long-form reading; the second is that both devices can run Kindle apps, which makes the need for Apple’s iBookstore or Nook’s Bookstore exceedingly small (also, they use ePUB, which isn’t nearly as simple or intuitive to create/design/manipulate as Amazon’s format, which is based on the Mobipocket platform and basically comes down to html). By making something available via Kindle, one is effectively making it available on every smartphone/tablet/computing platform in existence.

Company: Exciting Books

Product: Digital books; also, some print for readers who still love paper and bookshelves

Service: Extraordinary literary experiences


What good is that glorious, high-contrast, anti-glare, e-ink display if you’re not reading Exciting Books?

Without Exciting Books, it’s really just a gadget

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Finishing my MBA at Regis University.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And write.

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

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

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

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

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

Wow that seems like eons ago.

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

But really, that’s fodder enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I‘ve been posting stuff online, in various forums, for more than five years. A couple of years ago, shortly after graduating from USC, I realized I needed a while to be quiet. I needed some time to figure out what “being a writer” meant for me.

I’ve realized this is part of it. That the trouble with blogging is not something that concerns me anymore. Don’t take me wrong; I still want to explore the dilemma there, but more in the sense of what marketing and writing mean nowadays.

I’ve nearly completed my marketing MBA. I enrolled in Regis University when I lived, for a time, in Denver several years ago, and it’s possible to complete the program online without any of the connotations of online degrees. It’s not University of Phoenix–with no offense intended to that online institution.

There is, however, an interesting point I stick to there, and I think it applies overall. Nowadays, it’s so easy for people, online, to not only pose as experts but to become them. You get a lot of people talking very loudly in a small community, and regardless of their backgrounds, knowledge bases, and levels of expertise, people start to look to them for advice when the advice they offer is not actually all that sound.

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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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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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“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
-Mark Twain

This past week, a publishing house called New South announced a new, combined edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from which its editor had changed every appearance of the word “nigger” to “slave.” The editor is a so-called Twain scholar (I have some issues with calling anyone who supports such a move a “scholar”) who feels it’s a good option when encountering “a different kind of audience than a professor usually encounters; what we always called ‘the general reader.'”

That Publishers Weekly article continues:

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”

Now, my aunt gave me Huckleberry Finn when I was a kid. I think it’s important to note I couldn’t read it for the first several years I owned it. Literally: couldn’t. Here’s the first paragraph of Huckleberry Finn:

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly — Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is — and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Not too difficult, but Huckleberry Finn speaks in dialect, and dialect is tough to read. At least, it was when you’re a kid who’s mostly been reading The Hardy Boys up until then. Not that you’ve ever been that kid, but I certainly was.

But that ain’t no matter right now. The matter right now is the censoring of a great book by a great author. And yes, that’s what I’d call it, so you can figure out where I stand on the subject.

It’s not a controversial stance. Lots of people have already written lots of pieces opining what a boneheaded move it is. And it’s totally boneheaded, for the record.

Haven’t read anyone discuss why it’s happening, though, or seen any other professors talk about it. Maybe I just haven’t read enough. Not sure, but I thought, being a sometimes professor myself, and having taught race and fiction myself, discussing it was worthwhile.

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That was one of the search phrases that led someone here. The actual phrase was “is blogging worth it writer,” but it immediately rewrote itself as a question in my head. I’m going to figure the seeker in question found “The Trouble with Blogging,” which remains one of the most popular posts on this site.

That post discussed the dilemma sharing writing online, for free, poses to the professional writer–and by “professional,” I’m meaning both those writers who are aspiring toward bestsellerdom and those who have already achieved it. Actually, though, I’ve realized, more accurately, it’s really only a dilemma for aspiring authors, less so for ones who’ve gotten publication deals already; certainly, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King don’t really have to worry about any such dilemmas, given how much money they make from their books already.

Then again, none of them blog.

(Can I note, as an aside, how much I loathe the word? “Blog”? It sounds like the Internet drank too much. It sometimes reads that way, too.)

The prevailing dilemma I wrote about was a simple question often raised in other contexts: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? If I–as a guy who’s endeavored, over the past few years, to become a professional writer, and, indeed, has a master’s degree in it–continue to post good, well thought-out, well written essays on my site, why would readers want to buy my books?

Of course, the answer is right there; because my site is not my book. Because my books–while well written and well executed and occasionally full of essays–are mostly not what is on my site.

But is it worth it?

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