“Remembering is only a new form of suffering.” ~Baudelaire
“It is a pity fairy tales cannot consist solely of beginnings.” ~Camus
“Remembering is only a new form of suffering.” ~Baudelaire
“It is a pity fairy tales cannot consist solely of beginnings.” ~Camus
My novel, futureproof, was published this Tuesday by Harper Perennial. It took me five years, countless revisions, a learned-on-the-fly marketing savvy, and finally a self-published version of this novel before I was ultimately successful in obtaining a Big Publishing book deal. Just this week, both Time Magazine and the New York Times have posted articles highlighting the growing visibility and viability of self-publishing. While self-publishing has long been considered nothing more than a vanity endeavor undertaken by no-talent would-be writers with no other means of seeing their work in print, the time is fast approaching, and indeed has already arrived, when this way of looking at an ever-growing market is not only a prehistoric fallacy, but also a potentially fatal oversight by the publishing industry at large.
While futureproof is being trumpeted as a self-published success that found a big enough audience to warrant a chance for a larger audience, the truth is that my experience of living this authors’ dream is far from isolated. I’m not the first writer to have found his way into mainstream publishing by using the self-publishing route. But more important than that, I will not be the last; not by a long-shot. In fact, it would be more than safe to say that as the entire publishing industry is shaken to its core by the current shitty economic climate, a completely new publishing paradigm is taking root. Just as the music industry has seen a similar seismic occurrence, publishing has not been immune to the shifting sands that are inevitable as a society mutates in concurrence with the technologies of the day.
Harper, and specifically its paperback imprint Harper Perennial, have strived to stay ahead of the curve in this new publishing environment. Writers like Tony O’Neill (Down and Out On Murder Mile) and Lance Reynald (Pop Salvation) have either already been picked up and published by Perennial or are slated to be published within the next year (and both are writers who I struggled alongside to find the ever-elusive publishing contract). But these are only the writers with whom I am personally acquainted.
Harper has extensively begun mining the infinite and continually expanding universe of self-published books that are dotting different corners of the internet with ever-growing regularity. Writers such as Brunonia Barry, an author at Harper’s William Morrow imprint (The Lace Reader), Kevin Sampsell (The Suitcase), and Justin Taylor (Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever) also had big online platforms, which ultimately played the lynchpin in Harper’s decision to acquire them. This web presence would not have been possible even a decade ago, let alone the existence of such easily accessible means to self-publishing technology.
Think about this: every year more and more books are being published by those who are discovering the ease and merit of self-publishing. Ten years ago my own self-publishing venture would never have had a chance to gestate, let alone find itself a fully formed book that could be bought by anyone on any corner of the globe. If one wanted to self-publish, there would have to be exorbitant costs expended by any wanna-be writer. You would go to a printer and pay him up front for the cost of materials to cover the cost of printing and binding a specific number of copies of a book. You would receive, in numerous boxes, however many copies of the book that you could afford to print, which would then be stored in your garage or basement until you found a way to coerce people into buying copies of your baby. More often than not the books you scraped together the money to print would end up moldy and forgotten—the ditched pet project of an author who, like his last foray into the world of model trains, turned out to be just another fad that had to be discarded in favor of more realistic pursuits.
But not anymore.
No matter how shitty your writing is, ANYBODY can write and publish a book, paying out little to nothing up front. How this is possible is that the technology has caught up with the demand of would-be writers. The term “print on demand” means just what it sounds like. You electronically submit a pdf of your personal dream project and all that remains is a dedication to finding an audience for your book. This potential audience has never been easier to connect with. Yes, I carried copies of my self-published book around in the trunk of my car, but the great majority of my book sales came from people buying it off of Amazon and other electronically-connected book sellers. The books were only printed when a reader ordered a copy. Gone was the need for warehouse space. Gone was the risk of monies expended on materials needed to actually print the book. Supply and demand were one and the same.
This is the new paradigm to which publishers around the world are struggling to adapt. Those publishers that stay ahead of the curve are the ones that will flourish. Those that refuse to adapt or simply cannot figure out how to are going to wither and die on the vine.
Never have the keys to the gates of publishing been placed directly in the hands of readers. If you write a book and do the legwork to get your writing in front of readers (and most importantly have a decent writing ability), the chances are higher than ever that a publisher like Harper Perennial is going to take notice. You are the great democratizers now. You are who determines what you want to read, in a more direct manner than ever before. So get out there and start reading and promoting those books that you find have merit. And if you are currently in pursuit of The Dream yourself, check out the resources out there specifically designed to make the reality more of a possibility. I’ll get you started: Self Publishing Review is a great site containing numerous tips and tricks to getting your writing noticed, and all written by writers who have themselves achieved success in this exploding market.
Charlie Kaufman: There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.
Donald Kaufman: Oh, God. I was so in love with her.
Charlie Kaufman: I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was being really sweet to you.
Donald Kaufman: I remember that.
Charlie Kaufman: Then, when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti. And it was like they were laughing at *me*. You didn’t know at all. You seemed so happy.
Donald Kaufman: I knew. I heard them.
Charlie Kaufman: How come you looked so happy?
Donald Kaufman: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.
Charlie Kaufman: But she thought you were pathetic.
Donald Kaufman: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.
~from Charlie Kaufman’s 2002 screenplay Adaptation
My wife left me on our 7th anniversary. In the year and a half that has since passed, I have watched as my life fell apart, not a participant but a willing observer. I lost all will to live. Not long after my rapid deterioration began, my wife packed up our children and moved out of state and everything I cared about and loved was so far removed that nothing mattered. I consistently fantasized about all manner of suicide. I was in a constant state of depair and self-loathing, guilt-wracked and ultimately alone.
But what was just a much a part of my inner devestation as any of the above was the feeling of complete abandonment and utter betrayal. It was a humiliation the likes of which dwarfed anything I had ever known. How could it be that I could love so thoroughly and completely only to be dropped like a 2 dollar whore? There was no recompense. There was no bottom. There was no solace or redemption or sanctuary anywhere–only a recurrent and ongoing state of anguish; and a knowledge that I could never actually go through with murdering myself because the effects this act would have on my children were immeasurable.
From the moment my son came into this world I made the decision that I would dedicate my life to making his life better than mine had been. This determination was only made stronger when my daughter was born 4 years later. But after this seismic disturbance of everything I had built my life around, I was left with little but the clothes on my back and self-hatred that could fill a football stadium. I spent all of my time pursuing a never-ending state of intoxication and self-destruction–suicide by tiny increments. It wasn’t being found hanging from a tree or with the back of my head blown off, but in just as complete a dedication to ruin as both of those endeavors, I was ending it all.
But this shit has to stop. I have to remember what got me to where I am and know that my self-worth cannot be determined by whether or not the woman I dedicated my life to has abandoned me or shacked up with some grocery clerk, or any of the things that have consistently pushed me closer and closer to the brink of utter insanity.
I have been working on a memoir about the toll chasing a dream takes on a person and those he loves. It has been incredibly trying for me to write this book. In it I have been recalling meeting my wife and our falling in love and establishing our life together, as well as our slow descent into ruin: spiritual, financial, emotional. But the anguish I’ve been putting myself through while writing this book is not a satisfactory reaction to the life I once led with this woman. She literally ceased loving me, and there was not a goddam thing I could do about it. Fuck feeling abandoned, fuck feeling betrayed, fuck feeling humiliated around everyone to whom I had proclaimed my undying love for my wife. None of that really mattered. What matters is that I loved her and nothing can ever take that away. What matters is that I have been given a gift, an opportunity to reach out to thousands of people through my words, through my writing–I mean, motherfuck, I am in a position so many would envy. I am able to make a living as a writer, pursuing art as a means of survival. How many can claim they’ve had such an opportunity?
So when I see articles like this, I am no longer going to scoff at the very possibility of something as absurd and unlikely as true love. True love does exist. Nothing will ever be able to crush that belief from my heart. If for whatever reason my wife no longer felt such overwhelming feelings for me as I still felt for her, it was her problem, not mine.
That being said, I want to thank all of you who have stood by me through this trial, the most trying time I have ever endured. I know I have dropped the ball in many ways. So many of you came to me after reading the original P.O.D. version of my book–people from around the country and all over the face of the earth telling me how my words had helped them get through similarly trying times. I have been absent for too long. I have abandoned my duties to you and to myself. But no longer. Hit me up. Pass my book around, make this movement that we started 3 years ago bigger than it ever was before. Because this is far larger than me or some fucking book. This is about a slew of broken, wounded people finding eachother and becoming empowered to continue on despite the obstacles.
“I hope that you are a disaster. I’m sorry, but I do. I hope that you are thunder and lightning. I hope you are a forest fire, I hope you kill the dead wood and burn off the rotting leaves. With the canopy gone, the sun can get in. You need new growth. I hope you’re terrible and broken and perfect.”
So since my life completely fell apart, I have taken to the life of the wandering bedouin. While it has been very trying in many ways (constantly having to appeal to friends for space on the couch, recieving mail from my publisher, not having the security of a ‘home base’, not having cell reception in many areas), it has also been in many ways liberating. I have pretty much eliminated all but the most necessary things needed for semi-civil existence. I carry a back pack and a duffel bag from one place to another.
In my backpack I carry toiletries, two notebooks for journaling, as well as a small Moleskine used for jotting down random sentences that are hopefully going to be useful at some point in the future. I have also made sure to carry around 20 CDs, for those times when I’m actually near a computer or stereo. The albums are as follows:
Nirvana “Nevermind”: Pretty much a given for any “road” trip. Infinitely sing-alongable and great for getting drunk to.
Leonard Cohen “Various Positions”: I had to have at least one Leonard album. I went with this one because aside from two songs, I love it all.
DJ Shadow “ENDtroducing”: Changed everything in my hip-hop mindset. Reeks of cool.
Daft Punk “Alive 2007″: Takes all of their best tracks and re-invents them in front of a giant frothing crowd. You cannot be down while listening to this record.
Massive Attack “Mezzanine”: The most stellar album in a long history of stellar albums. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this album. It is orchestra for the 21st century.
The Cure “Disintegration”: Ive loved this album since I was an angst-ridden 10th grader. Still great for an angst-ridden 34 year old. Great for self-pity and feeling not alone.
Mix CD made for me by my estranged wife when I first started my nomadic existence back in September: Honestly, I cant even listen to this CD anymore. With songs like Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” (‘This song is you,’ my wife said.), The Flaming Lips beauty “Vein of Stars” (one of ‘our’ songs), and Regina Spektor’s “Samson”, its just too heartbreaking to listen to.
Pavement “Wowee Zowee”: This is the deluxe double-album re-issue. The sounds here are all over the map, which makes it great for schizo freakouts, of which I have no shortage.
Radiohead “Amnesiac”: It was hard to go with one Radiohead CD, but I chose this one because it has the most bang for the buck and I havent listened to it nearly as many times as I have “OK Computer.”
System of A Down “Hypnotize/Mezmerize”: Another double album, this one is filled with anger and insolence, therefor a must-have for anyone trying to keep the old head above water.
Eminem “The Slim Shady LP”: Recorded when he was still hungry, its also funny as shit, even when he’s rapping about murdering his wife while his toddler daughter looks on (“There’s a place called heaven and a place called hell/ A place called prison and a place called jail/ And da-da’s probably on his way to all of em except one/ Cause mama’s got a new husband and a stepson”).
DJ Irene “Live @ Spundae”: An incredible club banger.
Tool “Undertow”: My favorite album by Tool. Every song kicks fucking ass.
Sinead O’Connor “She Who Dwells”: Yet another double disc, this is filled with otherwise unavailable tracks on one disc, as well a second disc that contains a full concert. She ends every live set with “The Last Day of Our Acquintance”.
7% Solution “All About Satellites and Spaceships”: An ex-girlfriend of mine from way-back-when discovered this band and when we bought the CD, it actually contained two copies, which I thought was great marketing–one for you, one to give a friend. Unfortunately I never heard anything else by them. A beautiful, melodic rock album.
Sunny Day Real Estate “The Rising Tide”: I dont know why the fuck I carry this around. Every track reminds me of my failed marriage and depresses the hell out of me. But there it is, daring me to get rid of it.
There is nothing like having to dump off everything you own to force a person to know what is really most important. I have about ten pairs of socks and underwear, some warm clothes, hat and hoodie, a pair of clippers for cutting hair on the fly. Some nick-knacks that remind me of my kids, a copy of FUTUREPROOF in both P.O.D. edition as well as the current release from Harper Perennial (best paperback publisher on the planet–if you think I’m just saying that because they are publishing me, go to their website and check out their roster of current authors as well as their even more impressive back list.)
Since August I have traveled from ATLanta to Nashville to Buffalo, NY to New York City, back to ATLanta. After my Feb. 10 reading here I’m back to Nashville (permanently, as I cannot go another month without seeing my kids), and then in March I’m off to L.A. for a reading out there. Change like a motherfucker, right? Its non-stop. But one thing Ive noticed is that in all the places Ive been, the people who have been most forthcoming with–lets face it, its charity plain and simple–are people who own multiple pets. Not just a single dog kept out in the yard, but pets with free roam of the whole house, shedding and jumping up on you. Whats the deal with that? Ive come to the conclusion that it has to do with a certain care-taking type of personality. If a person cares enough about animals to let them take over their residence, even bringing two good-sized dogs into the heart of New York City, then they evidently also give a shit about a fellow human being. Pet owners of the world, unite and take over (apologies to Morrissey, though shop-lifting does have its merits.)