Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

13Apr/100

My Quest for Perspective

I want to begin with this image, taken last Saturday morning:

That's what I saw when I walked into the fiction section of the Borders in Tacoma, Washington. I immediately shot the image on my phone cam and sent it to a few dozen people. The attached message was an abbreviated version of the following paragraph:

The authors listed here are Lewis Carroll, me, Raymond Carver, Willa Cather, Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote, the Nobel Institute's "Greatest Novel of All Time"), and (an idol of mine) Michael Chabon. "One of these things is not like the others. Tell me, can you tell me which one?"

I felt enormous pride as I looked at this pair of shelves. I'd made it. The proof was right there. Clearly, item one of my bucket list was a fait d'accompli. Then I sat down for my well-organized, Weekly Volcano-publicized signing. After two hours, I had sold not one single book, despite talking to several interesting people and handing out cards and bookmarks. I moved my flyers around and waved at people in the coffee shop. An hour and a half after that, I still hadn't sold a book. Worse yet, I couldn't even give away individually wrapped Twinkies and Zingers! Coming on the heels of an Oklahoma book tour in which I made plenty of contacts but sold relatively few books, the experience was devastating. I'll confess that when I went by my publisher's office on the way home, I was in a dreadful mood, and try as I might, I'm sure I acquitted myself poorly. I think more than anything I felt like a failure. Maybe no one handles that gracefully.

I've been accused of bipolarity, and while that's stretching things, it's certainly fair to say I have "an artist's temperament." (I know, because fair people say it with unnerving regularity.) Used to be, I'd find myself in self-recriminatory funks that would last for months. These days my turnaround time is only about six or seven hours, especially in response to the skillful application of social interaction and alcohol.

According to the extremely useful Author 101: Bestselling Book Publicity by Frishman and Spizman (the least popular DC superheroes), "Few authors actually make money from the sales of their books. Most, especially first-timers, receive meager royalties and they don't get them until their publishers recoup whatever advances they paid....The best way for authors to strike it rich is to harvest other benefits from their books (p. xviii)." I didn't realize at the start how true this would be. Indeed, I indulged myself in the foolish notion, reinforced by my optimistic publishing company, that I could "strike it rich" enough to pay off my credit card, perhaps even that graduate student loan from the mid-'90s. I'm reminded of the time my ex-wife's divorce attorney saw me on TV (I had just begun Hollywood extra work, which pays minimum wage) and angrily demanded half my new fortune. She estimated it in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars. I eagerly replied that if she could find it, she was certainly entitled to fifty percent of it. I didn't tell her she'd have better luck searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant.

So here I am, glory rich, money poor. I never used to care about any of that. I thought forty thou a year at Warner Bros. was living the dream, as I paid an exorbitant Hollywood rent and drove a Ford Escort I bought from my kid sister. Now I'm in love with a practical woman. She owns a condo--well, the part the bank doesn't own, anyway--and drives a sports car I refer to as "the Batmobile." She has a retirement plan and (I'm pretty sure) an investment portfolio. She clips coupons but knows her way around Europe. I, on the other hand, ate roadside tacos in Tijuana once. True story. Living the dream.

On the other hand, I've walked the red carpet at Hollywood premieres. I've partied with celebs. I've directed plays and indie shorts in the toughest entertainment market on Earth. I've written for one of my favorite magazines. I've ridden an elephant and lain on a bed of nails. I've had sex on a rooftop and been complimented by a Playmate of the Year (though not, it must be admitted, at the same time). I've insulted Jean-Claude Van Damme to his face, and I lived to tell the tale. And now, I'm a published author, whose book is on a shelf amid talents, the hems of whose literary garments I'm unfit to touch.

So why was I so damn unhappy?

I know my publisher hasn't recouped its investment yet. I know I'm a rank amateur when it comes to book promotion and tour management, and for "rank" you can substitute "incompetent." I know I've let people down. That weighs heavily on me. I think some people, even friends, believe I've been launched into a higher tax bracket, and maybe they think I look down on them now. These are not towering heights, Gentle Reader. Waves of money are not pouring in. How do you convince bookstores in Peoria, Illinois to take a chance on a first-time novelist? We don't know. We're still trying. Statisticians disagree whether the book business is up or down over the last two years, but it's absolutely doing a great job of edging out the little guy via sweetheart deals between distribution superpowers. The publisher says we won't know how we're doing for months, maybe years, and there are times when that's a difficult slogan to rally behind.

Imagine my chagrin, as they say, when I read numbers like these: First novel by Danielle Trussoni, Angelology, 88,000 copies shipped. First novel by Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn, 117,000 copies in print. Sarah Palin's first book, Going Rogue, over 2.6 million copies in its first six weeks--and she didn't even write it.

On the other hand...

Several thousand of those copies were bought by Palin's own political action group, according to ABC News. Tussoni's first novel wasn't her first book; her memoir Falling Through the Earth was a New York Times Book of the Year but is currently available for two bucks on Amazon. Of Marlantes' Matterhorn, the Seattle Times reports: "[For 33 years] no one would publish it. He kept revising. In the 1980s, no agent would even read it. In the 1990s, he was told to cut it in half and make it about the Gulf War. In the 2000s, same advice--except to switch the story to Afghanistan....Originally published by a small press, El Leon Literary Arts, Matterhorn was slimmed down and 'speeded up a bit' by the editors at Atlantic, says Marlantes. He was delighted when a Portland bookstore sold 100 copies of the earlier version."

Delighted.

Delighted.

Delighted.

Maybe it's long past time I gave myself a break. Maybe it's time I realized I've accomplished something extraordinary. Amanda assures me that for all her practicality and success, she envies my life of adventure. A staggeringly talented opera singer, she shied away from a life of chasing a dream--which so often feels like chasing the dragon--and now she wonders what might have been. I, on the other hand, regret nothing. Nothing. And I'll tell you something else: I will never regret the years I spent putting myself out there, because you know what? It finally worked. I'm on a shelf with goddamn Lewis Carroll. That is something. That is...well, that's more than enough to make a man delighted.

Amanda asked me if I'd still write if I never made a dime. I've thought about that for days. I've been writing since I was three; why stop now? I probably couldn't if I tried. I'm a writer. I tell stories. I chase the dragon and live to tell the tale. That's who I am. That's what I do. That's me. And if people don't like what I have to say, well, then they shouldn't buy my book. That's on them. If they think my outspokenness makes me a bad person or unfit for the woman I love, then they should ask her or my friends if they agree. Otherwise, they can write their own damn book to debate me if they think they can manage it. Put me down for a copy, in fact, and I'll look forward to their Borders signing.

I don't know if this'll ever pay my bills. Maybe not. Maybe I'll have to keep plugging away at my (actually quite enjoyable) day job in order to throw my fair share of centavos into the family coffer. But "I would rather be ashes than dust!" Here's the "Credo" as ascribed to Jack London: "I would rather that my spark should burn out
     in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
     of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist."

I've been living, not existing, for forty-one years. That's who I am. That's what I do. I write books. And after decades of hard work, one of my books is finally hitting shelves in two states. More will follow. I may never sell 2.6 thousand copies, let alone 2.6 million--but at least I wrote every last one of them. And y'know what? I sold quite a few of them, too.

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30Mar/105

Well, I Never Been to Heaven…

So, Carv, how was your book tour?

Great, fine, fantastic, thank you kindly for asking. How are you?

First things first. Thank you so, so much to all the wonderful people and businesses who supported the Lightfall book tour of Oklahoma. As I've said many times, this was our shared moment in the literary spotlight, and I hope to see you again with Book Two. I appreciate every sale, but more than that, I appreciate your enthusiasm, your friendship, and your relief at my belatedly significant achievements. These are not insincere thanks. Your support means the world to me, and my deep, enduring friendships are my greatest accomplishments, not some tongue-in-cheek novel.

Having said that...

"You can't go home again." We hear that all the time, but I just found out it originated as the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe, in which an author returns to the hometown he described affectionately but sardonically in a novel. The residents of Libya Hill have turned against George Webber, despite the popularity of his novel, and he receives death threats. "Webber" writes, "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame...back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." Well, I didn't receive death threats; but if I had to describe my book tour of Oklahoma in one word, that word wouldn't be "home," it'd be "surreal."

The weirdness started the second we got off the plane. I say "we" because my mom traveled with me, partly to visit her own mother in Pittsburg County, but also to serve as road manager. We'd delayed this trip from December, expressly to avoid Oklahoma winter. The weather in Tulsa was gorgeous the day we arrived, but every news channel warned of an oncoming blizzard. Our sales in McAlester and Ada would depend largely on what hour the storm arrived on Saturday the 20th, so of course I spent Friday the 19th in a paranoid funk.

Halfway between Tulsa and McAlester, we stopped in Muskogee so I could see my dad. Dad's a big fan of the book, and he wanted to give me some research materials he'd procured for my next novel. In keeping with the theme of our trip, this was the first time my mom and dad had a real conversation in something like a decade. I'm not sure they fully recognized each other anymore. How bizarre to watch my parents meet for the second time.

I barely slept that night, listening to the wind pick up and imagining snowdrifts in otherwise empty bookstore parking lots. It's certainly true that the impending storm did limit our attendance, but I wound up speaking to people I hadn't seen in person since the early '80s. My high school teacher assured me I hadn't changed. I wonder if that's altogether good news. Five minutes after the McAlester event officially ended, as we frantically packed to try and outrace snow and sleet, one last visitor arrived at Harbor Mountain Coffee Shop--ah, but that's a story for another time. Suffice it to say the whole experience was like Marty McFly fumbling for words at the Enchantment under the Sea Dance. I'd stepped out of Doc Brown's souped-up De Lorean into my own origin story, a quarter century gone in the flash of a flux capacitor.

Hastings in Ada was the event I'd looked forward to most--indeed, I'd been fantasizing about just such an event since I sold other writer's books from behind the counter of the Ada Hastings back in 1991. The surreality continued, as one customer seemed to believe I was exactly as successful as neophyte writer Sarah Palin. (I'm not, by the way. I'm not even as successful as her ghost writer.) A close friend badgered me the whole time about my repeated references to Lightfall on Facebook. I can't help that, I said. For you Facebook is just a clubhouse for Farmville and random observations. For me it's more like a storefront. Since my publisher's advertising budget is limited to none these days, we've been forced to push paper all over the Internet. I know I look like a narcissist. I still have mixed feelings about becoming "Christian Carvajal dot com." I know some people think I live for glory and adulation. And it's funny, because the truth is, adulation makes me tired and unhappy. I'm an introvert, which is why I decided to spend so much time writing in dim rooms in the first place. All that needling from my friend ruined the experience for me, I must say, corrupting what should have been one of the peak experiences of my life. Even after the storm passed, my signing at the Ada Public Library was a dud. We sold one book, to the library itself--not exactly a pick-me-up.

An old friend and mentor, Dr. Gerald Williamson, gave me sound advice that helped put the weekend in perspective, rejuvenating me for a series of readings and speaking engagements at East Central University, my undergraduate alma mater. As the week went on, something changed for me in Ada. As I walked into clubs and restaurants, I started hearing buzz: "That author guy's here." One unknown woman offered to buy me a drink (an offer I politely refused), then rubbed my scalp for several minutes. I'd already received permission from Amanda to flirt with strange women while on my working vacation, but before I could dive too deeply into intergender schmoozing, my friend Michael was accosted by another, also unfamiliar woman who called him--and I quote!--a "fuckstain." Seems small-town divorces lead to fierce loyalties. Not my drama, not my problem, but definitely part of the weirdness I experienced in the town I used to call home. Now I found myself thoroughly relieved to be free of it all.

When I booked a radio interview with my buddy Mike Manos at KADA-FM, there's no possible way I could have ever imagined I'd be following a call-in interview with Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, but that's exactly what happened. I'm probably not far off when I say Mike's audience doubled that morning, but it certainly wasn't my appearance that did the trick.

I could tell weird Oklahoma stories all day, and believe me, they'll get told one way or other. I'll fictionalize some of them into material for a new section ("TALES! of Sugar Roses") coming to ChristianCarvajal.com over the next few weeks. For now let me just say I found myself, over and over again, confronted by all the many Christian Carvajals I've been over the last thirty years. How were sales? Not so good. The weather and flawed self-promotion worked against me. I worried about that, until Jen from Fear Nought explained the real context of the trip. "Most authors don't really sell books on a book tour," she assured me. "It's not a sales event, it's a marketing event. The sales begin in earnest once people have heard of you." All those "author guy" comments promise future success, and I also managed to make some promising contacts along the way. Plus, you know, Dog the Bounty Hunter, so I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

How was my first author tour? Surreal. Bizarre. Indescribably, often wonderfully weird. I've tried for the last forty-eight hours--as I went temporarily vegan in order to detox from chicken-fried Oklahoma cuisine--to decide how I feel about the whole thing. I guess the closest I can come to describing it is: It was the intermission of my life. Barring accident or some Kurzweil singularity of medical innovation, I'm about halfway through my allotted lifespan, so this was the moment my Oklahoma ended, clearing the way for a radically different second act in Washington state. My life is Amanda now. My life is teaching. My life is "that author guy," whether any of us were ready for it or not. Ada will always be my past now, a memory as lovely and fragile as sugar roses.

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23Mar/101

The Oklahoma Book Tour Rolls On!

Tonight, Tuesday the 23rd, 7:00 p.m.: Estep Center, East Central University, Ada. Come on out for a free reading and Q&A, followed by a book signing, followed by trivia at Vintage 22 in the new Ada arts district.

Wednesday the 24th, 8:00 a.m., I'll be on KYKC-FM and its sister station, talking to Mike Manos, the namesake of Lightfall's "Righteous Mike." Then and Thursday morning, classroom Q&A's at ECU. I'll also be hanging around at Vintage 22 that night for a Lindsey Erickson trunk party (don't ask). Fun!

Thursday the 25th, 7:00 p.m., outside Waldenbooks in the Shawnee Mall. Book signing and possible reading. I may also be talking to classes in Shawnee that afternoon.

Saturday the 27th, 3:00 p.m., Full Circle Books, Oklahoma City, book signing and possible reading.

I hope to see all of you there. ALL of you!

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11Mar/100

Destination: Sugar Roses

Sorry it's been so long since I've updated, but it's been a busy couple of weeks. I've spoken at Rotary Club meetings and an awesome comic shop, Comic Evolution, in Puyallup, Washington. I've lined up radio interviews and made a name for myself (some would say a "reputation") in the Weekly Volcano. I'm seeing and reviewing two plays in the next forty-eight hours. I'm booked as a guest speaker for Crypticon, a horror and comics convention in Seattle this June. Meanwhile, it's the last few days before finals at my teaching job. Things are flying together at high speed now. The Lightfall is underway. I noticed my book can now be ordered from any Barnes & Noble, both online and within each store. If you live near one, please do me a favor and point this out to the manager there. Let's get things moving!

Speaking of moving, the Oklahoma book tour is a mere nine days away. I cannot wait. Below is the press release we just sent out to newspapers, radio, and TV stations all over Oklahoma. Are you starting to feel the excitement? We accomplished something, you and I, together. I mean that. You were each a big part of our success. In nine days I'll be signing copies of Lightfall at the same entertainment store, the Ada Hastings, where I worked one summer in my undergraduate days. I've dreamed of this moment. My alma mater, which once denied me a job as an adjunct professor of English, has changed its mind and is welcoming me back as a favorite son.

Your job continues, my friends. You Oklahoma Lightfall fans, I want to see and meet you at these signing events, even if you've already bought and read the book. Bring your copy and let me sign it and shake your hand and thank you in person for giving me a shot. Wherever you live, do me a solid and recommend me to your local Barnes & Noble or Borders manager. If you run or know someone who runs an independent bookstore, please give Fear Nought Publishing a call. We cannot lose momentum. It took us far too long--I might even say too many years--to make it this far. We can't let it dissipate now.

Here's my promise to you in return: I will never forget you're a part of Team Lightfall. If you choose to read it in your book group, I'll show up if I can or arrange a conference call if I can't. I will always answer emails to Carv@ChristianCarvajal. If you dislike the book, tell me why and I'll remember it as I work on the next one. If you love the book, tell everyone you know. Talk it up on Facebook, and add me as a friend if you haven't already.

I suppose it may have come as a surprise to many, but Lightfall is about inclusion. It's about opening our minds and hearts and eyes to the valuable insights of others. It's about opening our places of worship to people who may have had different life experiences, or different God experiences, than our own. It's about stepping away from outdated fundamentalism and toward cosmic reverence and humanism. And most of all, it's about the Christ I admire, a guy who came to save us, not from the sins of Adam and Eve, but from our own xenophobia. So what else can I say but this is our book, our moment to share?

See you in Sugar Roses!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Christian Carvajal
4910 Auto Center Way, 201-B
Bremerton, WA 98312
(580) 399-0750
carv@christiancarvajal.com

THE RAPTURE IS COMING TO OKLAHOMA

(Olympia, WA) Fear Nought Publishing is proud to announce an Oklahoma book tour in support of the wide release of LIGHTFALL, a novel by former Ada resident Christian Carvajal. He describes his book as a satirical thriller about the End of the World, as seen from a pious Oklahoma college town called “Sugar Roses.” A series of supernatural events inspires many of Sugar Roses’ Baptist residents to anticipate the Biblical Rapture. What might actually be happening, and how Christians’ true natures are revealed under cataclysmic stress, constitute the central mysteries of the novel. Fear Nought is a traditional publishing company based in Olympia, Washington.

Carvajal will sign copies of LIGHTFALL at Harbor Mountain Coffee in McAlester at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 20, then at the Ada Hastings at 2:00 p.m. He’ll be at the Ada Public Library at 4:00 p.m. Monday the 22nd, then make several appearances at East Central University during that week including a 7:00 p.m. reading in the Estep Center, Tuesday the 23rd. A Thursday night signing is tentatively planned for The Bean and Berry in Shawnee. He’ll conclude his Oklahoma tour at Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City, 3:00 p.m., Saturday the 27th. All events are free and open to the general public.

“I wouldn’t say Sugar Roses is meant to duplicate any Oklahoma town precisely,” Carvajal writes, “but it could sure pass for Ada in dim lighting.”

Christian Carvajal is a 1985 graduate of Crowder High School and a 1993 graduate of East Central University in Ada, where he earned Bachelor’s degrees in Communication (Theatre) and Math for Secondary Education. He currently teaches math at Olympic College in Bremerton and Shelton, Washington, and writes as a theatre critic for THE WEEKLY VOLCANO in Tacoma. He maintains a website and blog at ChristianCarvajal.com. LIGHTFALL is his first published novel.

###
LIGHTFALL
· Fear Nought Publishing
· ISBN: 978-0-9824855-2-1
· Pub Date: November 13, 2009
· Pages: 304 pp. hardcover
· Price: $21.95 hardcover, $4.95 e-book
www.ChristianCarvajal.com

SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:
How do you think your novel will be received in small-town Oklahoma?
What inspired you, an unaffiliated agnostic, to write about religion?
How do you believe the world will really end?
How did your years as a Jehovah's Witness affect your outlook on religion?
Does LIGHTFALL pick on Christians?
Should religion be subject to skepticism and/or satire?
What inspired your book's title?
Can religion and present-day science and technology coexist peacefully?

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5Feb/1018

My Agenda

In the days and weeks before my novel hit shelves, I ran into several people who were uncomfortable with its subject matter. It was implied several times that I'd be pushing an atheist agenda. Well, much like Democrats in the Senate, we atheists and agnostics can't seem to get our act together enough to have an agenda. The truth is, we don't care what you believe or don't believe, as long as you leave us and our public institutions out of it. We don't want you adding pure wishful thinking to our science curricula. We don't want to pay lip service to that Book you haven't read from cover to cover in our courtrooms. And, while it's a trivial point, we don't understand why you insist on paying tribute to an (at best) unproven Deity on our legal tender.

Okay, look. I know you're not crazy when I say things like that. But let's face it, most Christians haven't read their Bible cover to cover. They don't know what's in it. They memorize the inoffensive verses they like, but ignore verses like Exodus 12:29 (God slaughters innocent children) or 2 Peter 3:5 (God made the Earth out of water). And well they should! But they also shouldn't get torqued out of shape when I, a former Jehovah's Witness, know their book better than they do. I do not believe the Bible is infallible. I do not believe the Bible was written by anyone with superhuman comprehension of history, science, or mathematics. I do not believe YHWH aka Elohim is an accurate representation of God, if indeed such a force or Person exists. I do not believe the Bible is a perfect moral guide. It has its moments, of course, but it also believes God once demanded the sacrifice of innocent animals. Moreover, it believes God kills children in order to punish the sins of their parents, including the slaughter of firstborn Egyptians. It believes God is jealous, but also that jealousy is a sin (Galatians 5:19, 20), but also that God is morally perfect. It believes God is incapable of error, but also that God managed to create few perfect things; otherwise, Adam and Eve could not have sinned against God, and entropy just plain wouldn't happen. It believes it's possible for only one family on Earth to be worthy of salvation from a global flood--but really, not even that whole family. (You should read what Noah's children got up to.) It believes in a deluge for which not one scrap of geological evidence exists, only a few thousand years later. It believes humans were formed out of clay when in fact we're made of carbon, not silicon. I could go on and on. The Bible is clearly mythological, and its God is by extension a fictional character who was written inconsistently over centuries of Biblical retelling and compilation.

BUT! If you want to believe otherwise, go right ahead. Honesty is part of my so-called agenda, but changing your mind is not. I have "come out" as an agnostic here, in defiance of constant objection, because I think every agnostic or atheist voice in the public sphere makes it easier for reasoning young people to say what they really think and, if necessary, to step away from such domineering Christian religions as the one in which I was raised. That's not to say I think everyone should quit going to church. My girlfriend's family, for example, attends a Christian church that does quite a bit of good in the world. Perhaps you do, too. If so, my "agenda" doesn't seek to drag you away from an institution you love. It does hope to reduce Christians' ability to formulate American law on the basis of Bible quotes, usually taken out of context, or the contradictory moral codes contained therein.

My agenda, such as it is, is to remind Christians what Christ did and said, how he lived, whom he loved, and--every bit as important!--the kinds of people he shunned. Yes, Jesus did avoid certain people's company, notwithstanding his acceptance of sinners and tax collectors. Jesus avoided people who commercialized religious faith. He mocked those who quoted the Torah to chastise others while hypocritically ignoring their own malfeasance. He tried to lead Jews away from the Law of Moses toward kindness and humility before the illimitable. He opened his arms and heart to people outside his own gender, ethnicity, religion, and code of sexual conduct. He had more love than our own mundane hearts have thus far contained, and while few to none of us are able to duplicate his behavior, we should all aspire to emulate it.

My agenda, such as it is, was to write Lightfall--and any other book I might write from now on--by accessing my better nature, the most noble point of view I can muster. I never write perfect people, because I write what I know and I never met a perfect human. Even Jesus couldn't transform all of Judea or the Roman Empire. I'll never try to teach you morality; I'm no more qualified to write a universal moral code than you are. But I tried, and I'll continue to try, to remind readers of that purest place inside themselves, and to encourage them to put it in motion. I also hope to keep you entertained, if only for a few days while reading my books, or a few minutes while you visit this blog. It makes me feel good to tell stories worth telling.

From Monty Python's Meaning of Life:

"LADY PRESENTER: Well, that's the end of the film. Now, here's the meaning of life. (Thank you, Brigitte.) Mhm. Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy, which, it seems, is the only way these days to get the jaded, video-sated public off their f---ing arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment, bollocks! What they want is filth: people doing things to each other with chainsaws during Tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats...Where's the fun in pictures? Oh, well, there we are. Here's the theme music. Good night."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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3Feb/101

Shelf Life

My friend Deya spotted Lightfall in the Borders in Tacoma--our first chain store!--so my girlfriend had to snap a picture while she was in town:

She also had a great idea: Next time you're out and you spot Lightfall, either on a shelf or being read, snap a picture on your cell phone and send it my way! I'll post it here, and we'll track our success as we begin to see the effects of our new distribution deals.

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2Feb/100

Getting Out There

Writers write. That's fairly obvious, wouldn't you say? What no one tells you is, writers promote even more than they write. Writers compete for your hard-earned entertainment dollars by "getting out there," pressing the flesh, reading, signing, speaking, making connections, flirting, picking fights, and just making obnoxious, ubiquitous nuisances of themselves. Such has been my life for the last two months, and it doesn't show signs of slowing. I'd be worried if it did. Without a national distributor, the most important thing I could do was push myself in front of the eyeballs of local readers, one independent bookstore at a time. It's why this site exists, frankly. I have about as much natural interest in flaunting myself as in dot-com form as you have of working the line at a useless widget factory. All this shamelessly constant self-promotion does not come naturally to me, no matter what my detractors assume, and I seldom enjoy it. I never chased the fame monster, even back when I worked in and around the L.A. film business; I just wanted to be the best storyteller I could, whether by acting, directing, filmmaking, or writing. Yet here we are.

What we're learning, and by "we" I mean my publisher and I, is that the way to sell paperback books is to have a great cover. The way to sell hardcover books is to smile, shake someone's hand, and point him or her directly toward your book with a firm but charming smile in person, signing ballpoint drawn and ready. That's especially true if one doesn't have a distributor. Well, Gentle Reader, if I haven't shaken your hand, it's not for lack of trying. And I'd venture to say I've done a fair job of "getting out there," and yes, books have been sold. At the rate we're going, why, my publisher might just break even in another oh, say, five years, and you can see how that doesn't work for anybody. The economics of the bookselling business require an author to become famous, whether he likes it or not.

The good news is, we now have a national distribution deal in place. That's exceptional news, in fact, and I'm sure my publisher would agree it didn't come a minute too soon. What it means for me is that within a month or so, Lightfall will appear gradually in stores outside my area, perhaps even a store I'll never get the chance to visit (though I will do my best!). It means you're about to know "a famous author." It means our sales numbers will go from hundreds to thousands overnight. And it means I'll have a likely publisher for future writing efforts.

Of course, as I've said before, at some point it's all about you. No self-promotion from any author, even a name brand author, works as well as unsolicited recommendations from readers to friends. When Lightfall hits shelves in Poughkeepsie and Miami and Dayton and Santa Fe, that's when it's even more vital than ever that you tell someone how much you enjoyed it. If you have a friend at your local Borders or Barnes & Noble or Hastings, please start dropping hints that they should stock it. If you know someone with a Kindle or other e-book reader, point them to the download site on Smashwords. If you've already read Lightfall, post a warm review on Amazon. If you're in a book group, recommend Lightfall--and by the way, I'm happy to participate in any way I possibly can. Dan Brown is not going to answer your emails or talk to your book group by phone, perhaps even in person. I will.

I've been trying to think of new ways to "get out there," and I came up with a notion so crazy I can't get it out of my head. I think you and I should write a book together, and by you I mean you. Here's how: I set up a Facebook page called "Let's Be a World-Famous Author." Some friends and I wrote the first few paragraphs of a superhero novel called Up, Up, and Awry! in the comments section of that page. Now it's your turn. Read what we've posted, add your own paragraph, and join me on the Discussion forum. All we need are a thousand short paragraphs, believe it or not, and we'll have written an entire novel. Think of it: A novel written by a thousand people. Is it even possible? Will the novel be any good? Can literature be created via wiki? Check out the page and let me know what you think. It's already attracting fans, but few have been bold enough to write. Maybe potential coauthors are intimidated because they understand, this early in the process, that each paragraph will have a major impact on the story--but God, how exciting is that?

My Oklahoma tour is shaping up beautifully, by the way, and I sure can't wait to see some of you there. I have a feeling we'll have much to celebrate, and I know how inventive my friends are with their celebrations. March 20 - 27 will be a week to remember, so if you're in the great state of Oklahoma, then it's time to spread the word about Lightfall now!

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20Jan/103

Much Obliged

I feel it behooves me to remind you, as if the news all week hasn't been sadly insistent, to give what you can toward earthquake relief in Haiti. I know times are tough all over, but the enormity of the disaster there is simply unfathomable, so the Haitian people need all the help they can get. For secure ways to donate, please click here. Thank you kindly.

And with that, we move on to more frivolous stuff.

So...my sci-fi-lite short story "A Boy and His God" received Honorable Mention (roughly, quarter-finalist) in the 2009 Writers of the Future contest, which is kind of a big deal. Yes, the contest is named for L. Ron Hubbard; still, it's a reliable wellspring of fantasy and science fiction talent, a debutant ball for genre writers and illustrators. It's a sweet vindication, I confess happily, allowing minor hubris, for a story that didn't pass muster at any of the top five sci-fi literary magazines. So take that, vengeful spirit of Isaac Asimov!

The bulk of today's entry stems from a conversation over how much "potty mouth" language does and/or should appear in my writing. I keep it to a minimum here, as I do in most professional conversations. I can't say my language is always G-rated among friends, though, for several reasons. One, I don't consider the use of swear words a moral failing. I do find people who drop the F-bomb around strangers who don't want to hear it boorish, but to me, most words are just that: words. Our "F dash dash dash word" is the verb for "to strike" in Dutch, from which it probably derives. Is a Dutchman swearing when he uses that word? To me, it's just a collection of phonemes, useful in numerous contexts, including my upcoming book about sex. Another good reason to swear among friends? Sometimes it's funny. There are others.

Of course, that's not to say I swear indiscriminately in my writing. I do notice every potty-mouth word I put in, and some I include with tremendous hesitation (the five-letter, bisyllabic whopper on page 131 of Lightfall, for example). I know some of my readers would sincerely prefer if I never used coarse language, even in character dialogue; but I do so rather often because, in my professional opinion, I must. The character in question would talk that way. I know because he or she used that word in the dialogue I heard him or her speak in my head and transcribed, and that artistic fugue state--in which an author "hears" and transcribes a conversation rather than consciously devising it--is the ultimate goal of any fiction writer. It's how we know the prose is cooking. I have to let my characters be and say exactly what's right for them, even if it's not what's right for me or you. Of course, not all of my characters cuss. I'm pretty sure Shay never does, and I know her daughter Lacey speaks exactly as a little Christian girl would and should. Verle says "gol-damn" because it's how some Oklahoma Christians sidle around the sin of profanity. "The Megatron" is willfully profane because he's, well, a demon, or at least a malicious voice who claims to be one. So who do you want a demon to talk like, Sarah Palin? (Actually, that might be amusing, but never mind.)

What I told an offended reader, and I stand by this publicly, is that I "owe" it to my characters to depict them exactly as they would be if they really existed. Now, of course on some level that's utter bullsh--well, you know what I mean. Those characters don't exist, so it's pretentious to claim I owe them a thing. All the same, I feel that to purify their moral decisions or to write every character in a completely inoffensive way would be a disservice to most readers, in that it would be phony. People don't all watch their language. My students and friends certainly don't, even when they should. They don't behave heroically or puritanically at all times or even most of the time. To claim otherwise would be lying and, worse yet for my purposes, an example of lousy writing.

Look, maybe someday I'll write a story that only includes G-rated characters. I haven't done that in decades, but I suppose it's possible. I also suppose it's barely possible that I'll feel the urge someday to write a children's book, for which the innocence of the reader would necessarily trump authorial license. But until I write such a story, and I must say I'm not inclined to do so any time soon, I feel a huge obligation to write characters honestly. They'll do and say exactly what they'd "really" do and say. And y'know what? I also have to admit I find people who do exactly the right thing all the time, well, maybe just the teensiest bit boring. Good stories arise from conflict, and where's the conflict in a room full of upstanding citizens?

Boy, talk about a sense of obligation: You may not know this, but I'm a failed movie director. I directed a video short called The Storm and the Fisherman back in 2003, and despite my best efforts, I failed spectacularly. In the aftermath, I knew I'd let dozens of people down to whom I felt profoundly obligated: the actors, the director of photography, my friend Marilyn who created and applied temp tattoos, my friend Colin who wrote a beautiful score, and so on. I'd let myself down, too, but that was the least of my worries. It's the same for me now when I write. Lightfall is out there already, and soon, perhaps, it'll be joined by artistic siblings. I have two families of relatives plus a family of friends, and all of them come to my writing with stratospherical hopes. They want me to be successful, but they also hope I'll come across as a good person. They fear my characters will somehow reflect on me and the loved ones who back me. My girlfriend's family would love it if my books earned a squillion dollars, of course, but not if it meant embarrassing their litle girl. And I get that. I do. I understand; and yes, I owe us all a conscientious effort in that direction. But most of all, I owe it to myself to be the best, most insightful, most interesting, most credible writer I can. That doesn't mean I have to tell you every sordid detail of my own life, Gentle Reader, and believe me, I usually don't. But it does mean I'm obliged to speak the truth (or at least, as Stephen Colbert would have it, the truthiness) to the best of my ability to see and recreate it.

Imagine if your thoughts and feelings were out there for the world to judge. Every word I say about religion or sex or politics, the subjects of my trilogy in progress, gets quoted back to me, and almost always as the intentional start of a debate. I ask you, would you take it personally if you deliberately wrote villains and scoundrels for the sake of dramatic conflict, then some readers assumed those characters speak directly to the kind of person you are? And if you ever found yourself telling thematic stories for a living, would you be crazy or brave enough to say what you honestly feel?

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8Jan/104

Controversy!

"People call me rude," Prince admitted, "I wish we were all nude." Well, I won't go that far, but I do think a bit of controversial conversation at the right time, in the right place adds to the spice of life.

It is risky. My girlfriend admits that when she read my views on religion in another blog two years ago, she almost decided never to go out with me. Some of us worry our bosses will delve too deeply into our Web footprint. Maybe what seems most unfair is that we suspect we'd be penalized for behavior far less tawdry than that of those who would sit in judgment. We know we have secret lives, and we wonder how ours stack up to the secret lives of others.

I began talking to people in depth about religion years before I put pen to paper on Lightfall. I found huge holes in people's belief systems, and they weren't always happy to discover those holes existed. Their discomfort would spike at unpredictable moments. Okay, so they didn't really believe the Bible was 100% true--but you can pry the global flood myth out of their cold dead hands! Or they ignored most Biblical rules of morality, while still maintaining kung fu grip on the homophobia of centuries past.

We can't even agree on which taboos are scariest to break. I don't mind talking politics or religion with my girlfriend's parents, but sex is off the table. (Good news for the table, right?) Others will happily tell you about their last seventeen bedpost notches, but balk at discussing their annual income.

Now that I'm working on a book about sexuality, more specifically our views and suspicions about the sex lives of others, I felt a new round of research was needed. I'm reluctant to buy field glasses and lurk outside people's windows, so I invited people to take a survey instead. The results are still being collated, and umcomfortable "yes" and "no" answers are only gradually relaxing into more fascinating anecdotal responses--but even now, as I said on Facebook, I'm continually surprised by how surprising people are.

I won't claim I have anything near a statistical sample, especially since, unavoidably, I screened for people who were brave and trusted me enough to return a completed survey. But even so, a few myths seem to fall by the wayside. Do women find it easier to enjoy sex when there's romance involved? Sure, but no more than men do. People seem to think their sex lives are much less exciting than their friends', but in truth, it's a bell curve; most people have average sex lives. In other words, your next-door neighbors might be tag-teaming a series of babysitters, but apparently none of us are. Sadomasochism, voyeurism, and exhibitionism are also far less common than we expect, at least in large doses.

Yet anyone who's ever thumbed heatedly through a Nancy Friday book knows we Westerners create and maintain vivid fantasy lives. My next book is about a resort that attempts to give people what they believe they want from sex, and how it all falls apart. Thematically, I suppose it'll be similar to McEwan's On Chesil Beach, only funnier. I think of it as Jurassic Park with an order of nookie. It's not erotica; far from it. It's black comedy.

I know that of my three "controversy" novels (book three will cover politics), the sex novel will be the toughest for my two families to accept. They'll read about fictional characters and assume, or fear, that I'm "really" talking about me or my significant other. Of course, the sex novel will probably also be the biggest seller of my career, so perhaps that'll mitigate the awkwardness a tad. I suppose I should worry about future employers reading it, too; but y'know, at some point, my life contracted a full-blown case of in for a penny, in for a pound.

Here, then (in an early draft, at least), is the very first paragraph of my novel-in-progress:

The following memoir is adapted and expanded from an article in American Zeitgeist magazine ("Down and Out in Pornotopia," 18.2: 42-49) and has been extensively fact-checked by the author, American Zeitgeist, and Mr. Stein. However, much of the documentation needed to verify the entirety of this account was either lost in the Bliss Panerotic incident of June 12 or is still ensconced within Panerotic Entertainment Group, Inc. Panerotic has refused at least four written requests for interviews and/or relevant documents. Statements within this book are used by permission, but may not reflect the views of Panerotic Entertainment Group, American Zeitgeist, the publisher, or its partners...

Am I trying to whet your appetite? You bet.

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4Jan/101

This Is Our Apocalypse

Lightfall: Book Trailer from Preston Porter, Partner @ Fear N on Vimeo.

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