Beta Readers: New Jacke Book Shipping Today!

Definition of a good day:

I’m trying a new tactic this time: hard copies, a comment sheet, and a return envelope, postage paid. Also going for a wider demographic.

Very thankful for the help from all my early readers. If you’re interested, let me know!

Onward and upward!

Image Credit: puzzlepuzzles.com

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Independent Publishing: What Would Stéphane Mallarmé Do?

Steve Moyer provides a fascinating look at the intersection of technology and publishing in nineteenth-century France. As Moyer observes, Stéphane Mallarmé not only excelled in poetry, essays, and translations, but in reconceptualizing the nature of the book:

He was given to imagining new possibilities for the book, and in the 1870s and 1880s, he worked to define what a book was and, in a utopian world, what it might become. He is known now as one of the innovators, along with Manet, of the livre de peintre, or artist’s book, in which an original text by a poet appeared on a facing page with an original print—often an etching—by a contemporary painter. This may sound fairly tame (especially in an age when books rarely have pictures and “looking at the pictures” is a standard description for reading that is childish), but there was nothing tame about how Mallarmé thought about publishing. He once described the book as “the Orphic explanation of the Earth.”

As we might expect, someone trying to explain the Earth Orphicly would have some opinions about how it should be done, conventional publishing ideas be damned. And here’s where he crashed against technology and the can’t-do spirit of commercial publishers. It was an era when even the great Flaubert needed to fight against publisher control for something as simple as not wanting to have pictures in his books:

From 1820 to 1850 rapid advances in the technology of illustrating books made such work as Paul et Virginie and Grandville’s album possible and increasingly the norm. Publishers continued to exert near total control over the use and selection of illustrations throughout the century. Gustave Flaubert, who had begun publishing during the Romantic era, had to firmly resist publishers’ efforts to illustrate his work.

Enter Mallarmé, whose “bibliophilic fantasies” led to his taking great care in putting out his product:

He involved himself in the minutiae of the publishing process of his own work, choosing the paper and fussing over the typography, which “celebrated the sheer pleasure of reading a beautifully crafted book and the private reveries that such an experience might induce.”

 It’s hard to read passages like this one and not think that Mallarmé might have found some resonance in the ongoing transformation today, as blogs and podcasts and e-books emerge, giving individual authors and artists control over their products that may be at odds with what commercial publishers, voting with their pocketbooks, might be willing to put out:

Manet and Mallarmé collaborated on Le Corbeau (The Raven), by Poe, translated by Mallarmé, and accompanied by Manet’s distinctive etchings. For both Mallarmé and Manet, their collaboration was a way of sidestepping traditional publishers and juries. It was their attempt to reach the public directly. 

While the book was a commercial failure, it served Mallarmé’s ends.

What would he make of today’s publishing scene? His view of the book was largely informed by his reaction to newspapers, and I tend to think he may have continued to find solace in books as a bulwark against the chaos of blogs and the rest of the Internet. Would he have extended this to e-books as well as the printed page? That’s not clear. But I do think part of him at least would have seen the benefits of digitization – not just for writers, but for readers:

Nineteenth-century critics and authors had seen the public in relation to literature as passive admirers, while Mallarmé’s idea was that [as technology advanced], society would become peopled with empowered readers.

Image Credit: Sketch of Stéphane Mallarmé, nineteenth century (pen and ink on paper), Verlaine, Paul (1844–1896) / Private Collection / Archives Charmet / The Bridgeman Art Library (via http://www.neh.gov).

Feelin’ Gaststättenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit…

It’s become kind of a cliché to say “Oh, the Germans probably have a word for it.” But as Ian Crouch (reviewing Ben Schott’s new book, Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition, among others) points out, more often than not, they do:

Leertretung
Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there.
Void-Stepping

Tageslichtspielschock
Being startled when exiting a movie theater into broad daylight.
Day-Light-Show-Shock

Rollsschleppe
The exhausting trudge up a stationary escalator.
Escalator-Schlep

Gaststättenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit
Total confidence that a newly opened restaurant is doomed to fail.
Inn-New-Opening-Downfall-Certitude

Crouch has plenty of other examples of the non-German sort as well, along with some commentary on what it all means.

Me? I’m a fan of all neologisms unless they’re trying too hard to be specique.

Photo Credit: DL Byron, texturadesign.com

Independent Publishing: What Would Marcel Proust Do?

This is an easy one: we know what Proust would do, because he did it:

Still, for all the brouhaha, many modern readers still find themselves in agreement with the two French publishers who turned down Proust’s manuscript [Swann’s Way] in 1912. A third agreed to publish it, provided that Proust himself cover the expenses.

I agree with Andre Aciman’s assessment:

Proust’s novel is so unusually ambitious, so accomplished, so masterful in cadence and invention that it is impossible to compare it with anyone else’s. He is unabashedly literary and so unapologetic in his encyclopedic range that he remains an exemplar of what literature can be: at once timeless and time bound, universal and elitist, a mix of uncompromising high seriousness with moments of undiminished slapstick. Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Proust—not exactly authors one expects to whiz through or take lightly, but like all works of genius, they are meant to be read out loud and loved.

I also agree with his opinion that Proust had elitist tendencies (but that his artistry overcame them):

As Proust recognized, who we are to the outside world and who we are when we retire into our private space are often two very different individuals. Proust the snob and Proust the artist may share the same address, the same friends, and the same name, even the same habits; but one belongs to society, the other to eternity.

Think about that for a minute. If this snob – and there’s no doubt that Proust was a snob, a world-class one, though I love him dearly – if even this titan of self-regard could overcome his doubts about paying for the publication of his own manuscript, then what are you – you, the lover of democracy, you, the friend of the little guy – waiting for?

Image Credit: http://www.full-stop.net

Embrace Your Inner Homer (and Publish Your Book!)

Okay, before we begin, please watch this video. It’s by far the best use of 24 seconds you’ll spend today:

What does this have to do with self-publishing? Well, I could point to the dignity of the little robot with his little tennis racket arm, and the moving way he pulls himself down the road even as his stern father refuses to let him in. No, I don’t view the self-publisher as the robot, with the gatekeepers as Homer. And I don’t see the robot as the book in the drawer, never to see the light of day. Those are the obvious metaphors.

But here’s the one that’s most difficult: what if you’re Homer! What if you put all this time following your dream, pursuing your passion… and the thing turns out to be terrible! Except you don’t know it! How embarrassing! How horrible! Maybe the Gatekeepers were right after all! They were… gulp… saving us from ourselves.

Perhaps.

But watch this one. Trust me, it’s worth the five-second investment:

Yes, Homer’s a fool. We all are, at one time or another. So the question is, do you want to fail like the mean Homer, kicking your creation to the curb? Or do you want to be the Woo-Hoo Homer, turning every lemon into lemonade and every termination into a four-day weekend? Sure, he’s not reality-based. So what? Aren’t you a fiction writer for a reason?

And aren’t you tired of the stern shake of the head, keeping you down?

Isn’t it time to pump your fist in the air and take a Homerlike leap?

Free Fiction Weekend: The Race by Jacke Wilson

His wife once called him “a fifth-rate husband, a shoddy human being, and a washed-up Judas.”  Now he’s running again. And he needs her support. 

Readers! A free excerpt of The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is below.

Want to read the whole thing? Like free stuff? I also have some free review copies available.  I’m happy to give them out! That’s what they’re for! If you would like one sent to you, contact me or just let me know in the comments section.

(By the way, I’m also looking for advance readers for the next manuscript. If you’re interested in insane lawyers hiring insane candidates at insane law firms, this might be the one for you. Let me know!)

And now… the main event! Enjoy!

The Race: A Novella

Chapter One

Throughout the campaign, reporters asked me why the Governor was running. Not if I thought he’d win or what he’d do once elected, but why. Why’s he running? Why? Why? Why’s he doing this to us? Why’s he doing this to himself?

I never knew how to answer. He was a career politician, one of those creatures who need validation by an electorate the way athletes need competition or businessmen need to make money. An egomaniac, a narcissist, a damaged personality looking to fill some kind of hole – all of that was obvious, and true. Only it was not enough for them. Not this time.

I’d usually mumble something or other I’d heard the Governor say – that he wanted to help others, that he believed he was the best person to represent the good people of Wisconsin. But it was no good: they knew I was not a true believer. I’d been on the scene for weeks, not years. I was not a chief of staff or a whispering guru or a speechwriter or a handler or a political advisor of any kind. I wasn’t even a member of his party. Not a relative, not a friend. I was just there.

“Is this another one of your strays?” my wife asked when I told her I was taking a few months off to help write the autobiography of a man nobody loved. “Governor Olson? The ‘gone snowmobiling’ guy?”

“That’s the one.”

She sighed. “Another stray.”

“It’s a paying job,” I said.

She knew, even then, that I would become more deeply involved than the project required. She knew it would happen even though she had no idea that the Governor was planning to run again. None of us did.

Why?

I suppose what follows is my attempt to answer the question:

Why did he run?

And another of my own:

Why do we care?

#

Even before I received the materials I had been tracking the Governor’s career. I was in D.C. and he was in Wisconsin, but it was impossible for me to ignore his ascent. My parents were excited about it, for one thing. My dad had taught him in high school. There was not much else in our town to be excited about. Anyone who broke out of the parochial limits of our area gained the notice, the respect, and the appreciation of everyone in the community. A golfer from a nearby town turned pro and stayed on the Masters leaderboard until late Sunday afternoon: Yes! We’re still here! We exist! Our town produced a tug-of-war team that competed in the World Championships in Ireland: Yes! We can no longer be ignored – we just finished third in the entire world! We count!

And now… a governor with national aspirations. From a town not far from ours.

Still, I was astonished to receive the box. Why me? I had an MFA, which made me a writer, purportedly, and a law degree, which meant I could call myself a lawyer – but I was not a politician or a journalist, let alone a biographer. Had someone given him my name? Maybe he thought he needed someone unconventional?

The package contained two manuscript boxes, six or seven hundred pages of material. There was no cover letter. I thought it might be a prank or a mistake.

He called later that day.

“It’s my autobiography,” he said. “I need some help with the organization. I’m a busy man. When can you start?”

“I’m busy too,” I said.

“I’ll pay you,” he said, brushing off my reluctance. “You’ll enjoy it. I’ve had a fascinating life.”

He assumed I would agree – but then again, he could. He had earned that much at least. His rise had been conventional, but his flameout had been extraordinary. He could have appeared on any talk show he wanted. Any reporter in the country would have taken his call. Even minor scandals have a way of giving you that power.

And his had been spectacular. A sitting governor, an incipient national campaign. Getting traction in the primaries. Not likely to win, but a press favorite. A good chance at being on the Presidential ticket. And then: a disappearance. His staff is cagey. He’s in bed with a cold. Then they say he’s “up north snowmobiling.” The catch phrase takes off: Saturday Night Live bases a skit on it. Rumors abound: rehab, depression, marital problems. Someone says they saw him at an airport. Finally the staff admits they aren’t sure where he is. The governor! Of the state! Is gone!

That was the story for a few wondrous days. The truth when it emerged was just as surprising. He’d gone off, leaving everyone behind: his wife, his four kids, his campaign, the state he was in charge of – all to go and visit his mistress in Italy.

That, of course, was the first big why.

True love? That’s what he claimed in public.

It’s never that simple.

I read enough in the pages he’d sent me to see that there was a more complicated answer.

I took the job to find out what it was.

#

He wanted me to meet him at the Big Boy on Highway 14, near I-90. It was a restaurant I did not know still existed. Not just their Janesville location, but the entire Big Boy franchise. Who still ate there? How did they keep going? But there it was, still chugging away. I sat down on a bench in the lobby and watched Wisconsinites come and go.

After a few minutes a boy came in – he was maybe four or five – ahead of whoever had brought him.

“There he is!” he shouted, and came running toward me.

I stood up, my mind making all kinds of leaps. This boy must be a grandson, the son of one of the Governor’s older boys – the Governor must have brought his whole family. A woman followed the boy through the door – presumably the Governor’s daughter-in-law. And they must all be excited to meet me. The grownups must have told the little boy that they were on their way to meet someone important, a writer who was going to be helping Grampa with an important project.

My mind put all this together in a second, and it changed everything. I stood up, flattered, determined to live up to their expectations. I was a writer, in their eyes if no one else’s, significant enough to make this little guy thrilled to meet me.

I bent over, ready to give him a high five. The boy ran past me and flung his arms around a statue.

“Oh, Big Boy!” he cried, “I knew you’d still be here!”

And Big Boy, the chubby, wavy-haired, smiling lad with the red suspenders and tablecloth overalls and big cherub cheeks and blank eyes, stood in place, absorbing the hug. He was, indeed, still there.

I straightened up and smiled at the mother, who frowned at me with a certain amount of suspicion, perhaps justifiable. Then I wandered into the restaurant.

The Governor was already there, eating a piece of pie.

He had ordered one for me too, but when I didn’t turn up in time he went ahead and ate both. “Sorry about that,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s too good. Too, too good!”

If he was embarrassed – some would say that a failure to control his impulses was not anything he should be laughing about – he did not let it show.

It was strange to see him in reduced circumstances, not quite unrecognized by the people here, but overlooked. He did not look like anyone there. He was wearing a sportcoat and tie, and he still had the shine of a politician: hair blow dried and tamed by product, big white teeth, a bronzy glow to his skin. I could see why the press had viewed him as nationally viable: he was conventionally, if blandly, handsome. If he’d become President he’d have been one of the thinner ones, and one of the more distinguished-looking: a fresh, youthful look, with smooth grooves of worry lines. It was a versatile face: wise and caring, rugged in times of war, sleek and inoffensive in times of peace. For some reason he made me think of a ten-dollar bill: reliable but easily forgotten.

I felt no aura, but then I never do. As is often the case when I encounter people like him, I felt like I was supposed to feel some kind of excitement, but I did not. This was a man who’d held power, whose career and life had been blown apart by a sensational scandal, and who even now had a tabloid-cover international celebrity that was only months old. You might think there would be some buzz around him, but I felt none. Maybe I only felt it when others reacted to people in this way. In any case, it wasn’t happening.

And yet, he carried himself as if he had it. He was brimming with self-confidence, and self-esteem. It was like a doctor who acts like a doctor even outside the hospital – on the golf course, say, even though his status at the hospital doesn’t matter there.

The waitress came by and I saw his political side emerge. “That pie was absolutely delicious,” he said, beaming. “So good I wish I could eat another.”

She was bored and tired, but she treated him with affection, smiling just for him, as if he alone among all her customers could make her day.

“Looks like you already had two,” she said, loading the plates onto her tray.

“These must be Wisconsin cherries!”

“You know it, doll,” she said, bustling away.

It was a fascinating exchange. In fact the pie had been filled with a gelatinous cherry-like substance that had probably come from some factory in New Jersey.

“Let’s talk about the book!” he said to me. “You’ve read it?”

I nodded.

“It’s got everything in it. It’s all there,” he said. “It could use some organization. Maybe some rearranging – you can help with that. Some chapters are too long. We could break ‘em in two, you know. People are busy, they like short chapters.”

I nodded again. The book had a lot more trouble than he seemed to realize – it was, in fact, a complete mess.

“A couple times I felt like I said the same thing twice. And there might be a spot or two where it runs out of steam. You can help me fill those in.”

“Sure.”

He nodded more to himself than to me. “It’s got no ending, I know, but guess what?” He put both hands on the edge of the table, leaned forward, and lowered his voice. “My story is not over.”

I didn’t know what he meant. Of course he had many years still ahead of him, and he had a chance to live them with some measure of dignity. I imagined him working as a lawyer, or a lobbyist, in a low-profile, behind-the-scenes way. He had plenty of businessmen friends. He could put his marriage back together, eventually, and serve on boards and blue-ribbon committees assessing budgets or job creation programs. He could move to D.C. or stay in Wisconsin, and work hard. In twenty years he’d be a “whatever happened to…” guy and people would be impressed that he was still around and had not continued to embarrass himself.

But this was not what he had in mind, obviously. His eyes were wide open and dancing. They were blue, as infinite and as thin as the sky, wide but not deep.

“I’m running for Congress,” he said, as a slow grin took over his face. He leaned back in the booth and pounded the table with his palms. “We’ll give this book a heck of a last chapter!”

I mumbled some kind of agreement. I think I also mentioned – incredibly, it seems to me now – that the book probably didn’t need a new ending if he decided to change his mind. Why did I say that? Why do you tell someone to stop downing shots of tequila? Concern for humiliation, poor judgment, maybe physical well-being. It was a human instinct.

But he was determined. “Let’s go see Tina!” he said, dropping money on the table and loping toward the door.

That was all I needed. If you care about my motivation – me, a nobody – then that was it. That was my why. This narrative was rushing forward and I couldn’t turn away.

Tina? The wife who had called him “a fifth-rate husband, a shoddy human being, and a washed-up Judas”? And not only would I get to witness their encounter, I would be driving the car that took him there? I did think we’d get a new ending for his book, but maybe not the one he expected.

On the way out he made sure to swing by the cash register and tell the manager how great the service had been. The waitress appeared, and the governor immediately fished another bill out of his wallet. It was a ten.

“An extra tip,” he said, bestowing it on her. “Never had a better time.”

The woman beamed.

It was in him to be a politician. He had all the skills, and the energy, and the spirit.

And now, headed to see his wife? He would need it.

#

The Race: A Novella by Jacke Wilson is available now at Amazon.com.

Copyright 2013 by Jacke Wilson. All rights reserved.

Self-Publishing Update: Moving Up the Ladder of Success

Now that The Race: A Novella has been available for sale for a little over a week, it’s time to check in on our Levels of Financial Success for Writers. As you may recall, the last time we did an update I was still absorbing the blow of shelling out 250 bucks for a block of ISBNs. It seemed hopeless. It seemed I was forever doomed to be at Level 8 (sub-nullity).

However, big news! No, I have not moved from Level 8 to Level 5, as I had hoped. BUT I have located an error in the Ladder. Level 8 is described like this:

Level 8: The Sub-Nullities

No income from writing whatsoever, with expenditures (postage, editing or proofreading costs, etc., writing conferences, etc.) exceeding income.

This should be corrected! It should read “Income, if any, exceeded by expenditures (postage, editing or proofreading costs, writing conferences, etc.).

My apologies for all of you writers who have wondered whether you are properly categorized as Level 8 or Level 5. Hopefully this will clarify the matter.

And now: Onward and Upward!

Image credit: Globe Newspaper Company