Now I have my Australian Business Number, this whole project has moved from “cautious progress” to “go go go”. I want to test the production systems, without making a total mess of the novel, and I will be releasing a set of five short stories in the lead-up to the novel release.
For those of you who haven’t read any of my writing, this is a set of stories that touch on fantasy, science-fiction and, above all, the people (and others) in those situations.
Here’s the working cover art for the first version of “Five Stories”, revealing my ongoing minor obsession with London Underground. It will retail for 0.99 US and I hope that it will be available in the next couple of weeks. (Actual art may vary but this is the overall look and feel.)
Fingers crossed for a successful test of all of the production systems! If you read it, I hope that you enjoy it.
My amazing editor has given me some really useful things to think about. I’m happy to say that she did what I’d hoped for by identifying the places that I knew were weak but thought I’d got away with, and giving me some more things to think about. But it’s not major and the overall feedback is very positive.
I’m rewriting a little bit, then we go back into deep copy edit. But we are still on track for the launch!
The tax office have also provided me with the ability to run this as a business, in that my ABN has come through. I’ve never been so happy to see an 11 digit number…
I’ve always loved the music of Patti Smith and it was a pleasure to enjoy her books just as much. Her big hit, “Just Kids”, is a wonderful memoir of her early life. One of my favourite parts of the book is an account of a time that she and Robert Mapplethorpe (her then partner) were sitting around. I’ll let her tell it.
“We were walking toward the fountain, the epicenter of activity, when an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand.
“Oh, take their picture,” said the woman to her bemused husband, “I think they’re artists.”
“Oh, go on,” he shrugged. “They’re just kids.”
And, of course, they were just kids but that simple classification is deceptive, because what the husband meant was “there’s nothing special about them in terms of being artists.” And that is both true and false, because there’s nothing more special about them for being just kids and there’s certainly nothing less special about them.
I like this story. The punchline, of course, is that two of New York’s better-known artists from that period were dismissed as not being interesting enough to photograph; they didn’t look artistic enough. But Patti Smith is a clever writer and the message goes beyond this.
It’s not just that she and Robert looked like two kids, it’s that you can’t always pick what an artist looks like, any more than you can tell where an artist will go based on what they’re doing when you meet them.
It’s that reminder that there are many more paths to being an artist than many people realise and that waiting for other people to recognise that won’t always happen.
Look in the mirror. That’s your audience. That’s the person who will help you identify your art. Other people may be able to help but they have to be artists too and they have to be honest, not caught up in the machinery of art or be fixated on gatekeeping. But it starts with you and you have to be prepared to observe things with an artist’s perception, revealing what others may not. It’s your perception that will drive your art.
I’ll leave you with another of my favourite quotes from Patti.
“I’m certain, as we filed down the great staircase, that I appeared the same as ever, a moping twelve years-old, all arms and legs. But secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not.”
When you write anything that touches on the Lovecraft Mythos (Cthulhu being among the most famous members), you are working with a large, collaborative work that has its basis in the mind of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Sadly, once you dig around in the that mind, you quickly run across his racist beliefs, which many have written of before. We think differently now about both casual and calculated racism, no matter how influential the author. Evidence of this is in the recent (and good) news that Lovecraft’s image is no longer a trophy that non-white people may hesitate to receive after winning one of the most prestigious writing awards for fantasy.
“A statuette of this racist man’s head is in my home. A statuette of this racist man’s head is one of my greatest honours as a writer.”
World Fantasy award winner Nnedi Okorafor, 2011.
No-one should have to receive a portrait or image of someone who despised or belittled them or their people at what should be a high point of their lives. We should not rely upon the oppressed and downtrodden to take time to carefully and delicately explain to us why we are doing something wrong, when even a modicum of thought says that some things of the past must be left in the past, if we are to find a better future. Learn and grow. Improve and be better, together.
Racism is stupid. Race, as many understand it, doesn’t even exist in a measurable way and the dividing of humanity based purely on appearance is nonsensical. But Lovecraft wrote of giant monsters, unspeakable ancient gods, that were utterly indifferent to the humans that they terrorised and crushed. He set a frame where all of humanity could be seen in the role of victim, a natural container for unity rather than division, and then he placed stereotype representation and paranoia in the mix, focused on a subset of the humans. He used structures and terms that could not have been much more offensive in their construction. As Moore notes, Lovecraft’s fears of the erosion of his own position may have been the basis of much of the horror he would have found in his work. The brute, the other, the thing that isn’t white… all of these are the horrors that, in his mind, would overtake his world.
But how small a view to take through any lens. You are scared of the dark and thus you must blame … that man over there, because he looks a little different. How puerile.
My opinion is that Lovecraft, privately and publicly racist, missed the point of his own work. The monsters he conjured up do not need a stereotypical African-American or a villainous Asian figure to ground their terror. Corruption happens to people, not to all members of a loosely defined racial group. If anything, the sheer scale of what was projected as our enemy was so vast that all earthly issues faded into nothingness. Why would you care what the skin colour was of the person fighting beside you, if you were fighting together?
The same monsters I have employed in the narrative engine of my own work, inherited from Lovecraft and his collaborators and Chamber’s progenitive “King in Yellow”, are terrible and deeply inhuman. Set against the rise of the Nazis, I did not feel that I could meddle too deeply with known history because, sadly, we know that it took the emergence of the full fascist Nazi state and their march across Europe to galvanise opposition. But monsters, rising in the shadow of the Great War? They could unite and provide an opponent that any sane human being should oppose. Note the italics.
Thus, I have taken the path of reducing certain references in my work, despite knowing the terms that would have been used in a derogatory fashion. This is deliberate. There are early drafts with 1930s language, giving the villains the ability to appear more villainous. But I thought more on this, in the context of Lovecraft, and decided to remove them. There are references to corrupted humans in my work but I have tried to frame these as individuals who are following a path into darkness and, after their involvement with dark forces, have become something that is not human. It takes an anti-human mindset to unite with such innately destructive forces.
No, this is not realistic. But neither are giant monsters threatening London and the world, even if they are largely composed of allegory. If we can suspend disbelief for magic and Byakhees, then we can tolerate people being a bit less offensive and small-minded unless it is crucial to the plot. And, for this work, I didn’t feel that it was necessary. As noted in the Moore references above, sometimes a story revolves around the racism to frame the reaction of characters. This is, I believe, not such a work.
In summary, I do not condone or even really understand Lovecraft’s racism, given the frame in which he stated it. He put humans into a nigh-unwinnable war with an uncaring Universe and yet still focused on such petty quibbles as what someone looks like or the shape of their lips?
That’s farcically bathetic.
When we put it simply, we seem to all agree that we are one people and, in the face of a terrible enemy, we should face it together. I am always surprised that Lovecraft could construct such a terrible enemy and miss such an obvious point.
I’ve had a number of people ask what they can do to support what I’m doing.
I immediately answer “buy about a million copies” but I think I know what they’re asking. I assume that a number of them will buy (and I hope read) the book but I suspect they’re asking what I expect of them and if I want them to do anything other than read it.
Let’s get expectations out of the way. I don’t expect anyone to buy the book just to do me a favour. I’d love it if people bought it because they’d like to read it but I’m not going to break into people’s iPads or Kindles to see if they have a copy. One of the great things about an eBook is that it can never physically be on a shelf. All your friends may have bought it or none may have and you’d never know by looking!
I also don’t expect people who do read it to do anything other than read it. If they like it and want to tell other people, that’s great but it’s not expected. If people want to write reviews then, whether they’re good or bad, that’s their choice. An honest review is an honest review. You can’t publish and not leave yourself open to that.
I won’t be putting up any reviews of my own. I don’t have the time or the inclination to set up enough sock-puppets and my usernames are predictably dull: velourfuture and nickfalkner.
What do I want? All I want from the people who wish to support me is for them to raise a toast with me when we launch the book and then whatever happens, happens.
This is not going to make me rich or famous but it will make me happy. People who support me in this are wonderful and there’s nothing else needed.
I’ve had some questions that nibble around the edges of the “who is publishing you” biscuit. I thought I’d take a moment to address this specifically.
I’m self-publishing this novel for a range of reasons but, yes, it’s self-published. However, let me be the first to say that this means that you now know less about the process that the book has gone through. For a trad publishing gig, the book has had to make it past several layers of readers and, once accepted, it has been edited, re-read many times, adjusted and tweaked at the structural and syntactic level. As someone who has read self-pub (and trad…) that has obviously not gone through that process, I understand some concerns here. I recognise the importance of objective criticism, other views, and good editing. I wanted to make sure that this work went through a production process that would lead to a really good final book.
What has happened to this book? Let me tell you
The original idea was developed in early 2015 and the work was researched, planned and written over a period of about nine months. I then revised it, fixed some of the more obvious problems, and sent this second draft to readers. I’m lucky that I can write a reasonable first draft and I’m usually happy for D2 to go out as a reflection of what I was thinking.
Those readers gave me early feedback, based on their own broad reading experience and knowledge as writers. I made some modifications and then gave the next draft to two people who were readers in this genre to see what they thought, from a more commercial perspective.
When I received feedback that one of them had spent three hours on a plane reading it on the tiny screen of an iPhone because he was enjoying it, I took that as a positive.
Overall, reader reception across five different readers was overwhelmingly positive, with valuable critical feedback. This was my (self-created) quality gate to move to the next stage.
We then moved to a detailed editing and restructuring mode. The opening chapter changed. The ending changed. Three times. Entire sections of text disappeared. New characters appeared. Swathes of names shifted for effect. Individual words were tweaked to change the rhythms of a critical sentence.
Darlings were killed.
I decided it was good enough to publish but that, to be fair to readers, I should use a professional editor to carry out the structural skim and deep copy edit to make sure that we’d done a good job in the early stages. I also hired a professional designer and artist to design and construct the cover. Both of these people are part of my local art and writing community and the money I pay them goes straight back into making my own city a more literate and beautiful place.
This is still my vision. This will be my book. But it has gone through multiple readings, a lot of editing, and, by the time it reaches you, it will have been scrutinised by professional eyes to make sure that the $2.99 you spent was worth it.
That’s my process. The book is an exciting action adventure where my characters fight bravely against the forces of darkness. I’ve been told it’s a page-turner and that makes me very happy. The structure of the book will be good enough to support that, because that’s how I built the process.
I can only hope, as release date starts to creep closer, that all of the love and care shows.
Just because I’m selling a book for bus fare doesn’t mean that I can give you a bad ride.