KingMidget's Ramblings

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This Makes Me Sad

Few celebrity passings bother me and I frequently don’t understand the reaction of others when a celebrity leaves this world.  This one, thought, definitely made me sad.  There was something so perfect about this movie and this actor’s performance in it.  So incredible.  This scene, in particular, no matter how many times I saw the movie left me in anticipation.  It is such a perfect entrance and introduction to the character.

Kevin Brennan, Fascination, and #guerrillapublishing

I devoted some space around here to Kevin Brennan’s new book, Fascination, and his #guerrillapublishing efforts.  There are a number of reasons for this.

First, Kevin is an excellent writer, committed to the craft of writing.  Fascination is the fifth Brennan novel I’ve read and each one is an enjoyable read.  These stories aren’t weighty and ponderous.  For the most part, they aren’t necessarily gut-wrenching or emotionally draining.  Instead, each one of his novels is a rather simple story, written well and with an eye towards pulling the reader in.  The characters are typically slightly odd, but not so much that they strain the limits of credulity.  And what they are experiencing — a search for love, a search for answers, a search for self-realization and vengeance — are really what a lot of people may be experiencing.

Kevin deserves more of an audience than he has been able to reach so far and anything I can do help, I want to do.

Second, Fascination is a captivating story.  If you want to read Tolstoy or Tolkein, War and Peace or Harry Potter, don’t read Kevin.  Don’t read Fascination.  But if you want read a lighthearted romp (that’s both a physical romp and a mental romp), than find your way to Fascination.  It’s just a good story that will leave you better off for having read it.  In a very simple way.  You’ll smile at the end.

Third, it’s about #guerrillapublishing.  If you read Kevin’s blog or my conversation with him, you know what this is, but let me give you a little more about this.

We writers who blog seem to have settled into somewhat of an echo chamber.  We all follow each other’s blogs, we buy each other’s books, we try to help each other where we can by posting reviews and shout-outs.  But it seems that we are all speaking to each other instead of to any kind of reading audience that could expand the scope of our writing and publishing efforts.

I started my publishing effort with One Night in Bridgeport.  A book that fits comfortably into a genre that sells well.  Legal drama.  I made a couple thousand bucks off it and I still sell about 10 e-versions of the thing every month.  The problem is that nobody will buy it unless it is .99 per download.  Or free.  This is the problem for the vast, vast majority of indie publishers.  We don’t have the inferred stamp of quality that a traditional publisher provides.  For some reason, even if it is a publisher nobody has heard of, that identification with a publisher says to readers it’s okay to spend $8, $10, $12 on an e-book.  But without the imprimatur of a publisher?  Nope, not gonna do it.  .99 or free.

There’s another problem for writers like Kevin and me.

We write literary fiction.  After Bridgeport, I published Weed Therapy.  I could not get it sold.  Maybe it was the title — it suggests something contrary to the actual story.  Maybe it was the cover.  Maybe it was something else.  I don’t know.  All I know is that other than some readers of my blog and some friends and acquaintances, there wasn’t a whole lot there.

It seems that in the world of indie publishing, the successful writers who stay in a genre, and churning out story after story in that genre.  And even better yet if there are bursting bodices and hulking men on the cover.  But literary fiction seems to be an afterthought in the indie publishing world.  There just doesn’t seem to be much there and it’s just difficult to find a way to find an audience with it.

After Weed Therapy failed and after Bridgeport settled into the .99 or nothing category — seriously, if I raise the price to $2.99 or $4.99, nobody will buy it — I began to consider whether there was a way to sale directly to readers.  Format the story as a PDF and email it to readers to read on their laptops, tablets, e-readers, whatever.  I haven’t followed through on it yet, but that’s what #guerrillapublishing is all about.  The writer selling directly to the reader.  No publisher, no Amazon, no middleman taking the biggest portion of the cost of the book.  The writer gets it all and in the case of Fascination, the reader gets to set the price as long as it’s at or above the floor Kevin set.

This is really an idea that needs to catch on.  I’m not sure how to make it a bigger phenomenon, but it sure seems like it’s time has come.  I’ve decided to move forward with publishing Northville Five & Dime.  Don’t be surprised if I’m next up on the #guerrillapublishing platform.

Be a part of this.  Go here and purchase Fascination.  If you enjoy it, tell your friends about it.  Spread the word on social media.

Kaep and the National Anthem

Before last night’s pre-season game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaapernick did not stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  He stated afterwards that he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

I’ve had a mixed history when it comes to our National Anthem.  First, that our National Anthem is about a war speaks to something embedded in our psyche that doesn’t speak to me.  I would much rather have our national song be something like America The Beautiful.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

This speaks much more to the majesty of a country than does a tale of a tattered banner surviving a battle.

Second, I have had my times when I have struggled to stand for the National Anthem.  Times when I felt we were in the wrong and I felt my country was something other than what I imagined it could be.  Times during the Reagan presidency, when in my disgruntled youth, I attended baseball games and would rise but not place my hand over my heart.  Times in the early part of this century when we were destroying parts of the Middle East in misguided and illegal wars and torturing who knows how many people.  These were things my country was doing in my name and I couldn’t stand to be a part of it.

So, I get it, Mr. Kaepernick.  I really get it.  But I have a problem with your particular protest at this particular time in our nation’s history.  I will not deny that racism is alive and well in this country.  I will not deny that people of color and of less favored faiths continue to struggle for equality and fair treatment in many corners of our nation.  However …

In a time when our President is African-American, I simply cannot understand how you can think that “our country” continues to oppress black people.  Your refusal to stand for the National Anthem and your decision to call out the entire country for what you see as oppression of minorities is a generalized attack on all Americans.  It is an attack on me.  It is an attack on not just those who are involved in discrimination and oppression, but also those who fight it every day of their lives.  Because we are just as much a part of “our country” as the racists are.

Your protest, in tarring the entire country with the labels of oppression and racism is just as wrong as racial profiling by cops, different levels of force used against people of color as compared to white suspects, and the myriad forms in which racism exists.  We are not all racists and oppressors.  But you have just labeled us as such with your actions and particularly with your words.  Just as bad cops label any black male as a suspect.

Stand up for what you believe in, fight to save the oppressed and I will fight with you.  It’s time, however, to target the real oppressors, the real racists and not suggest with such blanket criticism that it is “the country,” that it is all of us.  It is not.  There are far more of us who support your objectives than who oppose them.

I’m guessing that the white couple that adopted you, took you in, raised you and provided you with the opportunities needed to become an NFL quarterback are the furthest thing from racists and oppressors.  But they are this country, too.  The flag and the anthem represents them just as much as it represents the oppressors.  Or at least it should.  If you can’t see that and stand for the National Anthem because of the good parts of our country that it represents, you should try a little harder.  There are other ways to attack the problem than to attack all of us.

[Edited to add:  Just to be clear, I am not denying that Kaepernick has the right to do this.  I firmly believe in the right of protesters to burn the flag, of a person’s right not to stand for the National Anthem, to speak publicly or privately their feelings about our country and the issues we face.  I just think that in this particular case, it was a misguided and somewhat ignorant act.]

[Edited to add yet more:  Over at Old Road Apples Junk Chuck just wrote about this also. He mentions a third reason I’ve struggled with the National Anthem tradition.  My general discomfort with mass oaths and mass allegiance statements.  It’s probably why, even if I ever change my mind about God, I won’t ever be a fan of organized religion.  Over the years, I have felt uncomfortable with the somewhat herd mentality of everybody rising, removing their hats, and covering their heart for the National Anthem.  There is something vaguely authoritarian and anti-democratic about the whole practice.  But lately, I have started having a different experience connected to the National Anthem.  In the good moments it is because I can look around me and see such a beautiful mix of people who are rising and showing their respect for something that isn’t material, isn’t technology, isn’t anything other than a statement that we, the masses gathered there (typically made up of every gender, every race, every everything) can stop everything else for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds and respect the same thing.]

A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Three

Part One.

Part Two.

MP. In your last comment, you mention that you like to think of your books as deceptively simple.  You also clearly like “journey” stories.  Somewhere I have read that there are only a handful of story plots that drive just about every story ever written.  One of those story types is “journey.”  It can be a physical journey, a mental journey, a journey to find the truth.  There are all sorts of journeys that can form the structure of a story.

Thinking about Fascination, I realized that all of your novels stem from the journey concept.  And in Fascination, it seems you have doubled down, or tripled down, on the format.  All of the main characters are on journeys of different types, and even many of the minor characters are on journeys of their own.  The question is whether this was intentional or whether it just happened.  The second question is whether you ever found yourself tempted to go away from the “deceptively simple” structure of the story.  There are so many places in Fascination where you could have started to wallow in a scene or a concept.  Do you ever want to stay there for a bit and wallow?

KB. I guess when you think about it, most stories are at least partly built on a journey of one kind or another. Sometimes metaphorical, but often literal. That’s because life is that way. When we meet someone, we’re on our journey and they’re on theirs, and we travel along together for a while until our paths head off in different directions.

There’s also the practical fact that, in fiction, the journey is a terrific plot engine. Things have to happen as a matter of course.

I’m not sure all my books are journey tales. Occasional Soulmates not so much. Town Father only partly. Yesterday Road is for sure, but it’s both a physical journey and one through time. My next book is definitely not a journey, though one of the characters fantasizes about one — to get the hell away from her family. (More on that in the coming months …)

On the question of “staying and wallowing,” I’m usually concerned with keeping up a lively pace, so when I do linger a little bit I want to make sure it serves the story well.

Do you have an example of “staying and wallowing” in other books? I don’t think you just mean a digression from the plot. More like longer internal monologues or poignant flashbacks?

MP. A lot of what you say here makes sense.  Every story is, in the end, a journey.  But what intrigues me about Fascination is just how many journeys there are in this one novel.  One could argue that Mason Speck’s piece in this really isn’t a journey, but to me it is.  It’s a journey to the life he believes he wants for himself.

Fascination is essentially a physical journey that wraps itself around a whole lot of internal journeys.

When I referred to “staying and wallowing,” what I meant was that there are so many places in which you could have stopped and spend so much energy and detail to explore more in depth one of Sally’s stops along the way.  In New Mexico, for instance.  There’s detail there for sure, but so many writers would have, could have written an entire novel based on just one of Sally’s stops along the way.  That’s what I refer to as “staying and wallowing.”  What you seem to have mastered is the ability to bring the reader to a place, raise the questions that place or plot turn brings out, and then moving on to the next, without wasting time or words.  It’s one of the things I really appreciate about Fascination.  You let the reader decide where they want to wallow rather than forcing it on them.

I don’t necessarily have examples of “staying and wallowing” from other published works.  But I will say that it is one of the reasons I’m struggling with my own writing.  As I write more, my stories become more complex and I find myself getting far too much into the details.  I’d like to avoid the wallowing. 😉

Let’s move to guerrilla publishing.  As far as I know, your first novel was published the traditional way.  By William Morrow, which is no small thing.  But then it seems you left the world of traditional publishing behind and have self-published since then.  Is this remotely accurate?  Before I get to your guerrilla publishing stage, is there any story there about why you went from the traditional approach to self-publishing?

KB. I see Fascination that way too — a baker’s dozen journeys. Even Matt Damon is on a journey of sorts.

And you’re right about how any of Sally and Clive’s stops along the way could have become its own novel, but I saw this as kind of like “The Game of Life,” that old board game, where you don’t stay in one place very long. Pretty soon you have to spin again.

As for your question about traditional publishing, I’m the first to admit that any writer — or better yet, every writer — would prefer to land a contract with one of the Big Five. The truth is, I was unable to persuade them to take a chance on a second novel. I think I had three different agents after Parts Unknown, and none of them was able to make the sale. So, because I wanted to get my work out into the world, I decided to go indie, and the rest — say it with me — is history. Or my story, anyway.

Bottom line? Them’s the breaks, I guess. At least I can publish my books on my own terms now, on my schedule. And I’ve enjoyed it too.

MP. Well, if it’s like the game of Life, where are all of the kids?  Oh wait, scratch that.

I wonder if we writers are making a mistake in our belief in the holy grail of a publishing contract.  It’s kind of what motivated me to self-publish initially and why I still aim towards that with my future efforts.  There is something about traditional publishing that seems to be just a one-in-a-zillion crap shoot.  Unfortunately, self-publshing has become the same thing.  There are so many of us writers now publishing their own works, it seems impossible to make the noise that will create the attention to really attract an audience.  It’s particularly difficult when you try to occupy some space on the literary fiction shelf as you and I do.  It seems to be a forgotten genre in the world of indie publishing.

So, you indie published in the traditional way for a few books and now you’ve launched this book via what you have termed guerrilla publishing.  I know you’ve blogged about this on your own site, but for anybody visiting my site who doesn’t know about you, can you explain what guerrilla publishing is and why you decided to try it?

KB. I do think the nature of traditional publishing has changed over the last ten to fifteen years. As a bastion of literary fiction, it was geared toward building writers’ careers, so there was no expectation that a debut novelist had to sell a lot of copies. As my own agent told me, publishers didn’t expect writers to have much of a following till their fourth or fifth novel. It’s different now. If you don’t hit that home run on your first at bat, it’s back to the minors for you.

So that’s why indie was attractive, but you’re totally right on two counts: that the field is unbelievably crowded now and that there’s not very much literary fiction in the indie world. What there is seems really hard to find, except by word of mouth.

And that’s why I landed on #guerrillapublishing (I use the hashtag in case it catches on over at Twitter …) as an alternative. To my mind, #guerrillapublishing is simply a way of getting books out into the world without relying on anyone but ourselves as writers. No corporate platforms, no cover designers (unless you want to use one), no ebook formatters. And, like the old Soviet samizdat, where people passed around typed copies of banned books, this work is completely dependent on the efforts of readers to spread the word. If they like it, they tell someone else about it.

But another interesting slant here is that readers buy the book directly from me, via PayPal. I sign and inscribe each copy to the buyer (electronically, anyway), and deliver the book myself. It’s hands on. Plus, if you have any trouble getting the book onto your e-reader, I’ll walk you through it because I want you to read this book.

Who knows, this might be my only #guerrillapublishing attempt, but Fascination felt like the right kind of project to experiment with.

MP. Your description of the why of #guerrillapublishing is exactly why I came up with the idea for myself a couple of years ago.  After my second indie-published novel, which was much more literary than the first, completely and totally failed to attract any readers beyond people who knew me or followed my blog, I despaired.  And then there is the fact that the reading public basically expects that indie authors will charge a minimal amount for their book — or nothing at all.  And I despaired again.  A potential solution to all of that despair is what you have done with #guerrillapublishing.  Sell directly.  Cut out the middlemen, Amazon, the publishers, the agents.  Charge what you can, or invite the reader to pay what they believe your work is worth, and keep it for yourself, instead of the fraction you get through all of the other avenues.

There has got to be a better way for this to work for both the reader and the writer.  I hope your experiment opens some doors.

So, let me end our conversation here.  Not that the conversation you and I have about writing and publishing will end, but this small chapter of it needs to close.  One final question for you … is there anything else you want readers to know about Fascination and #guerrillapublishing?  Here’s your chance.

KB. I would add to everything we’ve already talked about that I hope readers out there — and maybe writers too — can become more open-minded about what books can be and where they can be found. With all of the tools available to us now, writers don’t have to limit themselves to traditional publishing or to the Amazon model — not if those don’t suit their needs or their material. We can publish on our blogs, via Tweets, on thumb drives — the possibilities are many, and many of them might just be better for the author than the current models.

As I say about Fascination, you don’t know till you try.



A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Two

Part One is here.

MP. As the author of Fascination, is there something about the story that you particularly like?  Is there a part of the story, or an element of it, that you think you got particularly right?

KB. It’s not always easy to be super-objective about your own work, but in this book I like the overall tone most of all. I set out to write something in the mode of, say, Tom Robbins (without trying to imitate him, of course), but I wasn’t sure I could carry it all the way through a 300-page book. I hope readers think I succeeded!

I think the main thing I got right was telling a sprawling, convoluted, funny story that also gives the reader some interesting things to think about by the end. Ultimately, as the characters come to understand, the journey to heaven is heaven.

MP. It’s interesting that you describe Fascination as a “sprawling, convoluted, funny story that also gives the reader some interesting things to think about by the end.”  I want to use that comment to finally get into what I thought about the story.

When I think about what to write about Fascination, I struggle with how to describe it and why I think it was so good.  What I come up with is that it is an engaging story.  And that’s how I have felt about most of your previously published novels.  It’s engaging and entertaining.  And the other thing is that Fascination is actually a pretty simple story.  I hope you don’t find that offensive, but it’s one of the things that attracts me to your writing.

There are times when I read something that just strikes me at my core.  Stories that speak so incredibly to where I’m at with the issues in my life.  Everything Matters by Ron Currie and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein are two examples of this.  There is this quality to both of those stories that made me want to wallow in them and left me in tears by the end.  And then there are the stories that are just a joy to read.  They are the stories that I think of as “race to the end” stories.  And Fascination, as well as Town Father and Occasional Soulmates fit that description.  There is something in these stories you write that just catches the reader’s imagination and, for me at least, makes me want to soar with the words and the tale that follows and get to the end and see how it all comes out.

Sally Pavlou and Clive Bridle and, yes, even Sally’s not so dead husband and his baby mama are characters that are, on one level somewhat odd and not really relatable to me, but on another level, they are.  They are just people, human beings like the rest of us, on this journey called life.  And each of them was on a different journey, but each of their journeys was related nonetheless to the other.  You drew me into these characters and their journey with lighthearted fun, without going into too much unnecessary depth with each stage of their journey (which would have been yawn-inducing for me at some point).

In some respects, Fascination is a story that a reader who is looking for light entertainment could enjoy at the same time a reader who is looking for something deeper also could enjoy.

I don’t really have a specific question here, other than to ask whether any of that has any meaning to you?!

KB. I’m glad you put Fascination in the category of a “race to the end” story. Thanks. I was trying to pace this book in a way that would make readers wonder what the heck could possibly happen next, and even though there’s kind of an inevitability about the plot, I wanted enough surprises along the way to interest all kinds of readers. And it’s not offensive to call it a “simple story” — not at all. I like to think of most of my books as “deceptively simple,” so that they can be read in a more casual way or with an eye toward themes that aren’t necessarily megaphoned through the books.

In Fascination, buried in a fun tale of “self-realization and vengeance,” are themes about the pursuit of happiness, personal identity, religion, social groups, self-delusion, and family, but readers are free to nod at them as they go through the book or to think about them in detail — and relate to them in their own lives. It’s always, at least casually, a fun road story.

As a writer, do you find that you gravitate to characters who have some kind of relation to your own life and issues? In some ways, writing fiction can become a way of working through things and trying different strategies to see how they might turn out.

MP. When I first started writing, I began with situations or characters that I could put myself into. I thought that would make the writing easier to accomplish since I had no idea if I would be able to write a story.  Once I established I could do that, I wanted to see if I could write characters who weren’t me and the stories that are as far removed from me as possible are the stories I am most proud of .

It’s interesting that you refer to fiction as being “a way of working through things.”  One of the struggles I have had over the last couple of years is that every new idea I have had for a story has quickly become about the same theme.  About characters who yearn for the thing that is missing from their lives.  And that is really about solving my own personal issues and I’m done writing that story.  So I haven’t written much in the last couple of years.  I have some WIPs that are about other themes, but they’re a struggle too, unfortunately.

One final comment before we take a break…  You say there is an inevitability to the plot.  I can’t disagree with that, but one of the story’s strong points is that there is always a surprise around the next corner.  Sally obtaining her vengeance may have been inevitable, but the manner and style with which she did it was a complete surprise.

Next up:  More on Fascination, journeys, and guerrilla publishing.  And if you haven’t already, here where you buy it.

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