Follow my continued adventures at

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hearing myself type

Ok, so here I am! Selling myself! First post! Go! OK!


Shit, I should have picked a subject for this blog.

I mean, a subject besides my books. I've only written two. That's not a lot to talk about -- particularly if you consider the spoiler-avoidance factor.

When I was 31 or 32 and trying to sell my first novel I started thinking about suicide a lot. It gets expensive to mail sample chapters to publishers, and if you send them an e-mail you worry that it didn't get there, but actually you know that they're just ignoring you because you are one of the approximately 20 percent of the 6 billion humans on this planet who are trying to get someone to publish their books, and they haven't heard of you, and they don't have the time it takes to read the sentence or two that will let them know whether you're Schopenhauer-approved or a rambling shithead.

It's a hopeless waste of time, money, and energy. It's like trying to hit a pinata, only the pinata isn't actually there, and the blindfold is soaked in chloroform, and the last thing you hear before you pass out again is Joyce Carol Oates laughing at you.

In four years of trying, I had one indie publisher, once, ask to see a full manuscript. I sent it. I felt hope -- what a moron. I waited month after month with no response. Finally, after several more e-mail queries, they sent me a form rejection.

Thaaaaaaat episode of our show ended in Loony Bin Field Trip #1.

So I told myself, OK. Life is painful and failure is humiliating. I only expect you to take just so much of this, kiddo. If you still haven't published a novel by the time you're 35, and it still hurts you this much, I am going to squelch the curiosity that is keeping us in this mortal coil (will the Packers EVER win another Super Bowl? Oh, so close! Guess I'll drag the corpse around another year...) and give in to your urge to do whatever it takes to check out of Hotel Hell-Planet.

So this summer, as I nervously approached 34, I found out that will charge you very little to put your book up as a publish-on-demand sort of thing. You get to design your own cover, set your own price, ya-ta-ta-ta... and they just take the production costs as part of what they take out of your cover price. The rest is yours. Granted, they probably take out about 500 times what it costs to actually print the thing... and my paranoid Googling resulted in lots of hits on people saying that Amazon is evyl, that they force small publishers to do something or other, that they stomp on the small press...

To which I said, "Good." It was a small press that put me over the edge. It was a small press that ripped off Lisa Falour when she wrote her autobiography. Small presses, no less than large presses, generally release crap, and they generally release crap by their friends, and isn't the market clogged enough? It's a small press that put out the crappy book of a former acquaintence, who is smug. So fuck 'em.

And so I put my fabulous novel (Girl Detectives, a sort of murder mystery/old-school British farce hybrid) up as a POD, sticking out my little pink tongue. And then I got too swamped by my job to do anything to promote it. (Except write a suicide e-mail to NPR, with mildy ironic results -- see it in my next post!)

I was busy asking myself whether this POD thing meant I had to go on living after 35 even if I never really got anything published, when I got stuck in the looney bin again after having a Thanksgiving breakdown. After I got out of the hospital, for some reason I could not make myself leave the house before dark for a week, so I called in to work nuts. Maybe it was because I hated the people I was working for because they overloaded me till I lost my head, but I knew that my immediate supervisors were actually nice people who were underfunded -- they told me they really should have three people to do my job; they genuinely seemed to wish they could treat me more humanely (not that they did much about it), so I wanted to wait to put myself back in contact with them till I could be civil without short-circuiting. (Although that theory admittedly doesn't explain the overwhelming aversion to daylight.)

This was a really odd time for Chip Smith (Hoover Hog, Nine Banded Books) to pick to e-mail me and ask how I was doing.

I'm surprised I got out of bed to check my e-mail that week, actually.

Must have been bored on the way back from the toilet.

Anyway, he tells me about this publishing company he's started (see above). I've only met the guy face to face once, and we were both too drunk to talk, but we read each other's zines back in the 1990s, and... you can guess where this is headed...

It's the only way anybody not to the manor born ever gets published, it seems. Somebody you've known for a long time starts a company and asks if you've got a manuscript. I always figured that, if it ever happened, this is how it would go. I just thought I'd be a little more bashful about the irony, having spent my adult life seething over nepotism.

However, I honestly admired the prose in the books Chip sent me that he had already published; for example Bradley Smith, who wrote The Man Who Saw His Own Liver, is a novelist who's practically a poet, but he doesn't bash you over the head with it; there's a thick bed of thought under the pretty words, and he's entertaining. And I've always thought Chip was a good writer himself. Nine Banded Books is exactly the kind of project I want to be associated with. (Except for the fact that it's not large and powerful, of course, but even after four years of nut hatches and empty bottles, I still have some pride: I ain't swinging at the damn pinata no more.) And it's not like we were college roommates or drinking buddies or cousins. I'm thinking: maybe he's one of those mythical, leprechaun-type people who publish books because they actually LIKE THEM -- not because they seem marketable, or are about Bettie Paige, or because they owe somebody a favor; and without necessarily knowing the authors well enough to know whether they'll like them personally. He knew me just well enough that I didn't happen to have to sit and wait on his slush pile.

So... we're still sending the contract around in the mail, and I'm still finishing the damn thing, but it looks like... well, unless something goes wrong (always likely), I'm either going to have to go on stumbling around this jolly globe, or renegotiate my suicide deal. Sorry, gang! Maybe I'll help reduce the population some other time.