Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ins and Outs and Overs

26th April 2013

As a child I wasn't allowed to use the phone, so I never developed any ease with the contraption. Besides, my approach to the world is more kinesthetic and I need to be receiving bodily vibes from the person I am talking to. Conversations with disembodied persons leave me tongue tied and grasping for something solid to hold my focus. This week I had a forty minute phone conversation with my disembodied agent whose office lies one block away from the the scene of the bombs that went off last week at the end of the Boston Marathon. (He lives in Boston, though his parent office is in New York.)
In my blog last week I was talking about the phenomenon of Hugh Howey, who managed to secure a contract with my publisher Simon&Schuster that left him managing his own E-rights. My question for my agent had to do with me cashing in on some on-line action.
The first thing he had to say was that Simon&Schuster weren't so happy with the decision they made in this case, because Hugh Howey's book "Wool," isn't doing well in printed book sales. It appears the book had already peaked on-line before he handed it over to the publisher and they paid him royally for it. I'm sure he is laughing all the way to the bank. Besides, now he has a national profile, and anything else he writes is gold. At least for a while.
My agent had just got back from The London Book Fair, where I had assumed all the buzz would be about authors taking the on-line reins for themselves and leaving publishers to the print end of things. However, he says quite the opposite is true. They know they have to get a handle on the on-line business, but for their own benefit.
I wanted to know what he thought about my putting up one of my other books to Kindle, but he pulled up my contract with Simon & Schuster and learned that not only do they have first right of refusal for my next book, but I can't publish anything else within six months of "Veil of Time" coming out.
But I have this book called "Mustang," which is what I would consider a "family book," and which I could perhaps slide in under the auspices of it being a children's book, and then none of their stipulations would apply. I would have to publish it under a different name, however, because S&S don't want people googling me around March 1st next year and coming up with a horse book. It would still take a phone call or two from my agent to have this sanctioned, but he thinks they wouldn't mind my doing this. 
The other idea I ran by my agent had to do with satisfying the contract by showing S&S another of my books, and then keeping hold of the sequel to "Veil of Time," myself. The chief reason for doing this is financial. My agent reasoned, however, that if the the first book does well, S&S are going to want the sequel in a bad way and pay out accordingly. 
At the end of the discussion, the fire had gone out of my campaign, and I realised that everything depends on "Veil of Time" doing swimmingly, and there is little I can do, because of the contract, and because of the uncertainty of the market, but wait it out. My plan, then, is to keep working on the sequel (which is two-thirds of the way finished) and then spruce up the horse story for publication to Kindle under a different name.
In the meantime, my agent promises me, he is onto the publisher to put my project back in motion, at least in terms of sending me the second installment of my advance. He hopes they will have publicity cards ready for me by the summer, but that will involve their sending me some book cover options soon. He is working towards this, too. If anyone ever wonders why a writer needs an agent, this is why. The agent may not have much clout, but their voice carries a heck of a lot further than the author's. I'm not sure how an agent's cut gets carried over from one project to another and for how long he or she expects to cash in, but, from the way the view looks to me at the moment, I'm hoping it is for keeps. My agent claims he won't deal in film rights, but I am hoping to change his mind about that. Just as soon as I get over my phone phobia.
All this business wheeling and dealing seems to have nothing at all to do with the creative process. And it doesn't. But any writer who moves the content of his mind to paper is hoping for some kind of a readership. If you have a story to tell and you write it down, you're hoping for an audience. You want an agent to take as much of the business off your hands as possible, but he or she can't do it all.
On Monday morning, I will go into my office and close the door on the world, and that's the space I am most alive in. This is what Jospeh Campbell calls my "bliss," the place where time loses any currency. No matter that we grasp desperately against the passage of time, in this state of "bliss" it is sheer joy to look at the clock and notice that an hour has past without any sense of it having gone at all. This is where our notions of time break down, when the second hand of the clock appears to be measuring nothing at all but its own circular passage around a face of random numbers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rocky Mountain High

19th April 2013

The situation between traditional publishers and self-publishing seems to be exploding, and fast. This week renound writer David Mamet let it be known he would be managing the e-book sales of his next work himself. Except for those authors who garner mammoth advances, there would seem no reason not to. The internet reaches a worldwide audience instantly, and pays the author much better dividends. I don't own a Kindle, and I personally can't see replacing the physical experience of reading a book with more computer eye strain, but if that's the way things are going, then I should jump on the bandwagon. Last week I talked to my agent about this. At least, I ran the notion by him, but, since he was on his way out to the London Book Fair, we couldn't pursue it in any detail. Next week we are going to do so. More of that to come.
I just discovered two interesting websites that are handy for writers. The first is:, which has short articles on grammar and word-use. There are links to things like "Ten foreign language phrases everyone should know." Anyone fascinated by words (and isn't that part of being a writer?) could spend a while on this site.
The other website is called: and shares posts and interviews with published writers giving advice on topics like self-publishing and the pitfalls therein. All of these sites provide a useful forum for writers to share their experiences not only in the art of writing but in the agent-seeking or publishing process (for instance, the Writer Beware Blog.) One site is even called "Plot Whisperer," though I think if you need that much coaxing, you might be in the wrong business.
I attended a talk by author Cheryl Strayed this week, and I liked her so much that I did what I rarely do: went out to the lobby and bought her book, "Wild." I have been attending author readings, because you always learn something, if only how not to conduct a reading. This winter I have attended readings where the author basically only read from the book. That leaves me feeling cheated, because I can do that for myself. I have attended some which were presented in the format of a conversation, and though that can work, it too often falls into a back and forth between the interviewer and interviewee that the audience feels removed from. (From which the audience feels removed  - I should spend more time at
Cheryl Strayed was good because she presented her personal narrative and told the story around the writing of the book. I imagine that's why most people go to these things - to hear about the process. I am half way through her book Wild, which tells about her three month journey of self-discovery along the 1100 mile Pacific Crest Trail (in boots that were too small.) It's an interesting story, but the reason I keep reading is that the writing is good. That's why I keep going back to "Travels with Charley," not so much for the journey taken but for the writer's eye along the way.
The best reading I ever went to was given by Jeffrey Eugenides when he was promoting his book "Middlesex." The second best was by John Irving talking about "Cider House Rules," and much more.
It is April in The Rocky Mountains and a snow storm is dropping fat flakes past my window, blurring the sight of the trees beyond, covering the sky with an opaque scrim. I think I am just about done with winter. The robins are hopping along the edges of the road in search of worms; the monotonous call of the chikadee has been replaced by the songs of finches and meadow larks. I want to give in to the hope that comes with the first shimmer of green in the bushes, with the lamb tails dangling on the aspen trees, but the mountains keep taking it back, keep offering up this harsh menu of snow on snow.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


12th April 2013

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point," which basically says that there is a critical mass for every cultural movement, and it might not be as large as you think. It doesn't need everyone, just enough people intouch with a general wave riding a smaller one. Imagine the faith that the Xerox company had to have in the general growth of communications to invest in fax machines? It wasn't going to work for the first person who bought one, or even really the tenth, but by the time there were a thousand fax machines out there, the tsunami rolled in. Now we don't even remember how we sent documents before fax machines.
With this in mind, I have been following with great interest a book deal that sci-fi writer Hugh Howey just struck with my own publishing company Simon & Shuster. (Hey, was he the reason my book got bumped to March of next year?) Howey was essentially a self-published author with a presence on amazon, quietly posting his books until one called "Wool" (my editor would NEVER have let me keep that name!) began to take off, and publishers started knocking on his door. They wanted to buy the rights to Wool. All the rights, including e-book rights. But savvy man that he is, he just closed the door and waited. By then he was earning $150,000 a month from Wool, so he was sitting pretty.
And then Simon&Shuster knocked. They said they would settle for just print rights. Howey opened the door. Wide. They paid him seven figures, which even to my unmathematical brain says he got over a million dollars for print rights.
Now, here I am sitting not so pretty in my two year wait for publication thinking to myself that maybe I should have had more nerve. I suppose the difference is that Howey had a book that was already doing well. I don't have that, so I have no bargaining chips. But now that I know Simon&Shuster is a forward thinking publisher, next time, I might draw things up differently. Next time, they have first right of refusal. But I have so many novels languishing in my computer, perhaps I should start tossing them out there, seeing if any might fly by themselves. Maybe I should run this by my agent. Even Hugh Howey has an agent (if you want to meet the Wizard, it's best you take Dorothy along with you.)
Hugh Howey has coined the term "hybrid authors," by which he means authors like himself with a little self-publishing here and a little traditional publishing there. He thinks this is the future for authors, and I think he might be right. I think the balance that has swung out of favour with writers will redress itself so that they can make a fair profit for their trials and tribulations. There has to be something wrong in a culture where even a published author can't quit his or her day job, while an actor earns enough in one six-week shoot to set himself/herself (theirself - we need a revolution here, too) for life.
Hugh Howey found the way to do that. Another author, Colleen Hoover, has done the same. So, what are we waiting for? Let's get tipping.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wovon man nicht reden kann...

April 5th, 2013

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, says Robert Frost, as he tries to repair one in the spring after a hard winter.
Something there is that loves these first days of April. In Colorado it's the first sign that Narnia has not taken hold, as it mostly seems during the long months of snow and ice and nary a bright lamp post. I saw some orange crocus yesterday and felt like Wordsworth in sight of his famous daffodils. He wrote that poem in 1807, over two hundred years ago, and yet the same things stir the human heart. For all the long path we have come in the pursuit of reason and technology, these simple reminders of our place in nature are what strike the deepest chord.
Here's the last stanza:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

Wordsworth wrote volumes of poetry, much of it very good, but this remains the best known, this one poem about daffodils.
I'm thinking about poetry, because it seems the best vehicle for expressing an exuberance over spring. The last thing you want to do is analyse it; the first thing you want to do is take it to the verge of the spoken word, which is where poetry lives and moves and has its being.
Another English poet, and not much later, Gerard Manley Hopkins went there with a Scottish scene at Inversnaid:

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the bead bonny ash that sits over the burn.

(If you wonder what "degged" means, you're not alone, but you'd have to saw off the top of Hopkins' head and dig around inside to find the answer. That's why I say poetry exists in that fringe land where as Wittgenstein says, "What cannot be said must be passed over in silence."  Poetry is almost silence, at least it should be.  A lot of free form or modern poetry is so much chatter.)

I used to be a poet - that's how I started out as a writer, and perhaps I will be one again when my world creeps back into silence. It's a lonely road, though, and one I have chosen not to lead during life's more demanding middle years. Novels are chatter with enough still points to count as art. They will do for now. Film is an even noisier medium, and that's why there's money to be made in celluloid and nothing at all to be made in the silent pockets. We are a busy race with only a whispered memory of the value of saying nothing.