Why publish it myself? Because the traditional publishing model is broken and it takes a year to get a book in print, even after it’s been accepted by a publisher. Being a web person, that struck me as a crazy and unnecessarily long time.
The downside, of course, is that you have to do your own marketing. However, that’s been a good learning experience, which I write about in the FlackRabbit article.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart starts off as a hilarious farce, an inventive look at the future gone wrong. All your paranoid fears about the Department of Homeland Security are well-represented as a bureaucratic error throws Lenny, the book’s narrator, into absurdist peril.
But the novel is much deeper than that. It’s not just a farce, it’s an honest and painful look at a nightmare vision of America. In this dystopia, our country is obsessed with sex and shopping, in hock to the Chinese and teetering on the edge of financial collapse (not too different from today).
The book steadily grows darker and darker as history unravels – we feel for the characters who are so clueless about the inevitable reckoning. And we feel for this country, all the values we hold dear – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty – all imperiled by decades of folly.
That’s what this book is about – Lenny’s collapse into middle age is mirrored by the collapse of America. Ultimately, it’s a very upsetting book. You don’t want the country to end up this way. The book is dark and funny but it’s also a warning to us as a nation to get our act together. Otherwise, the future will be very cruel.
A good chunk of the recently released WikiLeaks documents deal with the problem of a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the grip of radical Islam. Despite the billions of dollars in US aid they receive, they are unwilling to cut ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
One of my favorite novels of the past few years is Absurdistan. This comic romp by Gary Shteyngart takes place in a degraded post-Soviet world, where all anyone cares about is making money. The book is narrated by Misha Vainberg who dreams of returning to New York, where he was a student. Though a Russian heir to a fortune, he considers himself a lost American, trapped in corrupt country.
To get back to the United States (and the love of his life), he travels to the Caucasus republic of Absurdistan. He hopes to get a visa there. Along the way he joins in epic bouts of drinking and conspicuous consumption, as the nouveau rich show off their wealth with huge bounties of caviar, vodka and prostitutes.
This is fiction, or so I always thought, the invention of a very funny writer. But then I read the WikiLeaks cable on the wild wedding in Dagestan, Russia. It’s like the world of Absurdistan come to life, featuring a rich cast of characters frolicking along the shores of the Caspian Sea. The cable even has the perfect blurb for the back of a paperback:
The lavish display and heavy drinking concealed the deadly serious North Caucasus politics of land, ethnicity, clan, and alliance.
Do you have someone on your Xmas list who likes a good mystery, particularly one set in Washington, DC?
Then check out my novel, Murder in Ocean Hall. In this mystery, the world’s most famous ocean explorer is killed at the Smithsonian. It’s up to a cynical DC detective to solve this high-profile case.
Murder in Ocean Hall takes place in a Washington “beyond the monuments”, in the real neighborhoods of the city that most tourists don’t see. Set during the summer before the 2008 presidential election, we follow Detective Thomas across the city as he encounters the powerful and the powerless in his quest to solve this case. He’s grown bitter from decades of investigating bloody mayhem on city streets. Despite the new condos and gentrification, has the city really changed? Or is it doomed to dysfunction?
I’ve lived in DC for almost twenty years. I know the neighborhoods, the conflicts and the personalities of this unique city. I’ve been behind the scenes at the Smithsonian and worked in the field of ocean exploration, where my murder victim comes from. The book is set in places I’ve lived in and is informed by that most universal DC experience, street crime. It features some real characters, including a brief appearance by Marion Barry (no book in DC would be complete without him).
A reviewer wrote about my book that it:
will take you behind the scenes of places you’ve been and tell you how they function then give you insights into people in power and how they fail to function.
Murder in Ocean Hall makes a great gift for anyone who likes a good mystery or wants to uncover the seedy underbelly of our nation’s capital.
And if you live in DC, I will even sign it for you!
Murder in Ocean Hall is available exclusively at Amazon. The paperback is only $9.99 while the Kindle edition is just $2.99.
Last night, I listened to Chris Guillebeau speak at the Barnes and Noble in downtown DC. Chris is one of my favorite bloggers, from the Art of Non-Conformity. His message is that you don’t have to live like everyone else, that you should follow your passions while looking to leave something behind.
While his DC reading was standing-room only, his next stop in West Virginia will be less attended. Chris emailed the one person signed up for the reading, telling her to make sure to be there.
In person, he’s much like his blog – more curious about the audience than himself, non-judgemental, cognizant of how lucky we in the West are to have the “problem” of following our dreams. After speaking for a bit (and filling in DC on his 50 state map), he took questions from the audience.
Why did he write a book? Blog posts don’t change lives, was his answer. His goal in writing the Art of Non-Conformity was to get people to positively change and to share his and others stories of how to do it.
One goal of his book has been to bring people together. In the Q&A session, he let the audience answer each other’s questions, covering such diverse topics as entrepreneurship and conflict-free diamonds.
What I like about Chris is that he doesn’t say that there is one magic answer for everyone – it’s not Scientology or the 4-Hour Work Week. Your quest to change yourself, and the world, can involve very small steps – life experiments, where you get away from your desk and visit an art gallery. Or start learning a new language during your commute.
Unlike other so-called “life hackers”, he believes that the quest for efficiency is overrated. A new method of burning through your email is meaningless. It’s better to figure out how you can pursue adventure while helping others.
In his view, the core questions to think about are:
What do you want out of life?
What can you offer the world that no one else can?
In a city filled with well-paid people trapped in bureaucracy, these questions have enormous resonance. The Art of Non-Conformity aims to guide people in finding their own answers.
A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books. In this picaresque novel, John Kennedy Toole creates a vivid and hilarious world, the French Quarter of the 1960s, and populates it with unforgettable characters and fantastic scenes. His protagonist is Ignatius J. Reilly, perhaps the first slacker in American literature. He disdains work and the modern world, longing for the Middle Ages when his genius would be appreciated.
I read A Confederacy of Dunces in college and loved it from the very first pages. It’s a broad comedy, expertly told by someone who clearly knows every inch of his beloved New Orleans. Moreover, Toole was familiar with the slang and patois of the city’s residents. He portrays them as corrupt, flawed, confused – but always well-meaning, in their own way. Continue reading “Would Self-Publishing Have Saved John Kennedy Toole?”
The Kindle version of my book, Murder in Ocean Hall, is now available in the UK, through Amazon.co.uk.
So now Kindle users in London can download my book while drinking a cuppa.
What did I have to do to get my book in the UK? Nothing – Amazon took care of it for its Digital Text Platform (DTP) authors. And DTP is free. It was easy to use – you just upload the text of your book and the cover.
With e-publishing there’s no waiting on printing presses or slow-moving publishers. An author can distribute his work with just the click of a mouse. And readers can get their favorite author’s work immediately, rather than waiting on a publisher’s schedule.
Why does this matter? My mom is a huge Kate Atkinson fan (Behind the Scenes at the Museum). She reads everything this English author writes. Atkinson has a new book (Started Early, Took My Dog) coming out. It’s available in the UK on August 19. But it won’t be here in the US until March 21, 2011!
Does it take six months to translate Britishisms into Americanese? Does it take that long to design a cover? To get it into American bookstores? I imagine that the publisher needs the time to do a marketing campaign and so on.
But why delay the US Kindle version of Atkinson’s new book until March 21, 2011?
Readers are an impatient lot and want their books now. With e-publishing, there’s really no reason for such an indefensible delay.
I am not the Joe Flood who wrote The Fires, a new book on 1970s-style arson in the Bronx.
Why do I mention this? Because I’ve gotten a couple emails from editors of well-known magazines asking for information about my book.
But they think I’m the author of The Fires. I’m not. And a quick look at my site (like in the about me section) would reveal that. While I’m a writer, I primarily write fiction.
I’m surprised by a couple things:
So, nobody reads web pages carefully? Not even editors? They just skim until they find what they’re looking for? I imagine these editors did a search on my name, my site popped up, and they emailed me, assuming that this must be the right person.
Everyone blindly trusts Google to know their wishes? Search engines can’t read your mind. You can type in “Joe Flood” but it might not be the right “Joe Flood.”
Ironic, this lack of reading comprehension and digital literacy from people who work with words on a daily basis.