So here it is then. A condensed and edited version of this blog, with a few bonus highlights from my first (Hoses of the Holy, which started back in 2003). Why? I was on the edge of deleting this blog, but then I thought I might create an archive of all the entries before doing so. And then I changed my mind about deleting it, but quite liked the idea of doing it as a Kindle book. Partly, this was prompted by someone saying to me that he preferred my non-fiction writing to my fiction. This is a fair enough comment. The 118,000 words or so of this represent about half of the content of Frequently Arsed Questions, which seems like a lot to cut out, but I did, for various reasons. There were too many of those whingeing about cycling entries, for example. There were reviews of various appliances, which (while popular in terms of generating page views here) wouldn’t really make any sense in the context of a book/collection. I’ve tried to highlight the category of the entry above the title, but it’s fair to say that there is no one topic for this blog. Eclectic. When I’m ranting about the bastards who run this country, I’ve used the quaint term “Holding forth” rather than “rant” because I like to think I’m not really ranting. I’m quite pleased with the cover. The image of the dude with the pipe came from a 1969 Nouvelles Galeries catalogue (that’s a department store in Belfort, France). I knew when I was snapping photos of the pages back in the summer that it might come in useful. He seems to personify the authorial voice of my blogs. Just as every thin person has a fat person on the inside, we all have a middle aged white dude in a beret with a pipe inside of us. Probably. The title, Nobody cares what you think, is my inner voice, talking to me throughout my blogging career. You can put the emphasis on any word you like. Inadvertently, my typographical choices seem to put the emphasis on THINK, but that’s just sloppiness. Anyway, I priced it as low as I could. Here are the links to a few of the Amazon Kindle stores. As usual, if you do download/read, I’d be grateful if you post a review. But if you can’t say anything nice… Amazon UK Amazon US Amazon Australia Amazon Canada Amazon India Amazon DE Amazon FR
French Blood was inspired by some of the research my wife did when she was looking into her family tree a few years ago. We did a lot of work hunting and scanning old photographs, visiting cemeteries, and listening to stories from the olds. There were a few interesting details, and a few secrets that struck me as intriguing.
Then last summer, and for a few holidays before that, we stayed for six weeks in the old family farm house, and did quite a lot of work in and around it. We hunted through the junk in the cupboards, moved furniture, opened boxes… Outside the house, we tidied up a lot, and moved the legendary cantilevered log-pile from the front of the house to the old chicken shed.
In real life, it was mere drudgery, but in my imagination, it became more: what if there was something buried at the base of the woodpile? We did in fact find field canteens, bullets, shells, and all kinds of detritus from the two world wars. We did also find a 1917 American rifle under one of the beds upstairs.
So when I sat down to do National Novel Writing Month in November 2013, this was all on my mind.
When Pete Fraser’s estranged sister dies and leaves him a house in France, he takes the opportunity to leave his problems behind and start a new life. He finds a 200 year-old property full of the junk of generations—and family secrets dating back to the Second World War.
What looks like history soon becomes something more urgent when the bodies start appearing and Pete starts seeing connections that nobody has made before…
For the 2013 NaNoWriMo experience, I encouraged my A Level Creative Writing students to participate, and I think this helped me to (a) finish and (b) encouraged me to work on the rewrites.
When you’re on the NaNoWriMo, you’re obsessed with word count: getting to 50,000. As you rewrite, you add details. Someone on Twitter likened this process to being the second unit director on a movie: you capture the insert shots and cutaways, the fine detail. After a couple of drafts, you have to become ruthless in the editing suite. I actually cut out three whole chapters. The resulting novel is a 250-pager, which is the noveling equivalent of the 35–40 minute vinyl album.
Thanks to my sister for checking one of the drafts for typos. I hope I haven’t added too many since then.
French Blood is available for Kindle now, and will shortly be available in paperback. Purchasers of the paperback will be able to download the Kindle version free of charge.
My course book Theory Without Fear will be available on the Amazon Kindle store for free on the following dates:
1. Friday September 7 to Sunday September 9 2012
2. Friday September 14 to Saturday September 15 2012
These free download dates coincide with the beginning of the school year. I am allowed five free promo days in a 90-day period, so the first is a full weekend (Friday to Sunday) and the second is just two days, finishing at midnight-ish on the Saturday.
In addition, my other books have free dates coming up:
A Level Moving Image Arts will be free between 20 July and 24 July 2012.
Don DeLillo, Events, and Local Gods will be free from 19 July to 23 July 2012.
It’s an application dedicated to researching and writing, and though I didn’t use anywhere near all of its features, I found it quite useful and pleasant to use.
I think Scrivener would really work for a professional writer, though it’s probably overkill for an amateur like me, but I’m planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year, so I upgraded to version 2.
I noticed that Scrivener now has options to output electronic books (I wasn’t aware of this feature in version 1.5, though it might have been there). Although I’m in love with type and would love to have a printed book (I did take advantage of the offer to produce a printed proof of my last completed NaNoWriMo), it’s more realistic to think you might finish and revise a book and put it out on the Kindle. You never know.
I discussed this with a colleague at work. The thing about Kindle books is, a lot of them are free, or quite low priced, and by people you’ve never heard of. In these circumstances, you tend to judge a book by its cover. Which is ironic, given that Kindle books don’t actually have “covers”. Still, we thought, if you had a good cover, you never know who might be tempted to download.
I realised I already had a very high quality book I could publish. Even if I do say it myself, my 1999 thesis on Don DeLillo is very good indeed. It’s well written, thoroughly researched, and highly original. Why wasn’t it ever published, then, I hear you ask? Short answer, I left academia and went to work in marketing. I never saw the need. The publish-or-perish life of the academic never really appealed to me. I always found most academic writing to be an impenetrable, badly written, load of old wank.
Some of my thesis was published. A couple of (edited) chapters appeared in journals. One was presented as a conference paper (and may have been published as well, I don’t recall). And my last hurrah was to have a chapter published in a book, this one in fact.
The thing about academic publishing is, it’s not about the money. I’m sure the publishers do very well (as they should, at £33 a pop), but the individual authors see nothing. So it was always about careers, and since I didn’t have an academic career, I didn’t try to get my thesis published.
Which is a shame, because it was written in a very accessible style, and would certainly appeal to the general Don DeLillo fan, as well as the odd research student.
My chapter in Underwords has actually been cited in a couple of other books. I get a passing mention (which is all you can hope for) in Don DeLillo: Mao II, Underworld, Falling Man by Stacey Olster and in Partial Faiths: postsecular fiction in the age of Pynchon and Morrisson by John A. McLure.
So I was already primed when I noticed that Scrivener can output electronic book formats, and decided to have a go. Unfortunately, the only copy of my thesis manuscript to hand was the PDF version, which looks beautiful, but was hard to edit. The text output included page furniture and numbering, which had to be edited by hand. The output also stripped out all the formatting (italics, small caps etc.), so I had to go through and manually edit as many of those as I could spot. I found this easier to do in Pages than in Scrivener. For example, when I was doing a find-replace on certain words and phrases, Pages allowed me to edit on the page (by hitting Command-I to italicise, say), without losing the Find-Replace window. This saved a couple of seconds for every instance.
(Of course, what I could have done, if I’d remembered the shortcut, was use Cmd-G and then Cmd-I, both in Scrivener and Pages, which would have saved time. And I wouldn’t have needed Pages at all. I used to know Cmd-G, but clean forgot it. More fool me. Thanks to commenter Ioa Petra’ka for reminding me.)
It took a few days to edit each chapter in a satisfactory way. I kept doing test exports in the Kindle format, and using Amazon’s free Kindle Preview app (as well as testing on my own Kindle) to see how things were turning out. Block quotes were tricky. Scrivener had a paragraph style called Essay Block Quote (Preserved), which did the trick. I managed to put in a diagram, and designed a cover that worked in colour (for the Kindle app on computers, phones, and the iPad) as well as greyscale. Scrivener makes it easy to create a hyperlinked table of contents. I also converted the footnotes in the thesis to hyperlinked endnotes.
I edited the text a bit, changing a few paragraphs that seemed particularly dated, and looking out for language like “recent” to describe Underworld, which was “recent” in 1999, but isn’t any more. On the whole, though, it all holds up very well. And it’s interesting to read my discussion of Mao II, terrorism, and images, written a couple of years before 11 September 2001 but somehow still relevant.
It’s a shame in a way that I couldn’t publish a second volume based on DeLillo’s output since 1999, but to be honest The Body Artist annoyed me so much that I haven’t touched a DeLillo book since.
Amazon make it fairly easy to publish. They don’t insist on an ISBN. These aren’t a legal requirement and hardly anyone is likely to search for a book based on one. You can enter bank account details (you need the long international account identifier from your statements) for payment in Euros and Sterling, but you have to get dollars from Amazon.com in cheque form. Unfortunately, Amazon retain 30% of your royalty for the IRS, which you can try to claim back by filling in forms.
But I doubt this will be much of an issue.
I opted for their 70% royalty and a low price rather than a 35% one and a much higher price. Academic books are usually very expensive, but I resent that, given that most students don’t have much money. If my book had been published by an academic publisher back in 1999/2000, it would probably be out of print by now, or would cost £30+ to buy.
Apple, unlike Amazon, make it very difficult to publish as an individual. They demand an ISBN and some kind of tax certificate. They recommend that you go through one of their partner aggregators. The only European one is in Germany, and their web site is in German. So screw that, for now. You can get the Kindle app on the iPhone and the iPad, and buy the book from Amazon instead.
All in all, Scrivener made it relatively painless to publish on Kindle. My only difficulties were caused by having to convert from a PDF – if I’d retained the original Word document, it would have been easy.