Monthly Archive: January 2008

The Vacuum of Doom

I called my Corporate Masters the other day and was put on hold for seventeen hours while their Muzak played “MacArthur Park” softly into my ear until I was convinced that I’d never have that recipe again. Every few minutes someone would pick up and ask if I was still there, and every time I said “Yes,” as politely as I could, I heard raucous laughter in the background and then I was unceremoniously put on hold again.

I’m in that strange first-book twilight zone, where I don’t know anything. I won’t get sales figures on The Electric Church until next summer, probably, and in the mean time I’m in the Vacuum of Doom, where I have no information to go on and therefore am free to imagine the worst possible scenarios, like Doom Scenario #1: Not only have sales been too low to measure, but people are actually returning it for angry refunds.

Okay, maybe a little paranoid. Part of the problem is that damned Amazon Sales Rank, which has been swelling of late into larger and more frightening numbers. On the one hand, Amazon is one of the few metrics I have to judge sales by. On the other hand, it is famously useless, as Amazon has invented its own New Math to calculate it and Amazon is less than 10% of the total sales market for a book like mine. Still, it’s all I have to go by, and as it grows it looms large in my paranoid fantasies.

My shelves here in the Compound, you see, are stocked with a lot of 1980s SF/F paperbacks by people who have completely disappeared. Some have died, of course, which is a good excuse for not publishing anything since 1987, of course, but some you can find on the Internets, sadly wondering why they haven’t sold a book in 20 years. So I glance at my shelves and think, damn, that could be me. Damn, maybe that is me. And then you pour yourself another drink.

Of course, then you read about something like this: an author defying his own publisher and helping to pirate copies of his own book by way of marketing, and as a result seeing a huge surge in sales. This reminds me of another recent story here, where a self-published author spent $50,000 or so of her own money promoting her self-published book and eventually got a $2-million deal for it. It all starts to make you wonder.

On the one hand, I’ve heard from a lot of people who believe fervently that giving away your art actually results in more sales, and the first story I linked to seems to be another proof of that concept. But I don’t buy it, personally. This is probably because I’ve been trained too well in the education system, but I think about my own experience, and the simple fact is that when someone gives me something for free, I tend to not buy it. Simple truth. I regard free shit as a sucker’s gift and I run away with it clutched in my hands to gloat over it and call it precious and then sleep the sleep of the just later on.

Now, if you give me a part of a book or album of movie – a sample – that will, naturally enough, sometimes inspire me to buy the whole thing. But if you give me the whole thing, I simply never even consider buying it. I don’t steal books or music either, I want to point out – I’m talking about a freely given copy of something. Maybe I am just an evil little bastard. It’s always possible. Certainly my imaginary double, Mr. Evil, tells me that all the time, generally while he’s advising me to burn down buildings and build homemade pipe bombs.

And one thing I definitely am is ignorant and slightly foolish, so it’s always possible I’m totally missing the damn point with this theory.

None of which helps me with my paranoid fantasies, of course. Oh well.


My sainted wife, The Duchess, is an inveterate and unapologetic fan of American Idol. Me, not so much, though I admit  it has a certain gonzo freakshow entertainment factor. The other night she was watching and wondered aloud how it is that people who are so obviously untalented could delude themselves into thinking they are undiscovered geniuses. I mean, its one thing to be modestly talented and think you’re better than you are; at least there’s some toehold in reality to grab hold of. But some of these people are fucking dreadful, how do they imagine they’re good?

Ah, but I understand. I’m a writer.

It does take a certain amount of arrogance to be a writer. I’d imagine it takes some arrogance to be any kind of artist. You have to push past negative criticism, rejection letters, heavy-handed editors who get angry if you resist some of their suggestions, and the mockery and disdain of your friends and the shame of admitting that you earned $12.34 last year from your writing. If you’re not 100% sure you’re hot shit, how in the world do you push past that?

A lot of people don’t, of course. I know a lot of writers who haven’t written in years, or who still write for themselves but who have given up trying to publish or sell what they’ve written. Some of them have talent, some of them suck and the world breathes a sigh of heady relief at their surrender, but I think they all lacked the sort of psychotic conviction that their work is some of the best work ever written. Like the one guy on American Idol said last night before launching into some of the craziest crazy mousic a crazy man has ever sung a-cappella in the history of crazies singing unaccompanied: “These songs need to be on the radio.”

Get it? Not “I think I’m pretty good” or “some folks at my job say I could be the next Meatloaf”. These songs need to be on the radio. Like the history of culture won’t graduate to the next level unless we hear this guy’s wacked-out stylings. That kind of arrogance I’m familiar with, because it’s what I’ve been saying about my writing since I was about twelve. Back then, everyone pelted me with trash and called me Writer Boy. Or worse things. But now? Well. . .now it’s actually kind of the same, but at least I can whip out my Amazon rankings to prove I actually have a book on sale.

That’s what it takes, I think–that sort of crazy certainty that you have talent, even in the absence of any actual evidence to that effect. That sort of arrogance is absolutely necessary for what we do. And also damned entertaining for you, considering how often the dying Pac Man  sound goes off around me, signalling yet anothe rterrible failure. Enjoy!

Had a Blast at the SFABC

Jeff Boring Everyone to Death My wife The Duchess, our friend Karen, and I traveled to Upper Saddle River, New Jersey last night to attend a meeting of the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a great experience. Our friend Karen proofreads The Inner Swine and barely tolerates her association with me, but she lives in the area so volunteered to be part of my traveling audience. Of course, as readers of TIS already know, having Karen along as your traveling audience is a mixed blessing, as she thinks shouting rude things at you from the seats is “funny”.

This was easily one of the best experiences I’ve ever had promoting a book – there were a lot of interested, cool people there, I got to jabber on and on for a long time about myself which is always enjoyable, we sold and signed a few books, and Karen had us over her place afterwards for delicious cake – what more can a dessicated, aging hipster doofus of an author want? Nothing, that’s what.

The evening started off with the three of us locked out of the building where the meeting was held, pounding on the door and wondering if this was all some sort of meta-joke on me – I admit I looked askance at Karen, wondering if this was a plot of hers to humiliate me, which would amuse her. When we finally found our way in, there was a little informal chat session ahead of the actual meeting where I got to circulate a bit and meet a few of the members, who were all shockingly interested in what I had to say. My wife and Karen spent this time setting up books on the display table while I tried to look authorly – which, thank goodness, I define as “somewhat drunk and wrinkly”.

After a few announcements, I was put on the stage where I started rambling on about my life and writing The Electric Church. Nothing beats talking about yourself, but eventually I stammered to a stopping point as people began checking their watches and glaring at me – subtle signs I’ve learned over the years that I have been talking too much about my plans to enslave Helper Monkeys and teach them to mix me cocktails.

Then there was an extended question-and-answer period, with a lot of really great questions. We took a break to sing Happy Birthday to one of the members – any appearance I make where I get to sing Happy Birthday and am offered cake is a good appearance – and then a few more questions. I managed to not be completely incoherent, I think, though there were a few moments of incoherency. I did suddenly regain consciousness on the stage at one point and everyone was huddled around me, looking worried, but I sprang to my feet, shouted “TA-DA!” and that seemed to smooth over the awkwardness. In the end, my pants did not fall down around my ankles while I was talking, and that’s always a triumph.

My hat’s off to SFABC Director Phil De Parto for running a tight ship – he kept things moving, asked a bunch of really great questions himself, and was extremely friendly and helpful. All in all I’m jazzed I went. Here’re some pictures for ya:

Jeff discussing the book prior to his talk

Jeff Discussing The Electric Church with SFABC Member.


Jeff Signing a Copy

Jeff Signing Books at the End of the Meeting.


Jeff and Karen

Jeff and Karen in a Rare Pose Where Karen is Not Assaulting the Author.

See Ya Saturday

Hey there hi there ho there. Just a reminder that I’ll be rocking out at The Saddle River Valley Cultural Center with The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County on Saturday at 8pm. Come on by if you’re in the area and want to tell me I’m a (1) genius or (2) jackass. Everyone’s welcome.

What will I do there? I don’t know, actually. Maybe read, maybe just answer questions, maybe a little dance, depending on how much I’ve had to drink. I’ll take requests if you want to hear a torch song. I’ll sign books and body parts and generally try to charm the hell out of anyone who cares to say hey to me. And if you offer me a few bucks I’m happy to entertain whatever weird stunts you’d like to see me perform.

So come on down, bring your friends and your recording equipment and let’s make some history! Or something.

Serially Yours

Over at the Blog Spontaneous Derivation, there’s a short essay about how serial writing/publishing is an excellent way to force yourself to complete a project, and The Electric Church gets used as a positive example of how it can lead to good work. The idea being that sometimes our interior editor keeps us revising endlessly, never satisfied, even though the first draft might have been 90% ready for prime time.

I’m a big believer in this, obviously. I’ve already covered how TEC got written and how I enjoyed and learned from the process, but to be honest I’ve never been a perfectionist when it comes to writing. I hate revising. I always think the first draft is the punchiest, the most passionate, and the most fun – while I acknowledge that my first drafts are also in dire need of a copy-edit and a plot scan, I don’t think any book or story improves much from simply re-writing the same thoughts in supposedly superior language. I always just do a rough draft, then a revision just for typos and glaring problems with plot where I obviously changed my mind or forgot something I did in chapter 4, and a small amount of line-fixing. Then I show it around to people I trust, ignore their heartfelt advice, and maybe do a final revision just to work out some kinks. In other words, I don’t ever re-write chunks of text simply because I’m dissatisfied. Whatever it says about me as an artist or whatever, I more or less like my first drafts.

This is especially true about the actual language. If you point out plot holes, or give me a grand idea about how to resolve plot things more elegantly or more explosively – better, in other words – I’m happy to tinker. But if you say “Your line here about the drunken elephant is kind of awkward” I’m more likely to smile politely, tell you I’ll take a look at it, and then grouse all the way home about how I like the drunk elephant line. And then ignore you.

Of course, this may be hubris, and history may mark me down as a lazy man who refused to revise his writing because he was, as scientists term it, “not smart”. My rampage across the (semi) literary world continues, unabated!