Friday, April 21, 2006

Expanding Universe

I started writing almost 19 years ago. I was working at a gas station in the industrial wasteland between suburban Lakewood and downtown Denver, Colorado.

Now, the preceding is almost true. I started writing when I was eleven years old. I wanted to be a movie director, but eight-millimeter film only took me so far. Flying lego spaceships on fishing wire in front of a blackboard constituted special effects. Story was centered around laser battles, characters were one and a half inches high, and dialog consisted of my high-pitched voice acting like a fighter jock.

One of my stories was about a lego spaceship I had built that, in my imagination, traveled in time. Much of the imagery of that story revolved around things I was borrowing from science-fiction stories that were in vogue at the time. Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 (the book, not so much the movie) was on my mind. The film Time Bandits was also. I think I had recently watched Tron, too.

At any rate, I created an ensemble of characters and a situation that seemed otherworldly enough, and it stuck with me.

Seven years passed and I was an adult, theoretically. I had started a more mature sequel related to the story I'd written, which I'd called A Question of Time and I'd tried to flesh out the world in which it lived. I had then lost a 115-page draft of that story. That was at about age 14. I didn't ever forget that experience. It was absolutely devestating.

So finally there I was in the gas station, by myself, working the graveyard shift. I was reading Tolkien at the time and musing on the importance of the map to his story. I was also at the time planning a rather dramatic move in my own life, to join a rock band my high school friend had started up at his college in Kentucky. I don't recall clearly why I decided I wanted to try my hand at a fantasy story, but I remember the importance of the map, the importance of getting the locations down, and some kind of linear thread to the story based on that map.

I didn't write a strictly traditional fantasy, however. I instead took a thread out of my original science-fiction novel, and set the story in the medieval past of my time-travel story's alien race. This meant that I had the freedom to invent cultural details based around my characters' physiology and this opened a really enjoyable dimension. I imagined that the species of my story had a lifetime of self-replenishing teeth, leading to the custom of exchanging and hoarding these pieces of their bodies as part of the customs of greeting and friendship. I also gave them seven fingers on each hand, and a number of other attributes. Also taking a lead from Tolkien, I spent quite a bit of time on the language of the story in order to generate the character and place names, though I had zero training and basically winged it.

The end result was, originally, a 269-page opus. Another unusual decision I made was to start writing in the middle of the action of the story and work my way back later on once I understood my characters better. I was writing the original draft by hand and this meant a lot of extra work but I have always believed that this tactic paid off. I ended up with about 190-some handwritten pages (the number 198 sticks in my mind for some reason) when I switched to a typewriter.

I remember very clearly the sense of potential that came over me the night before I knew it would be finished. I looked up at the stack of manuscript by my bed, and I had this image of it being a whole, completed thing. The feeling I got was indescribable. I had created something.

This is getting to be a long blog entry. The book sat in a drawer for a few months after I finished it while I worked on other things. I then took the book to a creative writing class in Louisville, just a block or so from where I work today and turned it in to the wonderful Lee Pennington, chapter by chapter, as my writing assignment. His encouragement was tremendous, and I renamed the novel at the same time.

Now, my memory is a little fuzzy here, but I think there was one more rewrite of the book wherein it blossomed from whatever it was to almost 440 pages of text, not including the exhaustive index.

The final effort I titled The Hand of Six and I started hunting for an agent to help me publish it. That didn't work out so well, as I managed to encounter what appears to have been a semi-opportunistic shark who charged me a reading fee to do nothing. I was, after all, 19 years old. I don't think my agent-to-be ever took me seriously as anything other than a mark.

This experience unfortunately turned me off of the whole concept for awhile. I had started a second novel, which turned out to be The Worldwrights. In the interim I joined another band and in a lot of ways I felt I had grown beyond the origins of my little fantasy story. For one reason or another I chose to put The Hand Of Six into a drawer from which it did not emerge for another 16 years.

I recently took that book out of its box, yellowing pages and all, and started to read it again. Though it is a story written by a young man, and an insecure author, I was surprised to find that I liked it, believed in it, and found a clear line of story going through it that was working. I've not yet listed it as one of my "works" on my webpage, and that's partly because I'm out of room in the layout. It's also because my copy starts on page 13. I have copies at my parents' house and I'm hoping to get them to fax me the first 12 pages so I can start typing it into a word-processor.

This book ties in very vaguely with the re-written A Question of Time, which is also a completed manuscript and is currently hiding out behind my LCD monitor where I periodically take it out to type it in.

I took a ten year hiatus from my attempts to reach an audience. For one reason or another I decided I didn't have either the time or the ability to drive myself into a hostile wind of rejection and criticism, that it would require to get my name on a publisher's imprint. I also felt like I had lost the ability to write, and though at the time I had nearly a thousand pages of completed manuscript in my canon as a demonstration that I at least had the desire to write, I found that writing only meant something to me as something I was doing, not as something I had done.

When I ended my self-imposed silence, I found that far from becoming rusty, I had actually grown. Because all the time I wasn't writing, I was still thinking. I was reading, I was growing, I was maturing. I wrote with a clarity at 36 that I could never have imagined having at 19.

Going over The Worldwrights with this new clarity I found a lot of things I could change. Slowly and tentatively I re-worked what I believed was my strongest story with the intent of self-publishing. There were plenty of outlets for such a venture, and I had something at 36 that I'd never imagined having at 19 -- money. Not much, and certainly not enough for some of the outfits I have run across, but it was within the realm of the possible. Then I discovered Lulu.

Lulu is a trip. It's the ultimate and logical result of the application of technology to the publishing venture. Books from Lulu cost more than books from a mass-producer, but there's no barrier to entry. Print-on-demand is here to stay.

There are a lot of things I could say about what it means to start as a POD author, but I think I'll save those for another time.

But I have discovered that in all the years I've been writing, with the many discouragements I've encountered, nothing compares to being able to put my printed, bound, and illustrated novel into someone's hands. The response I get is beyond description. I started with the goal to sell one book. After I sold that one, it was less than two weeks before I reached ten. I'm now at 21. I've decided my goals will be exponential. 100 books is my next milestone. What's surreal about this experience is imagining that my universe is expanding. I've held these things inside me for so long, and now these words, these characters of mine that I have grown to dream of and live with almost as if they are part of my family, are now in other people's heads, and hopefully in other people's dreams and lives. Writing is an intensely personal experience for me, and I imagine it must be so for others. My hope is that I can inspire in others the passion for these ideas that I have myself felt.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spreading The World(wrights)

Now that I'm available on Amazon, and you can sort of find my book there, I'm looking at the next horizon. I've got about 20 copies of the book moved (I say about because it changes all the time). It's very exciting, although I'm on pins and needles waiting for people to finish reading it.

You can go to Amazon and search on the word "Worldwrights" and find it. Or you can hit my ISBN number. 1411682866

Self-publishing is odd, and I'm sure it was odder still before Lulu came along. I've visited a number of the websites of self-publishing houses, but I think Lulu stands alone in its ability to pretty much automate the process. One of the drawbacks is that pretty much anyone can get their stuff on there, so there's a lot of stuff that's almost unreadable, and sometimes Lulu feels like a writer's workshop. It's not a bad thing all told, and I think there are people there who would rather crush budding writers with negative commentary than encourage them to grow. I've begun surfing the Lulu forums with that in mind, trying to recall a time when I was 11, or 17, myself, and put myself in those shoes for a moment while I read previews and samples and try to get others to read my own work. I guess the reason I'm doing that is was summed up, oddly enough, by a fortune cookie I got the other day that read, approximately: "If you give much, you will receive gifts in turn." I don't actually believe in karma, but people who are generally helpful to others find willing hands when they themselves are in need, and doing even one nice thing for someone else makes a huge impression on them. And it really costs me nothing but some time, and it helps me enormously to think on my own editing process to read what others are writing.

I would also like to introduce, after much popular demand, my new publicist Cathy Grant. Cathy will be shaking down friends and relatives handling sales for my book using her winning personality skills. She has already begun hitting up her extended group of friends with a promotional email sent to what looks like the entire population of the Gerry Butler web forum. Next up we will be hopefully getting enough copies in that I can put them in a couple of local bookstores. We shall see.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Amazon.Com, and Why Am I Up So Late?

My book finally showed up on amazon. You can now go to The Worldwrights on Amazon and get me book. Shibby.

I'm supposed to be working on Prodigal Earth right now. Instead I'm down here patrolling the Lulu community and helping people put their thumbnail photos on I feel like I'm in the foot book: more and more and more people are asking me for my book. It's surreal (and also flattering) but mostly surreal. And weird. And kind of cool. I've sold 16 copies by word-of-mouth.

There are some other Print On Demand services out there that I'm beginning to look into. One offers a marketing scheme as well -- though I'm sure it's not free like lulu.

I think my watermark will be 100 books. If I can sell 100 books by my lil' ol' self, I will start looking at larger and more sophisticated avenues of publication.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Prodigal Earth continues

I sat down whilst reposing upon vacation this week and plotted out the remaining story arc of Prodigal Earth. I love word processors. The work I did in the span of a couple of hours this week would have taken me weeks of typing beforehand, or I would have had to suffer having inserted pages, with odd sizes and page&1/2 numberings, in order to fill in gaps in my story and backtrack to make new ideas I just had make sense.

At any rate, I did something I have not really done before, which was set out an outline for the entire remainder of the book. I then started writing the text to fill in that outline. Over two evenings I churned out seventeen pages.

In the meantime, I have been following some of the groups on Lulu and someone mentioned that they put their book up on Amazon Marketplace and it got a hit and a sale in 3 days.

So I went ahead and did that. The cost of doing so is a little more, and it means my book now retails for $14.29 instead of $10.82. Amazon wants a cut of the action if they're going to list, you see.

So it's done. In about two weeks I expect to see my book listed Out There In The Big World.