Category Archives: Independent Publishing

I’m my own sensitivity reader.

If you only have time to read one short piece about writing, editing, and publishing today, I’d like to recommend “The Problem with ‘Problematic'” by Francine Prose on The New York Review of Books‘ NYR Daily site. I had no idea until reading this that “sensitivity reading” had become a cottage industry starting at $250 per manuscript and that editors and reviewers and publishers and schools are on the lookout for any mention of characters from marginalized and/or diverse groups (especially in books by non-marginalized/diverse authors). There’s a sense that some in the industry are running scared in the face of criticism (or potential criticism).Moby Dick

In the novel from my youth that I’m in the process of serializing on this blog, I’m my own sensitivity reader and I’m finding my own “problematic” characters and situations without even searching. My description of the young woman introduced in Chapter 3.1 makes me cringe, but I’m following my own ground rules and leaving everything from my manuscript unchanged as a time capsule from 1975. At least I was aware of feminism then, even if I (or my characters) sometimes reflected the values of an earlier decade in practice.

This becomes even more problematic for books of earlier eras; Francine Prose mentions an anti-Semitic stereotype that disturbed her in Wharton’s The House of Mirth and continues, “Moby-Dick might not exist if a sensitivity reader had objected to Melville’s depiction of the indigenous Queequeg, silent, telling fortunes. It’s painful to imagine someone reading Huckleberry Finn and having only one thought: fuck your white savior narrative.”

At a time when we have an anti-literate government, should we readers really be so actively policing (and sometimes suppressing) the language of imaginative literature too?  Read Francine Prose’s piece; she spells out the problematic issues better than I can.

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Now Available in Paperback

Printed copies of Fire Answers Fire are now available here.

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I just checked my reading list to personally quantify this trend, and I have read fourteen books in print (ten from the library and four from the bookstore) since the last one I bought online and read on my Kindle. This matches what I have been hearing anecdotally from fellow readers and seeing on the train to work, and the anecdotal evidence is in agreement with all the recent quantitative reports of rising physical book sales at the expense of the ebook fad.

So the only remaining question is why I waited so long to make this novel available in the format that readers — including this reader — prefer.

I guess it’s not just me.

For the past two years my Kindle has been gathering dust as I do all of my reading from physical books, whether from my local bookstore, my local library, or revisiting favorites from my own bookshelves. It seems it’s not just my experience that I’m reading more and enjoying it more when I’m handling bound pages of ink on paper.

“How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip'” by Paula Cocozza in today’s Guardian confirmed again that this is a trend that’s spreading. I can also use this as my rationale for the poor sales of Fire Answers Fire … and use it as my impetus to relaunch it as a paperback for the modern aficionados of physical books.

Happy Birthday Ernst Toller

Self publishing is probably not the correct route for me, simply because I am so lazy about the self promotion side of the equation. I haven’t written anything on this WordPress blog in over a year, but today’s the birth date of one of the major characters in Fire Answers Fire, Ernst Toller, born on December 1, 1893, one of only a couple people in my novel about the Nazi airship Hindenburg who enjoyed a real life as well as a fictional one. Toller’s story deserves to be known so much better and I’m sorry that my book didn’t sell well enough help to raise his profile except among a small handful of readers.

The story was different on May 22, 1939, when his suicide in New York as an exile from Hitler’s Germany was news around the world, as was his funeral where he was eulogized by Sinclair Lewis and others.

In its June 17, 1939 issue, The New Yorker published the following poem from W.H. Auden about Toller.

 

IN MEMORY OF ERNST TOLLER (d. May 1939)

The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice

Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.

What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said?
O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed
Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head

Already been too injured to get well?
O for how long,like the swallows in that other cell,
Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell

About the big friendly death outside,
Where people do not occupy or hide;
No towns like Munich; no need to write?

Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among
The other war-horses who existed till they’d done
Something that was an example to the young.

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.

—W. H. Auden

Smashwords: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors

The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon’s new service that  generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.

It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .

continue reading here Smashwords: New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors.

TRIGGER WARNING: Survivors of Zeppelin Crashes Should Avoid My Book

Really, I’m not kidding! This is an official TRIGGER WARNING from the author!

If you have been a personal victim of anti-Nazi terrorism, traumatized by too many YouTube videos of the burning Hindenburg, or been otherwise affected by deeply contemplating the tragic cover image on Led Zeppelin’s first album while high, then the novel Fire Answers Fire could conceivably trigger something or other. Don’t buy or read my novel. Or maybe the decade of the 1930s or New York City or questions of suicide or ubiquitous radio waves or  family secrets trigger feelings of … well, feelings of something. Really, who would want to read anything that might trigger something?

As ridiculous and embarrassing as this whole new warning fad is at the university level, does anyone else get the feeling that bright red TRIGGER WARNING labels on books could be as effective a marketing tool for literature as ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers on CDs that use the word ‘fuck’ were for the music industry and ‘NSFW’ labels are for websites that feature celebrity wardrobe malfunctions? It’s certainly worth a try.

Pynchon In Public Day 2014

I’m in the middle of reading Walden on my Kindle and at the beginning of rGravitys Rainboweading Adam Begley’s Updike in hardcover, but tomorrow is May 8, which is — as everyone knows — Pynchon in Public Day, so I’ll also be carrying a portable mass-market Bantam edition of Gravity’s Rainbow that’s been read a number of times and which has its spine reinforced with tape. Once I start digging into one of my favorite books on the train tomorrow, I may soon have three books in progress.

On the second leaf of this edition before the title page is an excerpt of a San Francisco Examiner review from Geoffrey Wolff that has always stayed with me: “Forests have gone to the blade to make paper for this novel. Don’t mourn the trees; read the book.” As a fan of Thomas Pynchon and of trees, that line has haunted me since the 1970s when I picked up my first copy of this novel.

Gravitys Rainbow Review

I never doubted the use of trees to produce his book, but now with my own new novel published this month, I don’t need to even worry about making that choice. So far it’s only available in electronic versions.