As many of you know, in 2011 I self-published a couple of stories, just to see what would happen. I did it strictly eBook, because eBooks cost nothing except time to produce, and reading books on electronic devices is becoming more and more ubiquitous every year. Soon we’ll all have eBooks, and “real” books will be to publishing what vinyl is to recorded music.
Anyway, “what happened” was a I sold a respectable amount of copies - enough to encourage me to do it again, and enough to encourage a small publishing company, Hallowed Waste Press, to throw in with me. About six months later we published another, slightly larger set of stories, and over time that small collection sold about as well as the first.
Sometime last fall, I found out about a document-sharing web site called Scribd.com. And yeah, Scribd has been around a couple of years and for someone who’s supposedly as aware of places like Scribd as I am, I was a total idiot for not looking at them earlier. They came to my attention because I was looking for a good place to put teasers up for my upcoming novel, and maybe for my existing stories as well. The guys over at Hallowed Waste said they were going to use the site to tease a story from a new writer they’d just contracted with, and suggested it to me.
I figured why not, and on December 13th put up a free copy of one of my self-published stories, ‘The Littlest Goblin’. I tweeted that I’d done so, put a link up on Facebook, and then went and enjoyed my holidays.
When I came back a few days after Christmas, I discovered that ‘The Littlest Goblin’ had almost 15,000 reads! Curious as to the impact 15,000 free reads on Scribd had on my performance at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I immediately went over to my reports pages there and saw that indeed, my stories had picked up steam again.
I mean, think about it: the typical literary magazine in America has an average circulation of 1000 to 5000 readers. A “no name” writer like me MIGHT get paid anything from contributor’s copies (effectively, nada) to MAYBE $200 for a story, and that story will be seen by 1000 to 5000 people. ‘The Littlest Goblin’ has already made me around $50 by itself, AND has now supposedly been seen by 15,000 people (actually, though new reads have fallen off, as of today I’m up to 17,000).
To follow up that momentum, I posted another story, ‘The Thrall of Fate’, my homage to Edgar Allan Poe. Over the last month, though ‘Thrall’ didn’t hit as hard as ‘Goblin’, it’s still garnered 2700 reads, which is still formidable, considering the comparative exposure short stories get.
And to follow up THAT momentum (and maybe cash in, because it’s possible), I took both collections that I had previously published and whose sales momentum on Amazon and other sites had slacked, added another previously published story called ‘Galahad’s Message’, and posted all six stories as one collection in Scribd.com’s store. Sales of that larger collection have already begun to trickle in, and the number of people sampling it is already pretty impressive.
Ultimately, what I’m trying to say with this post is that I think Scribd.com is an awesome tool for hard-working writers who are willing to take a few risks. The chance of exposure is there if you have something attractive enough to get noticed (which it appears with ‘The Littlest Goblin” I did). I’m not saying it’s the end all and be all, but it looks pretty good from where I’m sitting.
I’m also saying that 17,000 people can’t be wrong: there’s probably something worthwhile on Scribd.com written by a certain writer we’re all familiar with that MIGHT, just MAYBE, be worth looking into.
Just before Christmas I was asked by my friend, the illustrious poet and novelist Collin Kelley, to take part in a self-interview meme called The Next Big Thing. The idea is to talk about your current or forthcoming book using a pre-determined set of questions. You also have to tag other bloggers/writers to take part in the meme. Blog memes used to be commonplace back before I was on anybody’s radar, but since blogging has dropped off a bit they don’t come around as often. I was pretty happy to take part in this one - fun stuff to think about, even if some of it’s a bit silly. Anyway, here’s my answers and you’ll see whom I’ve tagged at the end.
What is the title of your book? The Survivor of San Guillermo
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A plot involving a newly invented time machine sends several people back to various points in history, each of them vying to alter the future in some way: some go to a day just before World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while others go back to the 1860s during the peak of the American Civil War.
What genre does your book fall under? Several actually: science fiction/Weird West/Western/historical fiction.
Where did the idea come from for the book? My wife challenged me to write a murder mystery, and at the time I was watching a lot of Sergio Leone movies. The book started out as a murder mystery with a Western setting. Then it blew up.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 17 months exactly.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? Sergio Leone, my wife Aida, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and a book titled Day of Deceit, which presupposes that FDR knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor and let it happen for political reasons. I don’t believe that, but the notion of the book is fascinating.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Agency.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre? Stephen King’s Dark Tower comes to mind. So does some lighter historical fiction I’ve read over the years.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? I first finished the book back in 2001, so a lot of the people I envisioned while I was writing have aged too much. Looking at current actors and actresses who fit the bill, I’d say Thom Reynolds could be played by Gerard Butler or Hugh Jackman. Japanese actress Kyoko Fukada (from the original Ringu II movie) looks exactly like Haruko Matani. Olivia Munn is spot on for Lucy Baghdadlian. Idris Elba could play Ray Easley. And for the bad guy, Martin Evenson, I’d say Tom Felton, he of Draco Malfoy fame.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The book is part of a trilogy, and throughout the story, several real people from history make appearances. In this first book, there’s Henry Slocum, who was one of General Sherman’s top men, there’s Larry McCutcheon, whom most agree was the first casualty of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there’s Admiral Husband Kimmel, the man in charge of the fleet at Pearl Harbor, and Ronald Reagan, former President of the U.S.
Here it is, as promised to everyone who’s been paying attention: a teaser. The first chapter of my upcoming novel, The Survivor of San Guillermo.
Without giving too much away, let me tell you a little bit about the plot….
It involves a scheme during the mid-21st century to use a newly invented time machine to go back and alter history. Things get mixed up and people end up going to several points in time: some go to a day just before World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Others go back to the 1860s during the peak of the American Civil War. Then stuff happens. In this chapter, you get to meet one of the book’s major protagonists: a physicist named Ray Easley, who’s found his way to Decatur, GA toward the end of Sherman’s sacking of Atlanta. Just FYI, Henry Slocum was a real person.
November 15, 1864
The November wind pushed Henry Slocum’s thick, graying hair away from his sunburned face. He gazed down the hill at the flames that leapt from tree to tree and building to building in the city of Decatur, and held his Federal officer’s cap tight in his hands. Acrid smoke filled his nostrils. It billowed in from the west, behind his back, where Atlanta lay in ruins.
Few trees adorned Atlanta — it was mostly a rolling plain of criss-crossing railroad tracks and dusty, sprawling streets, and the smoke that came from it had a heavy coal content, the scent of scorched earth and hot iron.
By contrast, Decatur had been a haven of trees just a few hills away. Now, although the burning smell of Decatur’s once proud oaks and maples was fresher and cleaner than Atlanta’s heavy industrial smell, both were twins of fiery destruction — exhausted by the War, burned by John Bell Hood as he retreated, and finally leveled by Sherman. And Slocum.
“General?” a nervous voice said from behind him.
“We’re having trouble with a couple of the new recruits, sir.”
“Which new recruits?”
“Couple of the Negroes, sir. Couple of the ex-slaves.”
On the whole, Slocum thought Sherman’s plan to advance toward the sea was brilliant — use the resources left behind: the summer harvest left in silos, the livestock set free on acres of grass and hay, the fresh man power in the form of freed slaves. Minor annoyances like this occurred, however, and often he had men charging through the woods after squealing pigs, had ex-slaves whose new-found freedom caused such a euphoria in them that they became less of a resource and more of a liability. For every three new men they enlisted, one hung from the makeshift gallows erected near the burned depot.
Still, these nuisances should not come to his attention directly. He had subordinates he trusted to handle this sort of thing. With a sour look, Slocum turned to face the officer, a young, nondescript lieutenant.
“Tell Captain Morris. He’s dealt with this before,” Slocum said.
“Captain Morris sent me to fetch you, sir,” the young officer replied. “He said it involves a decision only you are authorized to make.”
The general scowled and mashed his hat back onto his head. It appeared he would have to deal with this nuisance himself. Afterward, he intended to deal with Captain Morris. “Well, then, son. I guess I better go to him, since he’s fetching me.”
The lieutenant winced as the general brushed past him. Slocum walked a little ways, stopped, and turned to find the young man still standing in place.
“Lieutenant?” he said to the man’s skinny back. “You mind leading the way? General Sherman may be a mind-reader, but I am not.”
The lieutenant jumped, whipped around, and stumbled timidly past Slocum. “Y-yes, sir,” he said, heading down the hill.
They walked through a bank of trees, which circled the hill like a crown. Beyond the trees lay a small, orderly encampment of the whitest tents and healthiest men Slocum had remaining. Off to one side, a line of black men stood waiting on a local tailor to measure them for uniforms. Most of the uniforms would come from men recently buried, and many would come with badges of blood stain that couldn’t be washed out with all the water of the Chattahoochee and all the soap in the Union and Confederacy combined.
Several hundred yards from the white-tent encampment stretched a row of dingier tents that almost blended into the brown and gray terrain surrounding them. A casual observer probably wouldn’t notice them, except for the groans emanating from them, and the stomach-churning smell of feces and bile that hung in the air around them like a cloud. Slocum’s regiment had suffered a small outbreak of dysentery, probably from some undercleaned pork, and several men had to be isolated. Most of them would probably never see Savannah.
Slocum himself groaned as the lieutenant led him toward the tents, then sighed in relief as they skirted the encampment and came to the edge of a trim lawn just past it.
The lawn, dotted here and there with tall maples and oaks, stretched up another little hill to where a small, bi-level plantation house stood, alone and forlorn-looking. A group of men gathered at the foot of the hill, all but one of them white Federal officers. Slocum recognized Captain Morris, who stood before the one black man there, his hands on his hips and a hard look on his face. When Morris saw the general his hard look softened, and he smiled and waved.
“Sir!” he shouted. “Thanks for honoring my request.”
Slocum shook his head as he approached. “What is so all-fired important that you had to come get me? I thought you were capable of handling the Negroes, Captain.”
Morris stood up straighter, cleared his throat, and shot a look of quiet indignation at Slocum, which the general only shrugged off.
“Ordinarily sir, I’d simply do my duty — but as you will see, sir, the circumstances here are a bit unusual. I took care of the one Negro that was looting. He’s in the stockade for a spell. This one, though, well, I don’t know what to say or do with him.”
The general took a place at Morris’s shoulder, facing the tall, square-jawed black man, who towered above both of them by a good six inches. Immediately, the man impressed Slocum as remarkable — he had a look of studious intelligence in his eyes, and his skin was clean-shaven and healthy. He had an air of almost perfumed freshness about him, and when he flashed the general a momentary smile, his teeth were white and straight and all there. He wore pressed trousers, an immaculate white cotton shirt, and… shoes — this ex-slave wore shoes. If Henry Slocum hadn’t known better, he would have sworn that this man was one of those wistful-eyed students at Yale or Harvard who protested the War, that this man wasn’t a slave at all.
But Slocum did know better. All he had to do was look at the man’s dark, slightly glistening skin.
“What’s your name, boy?” he asked the ex-slave, who visibly flinched.
“Ray Easley… sir. And you are Major General Henry W. Slocum?”
The general raised his eyebrows. The man’s voice was as remarkable as his appearance — it had a crisp timbre, a warm lilt, that marked this man as being from somewhere other than the deep South. He had absolutely no accent that Slocum could detect.
“I am. What’s all this about?”
Captain Morris answered. “The Negro wants us to burn Dr. Campbell’s house, sir.” The captain waved in the direction of the plantation house on the hill. Without taking his eyes from the black man, Slocum grunted.
“That so, boy?” he asked the man.
“To the ground, sir,” the man answered.
“Are you former… uh… property of Dr. Campbell?”
“Then to whom did you belong, Ray Easley?”
“No one. I was a free man.”
Everyone in the cluster around Ray Easley laughed aloud. Slocum himself chuckled, but he felt a cool certainty that the man was telling the truth. Still, he pressed on.
“No Negro in Atlanta was a free man ‘til a couple of months ago. If you were a Negro and free, you didn’t stay ‘round here,” he said.
“You’re right, sir. I wasn’t here a couple of months ago. I only arrived in Atlanta the day before yesterday. I came specifically to find you and to ask you to destroy Dr. Campbell’s house.”
“Where are you from then, Ray Easley?”
“To be honest, sir, Canada.”
Ray Easley grinned. His teeth were so clean that they sparkled in the November sun. “No, sir. I’m actually from Los Angeles. But I’ve lived in Vancouver for many, many years.”
Los Angeles, Slocum thought. That was as unusual as everything else, so why not? “Well, then…” he said, “Are you aware that Dr. Campbell is a prized physician who has agreed to treat our wounded and sick in exchange for us keeping his homestead intact?”
“Yes, sir. I know. But did you know that Dr. Campbell has a secret compound hidden in his house, which contains a weapon that the Confederate Army intends to unleash on your men once they’ve had a chance to test its effectiveness? As soon as the smoke clears here, Campbell intends to send a sample of his weapon west, to be tested in the desert.”
Slocum’s jaw dropped.
“You see, sir?” Morris said. “We’re under orders to leave Dr. Campbell’s house alone. Your orders, sir. And this all seems so… so… far-fetched.”
The general shook his head. “Yes. Far-fetched indeed,” he said. He couldn’t believe the next words that came out of his own mouth. “Captain Morris, your orders have changed somewhat. Do not destroy Dr. Campbell’s house. Yet. Instead, search it from top to bottom. Twice. If you find what this man says you will find there, then burn it down and bring both Dr. Campbell and Mr. Easley to me. If you don’t find anything, apologize to Campbell. Then hang this man.”
Thanks for reading! Check out the San Guillermo web site to see some original artwork from the book. Look for The Survivor of San Guillermo in 2013!
About a year and a half ago, I decided to self-publish a couple of short stories. The impetus behind my decision is better explained here, but in a nutshell: I’d keep clawing my way up the ladder in the traditional publishing world, but I’d also throw some stuff out there without it because A) I wanted to see if I could generate a little hype and B) I was tired of writing and writing and NOT sharing what I wrote with people who’d appreciate it.
Now, I didn’t blow up or anything because of those stories. YOU’RE here and you know who I am (and I’m happy as shit to have you), but for every one of you, there’s a thousand people I’d like to reach whom I haven’t. Yet. Still, I consider that little pair of short stories I sent out there a success:
I sold a respectable number of copies, even for an eBook only format.
I expanded my tiny following so that it was less tiny.
I learned a LOT about eBooks and eBook sales.
I got to have those conversations I wanted with people about something I created.
I formed an alliance with a small press who would go on to help me publish ANOTHER set of stories.
And that’s what this post is about. This is the one where I thank Atlanta-based fledgling publishers Hallowed Waste for having the gumption to attach their name to my efforts. Granted, they benefit as much from me as I do from them, since technically my name is better known, but it’s always encouraging to have someone express a belief in your work, and it’s good to have the additional resources to draw from when you need.
Hallowed Waste only has two authors that I know of in its “stable”, me and a guy named Todd Wiley. But I believe they’re looking for more. They’re also looking for artists and illustrators who work for cheap or free - basically, if you’re good but relatively unknown, if you’re looking to expand your portfolio in a professional manner, and if you like to draw the sort of stuff they need (dark, esoteric, horror, sci fi), then shoot them an e-mail.
As a writer, if you’re looking to make a foray - the way I did - into eBook publishing, if you’re down with small, independent presses, and if you write the kind of things they’re looking for, ALSO hit them up. Start a conversation, find out what they’re up to and if you fit in. They’re looking to grow, and since I am too, it’s worked out for me.
It might work out for you, too.
Their e-mail and Twitter handle , plus their submission guidelines, are on their web site. In case the hyperlinks above didn’t work for you, here it is: www.hallowedwaste.com.
Sometimes I get jealous of my gay writer friends. I think that compared to me at least, they have such a rich life - filled with things that I can never experience since my sexual orientation is NEVER called into question, never outlawed, and mostly never prosecuted. They have this whole world of things they can draw from to write about which I simply… lack.
Then I think about the things they have to put up with which make their lives so full and rich, and I decide I’m not so jealous after all.
Now, I don’t know if my friend Eric Sasson has been to all the places his characters visit in his short story collection Margins of Tolerance - although I know he’s well traveled. But if he’s been to even HALF of them, then I’m jealous once again, and not of his experience as a gay man, but of his experience as a world traveler. I’ve been a LOT of places, but now that I have two school-aged kids, I don’t get to go to far away places so much anymore.
What Eric has done with Margins of Tolerance is brilliant. He’s taken those two things I’m jealous about - his experience as a gay man and his experience as a traveler - and combined them into a rich and varied commentary on things which transcend ALL experience.
Two common threads run through each of the stories contained in this volume: the first is that every protagonist is a gay male. (I think that’s obvious from the things I’ve implied so far.) But if these stories focused solely on what it’s like to be gay, then I think it would be easy to dismiss Eric as a writer who’s found a comfortable niche - something to fall back on and rely on and repeat. I know some writers who happen to be minority, and who inhabit THAT personae in all of their writing - to the point that, even though I sympthasize with them and support them, I sometimes find their reliance on their status tiresome and uninventive.
Eric doesn’t do that. The SECOND thread which runs through Margins of Tolerance is how very DIFFERENT each story is. The protagonists are all wildly different - the only things they have in common are their gayness and their maleness. Other than that, they’re a different as anybody you can imagine.
The settings are also all different, ranging from a cheap hotel in Peru to a bar in St. Petersburg, Russia to a writers’ conference in Lake Tahoe. Eric has evidently visited many of these places, and if he hasn’t then he’s done his homework - he KNOWS these places in a profound and intimate way, and he uses them to great effect.
Not only are the characters and settings varied - even the style and language change from story to story. This is no small feat, I can tell you from my own experiments in changing style, voice, and cadence between stories. It’s very difficult to be tongue-in-cheek and sassy in one instance, then somber and melancholic in another. Many writers can’t pull off first person, and others revel in it. To see a single writer pull off such a variety of styles in such a small space is somewhat astounding.
Finally, the themes in Margins of Tolerance vary as well. I recently reviewed a book of short stories, that while enjoyable and worth reading, did dwell a lot on a number of contained and related themes. Margins of Tolerance defies that as much as it defies any other border. It’s a great irony and a triumph of sorts that this book, which sets itself up to be about the lines we as humans draw in the proverbial sand, crosses those lines again and again.
The power of Eric’s stories here are that each disparate piece - the characters, their situations, the setting, and the themes - are perfectly put together. Like a talented confectioner building the perfect cupcake from scratch, Eric somehow knows that THIS person experiencing THIS emotion and circumstance in THIS particular place will yield THIS transcendent message for the reader.
Some of these stories will disturb you - especially if you’re homophobic. Some of these stories will offend you. Some of these stories will make you cry, some will make you groan, some will make you shiver, and some will make you stand up and say “FUCK YEAH, that’s how it is!”
All of them will make you think - about your own person, about your own surroundings, and about the margins which you have established regarding your own tolerance.
And if you’re me, they’ll make you jealous.
Jay Magidson has dwelled in the art world for years, dealing with the artists and the buyers of some of the finest contemporary art in the United States. From his own gallery in downtown Aspen, CO, to his current position at Ann Korologos’s gallery in Basalt, Jay has had a long and successful career using his skilled eyes and vast knowledge of art. He seems to have a strong notion as to what works and what doesn’t in the visual realm.
Jay also happens to be a writer, and in everything I’ve read by him, I get a distinct sense of Jay’s visual sensibilities and acumen. His writing is among the most vivid and visually STUNNING of all of my peers. And in his current collection of short fiction, Colors, he hits SEVERAL monumental pinnacles in portraying scenes and scenery like no one else I know.
Does it always work? Well, no. But does it work enough to make Colors a worthwhile read? Absolutely.
Thematically, Colors varies. One of Jay’s favorite settings is in the dystopian future, but his vision of the days ahead is not singular. Using different versions of the future as a backdrop, Jay posits a variety of questions about man and man’s place in the universe: In one story, life in the future boils down to a day-by-day routine that everyone follows unquestioningly. There is no room for creativity, deviance from what is expected, or even the consciousness that one is an individual. In another story, the world is in ruins, in the dark, and we get a view of the post-apocalytic moral afflictions of one of the men who plunged it there.
There are other themes in other settings - in just a few pages, Jay makes comment on the problem of evil, the existence of free will, the nature of fear, and the consequences of selfishness. There’s nothing new here, but Jay’s approach is made fresh by his eye for effect and his uncanny ability to convey space, color, and detail.
The weakest part of Colors comes with the vignettes Jay uses to try to pull the stories into one cohesive piece. I think he’d have been better off simply leaving each story as a stand-alone, and let us inhabit them as ourselves and in our own way, rather than implying that the vignette character of Paul is there somehow, inhabiting each story’s respective protagonist in turn. Paul’s story, though vividly told - starting off strange, then moving into creepy, then veering off into terrible and surreal - actually lacks an urgency which is desperately needs. It also acts a succinct resolution. I’d be okay with no resolution were Paul’s story simply one of the many presented in Colors, but its position as GLUE makes me expect more from it.
Take Paul’s story away, though, and you have a series of tales that start off rather quiet, then build to a crescendo. And the thing which makes this volume successful, to me, is the visual power of every single scene. Even the Paul scenes are interesting in a visual sense. Jay Magidson convincingly conveys the vast and the claustrophobic, the euphoric and the melancholy, the intricate and the mundane, and he does it so that you can SEE it. Somewhere in his mind, Jay has seen it all - and he can describe it for you perfectly.
Time. Space. Eternity. All in color.
San Guillermo is the short name for what I’ve called my science fiction/Weird West/time travel novel, which is currently getting shopped around. The loooooong name for it is The Survivor of San Guillermo.
I procured a URL for it a little over a year ago that’s separate from the one you’re visiting now. That was when I decided that no matter what, San Guillermo was going to get published, whether with an established science fiction publisher, a small time publisher, or simply by little old me. Those short stories I published last year? Well, I wanted to sell some of my stuff and put my words out into the world via self-publishing. To test the market, so to speak.
Ultimately though, I was just practicing, and learning how to format, produce, and market material for public consumption.
I practiced. And oh, did I learn.
Recently, I got a teaser up for my upcoming novel.
You can find it at www.thesurvivorofsanguillermo.com. It’s not much yet, but hopefully it’s just enough for you, dear reader, to be intrigued. That means that if you’re just a fan of fiction (in particular that of a sci fi/time travel nature), you’d be somebody who would want to try my work in long fiction form. Although San Guillermo itself isn’t a long novel, it’s the first of three parts - so it’ll keep you going for a few years.
If you’re an editor or agent, hopefully this will demonstrate that I’m serious about this work’s publication. I’ll publish it eventually, even without you, but if I DO publish it WITH you (and I want to), I’ll do my damnedest to make sure it doesn’t disappoint. Hell, I already have a promotional web site and a rough marketing plan in place, and I’ve only finished my final edit for the first two thirds of the book itself.
I also have four artists who have rendered, or are rendering for me, illustrations based on their interpretations of certain scenes from the first third of the book. Later, after the initial run of hits to the web site peters out - like I’m sure it will - I’ll put those illustrations up, with quotes from the book. I may even put up a sample chapter or two.
So, if you’re an editor or agent, you dig this somewhat unconventional ploy at selling my book, and you’re interested in the book described at the other web site, then give me a shout. You can find me on Twitter (@williamkenyon), Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, and you can contact me via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you’re a reader or fan, just sit tight. It’s coming. One way or another, it’s coming.
Almost three years ago I posted a review of local poet and LGBT champion Collin Kelley’s first novel, Conquering Venus. Ordinarily, I’d link back to that review, but I’m not going to this time. Why? Because it’s not relevant anymore. That was three years ago, and the way I feel about that book has changed enough that the review doesn’t matter. If you want to go digging for it, feel free, but you’d be better off just reading this - I’ll clarify my repositioning on Conquering Venus in this review, in light of having read the sequel, Remain In Light.
Conquering Venus came out to mostly glowing reviews, and my reviews and attention to the book were mostly positive as well. Retrospectively, I think some of that praise might have been premature - for reasons I suppose I now have to explain. First, though, let me assure you that the impending praise I’m about to give Remain In Light is highly deserved - with this follow-up, Collin has given us a book that deserves as much if not more attention than current books of similar pacing, style, and genre.
Despite my ex post facto misgivings, two things make Conquering Venus a unique and worthwhile book. One is Collin’s acumen as a poet. The other is his position in the local gay community as an adamant and prolific messenger, diplomat, and champion.
Unfortunately, those two things also contribute to the problems Conquering Venus has as well. First, Collin had some difficulty, I think, in transforming the powerfully metaphoric and sonorous language that makes him such a talented poet into the precise and practical language often required in prose. Sometimes his artful phrasing added beautiful layers to his scenes, as with the Prologue, (you can listen to him read it here). Other times - many times - scenes got muddied, became unclear.
Second, and this is just circumstance - it reflects less on the author than it does the world in which we live - the subject matter simply proved unwieldy for people who are not in or deeply sympathetic to the LGBT community. That, BTW, does not include me - I am and for many years have been a staunch ally of my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender peers.
Still, and I am loathe to admit this, but the incontrovertible fact is: if you are not a member of the LGBT community or an ally thereof, you might not find much in Conquering Venus to identify with. It’s a sad fact, but it’s true: although the feelings and angst that protagonist Martin Paige and his lover David experience are indeed universal, and ought to transcend boundaries, we live in a society that finds it difficult to transcend with them.
Conquering Venus was a sort of coming-of-age story, the tale of two boys who need to grow past certain things and become men. It’s filled with all the pathos and emotional upheaval you’d expect from any such tale. Honestly, it’s not the kind of story I gravitate toward, and for many others who do gravitate toward that kind of tale, it’s appeal is potentially lessened by their inability to find commonality with a gay couple in Paris.
Still, Conquering Venus was and is an impressive debut novel. The characters, particularly the chief protagonist of Martin and the two female leads of Irene and Diane, are thoughtful and multi-layered portraits of complex and fascinating people. And the setting of 1990s Paris is a character unto itself - you can sense in every overly poetically-phrased description Collin’s love for the City of Light and the people who inhabit it.
The strengths of Conquering Venus are present in Remain as Light as well. Martin, Irene, and Diane are back and as splendidly portrayed as ever. The weaknesses, however, are gone.
Whereas Conquering Venus was a coming-of-age tale full of emotional circumstance, Remain In Light is a murder mystery and a thriller. The stakes aren’t astronomical here - we’re not talking government conspiracy or secret society adventures that will determine the fate of the world. But that doesn’t matter. What’s at stake is the fate of these characters, and Collin gets us so invested in what could and will become of them that we turn every page with as much interest and involvement as we would any story in a similar vein. And honestly, I care more about Martin Paige and Irene Laureux than I ever have Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, or Robert Langdon.
Finally, with this second excursion into long prose, Collin has adapted an efficient style which gives you pacing and plot in abundance, but a distinct and cohesive sense of place and time. The little ornamental trappings of poesy are still present here and there, but they add to the story now rather than distract and detract. There is also an air of mystery that drives the plot - something amorphous and enigmatic that hangs around each scene like a ghost, giving you the sensation that someone important was there before you, and that you just missed something that could change you and your perspective fundamentally.
Stronger in voice, more sublime in style, and ultimately more intriguing than its predecessor and many of its contemporaries, Remain In Light stands as a great second entry in what Collin is calling his Venus Trilogy. It’s available now from Vanilla Heart Publishing. Get a copy here from Amazon.com.
My friends Rob and Elizabeth and I were chatting last Friday, and our conversation turned to a bit of merchandise that another friend of ours sells in his shop. Elizabeth and I had bought a couple of his items, and we were reading the “back matter” on the… well, the back. It was amusing, as it was supposed to be - and then I got to the glaring grammar/spelling error toward the bottom of the copy. My gut reaction - as it always is when I see stuff like this - was, “Sumbitch didn’t edit this enough. Sumbitch.” Then I thought, “Oh no,” because this is a product that our friend is likely to sell A LOT of, and to have a glaring error in the copy on the back is kind of embarrassing. Or at least it is in my mind.
Yeah, I know. I’m a Grammar Nazi - I get called that all the time. And yeah, I know - ninety percent of the people who see this thing won’t notice the error, and ninety percent who do notice the error won’t care. I know.
Still, I believe that if you are going to put forth a public face, or create a publicly consumed product like this, that you ought to put forth the best face or product you possibly can. Our friend can be somewhat excused because proper grammar isn’t really necessary to sell his product. But I see this sort of thing happening all over the place nowadays - I even see bad grammar in books by authors who are vastly more published than I am. And I’m not talking about just bad writing. I’m talking bad grammar. The absolute inability to put forth something comprehensible. There are LOTS of so-called writers who simply aren’t able to put together a decent story, but I still consider them writers because they can, at least, put together a reasonable sentence. And then there are those who call themselves writers who… can’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong - our friend’s error wasn’t that bad. It was the simple misuse of a homonym which is fairly commonly misused. Still, I think he could have and should have avoided the error.
Which brings me to the real point of this post. How could he have avoided the error?
It’s actually quite easy. He could have asked me to take a look at the copy before it went to press. I’m here. He knows what I do for a living. We’re friends. He could have asked, and I would have said yes, and his error would not now exist. Also, I might have tweaked a couple of the sentences in the copy and made the whole thing just a tad better. It was pretty good, and pretty funny, so I couldn’t have helped it that much. But better? Yes. Indeed.
Also, I probably wouldn’t have charged him, per se. You see, I have clients that I charge - people I don’t really know who give me the cold hard cash to edit or write their copy. I believe, however, that among friends a sort of barter system can work out - kind of a limited form of communism, wherein I do something for you and you do something in return for me. I have friends who are lawyers, computer geeks, designers, clothing and jewelry makers, artists, musicians, electricians, carpenters, lawn care maintenance guys, bartenders, chefs, chemists, and more. I have friends who sell things I love - beer, games, travel, books.
Already, I’ve tapped into a few of my friends’ skills and talents, and I’ve been very happy with the things they’ve done for me. Now I want to offer to return the favor - or to initiate a reciprocal relationship with a friend who needs me.
And don’t just assume you can do what I do. This may sound like a bit of hubris, but I’ve seen the results of people thinking they too can write well enough to get by, and I’m embarrassed for them. I don’t claim to be able rebuild a car engine or create a topnotch investment portfolio, so neither should you claim to be able to create a good marketing brochure or advertorial.
Basically, I think that if we paid better attention to what each of us did, and communicated more, we could probably work out any number of trades. Consider this, my friends, my offer to give you my writing and editing services in exchange for whatever we can work out. And of course, if all you can offer me is the cold hard cash, I’ll take that.
You don’t ever have to have something less than (nearly) perfect go out your door, at least wordly wise. Because I’m right here.
I hear people deride Twitter all the time, and I can see their point: What kind of communication can you get done in 140-character sound bites, going out and coming in at you sometimes 10 or 20 per minute? And what do such minute bits of communication mean for our overall ability as humans to convey ideas of complexity and intricacy?
Well, I’ll leave those questions right here, unanswered, because I don’t know the answers. What I do know is that Twitter can be infuriating, tiresome, and inane, but it can also - if you open yourself up to the community it creates - introduce you to things of beauty and substance that you might otherwise miss.
I’ve never met Ben Rubin, who goes by the Twitter moniker of @ghostofthemoon, but as I grew my Twitter community of fellow poets and writers and artists, I came across him, and took special note of the iconography on his Twitter page. Something about it intrigued me.
Now, I have to admit that there’s a lot of noise on Twitter - noise which may be its eventual downfall - and sometimes it’s hard to rise above that noise. Over the weeks after I followed Ben, however, his posts came to the fore for me, and I began to take special notice of him and what he had to say. This drove me to his site, sort of like I hope that my posts on Twitter might have driven YOU here.
And once I was at his site, I was so struck by the book he was offering that I had to have it. And once I had it, I was happy - happy that such a strange thing of beauty could exist in our world of instant information and gratification, happy that I’d taken the initiate to find such a work, and happy that I had found it through such a supposedly unlikely path.
When Comes What Darkly Thieves is a picture book fairy tale, and Ben Rubin is foremost an artist who excels in collage and photography. What makes this entry into literature and art so masterful is that he has established a pervasive mood, which he never deviates from and which never leaves you as the reader (and inadvertant protagonist of the story, since it’s in second person) dissatisfied.
When you see the images (and many of them are readily available on Rubin’s site at http://buttondownbird.com/), you’ll see what I mean. They are a strange mix of chaotic and ordered, exotic and mundane, nightmarish and beautiful, alien and comforting. And while I wouldn’t have made some of the grammar or punctuation choices Ben made in the adjoining tale - which is a surreal mini-adventure involving blind Gypsies, magical moonbeams, swingsets, and lumps in the carpet - it blends fantastically well with the images, which ARE the chief draw here, the main thing that I believe you should be paying attention to.
As an avid reader of WORDS, I don’t have a lot of picture-centric books on my shelves. But I assure that right now, When Comes What Darkly Thieves is there alongside all the other books in my collections, and I will display it proudly, for I think it’s quite a find. And I think the way I found it speaks volumes about how we conduct ourselves in the 21st century - how we go about finding things both beautiful and ugly, assuring and disturbing, humorous and not.
I also think that in Ben Rubin, I found a fellow artist that I’ll be happy to follow (on Twitter and otherwise) for a long time.
You can find When Comes What Darkly Thieves via the Button-down Bird web site in an e-book format, and perhaps hardcover. If you can find a hardcover copy, I recommend it, even in this age of electronics.