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Quietus

And so, a year on from Reswyt’s publication, the time has come: I’m downing the blog. Perhaps not permanently, and perhaps not completely – but for the most part, the lights are going off, and this particular battleship is going to be greased down and drydocked.

There are really three reasons for this. First, I started Subterraneum with the intent of journaling some of my thoughts and experiences as I crossed the divide from avocational writer to erstwhile (quite erstwhile) author. I’ve done that. Looking over the last year of posts, it’s fun to relive some of those moments; first reactions to this aspect or that of the publishing business, first reviews, first interviews, first major promotion, etc. But despite the saying about only being able to step in the same river once…it’s still cold and wet. Sometimes that’s shocking, and sometimes it’s refreshing, and sometimes it’s both…but I feel like those experiences belong in a vault of some sort. They’re over and done with, and forward we go.

Second, there’s only so much room in my life for writing – and I’d like to spend that time writing more and blogging less. I’m heavily involved with Chasing Hollyfeld, the blog on gifted education I’m writing with my wife. I’m in alpha read on Khemnet and I’m starting to contemplate a spinoff series (or two, actually). I’m in first draft on Hierophant, first in the next series I’m beginning – not YA, sorry – and I’m really enjoying that. Between those three endeavors, it was pretty clear something had to give, and that something is Subterraneum.

Third, and finally, I’m delighted to find that the books have found a home – but that home is full of lively conversation, not a series of monologues. I think it’s every author’s worst fear that a book ends up speaking to no one. I’m very pleased that Dreamline has found a home, and it’s the home I always intended for it; gifted girls. I aimed Reswyt squarely at my daughter – and hit. But what I’ve learned about this home is that it’s all about conversation. I don’t answer a bale of mail every week, but there’s a pretty steady stream of emails, Facebook messages, and in-person (!) conversations that go on surrounding the books, and I greatly enjoy each of them. Clearly it’s a world you like to talk about, whether over coffee or via email – but that’s best accomplished by leaving more space in my schedule for interaction, and less for blog-format monologues about writing.

On that note, I’ve got writing to do. Keep me in your thoughts; keep the conversations flowing; and keep checking in on the Reswyt Facebook page for news.

‘Til then, thanks for coming by. It’s been fun.

Dave

Roadie

Three thousand miles’ worth of shimmering Midwestern highway heat and – ack – overgrown insects rolled by under the tires last week; I know, because I had an oil change before we left…and returned at pretty much the recommended mileage for another. It’s been a long time since I did a road trip this long, and never yet with the Collective. But they acquitted themselves nicely, courtesy of a Harry Potter marathon on the overhead DVD player and about 1.2 trillion games of Mario Kart on the Wii. (Yes, I heard every one of those songs at least twenty times.)

It was good to go; it was better to come back.

In between those oil changes, I accomplished exactly nothing on the next book –  nothing visible, anyway; the wordcount meter didn’t register a single addition. But Nebraska and Iowa and South Dakota were great for storyline exploration, if not keystrokes. Once we dropped onto I-90 for the eastbound leg of our trip to see my new niece, and the green CRUISE light on the dash told me I could relax my right leg for another seven hours or so, it came to be a stimulating environment for pondering the possibilities. What if? Why not? How come? By the time I lowered my road-stiffened carcass into a Quality Suites hot tub, I had a half-dozen good ideas for Khemnet.

I’m excited to put them into place. The summer’s been its usual blend of the occasionally productive, the oddly work-crazy (corporate development usually takes the summer off, so it’s been more active than normal for me) and the creatively diverse. I spent a solid month’s worth of downtime getting another blog launched with Kathy; we’re collaborating on putting down our thoughts on gifted education in Chasing Hollyfeld, a sort of journal/blog/breadcrumbs exercise to help us organize our thought process on bringing up the Collective. Fall is just around the corner, and with it brings the possibility of a bit more structure in my schedule, even if it is more hectic. That’s the oxymoron in our house. Summer is a stretch of lazy anarchy; the school year, by contrast, is ordered fury. (If summer was a Dungeons and Dragons character, it would be chaotic good to the school year’s lawful neutral.)

But what I was reminded of, on those long stretches of highway, was the value of getting away from the keyboard from time to time to just let creativity flow. Sometimes, the best thing that can happen is having something nearby to type on – because Inspiration comes knocking at bizarre times of night, cloaked in oilcloth and mysteriously bloodied rags, and is almost always bearing some suspicious-looking bundle or box. And sometimes, the exact opposite is true, and handy access to a keyboard is one’s worst enemy; sometimes, it just takes thoughtware to move a book concept forward.  I dictated a few notes here and there through the Midwest, occasionally startling my sleeping wife awake while I nattered into the iPhone about one plot point or another, but by and large, the trip was one long mental exercise in working the plot – and it was good.

I’ll have to remember that as Khemnet gets on toward completion. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a personal roadie in October to set final order to things. But I’ll take some better scenery this time, thanks very much.

Mailbag II

When you dream, do you dream about Reswyt? Katie S.

That’s a very interesting question, and one that merits at least three different answers – no, yes, and yes. I don’t actually dream that I’m in Reswyt anymore; I did, for a while, while I was writing the first book. The concept, at the time, was very vivid to me and I think I was trying on the idea, personally. Then there’s the question of whether I dream about the book, which I do – I wake up with lots of scenes and ideas that I’m usually running downstairs to jot down. And then there’s this third answer, having to do with dreaming of Reswyt on the New York Times bestseller list. But that’s a whole different angle.

Why wasn’t Brummbar affected when the Balance spoke his true name? – Lisa D-S

There’s something to the act of true-naming that is sonic in nature – acoustic. This comes straight out of Budge and Brier, and it’s unambiguous in the Egyptian myth; true-naming was a spoken act of magic. It’s the action of a wave in the open air moving against your auditory canal. That’s why Brummbar wasn’t affected; he was named inside his mind by the Balance, but not out in the open air. It’s the same issue Sabine realizes later, with Matthew; that she wrote his name on the slate, but didn’t speak it aloud. In both cases, though, I don’t know that it would have mattered if their true names had been spoken aloud; Brummbar was dying, and the Balance knew it (but could not change that fact), and Matthew is simply a unique case in Reswyt. Not that there won’t be others, but his was something of a special situation, and I don’t think naming him aloud would have done anything.

Update: maybe he was. 🙂

Do you write for a living? – Anna L.

No, I don’t.  I work for a consulting firm, mostly in intellectual property and mergers and acquisitions, but I also partially-homeschool two of my daughters – one of whom is profoundly gifted and one is twice-exceptional (2E), gifted with a learning disability. I had to make some lifestyle changes when it became clear that I would need to work more with both of them at home, and I changed around some things about my consulting work to make time for them. That’s when I started making more time for writing, too. Someday I’d like to be a full-time writer.

What advice would you give to a young writer? – Anna L.

Know why you’re writing. This is an act that should keep you up at night, wake you up early, get you up off the couch, bring you home early – if you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you’re firing up Word and thinking, “I’m going to bang out a bestseller,” you should know that that’s vanishingly unlikely, and far too much work lies ahead of you to have an expectation that you’re going to make even a basic living writing. If you write good stories, and promote your work like crazy, good things will happen. In the meantime, focus on honing your craft, and having fun along the way. And keep writing!

Do you have a street team? – Cameron R.

I don’t. I know a lot of authors do, but I’m not sure I necessarily agree with the concept. Street teams started as kids papering flyers for local concerts (I know; I’ve done it before!) and I’m just not sure how applicable the idea is to a book. By all means, let your friends know about it, and if you think there’s someone who would enjoy the book, tell him/her where to buy it. But to be honest, the kindest things you can do for me are to review the books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and GoodReads, and post about the books on book blogs. Do those two things, and you’re helping me out immensely!

Are Reswyt and Nekhet ever going to come out in paperback? – Samantha D.

I did a blog post about this a long time ago over on Subterraneum, and it’s still there if you want the long-form answer; I did another one, recently, that’s probably up right now. The short-form answer is no. I could, and you could spend a lot more for the book, and I could receive a lot less, and someone in the middle could make a lot more. That’s the basic issue. If I wanted a paperback of either book out there, you’d be paying $16 for it instead of a few dollars, and I’d be getting a dime of that or so. Plus, if you’ve got $16 in your pocket, you’re one-fifth of the way to owning an e-reader anyway. Just buy a Kindle or a Nook!

How did the idea behind Reswyt get its start? – Kelsey K.

It’s twofold, but the basic version is: I couldn’t sleep, and I had a daughter who was bored with mainstream YA. What’s interesting is that I didn’t set out to write a YA book; the story picked the genre. What I originally wrote, on a sheet of Moleskine notebook paper I still have in a drawer, was the following: “Muscles paralyzed during REM sleep. What if our minds are elsewhere, controlling another body in our dreams?” That was the seed of the story. And I tried a bunch of different configurations of that story; one test write had Sabine as a late-twenties Vancouver police detective using her ability to enter the dreams of criminals. But none of the test-writes fit until I found this sullied-fairy tale configuration. It all just clicked, and what that turned out to be was a young adult’s story.

Are you ever going to release the deleted scenes you talked about on your blog? – Olivia N.

I’m not sure. Some have genuinely been supplanted by other scenes, so reading them now would do nothing but confuse the plotline. Others are simply superfluous; they’re interesting, but not all that substantive. I had thought about releasing them for a while during the writing process for Nekhet, but now that it’s finished, I can’t see a good reason to put them out there. That’s not to deny anyone anything; you’ve read the core of the story, and what’s left is, essentially, a big pile of frosting.

Your books don’t really read like anything else in YA, and I’m wondering who your influences are – and some of your favorite books by those authors? – Chelsea B.

That’s probably because Reswyt didn’t begin its existence as a YA book – it began as a story in search of a framework and a genre. It’s made a home in YA (or ‘YGA’, as some of my readers are calling it, for ‘young gifted adult’), but that’s more by accident than design; I’m renting here, not settling down. A few of my favorite authors – and if you haven’t given these authors a try, you definitely should – are Neil Gaiman, Iain Banks, Neal Stephenson, Dan Simmons, China Mieville, Greg Bear, and Justin Cronin. I’d start with Neverwhere by Gaiman, Feersum Endjinn by Banks, Snow Crash by Stephenson, Ilium by Simmons, Kraken by Mieville, The Forge of God by Bear, and The Passage by Cronin. If you went on to read everything they’ve written, that would be, like, ten years’ worth of quality reading right there.

Is Reswyt a political allegory? – Jaya V.

You can read it at that level, if you like, although I didn’t write it with specific nations or political actions – or actors – in mind. There’s a certain human constancy to the act of arming oneself, though; today you and I fought with our fists, and then tonight, I found a bone to hit you with. Tomorrow you’ll pick up a stick, and I’ll need a bigger stick, and you’ll fashion a crude bow, and before we know it, we are in an arms race of two. That’s certainly set forth in the books, and in particular the second one. Reswyt began as a realm for children to find the nature of their souls in advance of the judgment of Ra. But what it’s become, through its inclusive nature, its allowance of the existence of the pendants in particular, is something else entirely.

My brother downloaded Reswyt to his Kindle and proceeded to read it cover to cover, and later told me he liked it but was surprised that I enjoyed it. I told him exactly the same thing. So now we have something like a bet going. Who did you intend this book for? – Caitlin W.

Everybody. Sorry to wreck a bet. I’m not being flip with this answer; I genuinely hoped there would be some aspect of both books that everyone could enjoy regardless of age or gender.

Would the magnetic rifling scheme work on the siege gun? – Mingmei C.

In theory, yes. It’s been discussed before, in different contexts; railguns, for instance, use electromagnets – but for propulsion, not really rifling. I introduced this more as a literary device that highlights Matthew’s creativity. He sees the problem of extending the gun’s range as a pure scientific challenge, without regard – at least initially – for the morality of what he’s building. Part of the story of Nekhet is Matthew’s moral awakening, in addition to his physical awakening, and the magnetic rifling scheme was useful in writing that story.

Update: no, they don’t; coilguns use electromagnets. Railguns use pure electric charge. Important to the next book? Maybe.

Why can’t the Balance see the injury to Brummbar? – Emma O.

The fundamental failure in Reswyt is the failure that occurs when a closed system unexpectedly becomes an open system. The pendants were Nephthys’ ‘back door’ to the dreaming realm, and they weren’t intended to function in the ways that humans have used them – purposefully or accidentally. That becomes a major theme in the second book, when Nephthys begins to realize what has happened on her watch, and it’s expanded on in the third book. In any case, Nephthys can’t see anything that wasn’t manifested in the realm – so she can see children, and the dead minds, and even had some sense of who Matthew was. The niferew-essence, Nephthys’ hawk form, tells her of what happens in the world, but she is an aspect of a long-dead Egyptian god, and would have no idea what sort of alien technology the Queen and Matthew have brought into being. She just doesn’t have any idea what those objects are, or what they can do.

The Trashcan Man Dies in the End

Really, World Book Night?

Really?

I’m staring at what amounts to a hand-slap FB message from one Carl Lennertz, Director of World Book Night, who’s telling me it’s a bad idea to give away books on World Book Night, even though…you know…that’s what World Book Night is about. Apparently, only WBN will be doing the free-book-giving that night, thank you very much, and it will only be the books on WBN’s list that will be given.

Well, sorry, Carl. I wasn’t aware that you owned the exclusive rights to give away books on April 23. I’ll now refer to the book promo as the Book Giveaway That Has Nothing At All To Do With World Book Night.

Happy now?

Apparently, the core confusion is whether any non-WBN book giveaway on WBN is sanctioned by WBN. But I didn’t say that, either; I just wished everyone a happy WBN and invited my Facebook fans to take part in a promotion offering free books and free T-shirts. I never once came out and said that the promotion was a WBN-sanctioned event; any cursory examination of the WBN website would render such a conclusion farcical, since WBN involves volunteers distributing free paper copies of books, whereas I don’t even offer a paper copy of my books. To be honest, I can’t really see the crossover. You’re out giving away paper copies of hoary literary standards, airport bookstore fare, and the occasional highly suspicious Book That Got Turned Into a Major Motion Picture and Wouldn’t We Like More Readers Before the Second Installment. I’m giving out e-book copies of an indie sequel. Your target audience is, so far as I can tell, people who will be genuinely surprised that such a thing as The Stand exists. My audience is largely voracious readers, mainly gifted girls, mostly reading on Kindles and Nooks. Where’s the confusion?

(Also, last I checked, I’ve got five thousand FB fans and change, and you’ve got eight thousand. Y’know what’s a fabulous concept in social media? Cross-promotion, where I make my followers aware of your thingamajig, and vice versa. And given our respective target audiences, I’m pretty sure you’re the net beneficiary of this one; I’m telling five thousand people about WBN, whereas I’m not sure there will be one sale I’ll get as a result of publicizing WBN for free. So there.)

But, moreover, although I’m a huge fan of the WBN’s core mission – everyone should read, and I applaud any effort to make that a reality in our time – my main objection is that every book WBN is giving away has had its day in the sun. (Or, ahem, is still very much in the sun.)  The Stand is a great book, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend anyone read, but if you’re a grown adult, you’re probably aware of the existence of The Stand, and you’ve made your decision to read or not to read it long ago. Offering you a free copy of it is unlikely to change your mind, just as offering you a free copy of virtually anything on the WBN list is unlikely to change your mind about that book, either.

Where’s the independent author and publisher presence in WBN? Short answer, it doesn’t exist, which means readers that have been turned off to reading have no chance to experience some of the great new indie fiction that’s beginning to take root in the bibliosphere. If someone’s going to get turned on to reading again, what are the odds it’s going to come as a result of being handed a free copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings?

At its core, the real question WBN needs to answer is why people get turned off from books, and how we can get them turned back on again.  If someone left off reading because they were dissatisfied with what was being offered, how in the world does offering them the same retread works get them excited again? And, in my own very small way, I wanted to be a part of that, by giving away some free books of my own. If I don’t have the right to join in an event like WBN, what’s the message for readers?

Enjoy The Stand. It was a bestseller once.

When I was in high school.

Sticky Floors, Agency, and Mental Eye Candy

Agency is back in the news, just as I’m beginning to think about setting the price for the second book – and the news is supposed to give me pause to consider.

Meh.

At issue, if you haven’t kept up with this particular topic, is how large publishers sell books to book retailers. Prior to the advent of Apple’s iBookstore – and I’m going way back here – publishers wholesaled their books to retailers for half the suggested list price; retailers then marked books up from there appropriately. Once Amazon appeared on the scene, its immensity allowed it to do the unthinkable: accept wholesaled books at half price…and then mark them down to loss-leader status in order to move huge volumes of books (with hopes for add-on sales). That, the publishers decided, was removing their ability to control pricing of their product. So, thus, it was bad.

On to the agency model they went, in which publishers set the price and the retailer takes a cut of the proceeds – Apple, for instance, takes 30% of the price of books sold through its iBooks app. That returned control of pricing to publishers, but caused ebook prices to rise sharply (thus screwing the consumer). So, thus, it was bad, too. (See where this is going?) And this time, it’s made the Department of Justice unhappy enough to stop hosing down its rose borders, hitch up its pants, and go inside for the squirrel rifle.

I’m supposed to be all concerned about this upcoming litigation on the part of the DoJ, because lowered book prices – if they come to pass – are supposed to create more pressure at the bottom of the market, where indie authors like myself live. The logic being bandied about goes like this: if the current slate of wildly overpriced $19.99 ebooks are suddenly marked down to $9.99 or even $7.99, I will need to take a proportionate reduction in the price of my book to make everything ‘seem’ rational to the consumer once again. Because God knows readers equate price with value. Right?

I’m not buying it. If I produce a car that I go to market with for $20,000, and a group of large automakers conspire to raise the prices of their cars – for no supportable reason – to $100,000, and are then sued and forced to reduce their price to $50,000, that doesn’t mean I have to cut my price to $10,000 to keep everyone’s mental fractions intact. Those prices didn’t make any sense before the cut, and they still don’t; the same is true of ebooks. The prices currently being charged by large publishing houses for ebooks are ridiculous; there’s no printing involved, no physical stocking of books, no remaindering the unsold copies, no endcap advertising, none of it. So selling an ebook for $15.99 and a hardback for $28.99 is somehow supposed to convey to me that the content is worth around $15 (I’ll be generous with transmission costs on WhisperNet here) and the delta is entirely made up of production cost, an argument I don’t buy for a second. They’re both wildly overpriced, and that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with my own work and how I price it.

Part of that has to do with top-down versus bottom-up pricing. Starting from the bottom up, the pricing conversation for about any book would start at the unrealistic – “let’s give it away” – and proceed through a volume-building price point ($0.99 is the going Kindle rate for developing your market, apparently) and on up to some point where learned consumers in the room would start to look around and say, “I’m not sure I’m spending $12 on a book. Let’s come down from there.” Whereas the top-down discussion is free to start wherever you want, with some sort of ascribed sanity to it. “Who thinks $50 is too high? All right, then. What about $45?” It sounds like a rational discussion, but it’s not.

So fuck the agency model, and fuck the wholesale model; fuck all of it. I don’t really care what large publishers are doing. Whether you feel screwed by their pricing model is your own decision; I don’t believe any book is worth $28.99. Sorry. I just don’t. My decision to make is how to price my book. And, really, that decision leads on to a deeper discussion of what any book should cost. Pretty much every track on iTunes is $1.29, whether it’s Mahler or Gotye or dogs barking ‘Jingle Bells.’ We’ve arrived at a price for music, apparently; THE price. Why haven’t we found the price for books? What the fuck?

Well, here’s my personal philosophy on it.

A book should cost about what a good movie costs ($10)  – they offer roughly the same level of entertainment – with a few modifications. First, you have to do all of the casting, lighting, and special effects in your own mind; so I’ll pay you a few dollars (three, to be exact) to be your own personal Stan Winston and put creature effects in as necessary. Consider yourself on the payroll. I’ll also knock off a dollar for not being the beneficiary of any trailers beforehand, but add back a quarter or so because you don’t have to sit through inane pre-movie advertising and watered-down Entertainment Tonight reporting; you can start reading a book whenever you want, without having to wait for the featurette about ABC’s shitty new fall dramas to end. I’m adding a dollar because you can re-read the book anytime you want, whereas you have to pay to get back into the movie; I’m also adding back the $0.25 in gas it would take you to get to the movie theater, since you can download a Kindle/Nook book anywhere. I’m subtracting two dollars because a book takes longer to read than a movie takes to watch, so it’s an investment of time, and time is money. I’m adding a quarter because you can listen to whatever soundtrack you want and you’re not at the mercy of whatever half-rate score the movie was saddled with. I’m deducting $1 because all eye candy, male or female, must specifically be generated by you, the reader, but I’m adding $0.25 because your choice of eye candy is limited only by your imagination, and you have an unlimited casting budget. I’m adding back $0.25 because your selection of snacks is much broader, and of much higher quality. Finally, I’m adding a quarter because I won’t make you wait until after the credits for any hidden scenes, sitting alone in a sticky-floored theater with the lights already coming up.

That’s $10 – $3 -$1 +$0.25 +$1 +$0.25 – $2 +$0.25 – $1 + $0.25 + $0.25 +$0.25 = $5.50.

There you have it. Five-fifty. It passes the eye test; it lives in that I’d-expect-to-be-entertained-for-that-price realm; it’s an amount of money that you’re not going to debate for a long time (kinda like the iTunes $1.29 price point), but one sufficient to make you feel entitled you to a seat at the critical review table once you’re done.

Maybe I’ll start with that. And if the big publishers want to adopt it for their next slate of gripping page-turners, I’ll license this logic to them for a small fee.

GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM

What do you do when you press the Send/Receive button that ships out the beta copy? You write a blog post. Because your fingers are pretty ingrained to be moving across the keys, and because you’re nervous as hell.

Beta reading is a fairly new concept in literature, but a good one. I can name you ten books off the top of my head that would have benefited from one; I plowed through one just this past fall that was richly developed, with deep, resonant characters and near-holographic settings. Too bad it didn’t fucking go anywhere, and that the ending felt stapled on, ruining the entire experience.

That’s what betas do. It’s a thankless task, although I’m usually good about trying to make it worth their while; book swag is a given, and I’m always good for one private-room evening out – usually after the gamma copy is gone to KDP and BN – of drunken debauchery. It’s the least I can do. The job is a critical one, especially for those of us who don’t have a publisher or editor to bounce ideas off of. Beta readers tell you if the plot unfolds too quickly, or too slowly; they tell you if the leaps you hope made sense do, in fact, make sense, or whether they got lost in the funhouse somewhere. 

The trick, of course, is knowing when to beta. Too early, and someone’s going to tell you – candidly – that your book reads like shit. Too late, and you may have grilled to well-done a plot that makes no sense. I think I got my timing right this time, but I suppose I’ll find out.

More than anything, though, the beta stage affords me a few days to clear the baffles, so to speak. You can live with something too long, too intensely, and lose all perspective on it; sometimes, you’ve got to walk away for a while and then come back to it. So I’ll pick things back up on March 1, and hopefully by then the first beta comments will be coming in. 

Until then, I’m exhaling. Getting to this stage is a big deal; it means you’ve built an airplane that should get off the ground and fly, and now you need your preflight check. Nekhet looked like a book to me on my beta prep run.

Hope it looks like a book to my beta group.

A column of smoke by day? Or a pillar of fire by night?

That was the basic gist of the email from the third-party publicist I opened today. I get a bunch of these – well-intentioned advertisements from career ink pimps more than happy to go shill your book for a percentage. I toss most of them, but this one included an embedded five-question quiz, which I found very interesting. And enlightening.

The ‘juice’ question was as follows: would you rather sell 100,000 copies of a two-star book or 1,000 copies of a five-star book? From the perspective of the publicist, of course, that’s a self-serving screener question. He wants to know if you’re a perfectionist that’s going to provide him one salable property every ten years with every last character descriptor vigorously screwed down and every participle neatly tucked into place, or a bulk paperback every eight months that the trades can press into service. He makes his money from the latter, and I respect that. What I found interesting was that, to him, this was a natural dichotomy – that nothing that reviewed well could possibly sell well, and vice versa. (Given my druthers, I suppose I’d rather sell 100,000 copies of a five-star book, but that would have been the undisplayed Choice C.)

The question within the question, from my perspective, was equally simple: how will I know if I’m a success as a writer? I don’t know, actually. But now that Reswyt is out there, and the second book is underway, I can take a momentary breath and ask that question. When you’re writing, there is always a Large Operational Stage waiting for you after the current one is completed, and that road of work limits your time for – or interest in – plumbing the depths of self-awareness. For the longest time, it was all about finishing. Then it became all about editing. Then publishing. Then promotion. There’s not a lot of room for introspection along the way…but now that I’m back on the road, for the second time, I can see that the question does merit some thought.

Maybe I’ll know I’m successful if the Literary Community(R)(TM) embraces me. That’s possible. I got solicited to be reviewed by Kirkus, who is the eight-hundred-pound gorilla of book reviewing, and I pressed the Send/Receive button on Outlook to ship Reswyt to Kirkus with a level of trepidation bordering on junior-high telephone date inquiries1. So maybe I’m a Big Literature review whore. Maybe I’d like to see Reswyt acknowledged somehow on a Grand Level. I suppose that’s true. But I don’t think it’s a top-level consideration. Plenty of my favorite authors are awash in midgrade reviews, and plenty of stuff I’ve thrown aside as unreadable has been broadly praised. If I don’t think like a Literary Community(R)(TM) reviewer, do I want such a review for myself?

Or, maybe I’m an Amazon review junkie. That’s true, too, at some level; it’s important for me to know that the book made a difference in somebody’s week, maybe yours. Although I agonize over small details, like who the fuck steers Ra’s solar barque2, I realize that – in the end – this is an entertainment product, designed to get you through a shit weekend with your mother-in-law or provide a nice literary scaffold to rationalize an additional umbrella-festooned drink at the beach. (“You go along, hon. I’m to the good part in this. Waiter?”) I’ve gotten a few nice Amazon reviews. (I’d like more. Yes, I’m looking at you.) I’ve gotten a few emails from people, too, who aren’t willing to hang their opinion out there on Amazon, but had some nice things to say. I like those, too. But, again, I’m not sure that’s how I’m going to know if I’m a success. I’ve gotten other emails I like a great deal better (see comment below).

Money? Probably not coming, not in circular-drive-with-a-vodka-spouting-fountain-in-the-center fashion, anyway. I’ve spent more promoting the book, to date, than I’ve made from it, and I acknowledge that doing so’s a part of pushing the new-novelist rock up the hill. At some point, it’d be nice to be able to earn some form of income for the work – it would make a spiffy alternative to other retirement work options, for instance – but for the moment, that’s not even on the table.

So if sales aren’t the most important thing, and review stars aren’t the most important thing, what is? And doesn’t that neuter the dichotomy I got presented with originally? In other words, aren’t I supposed to want one or the other? Well, maybe not.

Reswyt began with a kernel of an idea – that in the dreaming state, our souls are elsewhere – and grew from there. But it’s one of a double-fistful of ideas that have merited something between a one-page treatment and a bold couple of chapters in my life. Reswyt was different; it progressed very quickly, almost frighteningly quickly, from a premise piece to a passion piece. At some point in its creation, its creation itself became the most important thing, for a very specific reason.

You.

God knows I didn’t write the thing for the mainstream audiences; I’m aware of that, in spades, and I have an Outlook folder full of agent correspondence telling me so. I think what’s important, from my perspective anyway, is finding readers that I could connect with, and setting forth something that would elicit an organic emotional response. A route to what Neil Peart once called “…the secret well of emotion…buried deep in our hearts.”  And those are the emails I really value – the ones telling me that some small part of the book awakened something beautiful, or sad, or passionate, or sympathetic, within them. I wrote Reswyt with hands that sometimes shook, eyes that sometimes teared. If any of that went through the Great Conduit of Creation and came out at your end, I did my job: connecting with readers – and putting forth an opportunity to feel something.

In this Godforsaken world, I’m not sure anything’s more important than that.

1 Did I, in my junior-high days, attempt to script first-date calls on index cards? I did. Might have been the first storyboard attempt ever on my part. (Note: acting partner often seemed disinclined to follow storyboard.)

2 Yes, I really am currently wrestling with this. It only took two large glasses of wine before I realized that, if the Egyptians themselves didn’t fucking care who drove the boat, I could probably take license. So I did. Hardcore trolls and detail fanatics can suck it.