Books and More Books

Now that I have time, and with my wife’s encouragement, I’m thinking about (re)releasing my books. All of the ones that were previously available (before I pulled them a few years ago) I’ve re-written, and I have 3 books that have never seen the light of day, including my new short fiction collection (11 short stories and 5 novelettes).
 
I’ve looked at the market and have come to the conclusion that the Big 5 publishers only benefit the 10% of writers who make money (writing the same crap over and over) and provide no benefit to other fiction writers. I’ve also retired and don’t really need an income from writing, so I might just put my stuff out there for sale and let it do what it do.
I’ve written 3 books that only my wife, my editor, and I have read (the top three in the mock-up below) and 1 that I’ve only started working on. It made me think, writing a sequel to a book I’ve never let anyone read, that maybe I need to do something with the first one.
Trane to Nevermore is now boarding. Departure time TBD

 I have to admit being both wary and excited, as I know my writing has improved markedly, but 70%-85% of eBook sales are romance and erotica (schlock) and most treeBooks are the 10% of “best sellers” I find mostly indigestible. So, who buys ‘real’ books?

 No one, really. That, my friends, is the sad truth. It doesn’t mean that absolutely no one is selling but the big guys. Were that true, the market wouldn’t be flooded. It does mean, however, that literature is in flux and no one seems certain which way it’s going. In 2016, it was reported that ebook sales had begun to decline, while paper books grew. However, looking at the details reveals only more uncertainty. Amazon is dominant in ebook sales; however, their Kindle device is in decline. In truth, all dedicated ebook readers are, as people opt more often to read books on their phones or tablets.

Given the size of phone screens, it’s highly unlikely that people well past age 40 will be reading a book there, so right away you’ve limited the clientele to young readers and those who own a tablet. Sure, one can read a book on a laptop, and it’s sometimes pleasant, but those bright, little heaters are hard on the lap and the eyes.  Thus, the trend of young women readers continues, in part due to the hardware spectrum and in part due to the fact that young men are pushed toward mindless video and books for wider audiences often recycle the same old bollocks.

My first three novels are part of a fantasy trilogy that features a young Charlie Patterson and his best friend and would-be girl, Robin LeBeaux, as they tackle the world beyond the conscious world–a mélange of dreams, other planets, and alternate realities. In truth, not only is it NOT a kid’s series, it is more metaphysics and Sci Fi fantasy than anything else. Still, I found another writer, one would gave my books 5-star reviews, eventually began writing her own “Dreamwalker” series, wherein the complexity of dualist reality and multiverses was reduced to demons and other bullshit as recommended by the Dream Walkers Wiki.

Why in the HELL is there a Wiki?

I’ll tell you why. Imagination is frowned upon in writing. The Big 5 publishing and Fast 5 Hollywood is based on merchandising, which in turn requires series and sequels, which then require stability, familiar character icons, and recognizable patterns. It is a world of pop music, despite our literary heroes having written Classical Musical Prose for most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Jazz Prose thereafter. We skipped Hip Hop Literature and have gone full stop to Elevator Prose.

It sickens me.

I don’t write to be popular. I don’t expect to get rich. In fact, the simple truth is I write only because I like to read and the only way to stop wasting my money on books I can’t finish–and I have a huge list of them–is to write the damned stories myself. Shouldn’t characters matter? I mean, shouldn’t you LOVE the goddamned stars of your 300-page book? Shouldn’t plot matter enough that you’re engaged, wanting to know who goes where and what comes next? Shouldn’t dialog feel natural, make you cry, make you weep?

Shouldn’t writing be soft on the tongue like honeyed jazz, played by your latest lover, that fantasy partner you secretly think is too good for you? Shouldn’t you have a mental orgasm at the book’s climax and fight to remember that you don’t smoke when it’s done?

Shouldn’t it all matter that. Damned. Much?

I think it should. Maybe my books fall short, maybe all my stories do too, but I’ll be good-goddamned if I won’t die trying. Maybe you’ll die from lung cancer one day, having taken up smoking after finishing a book I wrote. Maybe you’ll die, and they’ll mourn, and it’ll be all my fault.

If so, I’ll make it up to you in the next world, I promise.

Le Journal de Das Book, Day 0

I am seldom subject to self-delusion. It has been the bane of my existence, this longing for rationality. No, it is not the desire of my dear, sweet frontal lobe, that tattered handmaiden burdened to my subconscious’ longing for prime numbers in all things. The poor dear is merely slave to its master, doing the ill will of that leftist guerrilla that insists that “if it cannot be proved, then it cannot be known.” As such, for all my life, I and my frontal cortex march in enslavement to the structural norms of the multiverse. Indeed, I would insist  that imagination was no thing directly up to and including the time I wrote two novels in three months based on dreaming, despite the fact that I hadn’t dreamt myself in the 30 years prior.

“No,” I’d say. “I’ll believe it after it happens, providing someone smarter than me can prove it actually happened.” Such a soul never appeared, and so, I spat on wishes and dreams and continued my forward, mechanized march.

But now, the MUSE, she screams in my left ear, and I cannot drown her out. I get the idea … no, the insistence, that I am about to write the veritable fuck out of this book … these books, these two or three. On impulse, and in an attempt to free my enslaved frontal lobe and thus cast off the self-identification that has constricted me for these long years, I followed the silly, delusional whisperings, those impulses that I’d long held back.

“Buy those books,” she said. “Your books will be those books, but twisted into a slow, jazz cookbook.” I thought it silly, but this time, did its bidding.

I only vaguely see the connection, and it isn’t in story or plot, because I never read, really, much less follow others’ ideas. Hell, I barely read fiction and most of what I do read, I write. On a whim, and via a pointer by a talented writer who stopped by, I added another to the list, Jazz, by Toni Morrison,  which seemed a good choice given I’d already decided to commit these books as works of music, of long-form poetry that masquerades as prose.

Do I have the talent to do that? Almost certainly not. Can such a style exist in the 21st century without becoming tedious? I’ll let Ms. Morrison answer that for me, but the MUSE has already spoken. “Just you WATCH,” she says, in her shouty, pouty way.

Can one mix tragedy with comedy? Surely, and often. Can one write tragedy so that it makes you laugh in counterpoint to all the happy bits that make you cry? Perhaps. Can I do it, MUSE? Am I enough?

“NO!” she says. “But WE are enough.”

So, there, I suppose, it begins. My antagonist already talks to me, and often, in his Louisiana backwater drawl. I cain’t hardly shut the ol’ boy up, his fat, red-tinged face becoming vivid now. His cheeks are rouge and puffy with the exertion of making his case, but I don’t want to listen. His spiky strawberry blond hair is so loud that even my wife could see it. But then, she often sees or hears a thing if I remember to think it hard enough. I so seldom do remember to do that.

If you knew me in person, and be glad you don’t, you’d likely mistake me for a stand-up routine. So, I suppose that alone qualifies me to write a tragedy. Now to sort through all the literary quarks and bind them into atoms so that I can begin–just a small start–in hearing this lot. I still don’t know how many books this is or why MUSE wants me to write them all at once. She insists it’s all one story, but that makes no sense. And non sense is even worse than no thing to my frontal lobe. But I’ll sigh and move forward.

I suppose I’ve already been given a hint I’m on the right path, guided as I was to Josephine Tey. Long have I ranted about how formulaic books have become, writing has become. We no longer read books, but revisit characters. We are all in a Bizarro Marvel Universe, waiting for the next volume even though we already know what the hell the book will be like before it’s written. And then there’s the soft, straight prose of the book I’m reading, and it asks, “Did no one, any more, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thirled to a formula?”

Yes, Ms. Tey, I change my record quite often. The first Jeanne Dark was Oscar Peterson, in fact. This one is all Coltrane fused with Robert Johnson as he fights off traces of Hank Williams, Sr. It’s old-school, with a touch of 1970s British Rock, thank you very much, and it’s quite the mélange if you get the formula right. Here’s to hoping someone passes me a recipe.

A bad mix is just a bunch of noise, and there’s too much of that already.

So, it’s Day 0, the day I start. I’m writing sequels to books I’ve never bothered to publish. I don’t need to. I like them, so who needs more validation than that? But Hank, my antithesis, he wants his own book, his own brooding darkness and I’m not sure my soul can bear the stain of it. Maybe I can bend him toward the light, just a bit, just enough to wring the Douglas-Adams-infused black humour from him.

That turn would be enough. You with me, dearest MUSE? More importantly, am I with you?

 

We Should Come Back

It has taken me years to find my writing voice, or, rather, to assimilate the myriad voices in my head into a mélange that fits the literary version of myself. I prefer to write in the first-person Point of View, as it’s easier to hear my characters if I allow them to take the pen instead of my poor attempts to interpret their actions and words. I do write in third person, mainly when my hero prefers silence to voice or when the action dictates an independent perspective, but you can tell the ones I love, those my heart has given birth to and whom, in turn, give me life. They speak for themselves and I can but listen.

For the work side, that part of me under the charge of my inner editor, I’ve learned that my voice sounds hollow and nondescript if it isn’t poetic. I don’t mean specifically lyrical, as my Shakespearean aspirations are as likely to come out a wilted-flowered-version of Tupac or Don L. Lee as the Great Bard, but rather I mean that it should whisper on the page as it does over the tinnitus-dampened version in my brain. If the prose cannot be a poem, then why write it? If you cannot sing the book, perhaps it is not a song worth singing.

And so, periodically, I sample portions of the completed works and sing them, in my head, to see if the music is there. This is not how I write. It isn’t my lyrical voice. It is, instead how I think, who I am, how the words originate in my head before I translate them into the gruff patterns of my non-alliterative speech or the stand-up comedy routine that comprises much of my own dialog. The reason I do not speak aloud this way, as I am writing now, is that I am convinced that no one would understand a damned thing I say if I did. I don’t expect them to understand my stories either, in truth, but somehow, miraculously, they do.

Here is a short sample from Jeanne Dark, from a scene selected mostly at random. It feels like a poem, and so, I let it live as one. I pulled out 4 words needed for prosaic grammar that cause poetry to stumble (the ‘hads’ and ‘thereupons’ of the world) but otherwise, it is intact.

We Should Come Back

“We should come back.” He paused awhile
and I thought he had fallen asleep.
“Maybe we should just stay,” he said.

I looked at him to see if he was teasing,
but found no hint of a smile.

We lay there, eyes closed,
listening to the percussive clanging of raindrops that
found twin holes in the roof and were beating
against two steel pots in a tempo
slowed to languid, larghissimo time.
I smiled, remembering
how their allegro rhythms
beat in concert with our impassioned lovemaking
during the prior night’s storms.

I thought, perhaps,
the universe had orgasmed as well and
was smiling at us via the sunrise.

Oddly, it was that the roof leaked—
that little imperfection
in the French Provincial décor
of the  boudoir—
that made it perfect.

I opened my eyes
and began to wonder why
I’d always hated the room
so.

ode to a decade of art (or, i wish i could push rewind)

ten years ago
i took up the knife
held it to my eye and with a flick
felt it cut; just a trickle and a speck,
though
and the city barely felt it
but it was reddish-blue, a royal hue
(though lacking you)
and i cut again, and often.

four-score and seven years ago
minus eighty
i freed myself from my earthbound
enslavement,
wondering if you were out there
‘cause i could taste you
even if you danced just out of reach
of my tongue
and i took up the gun, to shoot, to kill,
and kill me i did, until reborn,
i rewrote myself, with
you as my leading lady

and then four years hence
mass-killer now, and crazy
with the knife, i cut, i kill,
i spin at will, i’m there,
you’re here, but still not near
still out of reach, that tender peach,
i’ll always taste, that bitter waste
my leading lady,
that failing muse, that buys me bullets
i’ll never use, and tears i shed,
we’ll never wed,
but faithful shall i ever be.

Good Jazz

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The way to tell good jazz is that you don’t notice him till the song’s ‘most over. Good jazz sneaks up behind you and pulls down your shorts and then drinks your beer when you to turn to see what’s happening. You stumble and fall, wondering who did the dirty deed, and you look back, but you sure it couldn’t be jazz, ‘cause he sitting yonder in the corner, cleaning his horn and minding his own damned business. That foam on his mouth just blow back from the spit valve.

Good jazz hangs outside the club, under a tattered awning as the rain soaks up the oil from the day’s toil, leaning against the brick wall. He’s out there, cool as fuck in his shades, smoking a shorty and minding his game. Good jazz sees you, and exhales a thin cloud, and says, “What’s up?”

You get excited, seeing his axe and hoping he might play you a bit, but he don’t play, ’cause the music is him. He don’t need to play that horn; good jazz gonna play you instead. You stand next to him, quiet as all get out, listenin’ to his stories and trying to remember the words. But good jazz don’t need no words to tell his stories.

Sometimes, good jazz ain’t a he at all, and when that happens, it’s special, ‘cause you know damn well that bad jazz be trying to keep good jazz locked up all night. You can find bad jazz anytime. He sit in the back of clubs, wearing shiny shoes and a too-tight suit, blowing sour notes from his horn and making a ruckus. You ask bad jazz to chill so you can hear good jazz blowing and singing outside, but he don’t shut up.

Bad jazz always wants attention.

Good jazz, though, good jazz he just play and whisper. He don’t write down the notes and she don’t sing the song the same way twice, but that just bring you back. Good jazz don’t color in the lines, ‘cause the lines remind him too much of prison cells or dirty, smoky nights in the monochrome city with just a needle to keep him company. Good jazz would rather be outside, playing with his girl, sexing her something good, and letting you listen, long as you keep your eyes closed.

Good jazz don’t never seem to stay in the club long, but that’s okay. Better out than in anyway, right?