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A Month of Creative Madness -and- A Publisher Deserving of Attention

It is November, and that means I can say goodbye to luxuries like friends, sanity and a consistent sleep schedule.  Yes, children, it is National Novel Writing Month.  For the next thirty days, I will regurgitate fifty thousand words of the roughest, most unpublishable writing possible, in the hope that I can someday turn it into a shiny finished product.  Or just to prove I can.  Or any of the myriad reasons people do this.

For my own part, I do it because it’s the only way I can kick myself in the ass to sit down and write for more than a day or so.  Throughout the majority of the year, I have tended not to get any writing done at all.  This has only recently been changed since I put the 10k Club together in August, but it’s a long road to consistency.

Of course, having to focus most of my free time on writing terrible cliched fiction means I won’t have much time to post in the next month, so this page may be a little quiet for the next few weeks.

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Just a couple of posts ago, while deriding Darryl K. Sweet, I plugged a book called “Objects of Worship”.  I still haven’t read it, because my reading list is long and I am easily distracted by shiny objects and the internet, but I think it’s important to take a moment and focus on the book’s publisher, ChiZine Publications.

Canadian fans of genre fiction may already be familiar with the name ChiZine.  The magazine that has borne that title for years is well known for its focus on dark speculative fiction, with a preference for stories that bend the lines of genre.  In short, this magazine is fucking weird.  The stories I have read on their site have all been profoundly bizarre, and tend to leave me with a simultaneous desire to sit down and write, and to curl up in a corner and wait for the bad things in my brain to go away.

Not terribly long ago, in the grand scheme of things, the publishers of ChiZine decided to start focusing on the publication of novels and anthologies.  Their pledge is to publish one title a month, twelve per year.  For the moment, they’re being picky, inviting authors to publish with them rather than accepting submissions.  Based on their list of recent and upcoming titles, they were clearly thinking of quality when they made that decision.  their current catalogue seems filled with books that are innovative, original and, not surprisingly, really weird.

Just like their well-established magazine, ChiZine Publications wants to publish books that take established genres and give them a rough twist, leaving something that is one part imagination and one part heebie jeebies.  For my own part, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on “A Book of Tongues”.  I’ve been itching for a good weird west story, and if “A Book of Tongues” delivers like I think it will, then it will cement me as a firm follower of ChiZine’s releases.

I can’t conclude this post without talking about the covers.  A colleague of mine is quoted on ChiZine’s site praising their covers, and it is praise well deserved.  It was the cover that put “Objects of Worship” in the post that focused on “The Gathering Storm”, and in that post I sang Erik Mohr’s praises.  You can see from their catalogue that this is not an isolated case.  In a field saturated by terrible cover design, Mohr is turning out some of the most beautiful art that ever graced a book jacket.  In all areas, it seems that Brett Savory and his crew are focused on bringing quality to the surface.  I look forward to seeing where they take the field of genre fiction in the next few years.

Titles currently available from ChiZine Publications include:

The World More Full of Weeping

The Choir Boats

Objects of Worship

The Tel Aviv Dossier

Monstrous Affections

Horror Story and Other Horror Stories

Filaria

A Book of Tongues and Chimerascope are currently available in limited edition hardcover from Horror Mall.

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Art, Books, Fiction, Ramble | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On Cabins, and Their Benefits

I want a cabin.  The kind that’s right next to a lake.  Normally I prefer proper, rugged camping, with tents and fire and constant warfare against flesh-eating insects, but this cabin of mine would not be for camping.  I envision it as the perfect writing retreat.  I could disappear into the wilderness for days and do nothing but write.  Within months I would have penned the perfect masterpiece.

With my opus complete, I could return to civilisation triumphant and submit this perfect work of literary art to the finest of publishing houses.  Upon my rejection, I would then submit it to the second finest, and so on down the line, until my ultimate inimitable work was rejected by every publisher under the sun.  Even the vanity presses!  Disheartened, I would fire my agent and seek new representation, only to find that none would even look at my work.

Alone and embittered, I would return to my cabin, the lakeside sanctuary that once served as the birthing place for the brilliant manuscript that was my undoing.  There, I would pen an open letter that expressed the full and terrifying depth of my seething hatred for the world that had cast me aside.  Once my written catharsis of anger and despair was complete and all my existential rage spent, I would lay down my pen; the very instrument of my downfall; and take my own life.  The hateful letter would go unsent, and undiscovered until six months later, when the police had finally decided to investigate my disappearance.

They would force entry into the cabin only to discover a grim tableau: My badly decomposed body slumped over my writing desk, my head resting on the letter as though its venomous words offered the comfort of a down pillow, pen resting under my lifeless hand, surrounded by a dried pool of my blood.  All perfectly backlit by the sunset.  The crime scene photographer would go on to win a Pulitzer prize for his photos taken at the scene, and would embark on a successful career with National Geographic.  The investigating detective would retire soon after the discovery, shocked out of jaded nihilism by the overwhelming sadness of the scene.  He would spend the remainder of his days making handcrafted wooden toys and caring for his family.  Every Friday he would deliver a single, lovingly carved toy to the local children’s hospital.  One week a train.  The next, a tiny horse with a bow in its mane.

The letter written as my last act of living defiance would be published in the Saturday paper, the impassioned hate contained therein spurring hundreds of letters of complaint.  The paper would print an apology the following week, and punish the editor who allowed the letter to be printed by reassigning his attractive young assistant and replacing her with a stoned, fifty-year-old college dropout.  The letter itself would gain notoriety from this controversy, and be passed from person to person via the internet, growing in popularity until mine was a household name.

The publishing houses that once rejected me would now be locked in a bidding war for my manuscript, now owned by my family.  The finest and wealthiest of publishers would finally make an offer that no competitor could match, and my great masterpiece would see print at last.  The first hardcover edition would include as an afterword the letter that gave me my poshumous popularity.  My family would live like royalty on the money earned for them by my work, and I would be called the voice of a generation, immortalised in death as I could never have been in life.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, cabins are quite expensive.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Ramble | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Friendly Bookseller Recommends: John Dies at the End – Redux

It is possible that my last post was slightly misinformed.  It is possible that David Wong, the author’s name according to the cover of John Dies at the End, and also the name of the narrator within the book, is a pseudonym for Jason Pargin.  It is possible that Jason Pargin, who does use David Wong as his penname for all things, is a contributor to the popular humour magazine National Lampoon, and that he is the editor in chief of Cracked.com, a popular humour website.  It is possible that all of this information was available in a short blurb on the back flap of the book.  It is even possible that I read this blurb, determined that the pseudonym was not an important detail, and completely failed to notice the remaining information.

In my defense, I was completely out of it today.

Obviously, Wong’s existing writing credentials, particularly his position with Cracked.com may have had an influence on the publication of his book, and on the format in which it was published.  I cannot say with confidence that the high quality hardcover release of John Dies at the End was such a direct result of its online popularity, and not of Wong’s position.  Admittedly, editor in chief of a humour website isn’t a position closely connected with the publication industry, but the website in question is a pretty solid operation.  It could have an effect.

This does not invalidate the ultimate point of my post.  I remember when John Dies at the End made its small press debut.  I had seen it in banner ads on the Something Awful Forums for months at that point, but hadn’t gotten around to checking it out.  It was, at the time, quite popular on the forums, and in other places.  When the paperback was first advertised, it inspired me to check out the website.  I didn’t stay long, as I mentioned in the previous post, but I liked what I saw.  So did many other people.

Davind Wong was added to the Cracked staff in 2007, the same year as the small press publication of the book in question, and several years after John Dies at the End first gained popularity.  His work on his own site, Pointless Waste of Time (absorbed by Cracked in 2007), was not so high profile, and unlikely to have as significant an impact.  So, even if his current position with Cracked influenced the manner in which St. Martin’s Press chose to deal with Wong, it is clearly not responsible for the 70,000 people who read John Dies at the End long before the publication deal was inked.

Despite my apparent lack of reading comprehension when faced with single-sentence blurbs, John Dies at the End is still a great example of what the internet can do for an author.  If, in the weeks and months to come, the book demonstrates strong sales, it will be because Wong did an excellent job of reaching his audience, and did so through the unorthodox method of letting them read his book years before he asked them to buy it.  Since we’re talking about the future now, the results are not so definite, but the example remains important.

And it’s still a really good book.

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Books, Fiction | , , , | Leave a comment

The Friendly Bookseller Recommends: John Dies at the End

While loading up a cartful of books to put on the shelves today, I came across a surprising new arrival: the freshly released hardcover edition of John Dies at the End, by David Wong, published by St. Martin’s Press.  I wasn’t surprised that the book was out; I knew it was coming; I was surprised to see it in hardcover, with arguably some of the best cover design I’ve ever seen on a horror title.  This is not to say that John Dies at the End is not deserving of such treatment, but writers, like most creative fields, rarely get what they deserve.  The industry makes its decisions based on perceived market value, rather than creative value.  Some of the best written work the world has ever seen may languish in obscurity, never seeing release in any release beyond the cheapest format, while formulaic shit that may or may not be worth the paper it’s printed on gets media-hyped hardcover release and an “Oprah’s Book Club” stamp.

That is, hopefully, all of the ranting I will do in this post.  My surprise at the sight of John Dies at the End in gorgeous (if somewhat horrific) hardcover was the pleasant sort.  David Wong is not a Dan Brown or a Stephenie Meyer.  He doesn’t have a fistful of successful titles to prop up his latest release.  As far as I’m aware, John Dies at the End is Wong’s first book.  First time genre fiction authors do not get hardcovers.  They do not get top-dollar cover design.  They do not get ordered by the dozen by bookstores.  But David Wong has gotten all of these things, despite being a horror author (comedic horror, no less) without another title to his name.  So what’s different?  What makes Wong so special?  For the answer, we look at the book itself, and the not-entirely-unique but still remarkable history of John Dies at the End.

It did not begin as a book.  It began in 2001 as an online serial, freely available for anyone to read.  I remember reading the first chapter in 2007, never getting any further due to my aversion to reading lengthy works on a screen.  Wong edited the serial into a manuscript in 2004, but it wasn’t actually released in print until 2007, and then only via small press.  Small press and self published releases don’t tend to get a lot of attention in the vast and terrible book market of today.  This, however, is what makes Wong’s work special.  John Dies at the End was read by tens of thousands of people before it ever saw release in print.  When it became available on Amazon via Permuted Press, there was an audience already waiting.  According to Wikipedia, by the time the free online version was removed in fall of 2008, it had been read by 70,000 people.  That kind of number is hard not to notice.  St. Martin’s Press noticed first, apparently.

I’m not terribly familiar with St. Martin’s.  A quick perusal of their author lists brings up a few familiar names, including thriller writer Faye Kellerman, fantasy author Caitlin Kittredge, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Yes, those are all from the Ks.  Larry King was in there too.  Now, I don’t know if St. Martin’s approached Wong, or if it was the other way around, but they clearly saw fit to give him a chance.  Not only did they give him a chance, they gave John Dies at the End A-list treatment, at least as far as publication standards.  I haven’t heard any particular hype attached to the book, but there’s only so much we can ask.  Regardless, in my admittedly short time in the industry, I have never seen anything like this.  It may not be unprecedented, but it’s certainly rare.  And it all began online.

For the past several years, there has been constant discussion regarding the value of the internet for the publication and promotion of creative work.  Many have tried to do what David Wong accomplished.  Most have failed, and a few have taken this as an indicator that the advent of internet culture has done little to impact the publication industry.  The impressive journey of John Dies at the End; from humble internet serial, to small press paperback, to legitimate, money-making hardcover; is proof that the web is the creative and promotional tool we always hoped it would be.  As a writer, you can use it to bring your work to audiences you could never have dreamed of without it.  That is, if you use it right.  David Wong did, and he’s got the fancy book to prove it.

Addendum: With all that talk about what John Dies at the End has accomplished, I’ve failed to say anything about the book itself.  I haven’t read beyond the first chapter yet, but what I have read so far is excellent.  The prose is razor sharp, and the narrative is darkly witty.  It is as disturbing as it is hilarious.  From first impressions, I can definitely recommend this book.

John Dies at the End at mcnallyrobinson.com

September 30, 2009 Posted by | Books, Fiction, Ramble, Technology | , , , , , | Leave a comment