Backlist Publishing News: Amazon Price Shift

Word around the internet campfire of authors is that the best place to make money, especially as a self-published author, is to have an extensive backlist. That way, when you have something even mildly successful, people will come back looking for more. As it happens, I have a backlist of self-published works, novellas mostly, but I haven’t had a hit yet, and I haven’t published anything since 2018. I’m going to change that in the new year, but in the meantime, I’m going to make some shifts to my backlist. For one thing, I’ve delisted anything that was a short story. I’ll probably repackage all the short fiction together in one collection. For another, I’ve lowered the price on all e-books to 99 cents.

Whenever I publish anything, I usually get a tiny boomlet of sales. Hopefully with what’s coming in the new year, I’ll be able to get additional sales from like-minded folk.

That means that, as soon as the new prices show up (Amazon says it can take 72 hours, but I’ve never seen it take that long), you’ll be able to get the following books for 99 cents on your Kindles:

I Am Mildly Distracted Right Now, but Also Writing.

As is the most of the country. Not the writing part, but the distracted part. Lots of things are demanding my attention, and the weight of the current political clown show casts a pall over merely creative activities. I would like to take a nap, but I am too angry.

On the plus side, I’ve returned to a project that I had almost shelved, as it features opportunities for eloquent violence. A sad tales best for winter, and now is the winter of our discontent.

It’s a Western, called Death Riding, and it’s merely a novella in a larger tale that may or may not be related to The Sword. Which reminds me, that book needs an editor. And possibly an agent.

The return of Death Riding owes itself to Pulp by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, which is a page-turner of a graphic novel, one worth owning in hardcover. It pays homage not just to Westerns but to the Pulp era, and reminds us that Westerns had a strong pulp following in those days. They could again.

Unnamed Journal Issue 24!

Witness the firepower of this fully-armed and operational story node!

Click here to purchase on Gumroad

It’s a long long issue, and it looks fantastic:

It’s full of cool stories that have to be read to be believed. If you like space opera, demon-slaying, mad emperors, and other such, it’s the issue for you. Click here and Pay What You Like on Gumroad!

New Poetry: The Flat Circle

My two collections on Amazon, Stir and The Short Cool Summer, have had some readers, but the writing of poetry requires practice. This new project is exactly that, practice, so I’m posting it to read on Tablo. It will be updated as I add works to it. Right now there are 6-7 pieces.

Check it out, Check-it-outers:

Click to Read on Tablo.io

Yes, it’s in keeping with my current, Blue Period. Click here to absorb.

Rabbit Riot, or The Mystery of the Missing Micro-Press

In the last Shallow & Pedantic podcast, I went off on an extended tear on a literary podcast that I used to listen to with great interest, but stopped. I removed the section from the finished product, but I’d like to address it now.

A while ago, I became the kind of guy who Listens to Podcasts by discovering the Dead Rabbits. The reference to old Irish street gang (upon which Gangs of New York was based) intrigued, as did the young-scrappy-and-hungry vibe. More than a podcast, they were a Press, a Reading Series (whatever that might be), a will-to-publish. And listening to them gave me a sense of the headspace of Sarah Laurence-grads who wanted to write The Great American Novel, or at any rate who wanted to carry the torch of literary culture into the new era, whatever that might mean. It was inspirational, in the sense of “Hey, what’s stopping me from doing this, too?” I listened even when I didn’t care particularly about the topic. I even bought their first release, Brian Birnbaum’s Emerald City, on Kindle.

And then, quite suddenly, they vanished.

Which happens. Economics is not the friend of tiny lit-fic presses. But then they were back. Exactly the same, now calling itself Animal Riot. The people didn’t change, the books didn’t change, the About pages didn’t change, but the name did. Even the Dead Rabbits Reading Series, which pre-existed the press and the podcast, was retroactively renamed the Animal Riot Reading Series. A cursory googling reveals no news story or explaination for the change, but old episodes of the podcast have had their introductions edited, and there, at least, it is acknowledged that they are operating under a new name.

So I’m not crazy, I haven’t slipped into an alertnate universe, and I’m not suffering from the Mandela Effect. They really did call themselves Dead Rabbits, and now are not.

Why? Some legal injunction, perhaps? There are other podcasts calling themselves Dead Rabbits, such as Dead Rabbit Radio, which puts itself out almost daily. They started in the spring/summer of 2018, whereas the Dead Rabbits/Animal Riots started in November of that year. But podcasts having the same name is nothing new. There are about a million podcasts called “Whatever“, which is why I’m probably going to change that name to simply “The Content Blues Podcast”. But I will let you know when that happens.

A better lead comes in the form of a NYC bar known as The Dead Rabbit, which deliberately crafts an atmosphere redolent of the street gang, and has published a mixology/history book with graphic novel flavor. The owners are two immigrants from Belfast, and are known to be litigious regarding use of the Dead Rabbits name, according to this article on Recalled Comics.

The Dead Rabbit bar in New York City (below) is famous for its cocktails and has used the “Dead Rabbit” moniker since 2012 for comics strips (related to the New York gangs) in their cocktail menus and books (some of which have been CGC graded).

Image released a Dead Rabbit Ashcan in Spring 2018 and later that year released the series with #1 hitting the shops in 2018-10-03. The NY bar owners (DRT Group LLC) had their lawyers send a cease and desist notice to both Image Comics and Forbidden Planet on the 22nd of that same month.

However, Forbidden Planet apparently did not respond, and Image apparently asked for more time but went ahead and published #2 anyway in early November leading to DRT group lawyers filing lawsuits against both in the New York courts claiming $2 million from each in damages.

The series was quickly cancelled in late November 2018 and the comics recalled (although too late as most would have been in collectors’ hands at that stage) and traces of the comic were removed from Image and Diamond’s websites.

recalledcomics.com

Now, this was over an unrelated comic book. But, given that Dead Rabbits/Animal Riot and The Dead Rabbit bar both call NYC home, and given that the bar publishes books related to the brand, one can fashion a theory that the bar sued the press, and the press, having even less resources than Image Comics, ceased-and-desisted in the same way. I have no evidence that proves this theory, but it does fit the facts.

The Lesson: Make your own brand.

SubStack, Marketing Lamentations, and Cover Design Refreshes

There’s a new publishing platform out there called SubStack. I heard about it on Twitter. It looks cool, it’s free to use, and it’s got a bunch of features like MailChimp that cost extra on WordPress (the number of things this blog doesn’t have because I don’t feel like shelling out for a WordPress business account would stagger the imagination. The stumbling block is huge. It’s why I podcast on Spreaker). I thought it might be a good place to put some content that isn’t really for UJ or, some stuff I’d like to showcase.

The idea is similar to Patreon: get subscribers in the door, and they pay you for content. Visually, it looks a lot like Medium. I have had a hard time with both, and I don’t really know why. I can publish the stuff, but no one reads it. I’m not one of the big names SubStack boasts of. I have, at present time, no name at all, despite damn near 20 years doing various kinds of blogging. For some reason, I’m just not getting it.

Perhaps I’m just too esoteric. Perhaps I haven’t managed Marketing. Certainly when I try to read about SEO, my eyes glaze over. Everything that’s not conceptually obvious seems out of my reach. There’s a trick that I’m missing, some step beyond. I look at the names of people who have tens of thousands of subscribers at $15/month and I don’t know who any of them are. They all seem boring or the same Connected Elect as already write for big publications. I’m sitting in the middle of the Information Superhighway, watching the same Mack Trucks run me over, bragging about how light and nimble they are.

The curse of this age is that anyone can get their stuff made, but only a curated few get their stuff seen. Everybody has a way to put video on the internet, but only Superhero tentpole movies, featuring characters decades old, made by international megacorporations, seem to matter. Having a blog today is like having a UHF station back in the 70’s: Yeah, you’re doing it, but no one cares.

The practical upshot of all this is that until I figure out how to grow an audience, expansion into anything else is absurd. And there I confront the reality that the kind of art and story I like, that interests me, is not the sort of thing that jumps out of the Internet and screams “Pay Attention to Me!” Screaming “Pay Attention to Me!” is necessary but also stupid. And that would put me in the camp of the Intellectuals, except I hate them even more, because they don’t merit the title. They all write like ad-men and Buzzfeed interns.

And that’s why the place is called Content Blues, in case you should be wondering. I create Content, and I have the Blues about it.

But that sort of defeatist groaning only takes you so far. This isn’t an online suicide. I’m not done.

Click image to buy on Amazon.

What’s this? Something that’s been published since 2018, the Year of the Three Novellas. A good novella, eight chapters, clean narrative, third-person focused. It starts with a reference to Blade Runner and it uses an Alien encounter story to explore the Philsophical problem of the Ship of Theseus. It’s not as erudite as The Devil Left Him, or as creative as The Party At the Last Tomorrow, but I might like it best.. Like a lot of my work, it’s pro-human, as despite my well-documented moral cyncism as regards the capacity of my species, I am and always have been firmly on its side. I am human; I prefer human to other forms of life, and am unbearably wearied by those who do not.

Why am I talking about it now? Simple: I made an elementary change in the cover: I improved the font.

Orignal cover on the left.

The book bills itself as an “Existential Sci-Fi Monster Tale”, and the original font just did not suit that theme. It looks too comic, too chunky. A void is a place of emptiness, therefore having the letters fill up so much space feels wrong. I went through scores of cover designs during and after the writing and editing of it. What I went to press with had the right image, and so I probably didn’t want last-minute self-doubt rabbits gnawing at my purpose.

The beauty is, I can revisit these decisions. Will the new cover excite any interest? I’ll do a price-reduction on Amazon next week and see. Hope is just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

Rimbaud Dreams of War

Jean Artur Rimbaud wrote strange prose-poems in the Belle Epoque. He was an exceedingly odd duck: not ostentatiously wierd like Van Gogh, but the sort of man who could drop everything and spend his final years as an arms-dealer in North Africa. He’s kind of like William Burroughs, except his stuff is short enough so that I can digest it in one go, rather than get tired of not understanding anything and chuck the book a the wall (how many times have I tried to read Nova Express? At least three. How many times have I got farther than 20 pages? I do not know).

I find his strangeness appealing perhaps because he is not dogmatic about it. Poetry works best when it is a process of discovery, of the writer overhearing himself. There’s a tradition as old as Pindar to the effect that poets are prophets; speaking truths they themselves dimly understand, throwing words together in a disciplined kind of way because it feels right. A purely right-brained approach.

Now, no artist actually works this way. The stuff gets edited. It is shaped. It is messed with. This is itself part of the process, so that you leave your own interpolations at the door and get to the Real Thing. How do you know you have the Real Thing? If you have to ask, you don’t have it.

So here’s War, part of the Illuminations collection:

When a child, certain skies sharpened my vision: all their characters were reflected in my face. The Phenomena were roused.–At Present, the eternal inflection of moments and the infinity of mathematics drives me through this world where I meet with every civil honor, respected by strange children and prodigious affections.–I dream of a War of right and of might, of unlooked-for logic.

It is as simple as a musical phrase.

Jean Artur Rimbaud, “war” The Illuminations, pg. 133

That’s it. The whole Madness. It is not analytical. It is not concerned with understanding, only with experiencing. It is an irruption of Id-sense, Id-longing. Might be the phenomenon Huxley was getting at in The Doors of Perception: certain folk have a spiritual sensitivity that can lead either to Enlightenment or Insanity. In times past the old boy might have become a monk or mystic and offered prayer-poems to whatever Deity would have him. Perhaps a martyr or a passionate heretic, if the cards played out right. Instead he became a pieta to the more erudite segment of nerds.

Still, there’s something to the economy of expression, something I’ve written on before and probably will again, as it’s never been something I could master. My sentences flow like rivers, like dams breaking. And so do some of his. But he doesn’t have eighty of them together. I am the more concerned, it seems, with not being misunderstood.

Notes on Ruskin: The Absurd Rule

Much of Ruskin’s On the Nature of Gothic involves a pre-Marxist critique of industrialization. I’m not sure if it qualifies as being From the Right, as I’m not certain of Ruskin’s politics, but it reads very Romantic, which is at least half a Reactionary movement. The old-school Romantics and Goths gazed back at pre-modern “natural” conceptions and the light footprint man had on Nature with longing. Rationalism and Enlightenment were, in their eyes, as tyrannical as they were liberating.

But so too are the critiques. There is much to sympathize with in Ruskin’s dislike of the Grand Standardization that industrialization entails, but he arrives at conclusions that boggle the mind. For example, he advocates regulation of industry in order to preserve human invention, human art. He creates three broad rules for this:

1. Never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which Invention has no share.

2. Never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end.

3. Never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the sake of preserving records of great works.

John Ruskin, “On Art and Life” pg. 20

Let’s not spend any time arguing about how such a schema would be practically enforced, as that’s the least of the difficulties with it. We could get lost in haggling about such terms as “necessary”, “noble”, or “imitation”, and even if we agree on what exactly Ruskin meant, we might not agree to be bound by them. This is the problem many 19th century texts leave us with.

But in his examples, he constructs a thing I have noticed many times among those who establish a strong rule, and implement it strongly: a rule yielding absurd results. And by “absurd” I mean widely divergent results among things of minor variation. You see it often in the self-flattering exceptions our Modern Puritans make for their particular prejudices and bigotries. I will refer to it as The Absurd Rule:

So again, the cutting of precious stones, in all ordinary cases, requires little exertion of any mental faculty, some tact and judgment in avoiding flaws, and so on, but nothing to bring out the whole mind. Every person who wears cut jewels merely for the sake of their value is, therefore, a slave-driver.

But the working of the goldsmith, and the various designing of grouped jewelry and enamel-work, may become the subject of the most noble human intelligence. Therefore, money spent in the purchase of well-designed plate, of precious engraved vases, cameos, or enamels, does good to humanity; and in work of this kind, jewels may be employed to heighten its splendour; and their cutting is then a price paid for the attainment of a noble end, and is thus perfectly allowable.

Ruskin, pg. 21

We have thus created a rule under which jewels may be used to adorn objects, but not people. This has nothing to do with the nature of jewels, objects, or people, and even less to do with the goals and results, but the way cut jewels are created. It’s a highly specific distinction being made, and the results is quite strange. And in any case, jewels are going to be cut.

And let me stipulate that I understand his distinction: between creative and monotonous work. I even agree with the criticism that monotonous work is degrading to the human spirit. But the center of our value should therefore be on the humans who do the work, not the objects. The market for jewels and the market for plate, vases, and other goods are the same market, that of having beautiful things. If there’s no reason why someone can’t both cut jewels and make fine plate – and evidently to Ruskin, there isn’t – then we can simply create a rule allowing workers time to work on stimulating projects, and not spend all their time on dull repetitive work. That pus the humans at the center, rather than the objects, and does not anathemetize something (wearing jewels) that carries almost no moral value.

One finds the correct solution by focusing on the primary value.

Caligulia Fights Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

No, not really. That’s the sort of click-bait stuff that everyone talks about as the Almagamation of Awesome, but no one actually reads. And with good reason. Juxtaposition for its own sake usually hides a paucity of narrative. Instead, an authorial update to announce progress.

First, I have in fact, completed a thing long talked of The Meditations of Caius Caligulia. Which is to say, I have completed a rough draft. I consider it a skeleton about which meat can be hung. I need to do some more deep diving into Virgil and Lucretius and Ovid before I can flesh out the Un-Mad Emperor’s thoughts and story. But it’s done. The sixth Chapter, On Conquest, will appear in the October issue of Unnamed Journal. The final chapter, On Death, will appear sometime over the winter, with the complete volume.

Second, I have also completed a rather long short story, Cantilever Jones Runs Hot, set in a space opera galaxy of my own devising, a universe that goes under the name “Gods of the Sky”. There’s a good few stories set in this universe, including two previous Cantilever Jones stories, and some Death-emperor vs. Star Buddhists expositions. I’m building the universe in shorts, with an eye towards a novel. I’ll probably put a collection out sometime next year. This story will also appear in the October UJ. The story clocks in at around 7,000 words, which is borderline a novelette. It can be frustrating when you’re trying to get a story finished, but also exciting when it keeps taking on a life of its own. But when your hero is trying to survive a battle he didn’t create on a jungle planet inhabited by velociraptors, you just go with it.

Anyway, I will be moving on to other projects shortly. Watch this space for publication details, and enjoy some cover art concepts while you do.

Books Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe and Joseph Conrad

Recently I went on a quick camping trip and happened to take along my copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It included some selections from Conrad’s “Congo Diary”, a record he kept of his 1890 journey into the Belgian Congo, events of which clearly informed the subsequent story. This made for an immersive diversion as I watched a soft rain fall on my tiny cabin.

A book as intense as Heart of Darkness, written about so vivid a topic as Colonialism, as it was happening, is bound to provoke an active critical response. So to pad out my paperback volume’s slim 100 pages, we are treated to a series of critical takes on the book, ranging from H.L. Mencken to Virginia Wolff. But the most significant is that of Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, which in many ways provides a mirror and counterpoint to the earlier work.

Achebe’s critique stipulates the book’s virtues and then cuts right to heart, as it were, of darkness: the book exists as a horror story for the European mind, an encounter with Dark Africa, who in her primordial sublimity, shreds the European man’s faith in Progress, and in Himself, like the lamb in the lion’s mouth.

It is important to note that Conrad, careful as ever with his words, is not talking so much about distant kinship as about someone laying a claim on it. The Black man lays a claim on the white man which is well-nigh intolerable. It is the laying of this claim which frightens and at the same time fascinates Conrad, “the thought of their humanity–like yours… Ugly.”

The point of my observation should be quite clear by now, namely that Conrad was a bloody racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely undetected.

From “An Image of Africa”, Massachusetts Review, 1977

I have no intention whatever of refuting Achebe’s point. To expect a European, observing Africa in its colonized state, in 1890, to come away without the revulsion that is Heart of Darkness‘ central theme, is to expect a thing that never happened. 1890 was the era in which common tribalism had been ballooned by “Science” into the Biological Racism that reached its thunderhead in the Second World War. The Races, as such, were in closer contact than ever before, and had very little understanding of each other. The fact that Conrad savages the European characters in the story for their pirate morality is beside the point. He does not want to see Africans as humans, even as he cannot help it. He reduces them all to cannibals on the riverside.

But as it happens, I have also read Things Fall Apart. Moreover, like many books I was assigned in High School, it made an impression on me. I enjoyed the story’s arc. I enjoyed the anti-heroic protagonist. I savored his rise and his hubristic peripetaia. And then the end happened, and I put the book down feeling rather suckered. I found it anti-climactic and frustrating. In retrospect, I was perhaps unable at that age to appreciate that kind of an ending. But underneath that, is the way the historical/racial aspect of the story interrupted the narrative arc I was expecting in the first part.

This is of course, the point of the story. The reader is introduced to a vibrant and complex clan culture, that of the Igbo, that’s survived for untold years. We see a protagonist struggle within the context of that culture, but also as an individual with his own strengths and weaknesses. It’s fascinating as a human tale.

And then, the book tells us, the White People Show Up, and every part of this is destroyed and/or adulterated. It is a cultural collapse both deliberate – the missionaries fully intended to change the Africans’ culture – and unintended, as not understanding the culture, they could not foresee how the Igbo would react. That some of the whites – such as Mr. Brown – have benevolent intentions is irrelevant. They are the destroyers of the world we’re now invested in. Others, such as the District Commissioner, do not even have names, and function less as characters than as events, irruptions of Whiteness.

One doesn’t have to excoriate Achebe to draw the obvious parallels. Europeans in Things Fall Apart are reductions of their race in the same way that Africans in Heart of Darkness are. It is a mirror, reflecting the same encounter from the other side (albiet in British Nigeria rather than Belgian Congo). And just as I do not expect Conrad to see Africans as anything but Other, I cannot but expect Achebe to see Europeans the same way. The reality of the encounter demands it, even as it frustrates our grander moral principles. Humans have tribal instincts that are tied to our social dynamic. Conformity within that social dynamic creates cohesion and expectation. So any violation of that conformity in one sense feels wrong. As the Africans on the riverside don’t fit Marlowe’s conception of what a man should be, neither do the Europeans to Okonkwo.

It’s important to recognize this, because if we refuse to do so, we allow our sense of Other to permit actions that our moral sense would otherwise have found repulsive. 19th-Century Europeans regarded Africans as sufficiently human to expend time and treasure to shut down the African slave trade. But despite that moral discovery, other economic exploitations, and concomitant cruelties, were allowed to go on. Africans were still Other enough that their lands, their religions, their traditions, etc. were regarded with contempt.

But that was 1890. The modern age pretends to have transcended this dynamic, but they’ve simply reversed the polarity on it. European civilization has gone from being The Best and Most Natural Standard of Good, to the Foulest and Most Horrid Excrescence of Wickedness. That the second fails under examination as clearly as the first did does not deter those who speak it. Anger and revulsion at the darkness in the human heart wheresoever it be found will usually find a scapegoat. Others gonna Other.

For that reason, I favor reading both these books, as both examples and examinations of the problem we have communicating across groups. Human nature might never permit us to transcend the problem, but forearmed, we might pull back some from the Horror.