Category Archives: Publishing

Can You Hear Me Now

Okay, time to make an announcement. Well, it’s not much of an announcement… if you’re connected to my Facebook Fan Page you’ve known about this for a couple of months. I just never said anything in this venue because I have no idea what the timetable is for what is going to happen.

That is, my entire back catalog of Del Rey and Bantam era books is going to be released in audio book form by Audible.com.

audible-logoThis is exciting news for me because audio books was the last frontier I hadn’t yet conquered. Unless you count TV and the movies, and I came close there. But never mind that. With the advent of ebooks, I’ve been too-slowly getting the back catalog out there for the Kindle, and was wondering what to do about the other e-reader book formats in the world (and more about that in a couple more graf). But one of the things on the back of my mind was how to get the catalog into audio form. I’d done a little research, but nothing earthshaking. Until October.

That’s when I received an unexpected email from my former agent offering to pitch my backlist to Audible to see which titles, if any would stick. As it turns out, all of them did.

So the paperwork is signed, and I’m waiting. I’ve gotten one email from Audible about some issues with A Death of Honor, and suspect there may be others as the time draws nigh to produce.

At present, I don’t have any more information about release schedules or anything like that. Rest assured as I find out, you’ll be hearing from me on this screen and in the aforementioned Facebook page.

And what about non-Kindle format ebooks? Those will be coming, too, slowly as I turn them out. But the current three, A Death of Honor, The Mushroom Shift, and The Company Man are all in the process of being converted, as it turns out that one of my former agent’s new missions is to open up client backlists to the ebook world as well. So I’m glad he still considers me – or my backlist, at least – a client.

So. Back to work now on the new stuff.

What, are you kidding? We got ourselves an e-book here!

It’s live on Amazon.com.

You can get it for the Amazon Kindle, and if you don’t have one, you can read it on a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone 7 with Amazon’s free Kindle Application.

And it’s only $0.99, for a limited time.*

So check it out on this site’s new Store page or on Amazon itself.

And remember: You folks are my 401(k)!


* That is, until Desperate Measures is released.

The Cliff’s Notes Version of How to Be a Writer

A lot of my posts come from questions I get from aspiring writers struggling with some part of the writing process or another. The other day I got an email peppered with questions I had mostly already answered. However, it occurred to me that there might be others out there who, like this particular reader, who haven’t had the chance to wade through the 700+ posts here to find what they want.

So instead of cutting and pasting a whole bunch of links to essays in this side, I went for the short answer, knowing I would post the results in a kind of Cliff’s Notes version of this blog.

So here’s the short answer version of many popular writer’s questions. For more detail, see the rest of the blog.

(Note: questions in parenthesis are paraphrased by yours truly for the sake of brevity)

(Reader mentions different jobs he has had, including a recent stint in the military)

Thank you for serving in the military. I can’t thank you enough for doing that.

It sounds you have a lot of different experiences, which is a good thing. A writer doesn’t have to have experience in a lot of different jobs and rely solely on imagination, but I think experience helps. Your resume sounds a lot like my early one before I settled down.

(Reader asks about how one should go about tackling a writing project)

If you’re reading my blog, you’ve probably found tons of information about writing from my particular point of view. You should hunt up some blogs from other writers to see how they’re handling things. I’m a big proponent of finding out what works for you as a writer, because what works for me or another writer might not be your cup of tea. Plus, the way I write has evolved over the years.

I’m 39 and I’ve wanted to write my entire life but have yet to finish a book. I have multitudes of ideas streaming in my head with good ideas.

Yup, you’ve got it bad. Welcome to the club. Most writers have tons of ideas (I even do a writer’s seminar called “The Idea Is The Easy Part” to show how easy it is to come up with a concept for a novel). Our big issue is time to do something with those ideas.

I have a friend who is a brilliant idea man. He’s always coming up with a new idea for a book. His problem is, he gets these new ideas when he’s supposed to be working on another book, and he gets so taken with the new idea that he abandons his in-progress for the new idea. Those writers who are published learned to discipline themselves and pick one idea, working on it until it’s done. If the new idea is really good, it won’t go away.

I go out and buy notebooks and pens and write short spurts here and there.

I do that too. I have notebooks with notes and starts of books all over the place. It’s like buying a new notebook and/or pen validates the new idea. But again, that discipline is the key.

But I make excuses and think that I can’t make money doing that.

It’s hard. And it’s hard for outsiders to understand that, for every Tom Clancy or Stephen King, there are 1,000 writers like me who do it for the love of writing, and of course, for a shot at that brass ring.

Fortunately, with the advent of the Amazon Kindle and other e-readers, it’s become easier to make money on one’s work by self-publishing. Good money. One woman just signed a $2 million contract with a major publisher based on the Twilight knockoff novels she was self-publishing. But it needs to be good. Or shamelessly commerical.

Do I need an agent?

There’s a joke in the industry that you can’t get a book sale without an agent, and you can’t get an agent unless you have sold a book. If you want to get published by the Big Six, you need an agent. If you’re willing to go the self-published route, no. If your self-pubbed stuff catches on, the agents will find you.

The story of how I got my agent is on my blog. It helped that I went in through the Science Fiction/Fantasy Door. That genre is more open to new writers and unsolicited submissions than the more mainstream stuff.

How do I get a book contract?

By writing a darn good book. And you do that by writing and writing and writing and writing. Every time you write you get better at it. No anabolic steroids necessary.

How can I get a publisher to pay me while I write?

1) Write a darn good book

2) Sell it to a publisher

3) While you are marketing the first book, start on the next one. This way you can tell your publisher you’re working on a new book and they will understand that you’re serious about writing.

4) If your book gets buzz, or hits it big, or perhaps even breaks even, your publisher will want to tie you down with a multi-book contract. When that happens, congratulations!

That’s approximately the way to do it. Fortunately for us all, publishers want to make sure an author can go the distance and produce something both readable and salable before committing to their writing careers.

I’m sure some people have gotten contracts without going through some version of this, but they were either celebrities who could be hooked up with ghostwriters, or had established themselves as writers in another area (short fiction, journalism, etc.)

When you were writing the Angel’s Luck series what was your writing process?

It depends. The first book, Desperate Measures, was the first novel I ever wrote. During its writing I was going to college, getting married, and looking for a job. It was written piecemeal over the course of 4 1/2 years, and the original version was twice as long as what was published. While it was at market, I wrote A Death Of Honor, then The Mushroom Shift (about police work – I worked for a few years as a sheriff’s dispatcher), then The Company Man. By then I was a better writer and was able to hack the mess that was DM into shape.

The other two books in the trilogy I was under contract to write. I had said I was never going to write a trilogy, but the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. So I pitched DM to my editor as the first book, said a few words about what the other two books would be like, and Del Rey bit. I wrote those two as a full-time writer, and I treated it like a full-time job.

How many hours a day did you write?

Again, it depends. When I’m writing a novel, I tell myself my daily goal is 5 pages, and I take however long it takes to get there. Many days I’d get on a roll and write more in just a couple of hours. If I was having a bad day, I told myself I had to get through at least one page. More often than not, getting through the first page made it possible to write four more. But sometimes one was all I could struggle through.

WARNING: Telling friends and family that you are writing full time will often lead them to think that, since you are home, you are “not doing anything”, and are therefore eligible to do things like help them move pianos.

How did you find a decent Editor to read your work?

I was marketing A Death of Honor, and since it was Science Fiction, I was going the Slush Pile route (SF is institutionally more friendly to unsolicited submissions than any other genre – although romances may be this way also… I wouldn’t know). A bunch of smaller houses turned it down. A big house wanted it, but they wanted changes that I felt would have damaged the integrity of the story. My wife kept telling me to send it to Del Rey, and I kept saying no because they published Heinlein and Clarke – what would they want with me? She persisted. I gave in. And I can’t count over the years how many times I have been grateful for my wife’s encouragement.

I do want to write and I feel that is my talent.

If you really, really want to write, nobody can stop you. Not even yourself. All sorts of people have told me they wanted to write, but when it came down to it, no encouragement I gave could make them actually sit down and write. A few did and succeeded, but if they didn’t have that spark inside driving them, they never would have made the commitment. Many others tried and gave up, or ended up not trying.

I said that it took me 4 1/2 years to write Desperate Measures. That’s because I wanted to be a writer more than anything else. And I wrote whenever I could steal the time to do it. A lot of times it was a half-page, page, two pages here and there. It added up. When I finally finished, I learned that I could write a novel. I started to get an idea of how I worked as a writer. I learned that, every time I wrote, I got better at it. And I learned that, having done it once, I wanted to do it again.

And I’m still trying. I’m not where I’d like to be as a writer, either. But I haven’t given up because I know how much writing means to me, and I know I’d rather be writing novels than anything else.

So steal what time you can to pile up those pages and see what happens.


And that is Volume One of the Cliff’s Notes. Feel free to question or append in the comments.

The Kindle Blues

I thought that people who did a lot of reading were supposed to be smart.

See, at the end of 2008 I ordered an Amazon Kindle, and it arrived at the end of February in 2009. I love it. It’s a brilliant device that does one thing – let you read – really, really, really well. But for such a brilliant device, it’s inspired an awful lot of unbrilliant thinking on all sides of its release.

While I was waiting for my Kindle to arrive, I subscribed to Amazon’s discussion board for the Kindle in the hopes of having a leg up before when it actually came. Well, I got that. But I got something else.

It seemed to me that a lot of other Kindle owners have the biggest entitlement mentality I’ve ever seen. I know not all of them are like that, but the ones with their hands out are the biggest complainers.

While I was waiting to get my Kindle, Amazon made the decision to quit making the original model, and introduced the Kindle 2. Everyone in line for the old model would now get the new model instead. That was pretty cool of them, right?

Except among some of the owners of what is now called the Kindle 1 – especially the more recent owners. There was outrage in some corners. Some who had bought the K1 and enjoyed it up until Amazon’s February announcement decided this switcheroo was unfair. Amazon had knowingly sold them an old product when they knew a newer version was coming out.

Using this same logic, they were probably shocked when the car in their driveway was suddenly made obsolete by the newest model. The same with their TV sets, their blenders, their sofas, and especially their computers – but do you suppose they demanded a free replacement of any of those? Amazon’s woes continued in this vein as they introduced a bigger model (the DX) and an international model of the K2 (the K2i).

The wave of unbrilliance continued as Amazon tried to hold the prices of bestsellers to $9.99. Rabid customers tried to organize boycotts when prices on some books went higher than that. This has been compounded by the fact that Steve Jobs capitulated to publisher demands in order to try and make the eReader software on the iPad more competitive against the Kindle.1

What Jobs’ turn as Neville Chamberlain did was empower publishers to put the screws to Amazon’s pricing policies for the Kindle. If Apple gave them terms, then Amazon should cough up the same agreements in spite of previous precedence. The result is “The Agency Model” – a fancy term for publishers setting their own prices for eBooks.2 And by the publishers’ way of thinking, that price should be about the same as a trade paperback.3

Of course, there’s a lot of whining going on about this, too. The entitlement readers probably attended the school that in the 2000’s claimed that “music should be free.”

Now there is a little bit of logic behind their desire for low eBook prices. After all, since there’s no paper, ink, labor, shipping, storage, etc., needed for an eBook, they should be practically free, right?

Wrong.

I agree that eBooks should have a lower cost than DTB’s (Dead Tree Books), but as something of an industry insider, I also understand that there are some book-related costs that publishers still can’t shake, namely, the cost of their infrastructure – buildings, desks, and all those editors, proofreaders, sales persons… and then they have to pay the authors something, right?

Plus, the publishing industry has another dirty little secret they’re not sure they want you to know. That is, in an eight-figure deal (that’s millions with an extra digit in front of it – tens, twenties, thirties, etc.) with a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, they do not get their money back in associated book sales. What they have basically done is paid an exorbitant amount of money to have a prestige author in their house’s lineup. And no, they don’t make money from movie sales, etc., because the agents for these writers have already negotiated to keep those. Where they make their money is from mid-list authors, the ones who meet their sell-through and go on to make profits for themselves and their publishers. These are the names you’ve probably seen on the Bestseller Lists and wondered who in the world they were. Now you know. They’re the publishers’ bread and gravy.

The other dirty little secret of the publishing world is that right now, they’re in the same mess that the music industry was in a decade ago when mp3’s were coming into their own. And judging from their behavior, they have learned nothing from the mistakes the music industry made back then.

As example, early on in the Kindle’s history, many publishers put the smackdown on the Text-To-Voice feature, which reads any text document on the Kindle in a well-rendered synthetic voice. They claimed it was a threat to their revenue from audio books.

Well, let me tell you about Text-to-Speech. As I have already chronicled in these pages, when I was doing the most recent edit to …and that’s the end of the news, I loaded into my Kindle so I could read it without being tempted to edit it. While commuting, I tried using the T2S on the document and… what a rush it was hearing it read my own novel to me. I was so thrilled, you’d have thought I was listening to an audio recording of it by James Earl Jones.

But while the synthetic voice (you have a choice of male or female) is nice, it still has oddities of pacing and pronunciation (it never did pronounce my female protagonist’s name correctly). And if I was going to listen to, say, Moby Dick and had the choice, I’d take a James Earl Jones recording of it over either Kindle voice every time. It’s a no-brainer that the publishers have made, in their avarice, a brainer.

The transition to eBooks is going to be a rough one.4 Amazon has stumbled in the process too, like with their release of 1984 and Animal Farm in unauthorized editions, and the, um, Orwellian way that they took them back. But they apologized and made good on it, something a lot of publishers have yet to catch on to.

All we can do is sit tight and see how it all spins out. Meantime, anybody got a suggestion for a good book to read?

  1. Although I can’t understand why he did this. He was the one who, when he found out about the Amazon Kindle, said he wasn’t worried because “People don’t read anymore.”
  2. But Amazon is rubbing publishers’ noses in their own dirt – check out the Kindle pricing of an eBook, and some will say “Price Set By Publisher”. But I suspect this is not so much to fight back as silence the entitlement-minded whiners who say the price is too high.
  3. Or, they have the right to delay release of the eBook, anywhere from three months after the hardcover to coinciding with the release of the paperback.
  4. No, I’m not one of those doom and gloomers who thinks that eReaders spell the end of the book – just like CD’s and mp3’s put an end to vinyl, right?

A Tale of Two Covers

On the top, the cover of the Russian paperback release of Ferman’s Devils. Looks a lot like the hardcover. In fact, it’s pretty much identical to the hardcover.

On the bottom, the same book, same format, with a different cover. Released at the same time as the one on the left.

What gives?

Marketing, that’s what. The Russian translation of the Pembroke Hall books were released under the “Alternative” imprint of publisher AST. That’s the one they use for experimental and off-the-wall types of books. Tom Robbins books get these covers, as did Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.

But the other cover. This is from a separate imprint. It’s called “Classical and Modern Prose.”

Further investigation of this imprint on the AST web site led me to titles by Swift, Remarque, Pasternak, and Chekhov – along with Robin Cook, Arthur Hailey, and yes, Tom Robbins, whose work is undergoing the same kind of odd cross-pollenation.

Naturally, I’m wondering about all of this. Is it because of the critical review the books are getting there? There are a couple of other books about the advertising industry that were written by native writers, both of which seem to be oft-mentioned as minor classics – one of them, Generation P by Victor Pelevin (released in English as Babylon, I’m currently reading. And it seems that the Pembroke Hall duology precedes these books by at least four years (counting from Ferman’s Devils).

Perhaps the gurus at AST want to make sure that the book reaches out to the same audience that made Pelevin one of the most read authors in Russia. It could just be canny marketing, too. Two covers for two different audiences, both of whom would find something to amuse in the books. I’ve had experience in this area in a different way in the form of the oddly innocuous cover that the Science Fiction Book Club edition of A Death of Honor was given. I found out later that the book was crossed over to SFBC’s sister company, the Mystery Book Club. Had it been given a more SF-ish cover, it might not have sold in the latter venue.

There’s one more factor that might figure into all of this. Once upon a time, when I was busy filling out forms to pay for part of my son’s college education, I had to have my agent write a letter explaining that the sales I’d just made to Russia were a one-shot deal, and that he’d never, ever seen a Russian book deal that resulted in any income beyond the initial advance.

Well, a couple of months ago I got a check from my agent for over $100. A couple of dollars were residuals that had trickled in from sales of the e-book version of the Angel’s Luck trilogy. The rest was Russian money.

It wasn’t much, but it told me something important, especially in light of what’s going on with the books now – that the translation of Ferman’s Devils somehow got a toe-hold over there and made back its advance – and then some.

(Yeah, I realize it could be that the trilogy earned out a few bucks and they’re just really late in getting it to me – but with the timing of everything that’s happening with the Pembroke Hall books, this isn’t my preferred explanation.)

So if you’ve got a book that’s made some money for you, it’s getting good critical reviews, it pre-dates some native classics about the same subject – why not market it as a piece of… well, not Classical, but certainly Modern prose? And pushing it with two different covers appeal to the literati and those who like their fiction a little more experimental?

Hmmm. It’s a shame that my publishers here didn’t think of that.

Now I can make a confession: besides wanting the Pembroke Hall saga to be a single volume, I had always intended it to be a modern novel as opposed to an sf novel. It was to be set in current times, but because I was seeing some limited success in the SF arena, I filled it with SF tropes (many of which, a decade later, don’t seem so tropish) and passed it off on my agent and the public as an sf satire. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d followed my original vision – but on the other hand, if I had, I wouldn’t have given the world NanoKleen, which is one of my best ever SF ideas.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I wrote it the way that I did. As I said in an earlier post, the Russians got it – all the way around. They’ve got a long history of seeing SF as a special genre – it allowed criticism of the Soviet system that one couldn’t get away with in conventional literature (although the Russian reviews have yet to mention it as a piece of SF). They really seem to hit on the mentions of Russia that I make in the Pembroke Hall books, with all that talk about the Union of Mongol States and all of that. And they appear to have really connected with the whole concept of consumerism gone amok – something they certainly see first hand as a new, struggling capitalist nation.

Here the real irony. I grew up with the Russians as The Enemy. I even channeled those childhood fears into the nightmare scenario of A Death of Honor, where they were a few steps short of realizing their goal of a Communist world. But, as the years have gone by and the world has changed, I seem to have written something that is the perfect contemporary Russian novel.

What’s that sound? Do you hear it? Can it be that… God… is… laughing?

Listening: Eels, “Restraining Order Blues” (via iPod Shuffle)

The Old Gray Genre Ain’t What She Used To Be

I just received an e-mail from a reader who tells me he has read through the Angel’s Luck trilogy about ten times (!). I don’t think I’ve been through those books that many times counting writing, rewriting, editing, proofreading, and correcting the galleys (I never read the books after they come out). In his letter, he asks me, “Do you have anything on the horizon?”

This put me in the position of telling him that, with the exception of one SF novel that I really want to finish, I’m not really writing Science Fiction anymore.

Part of this is by choice – I realized a couple of years ago that there were other genres where I could do quite well that have larger audiences than SF, and my agent agrees.

But there are also some factors at work that I don’t have much control over. For one, I think a Joe Clifford Faust SF novel would be a tough sell right now. I was dropped by Del Rey for disappointing sales – never mind that there was zero advertising or promotion, other than the fact that they were fired up over the book and pushed a copy into the hands of anyone who came into their office (this is how I ended up getting my first agent, which is a lengthy story for another post – if I haven’t already told it). When I asked about advertising before A Death of Honor came out, I was told “Our novels sell themselves.” Guess what, folks?

A few years later the Pembroke Hall novels landed at Bantam. They did advertise them, in Locus, the magazine of the SF trade. When I told them I had an idea for a promotion involving putting copies in the hands of the people most likely to appreciate the book – ad folk – I was given another line about how they knew how to sell their own books. Guess what, folks?

The month that Boddekker’s Demons came out was the same month that Ferman’s Devils was taken out of print. I got a call from Bantam asking, “Do you still have that marketing plan of yours?” I did a mental debate about the wisdom of marketing a book that was the second half of a duology, especially when the first one had been taken off of the shelves, but shrugged and sent it to them anyway. I don’t know if they did anything with it. Likely not. The two books were my two worst sellers of all time – the two books combined sold fewer copies than my previous underachiever, The Essence of Evil.

It’s not a cry in my beer kind of story, and I’m not looking for sympathy. It happens a lot to authors. Musicians, too. Ask Stan Ridgway why he didn’t stay with Geffen Records. The bright side is that, because of the movie deal that went nowhere, the Pembroke Hall novels were also my biggest moneymakers, making more for me than what I made on the other five novels combined.

However, editors don’t look at what books make for authors. If a new Faust SF novel lands on an editor’s desk, he’s going to look at what previous titles did for Bantam and Del Rey. And that sales record sticks to authors like a bad credit rating. Thus, that one SF novel I really want to finish will be a hard sell if and when it gets to that point.

Another factor is that SF just ain’t what it used to be. It’s been beaten back into a corner by Fantasy, and what’s left of the genre has been co-opted by franchises, the largest offenders being the Star Trek/Star Wars axis.

There are still SF authors publishing SF novels, but try to find them. Just try. Without going to a specialty store. If you go into a drugstore or grocery store and find any speculative fiction at all, you’ll find a couple of classic novels by old masters (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke), a couple of StarWarsTrek novels, and the rest are fantasy. Go into a Waldenbooks or other mall store, and you’ll get the same mix, only more of them. If you’re lucky you might find an old William Gibson (whose current works are now considered mainstream) or, if the planets are aligned just right, a Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s even getting tougher to find new and proper SF at Borders. But maybe that’s because the titles sell out because it’s the only place where they can be found.

Why has all of this occurred? A couple of reasons. As far as the dominance of franchises goes, it’s because, heaven help us all, they sell. Slap “Wars” or “Trek” on the cover of a book and you’re guaranteed that your carefully calculated print run will more or less fly out the door. Publishers, not being stupid, put before the public what sells, and it’s not necessarily what is good for them.

(This brings to mind the notion of another unwanted government agency coming up with an ever-changing, increasingly incomprehensible chart of Daily Intellectual Nutrition Requirements – “Sorry, you’ve had enough Piers Anthony – time for some Phillip K. Dick!”)

The rise of fantasy is something else altogether. Around the time the Lord of the Rings film frenzy was in full swing, one of the Mainstream Media newsmags ran a sidebar article on why SF had been supplanted by Fantasy as the escapist literature of choice. Their theory – and to be honest, I can’t disagree with their thinking – is that science has let us down.

I love to look at magazines like Popular Science from the ’50’s and’60’s. You get visions of personal flying automobiles, undersea highways – that whole sense of optimism captured by Donald Fagen in his song I.G.Y.: On that train all graphite and glitter / Undersea by rail / Ninety minutes from New York to Paris / Well by seventy-six we’ll be A.O.K.

Well, we might have the equivalent of Dick Tracy’s two way wrist radio now, but I still don’t have my own personal Gyrocopter. The underseaways and zeppelin routes never materialized. We did get longer life spans, but the antibiotics that did it for us are now creating superbugs that eat them (and us) for lunch. We used to go around in a peaceful oblivion, not knowing that a well-placed asteroid could End It All for us – now we’re setting up telescopes and satellite networks to warn us of things that we won’t have a chance to save ourselves from. We avoided the nuclear war bullet, but the waste management is another thing. We’re close to all being wired, and what does it bring us? Ads for Teen Slut web sites and prescription drugs without a prescription.

Sheesh. Compared to that, facing down a Balrog in a deep, dank mine, armed with nothing but a little mithril and a sword that glows when orcs are around is a picnic. A picnic, I tell you!

If SF is no longer the escapist literature it once was, it’s because science, in all actuality, is in the business of raising more questions than it answers. And, as I have alluded to before when writing about how to craft the genre, one thing you have to look out for is that An Answer science gives us always has some kind of unforeseen side effect. Nuclear power, si! Nuclear waste, nuclear weapons, hmmm…

There’s one last factor I suppose I should mention. I started out wanting to write mainstream thrillers to begin with. My big influence at the time was Michael Crichton, who had just blown me (and everyone else) away with The Andromeda Strain. Those were the kind of books I wanted to write. Adventures with cutting edge science. That I ended up in SF can, as well-chronicled elsewhere in these pages, be attributed to the fact that I got mononucleosis at an inopportune time in my college career and ended up writing what would become Desperate Measures just to prove a point.

So that’s where SF is, and where I’m not, and why. It makes me a little wistful thinking about it – it’s like leaving your small hometown and coming back to find they’ve built an Applebees. I will always like and respect the genre, but I don’t know that it’s home anymore.

Not to worry. My love of science is going with me. There are some science moments in and that’s the end of the news…, albeit in a more Crichtonesque vein. If you look at it that way, then perhaps I’m not so much leaving home as coming home.

Listening: Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless” (via iPod Shuffle)

WWJCOD? (What Would Joyce Carol Oates Do?)

If we could all be like Joyce Carol Oates, the writing world would be a much better place.

See, Oates is in a unique position. She can write about whatever she wants – she even did a non-fiction book about boxing – and her publishers snap it up. She’s done literary novels, romances, I don’t know what all… and it all gets put out there. She could do a book about left-handed terrorist nuns, and it would end up in Borders on the shelf next to Chicken Soup for the Insurgent’s Soul.

But she’s the exception to the rule. Robert Ludlum once wrote a comic caper novel, The Road to Gandolfo, in the middle of his suspense thriller career. His editors pitched a fit. It ended up being published under another name until years later, when he had enough clout to have it reissued under his own name.

Discussing it this morning with my wife, she got me to admit that I thought the novel was bad, which I guess makes it a bad example – but on the other hand, it did get published, and I guess did all right when it came out under Ludlum’s name. However, what if Tom Clancy wanted to momentarily clear his head of techo clutter and wrote a rollicking coming of age comedy? After they wheeled his agent out on a gurney, the editor would say the same thing that Ludlum was told (he said as much himself in his introduction to the paperback reissue of Gandolfo):

“Not under your own name!”

Among other things, an author’s name becomes a brand name. You buy a Tom Clancy or a Danielle Steele or a Michael Crichton and you know what you’re going to get. Like when you go into a McDonald’s, you know you won’t find pate fois gras on the menu.

(I would mention Stephen King here, too, but late in his career he used his clout to wander from his chosen path, writing a more literary kind of horror novel. Whatever that is – I don’t know. At the end of the day, King might not have known, either – but I’ll bet that Joyce Carol Oates did.)

Thus, publishers, like any other purveyor of a well revered product (with the possible exception of Coca Cola in the early eighties), want to protect their brand names. They want their authors to be reliable, dependable, cranking out the same thing year after year, provided of course that it continues to sell. Which is why many of these literary experiments never see print.

What prompted all of this was my statement to my wife this morning that I should just write the novels that I want to write without regard to genre, putting different names on them as I go. This in turn was prompted by a series of thoughts I had in the shower.

I was thinking about a friend of mine who was trying to get a project off the ground. Everything was going fine until his girlfriend insinuated herself into the situation. As a result of this, all of his friends deserted the project, and he was left with no help at all. Then the relationship went the way of all things, and mirable dictu! – one by one, all of his friends came trickling back, and the project managed to launch, albeit late.

This, I thought, was a great example of the Yoko Effect, and then all of a sudden there it was, in a white moment. A novel called The Yoko Effect (or perhaps Ono, Not Again! – you can smack me later) about a handful of guys trying to do something (form a band? start a business? that part wasn’t clear) when the girlfriend of one comes in and gums things up. The book would be about the reactions of the different parties involved, and how they try to keep things going – some without help of the guy with the girl, another with help from the guy without the girl knowing, etc. I figured it would be a fun book to write, a nice piece of Lad Lit in the mold of Nick Hornby .

Then it was like I woke up. Me, Joe Clifford Faust, who is trying to write thrillers and is already struggling with ideas for romances, slice of life novels, and at least one more science fiction project. Yet another idea for yet another book in yet another genre.

I can hear my agent tearing his hair out from here.

Yet another project for the tomorrow file.

I guess I could either make the book into something with the trappings of a thriller (say they’re out to rob a bank?), but that would seem to go against the grain of the whole Lad Lit idea (somewhere an agent or editor reading this says, “That’s the point, dummy!”). I guess, like most ideas and notions like this, I’ll table it for a while and see what happens.

Meantime, if I were Joyce Carol Oates, the publisher would already have the advance in the mail.

Oh, well.

Or, perhaps, Ono.

Listening: The Who, “Eminence Front” (via iPod Shuffle)