nodding at your influences

It’s morning, about to head out to meet some clients and drive the long way back home. I’ll be home in about twelve hours and the only good thing about all these long drives I have to do now is that I’m able to race through audiobooks.

In the last two days, I’ve done a lot of driving, but also a lot of writing. About 15,000 words, and I’m real happy with how they turned out. But especially those first 10,000 words, which I wrote at a furious pace over the course of four or five hours.

It could work as its own short story but I think it’s best in the context of the novel, where it lands after about 170,000 words of narrative.

But the sequence is about the capture and crucifixion of a god, and using this dying god to summon a greater god in order to try to kill that god.

In essence, it’s about a character waging a war against the gods of their world.

These ideas are not dissimilar from the kind of thing I often write. Or, I’ve never written anything like this, but it is a natural direction for my writing about these topics to take. The gods of my fiction are ambivalent and careless, if not reckless, with regard to human life. They’re more like forces of nature than they are the humanlike creatures of mythology.

Because the gods hold so much power and so little regard for humanity, it was an inevitability that some human or humans would rage against them and try to subvert the hierarchy of the world.

This idea isn’t revolutionary or even new. And it’s really just a long scene in this novel (the longest scene, actually) which is likely going to be nearly thirty times larger than this scene.

That’s what I want to talk about. How influences help shape our own work.

Princess Mononoke, which I’ve talked about numerous times, is still an influence here. Lady Iboshi’s war against the gods of the forest for pragmatic and possibly even noble reasons is certainly touching the resulting scene I wrote.

Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is also something I was reaching after, and which pushed me to take this narrative step. It’s quite a bit different than Erikson’s gigantic epic series and I wasn’t trying to replicate what he does. I was mostly going for a tonal similarity. I wanted that balance he strikes. The balance of badass intensity that would make Wagner jealous with real humorous elements. So even while I have a scene where a character is trying to kill a god, it’s also a scene full of humor.

And I mentioned Wagner so it’s worth noting his part in all this. His opera has moved me in terrifying ways. He was a reprehensible person, but he made some glorious music. The kind that stirs something otherworldly in you.

Then there’s even Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which has been a deep influence on me. How could you read about Feonor leading his people out of paradise to kill a god and not have that just transform the way you see the world?

Neon Genesis Evangelion is present here as well, though mostly in terms of imagery.

Lilith_(Rebuild).png

That image and others from Death & Rebirth which I couldn’t find pictures of have mirrors in this scene. It’s a terrifying scene with far reaching consequences.

Beyond all this, there are other ideas feeding in here. The idea that the gods can be fought, can be defied, can be killed. They can even be born and we can become them. The hubris of humanity, that reckless insanity that leads us to drop atomic bombs and fly to the moon–all of this is the same impulse, I think. To do what cannot be done. Morally, dropping the atomic bomb and going to the moon are extremely different, but the impulse, I think. has the same or similar impetus. But what I’m trying to say here is that these ideas are in all of us, the will and need to defy that which confines us. Whether it be the stratosphere or the Death of millions.

Art, even art of the fantastic, is always a reflection of self. Or, if not self, a reflection of what we believe humanity is. Along with that, we bring all the art we love and the art that has shaped us.

Akira Kurosawa’s in here. Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time is in here. Kim Ki Duk’s 3-Iron, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure and Pulse are in here. Tarkovsky, Mallick, and so much more is filtered into this tiny section of this much larger novel.

To produce art, you steal and manipulate and distort the art that has shaped you.

And then you look into yourself and how you view the world.

It may not surprise you that I don’t have a flattering view of humanity, but that certainly comes out here. But so does my hope for humanity. That one day we’ll be better.

Anyrate, just some ideas I wanted to wrap my head around this morning, and I guess it’s for you as well.

on writing books no one wants

I’ve written several novels now. Six in their final form, and I have a few others in various states of disrepair and incompletion. Two of my novels have been published, with another one coming out in a few months. It’s hard to say if anyone actually wants any of these books, though.

Mostly I want to talk about Twilight of the Wolves, which I knew would be a hard sell at first, which is why I’m offering a free novella to those who buy a paperback edition, and why the kindle version is currently $2.99. Even with all that, it looks like no one’s biting, which is, admittedly, quite disappointing. I think there are a few very big reasons for this.

I think part of it has to do with my built in audience, which is made up of the indie lit crowd. I deeply love these people and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I’ve made some great friends within that community. The issue is, I suppose, that it’s a pretty small market, and that few of them have the money or desire to buy everything that comes out. But, I mean, who can do that? But the real point is that no indie authors are making a living off their words, which is why so many are also professors or currently in programs that will lead to them gaining teaching positions. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it means that your audience is ridiculously small, and largely in conversation with itself. This means very little of what’s published by and within the community reaches past it to casual readers, or even the larger arena of readers, which is a small market to begin with. So what we have, in a sense, is the smallest market within a very small market. It means that very few, if any of us, are selling that many copies of our books. There are exceptions, I’m sure, and there are those who get a lot of great critical attention, especially lately. But I’m not sure how that translates to sales, but I’m sure Two Dollar Radio sells better than most publishing houses of that size because of how much attention their books get, which is a testament to the authors there and to the Obenaufs.

Part of the indie community’s mentality is the importance of high artistic appeal, which typically means that most of the books fall into the experimental or literary genres. Often times both. We love strong prose that plays with form and structure. I think many of the readers within the community don’t have much interest in genres like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and horror. There are exceptions, of course, but many of those writers who write genre but are critically beloved are considered transcenders–those who reach past the shabby limits of genre fiction and tap into the literary genre. Thinking of people like Brian Evenson and Matt Bell, though there are certainly others. By and large, the indie community is interested in literary fiction, which is exemplified by the presses associated with the community. I can’t think of any publishing houses that actively seek SF/F, though a few want horror. And it’s not that they necessarily discourage SF/F, but that’s not their audience, and they don’t really want to be a part of that conversation.

Also, before I get too far, I’ll just say this is all how I perceive the community [which should be obvious] and is in no way meant as a definitive description. If there are indie presses doing SF/F, I’d love to see them! Mixer Publishing is one, but I’m not sure how many others there really are. And that’s not to say that there aren’t indie genre publishers. It means that they’re not really a part of the indie lit community, as I understand it. Also, I’m not going to talk about journals or magazines, because that’s absurd to even discuss. For every ten writers, there’s a journal that exists.

Anyrate, moving past the community–which is the audience I can tap into most readily because I’m a member of the community–let’s take a look at the genre readers.

One peculiar thing I discovered when trying to mail ARCs to different magazines and websites for review or interview opportunities, I largely met a wall of disinterest. Most genre publications won’t even look at a book if it’s not published by a SFWA publisher, which puts a huge limit on your ability as an indie author to tap into that market. Beyond that issue, many genre readers are looking for more commercial fiction, something fun and exciting that’s also full of big ideas and complex morality. What they’re typically less interested in is difficult prose. What genre readers want is an open door that leads to a headlong race, a house of mirrors, or a labyrinth. I disagree with everyone who says that genre readers don’t want to be challenged by their books, because that’s just completely untrue and absurd. It is true, however, that they’re less interested in how you can play with the structure of a sentence. They want clear and clean prose that allows them into the complexity of the world you’ve created, where they can wrestle with the philosophical, social, and moral implications of your narrative. A Song of Ice & Fire isn’t difficult to read, but it’s an incredibly complex series of novels. The same is true of MalazanThe Book of the New Sun, The Dispossessed, and Neveryon. And even despite the disinterest in complex or experimental sentences, I think you’ll find few writers more talented than Gene Wolfe, Ursula K Le Guin, and Samuel R Delany, even on a sentence by sentence reading.

Anyrate, so these are the two worlds that Twilight of the Wolves is dealing with. In one, there’s a small built in audience, but the word fantasy cast a dark cloud over the novel. Then there’s the genre audience, which is huge, but is largely disinterested in books published by independent literary presses.

And Twilight of the Wolves very much falls between these two worlds. It’s an experimental novel with sometimes very caustic and aggressive and lyrical prose. It’s rooted in the postcolonial and surreal, and is a subversion of the fantasy genre while being firmly and definitely in dialogue with the fantasy tradition. It’s postmodern and it has a tricky structure with lots of surrealism and difficulty to overcome. It’s a book that demands you learn how to read it and rise to the challenge it presents.

Both of the reviews published about Twilight of the Wolves very much misunderstand even what happens in the novel. Both reviews didn’t even realise that a third of the novel is narrated by a character because of that character’s inability to use personal pronouns or speak aloud. I was grateful for both reviews and it made me proud that both of them loved the book so much. It didn’t even bother me that they missed what I think is a very important part of the book. The novel, though I often think of it as being very straightforward [lying to myself, surely], presents many challenges to the reader, and because of the thickness of the prose, it makes discovering the actual narrative a challenge I wasn’t expecting. And I’ve received only very positive feedback from the novel. People who read it and give themselves to it seem to truly love what’s happening.

But on the otherside of this literary/experimental/postmodern leaning, there’s the fantasy. This is very much a fantasy novel. I stand firmly by that. This is a world I’ve been dreaming my whole life, and it’s purely genre, despite the literary tricks and the playing with form. It’s a reaction to the tradition, but also a continuation of the tradition. I believe people who love George RR Martin, Gene Wolfe, Samuel R Delany, Joanna Russ, Ursula K Le Guin, and China Mieville will really love this novel. And while it’s silly for me to compare myself to any of them, I think I learnt a lot from each of them. Kyle Muntz once told me that the novel reminded him of Thomas Pynchon, but I always think the novel is much closer to Earthsea and Neveryon, and sort of the flipside of Game of Thrones, in that we’re only looking at the people at the bottom. The focus isn’t on kings and knights and ladies and prophecies. We’re looking at orphans: a eunuch, the only survivor of a plague, and a man cursed by a god. They’re powerless, and they don’t rise through the social or military ranks of the world. Instead they try to escape it entirely.

But this isn’t escapism. I didn’t think of it while I wrote it, but this book is very much influenced by Edward Said, Eduardo Galeano, Noam Chomsky, Taoism, Shintoism, and transcendentalism. Though this novel takes place on a different planet, in a very different solar system, it’s rooted in humanity, and its only real question remains: what does it mean to be human?

This, more than any of my other novels, is about what it means to live, which was the original title, and it’s the title I still think of it having. To Live.

And so I’ve written a difficult book that very few people want to read, but it’s the most perfect artistic expression I’ve yet created. It’s the novel that is perhaps most deeply me, most deeply autobiographical, most deeply everything I’ve ever loved and hated.

It will challenge you and perhaps it’s not worth it to you, but this is the book I had to write, and there are many more books set in this world, and they’ll likely all hit this same nebulous inbetween. Being both literary and fantasy, but belonging to neither.

I always knew this was going to be a difficult sell, but I really am disappointed with how it’s selling, and maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe I should be focusing on how those who read it love it. But I guess I expected more for it. It’s difficult putting your whole heart and life into a book and then watching it struggle to stay afloat in the ocean.

I stepped into this year hoping to become a full time writer. I’ve given up on that, I think. It’s very unlikely that this will sell much better. There’s a huge market for it, especially since Game of Thrones entered our television screens, but tapping into that giant market is no easy task, and it’ll likely be a few more books till I’m there, but this is where my heart is, which is sometimes strange to think about. I walked so deeply into the indie lit community only to realise the books I wanted to write didn’t belong there. I mean, I have a few books that still fit quite nicely there, and I think Noir: A Love Story is perfect for that crowd, so look for that in a couple months. July.

But I am disappointed, and I think that I may be shrugging off a lot of this extra stuff I’m doing and just get back to writing. My time has become split by a thousand obligations, and I want to cutoff most of those, and probably will soon. I need to focus back on the words and fight for these books.

So, for now, if you’re still reading this, there’s the promotion I’m doing for the month of April where you can get a novella with Twilight of the Wolves for free. After April, I think I’ll be going underground for a while and just focusing on what really matters with this whole writing business: the words.