A definition of fantasy is a phrase of a certain length that has something wrong with it.
Every rare once in a great while you get to see a thing be tabernacled; I don’t know about you, but it’s why I get out of bed, of a morning.
So I didn’t get into this to make books, per se? The whole point is that it’s a serial, it’s episodic, I like the zines, it was always about those, you know? But you should do an ebook, people said, you can sell it on Amazon, people said, so I did, because why not? —Having already formatted the text for the web, it turned out to be pretty easy to set it up as an ebook, and with a little more work what I’d already done to format the text for the zines made it relatively easy to set it up for a paperback. So in 2011 I took the eleven chapters done so far and published them as a book, and last year I took the next eleven chapters and published them as a book, and over the three and a half years of this career I’ve backed into, as a publisher of books, I’ve sold—
—Maybe I’ll sell a book a day, I said to myself, when I was putting the finishing touches on the first one. On average. —That’s not too much to ask, is it?
It’s not like I’m going to quit. It’s not like it’s even a failure. It’s a number. Numbers require context; “I don’t have any whiskey,” may be a fact, as the man says, but it is not a truth, and the context, the truth of the matter, is that it costs me nothing to keep these books out there, nothing at all to make a new copy to fill any order that does come in, so why not leave them be? Two books exist where before there weren’t any, and more to come, and they’re mostly doing what I want them to do, in terms of words and sentences and people-shapes moving through story-spaces—and there’s more coming? —So what’s a bottom line, compared to that?
It costs me nothing, except what it’s already cost: three or four days of taking the HTML and flowing it into EPUB, and then a MOBI; four or five days of taking the files I’ve already made for running off the zines and flowing them into a single document for the paperback, and oh but also the day or so originally spent on each chapter, making those files in the first place (I have templates, I have systems, there’s also the time I spent devising and refining those systems, and the false starts, like the whole first edition of the first paperback, which came out a little too small, and had to be redone)—oh, and the covers, a couple days fiddling in Photoshop for each, and you’ll notice I’m being a bit vague, airy even, with the figures, these aren’t actual days, you know, but time snatched here and there, a couple of hours in the mornings, before anyone else but the cats and Twitter is awake, a couple-three hours after the bedtime story, and an old TV show being ignored on the other monitor, and of course the weekends, so it’s hard to quantify, and how do I even begin to tot up the time needed to snap the photos in the first place? The time spent walking and driving and looking about—having already seen the pink blossomfalls in spring, say, it wasn’t all that hard to put myself on a sidewalk by a fire hydrant with a camera in my pocket, but for the second book, see—there’s this thing that happens, when the fog’s burning off the river, tatters of it still clinging here and there about the buildings downtown, on the west bank, and if you’re standing on the east bank, down on the esplanade, mid-morning, the sun shining bright behind you, and you’re looking at the US Bancorp Tower, ol’ Big Pink, you’ll see hints of a ghost building beside it, the light reflecting off that amber glass, reflecting again off the shreds of fog. It’s eerie, and it’s rare, and I’d see it but not have a camera, or I’d go for a walk on likely days with a camera, and never see it, and then that one bitter day I happened to be working in an office building downtown, a couple blocks away from Big Pink, eleven floors up, and looked out to see the sunlight splintering the icy sky like that, and hey, I had the camera in my pocket—how do I account for that, on a timesheet?
Oh and of course the time spent writing it all down in the first place. Two hundred words a day, four hundred, twelve hundred, fifteen to sixteen thousand words a chapter, thirty to forty days for a draft, not necessarily in a row, a couple-three weeks to revise and rewrite, twenty-two chapters in now, the first eleven from oh let’s say 2006 until 2011, and the second eleven from 2011 to 2014, and oh but there’s also all the time spent noodling, dreaming, poking, prodding, idly testing this bit of plot during a dull meeting, muttering possible lines of dialogue when I-5 northbound’s a goddamn parking lot again, settling down to sleep only to leap up and scuttle back out to the keyboard to jot down the thunderbolt that just assembled itself from God-knows-what, and also all the time spent before 2006, running at this possible approach or that, coming to some grips with whatever-it-is I’m trying to approach anyway, figuring out what the voice ought to be trying to do and how it would sound, I mean, can I tell you, the original draft was a screenplay? —Does it show? —So tell me, how does all this get accounted for, on the P&L?
But! We are assured by economists that sunk costs are a fallacy. They do not exist! Pay them no heed. It costs me nothing, now, to keep these books out there. And it’s not like I’m going to quit. Or fire myself. Cancel the contract. Shut it down.
I suppose in part this was inspired by a recent rash of posts about writing and money and sales—like Kameron Hurley’s characteristically blunt “What I Get Paid for my Novels; or, Why I’m not Quitting my Day Job,” which mostly made me feel a little less conflicted about the contract I signed for the one work-for-hire job I did that then got cancelled; Ann Bauer’s Salon piece on being “sponsored” by her husband; Shaun Duke’s musings on the Author Earnings January report; Jenny Trout’s “realistic” response to the Stacey Jay Kickstarter kerfluffle, which mostly has me muttering “Easy money in the ketchup factory” at inopportune moments, and then cackling bitterly, and refusing to explain the joke. —And I look up, and look around at my current situation, to compare and contrast, and I suppose the Spouse and I sponsor each other? —We both have day jobs; she has two, essentially, with her freelance coloring work, and I do a lot of the day-to-day housekeeping, the cooking and the laundry and the shopping and the chauffeuring, and while it’s not so much the case that one of us carries the other, it is true that taking care of three people at once is easier and less time-consuming than three people each taking care of themselves, and so with that bit of magic to hand we can carve out for ourselves a bit of time and a room of our own, and work to keep each other’s as sacrosanct as possible, and though it’s not enough, no, not even close to enough, still—the work gets done? —And I realize this isn’t data, per se, it isn’t hard numbers or facts, it’s overheated puffery, vague gesticulations at truth, but it’s as close as we’re gonna get for the moment. We live paycheck-to-paycheck, like so many others, and though there’s that background radiation of anxiety we’ve all learned to live with and don’t bother talking about, still we beat on, month by month, against the current. —Eyes steeped in ketchup-logic might look over what numbers we have and roll away, insisting as stentoriously as eyes might that a responsible business decision really ought to be made—but we don’t live in balance sheets and annual reports, where all cows are spherical, can openers might be assumed, and every human is a rational actor; where anything that can’t be quantified and commodified is blithely dismissed. —Maybe we tell the ketchup magnates that this work we do is, essentially, our 401(k)—accounts in which we store what excess value we might generate in the hopes that one day yet to come these elaborate, lovingly detailed lottery tickets might pay out?
But then we start thinking in numbers again. —A hundred and seventy-five copies! Seventy-nine last year! That isn’t even a rounding error.
It isn’t even enough of a sample size to use for constructive generalizin’. —Oh, you can look at the peaks in last year’s numbers and say, okay, January was the Bookslut review, so there’s those numbers explained, and February and March was when volume two was released—
(Wait, a sale just rang in—now we’re up to 176! And one whole sale for 2015! So far!)
—sorry, yes, where was I: June! Two of June’s sales I’m cheekily certain can be attributed to Fangs for the Fantasy’s review, and July I was at Readercon; the lessons to be drawn, then, would be: release books (trying), get talked about (okay), and go places and badger people until they buy your book (well).
So there’s the Kip Manley plan for success in self-publishing. —Should I have charged you for reading this? Would that’ve helped?
I’ve glossed over a couple of things, of course. (When you look at something, you can’t help but look away from something else: thus, the secret of eyes.) —The first being the zines—remember the zines? What I got into all this in the first place for? —I do sell zines, after all, and have been since long before the books were even a line item on an earnings projection. But the books are easier to report on, is basically it. Zines are almost entirely sold by hand, or given away, and inventory’s printed whenever I’m running low (I’m almost out of nos. 4, 14, and 16, say) and while I make a stab at quantifying the number each year for taxes, I’m not digging through nine years of returns for a blog post that’s already too long. Suffice to say I’ve sold somewhere between three hundred and four hundred? I think? Total? Maybe? So somewhere between nine hundred and twelve hundred dollars, since 2006. I think. Maybe. —Not even beer money, really.
The other thing glossed is the fact, of course, that I give it away for free, too. —This isn’t the time or the place for to-ing and fro-ing the pros and cons of monetizing the gift economy or whatever the fucking hell; I give it away, that’s been part of the plan from the beginning, it isn’t likely to change, and if it did it wouldn’t make much of a difference. So I can say to myself it doesn’t so much matter, the low numbers over here, if there’s other numbers there that—
—but, I mean, numbers. Pfeh! The hell do they know.
(There’s been other things I’ve been reading, of course; things people say about the writing of people I admire; things that people whose writing I admire have said about what they’re doing, or trying to do. The sorts of things I’m always reading. And when I read these things I tend to look down, and think about what I’m doing, which doesn’t do anything like what those things are doing, and I feel this pang, this ache, this sense of loss, like I’m disappointing—I don’t know. Them? Words, or maybe language? Myself? —Takes me some little time, sometimes, to remember I’m doing other things, things those other words aren’t doing, and yes but wait are these things worth it? —Is that a question I can even ask, much less answer? —Look, for good or ill, we’re committed. This is what we got behind. Our flag is planted; our costs sunk straight to hell. —Steam on.)
—Oh, hey! A December sale though Apple that Smashwords just reported! We’re up to 177! —Though they haven’t updated the balance yet. —Where was I? Opening statement, numbers numbers data, ketchup-logic, doubts—oh! Reassurances, right. Steam on. —Volume three’s well underway, two episodes done, a third being heartily procrastinated as we speak by writing long blog posts about numbers and doubts and reassurances and suchlike. —I’m not quitting; far from it. I’m not even really shaking things up all that much, just looking to where I can double down on what’s already being done.
—But if I’m still feeling this itch to make a change, to do something to alter the situation, I could, I dunno. Maybe fire my marketing department?
“[P]ink…” he says, “You have a lot of pink!” —And of course the first impulse is to point to all the (rational, ineluctable, situational, explicit, plot-derived and -dependent) reasons why there’s so much pink—the emblems, the nickname, the false dawns of sodium-vapor streetlights, or sunsets too, the hair, but: all these now crowd out any other meaning that might be made from all that pink. Might have been made. By other readers. —Don’t kill your darlings. Kill that which insists these things, or those, must be darling.
I can’t remember precisely what Greer Gilman called it, I mean, the “unfortunate enclitic” kinda undersells it, and the “terrible enclitic” is a bit too dignified, but the basic word itself, enclitic, I mean, damn, that’s perfect for all those goddamn -punks: steampunk, mythpunk, mannerpunk, splatterpunk, spicepunk, fuckpunk. —But. I think, for once, the enclitic has been earned.
“It sounds like a tautology. They have to torture Abu Zubaydah so that he will reveal a ‘ticking time bomb,’ and they need that revelation to justify the use of torture. And the use of torture is based on the fact that he hasn’t revealed any such plot.” —Hugh Eakin, “Our New Politics of Torture”
I was going to, I don’t know; I’ve been reading Cyclonopedia and also old Frank Herbert, which proves something or other about the shortcomings of holistic systems that admit there are inevitably shortcomings to holistic systems? —The ()hole system is, of course, a system that demonstrates systems can’t possibly demonstrate anything about the world because of all the, you know, holes, that systems and worlds can’t help but have, or, as Lewis Orne might’ve put it, had he existed—
Part of our problem centers on the effort to introduce external control for a system-of-systems that should be maintained by internal balancing forces. We are not attempting to recognize and refrain from inhibiting those self-regulating systems in our species upon which species survival depends. We are ignoring our own feedback functions.
—which passage prompts any of a number of gobsmacked retorts, foremost of which might be, who died and made you God? (—The Author, but we digress.) —So the Herbert (from which that’s snipped) is not what I would call all that good, per se; I first read it years ago, and didn’t much get it then, and mostly have it now for the cover, and re-reading it was struck by how the first draft of the Bene Gesserit is a small mean ugly thing indeed, this ethnically and genderly essentialist conspiracy of the country club’s women’s auxiliary, and if the moment when Lewis Orne winks slowly and deliberately at the two men isn’t the first time I wanted to punch this ersatz kwisatz hard in the snoot, it’s definitely when I wanted to punch him the hardest. —But: the broader context: the system-of-these-symptoms: the Golden Age trope of the fallen empire, slowly rebuilding itself, the Lost Colonies drifted from the glorious Galactic Mean, the labor of bringing them back to the fold being the four-short-stories’ traffic of our fixup: it only just occurred to me, this patronizingly pat justification for benignly cultural imperialism must’ve been drawn from various collective experiences with implementing the Marshall Plan, and the Allied Occupation(s).
All of which, of course, must fail:
The polytics of the ()holey complex defies existing models of the harvesting of power correlated to the logic of the ground and the politics of whole. For the world order, inconsistent events around the world are failures or setbacks for the dominant political models. According to the politics of poromechanical earth, however, inconsistencies and regional disparities across the globe constitute the body of polytics. The emergence of two entities (political formation, military, economic, etc.) from two different locations on the ground is inconsistent, but according to the logic of ()hole complex, they are terminally interconnected and consistent. In terms of emergence, consistency or connectivity should not be measured by the ground or the body of solid as a whole but according to a degenerate model of wholeness and a poromechanics of the event.
Which together with what went before mostly goes to show how much better Herbert got when he added some Spice to his model.
Petro states aren’t like other states for several reasons, says Karl.
For starters, their dependence on oil profits breaks the necessary link between taxation and representation. Instead of extracting state funds from citizens, wealth magically comes from the ground. This makes governments unaccountable; it means that people don’t demand to see how money is spent.
And oil governments, in turn, tend to treat their citizens like subjects, either paying them off or, when necessary, repressing them. Wedded to boom and bust cycles, oil-dependent regimes are either overspending to keep themselves in power or accruing debt to mask problems with seemingly no ability for fiscal reform.
Oil and highly centralized rule go together. Oil wealth permits governments to dismantle accountability mechanisms, weaken bureaucracies and undermine the rule of law.
Karl further found that although petro states appear strong, and some governments last for long periods of time, these oil infused regimes are highly vulnerable. When they collapse, they fall apart very quickly. Neither autocracies nor democracies are immune.
But now I’m just sticking things to the wall pretty much at random; I might as well point to the future of Rome, or idylls and dynamos; instead, I’ll just ponder the irony of finally having upgraded my CMS to fix the behind-the-scenes PHP errors only to discover it’s borked some of my lovingly hand-crafted title effects. —You fix one damn thing, three others break…
Just one more moment to bask in the glow of a few kind words that helped close out 2014 before we move on to 2015.
Twelve months gone, and what’s to show? —I wrote a thing about Frozen, because I live with a six-year-old, and I jazzed up something for a guest post. And also there was a climax, and an epilogue, and a book. —Could’ve been better, I suppose. Or at least more. —Next!
You may have seen it before; maybe not. Just in case:
(—Forgive me a moment of pride?)
It is easier to imagine the end of a city, than the end of a police force.
“I’d like the bacon-and-tomato panini—”
“And would you like that with the tomato?”
But that was on the way out. On the way in, I didn’t buy a thing; sat stewed in indignation at the gate, over all the little indignities I’d had to suffer: belt stripped, and shoes, wallet and phone and boarding pass in my hands up over my hand, don’t shoot, I’m coming out, as my junk was strobed with millimeter waves. The nigh-constant announcements over the loudspeakers that my safety was their top priority weren’t helping: I didn’t feel safe. I felt rather distinctly threatened. By them. —Foolish, perhaps; even rather indulgent. But. —In the paranoiac frenzy of packing (leave the toothpaste, of course, can’t take that in a carry-on, tube’s too big, and the razor, God no, and the deodorant? Is it a solid, or a gel? The hell is the difference? One’s apparently more likely to be explosive, or at least more likely to be considered as an explosive. There’s no definition anywhere I can find, but I can call the airport I’ll be traveling from if I have any and you know what? Just leave it. Leave it, leave it, leave it—) I’d suddenly been struck—what about the badges? The buttons I’d made the week before, a nice big set for each faction and fifth, that I wanted to hand out to any and sundry as ice-breakers and attention-snaggers. Made of metal, with pins, sharp pins—little, yes. But sharp. Would they be allowed through? Would they cause a problem? —Sure, laugh away, it seems utterly illogical to worry about it now, but logic plays no part in this at all. It wouldn’t even matter if some DHS working group had sat down and soberly assessed any possible threats posed by pin-secured flair of all sorts: its potential as a threatening weapon; its utility in jimmying a locked cockpit door; et cetera, et cetera—and then rubber-stamping appropriate forms in triplicate to propagate the appropriate data updates and normalizations throughout the various linked databases humming to themselves on servers across the country, allowed, or disallowed, or the one-inch buttons are fine but the line’s being drawn at two-inches, and God knows the little pinch-back pins? That they use for lapel flags and such? Those are right out, God damn, you could stab yourself with one if you aren’t careful, okay? Put it down. Put it down, sir. —It wouldn’t even matter if I’d called ahead to the airport I’d be travelling from, got their blessing and imprimatur, because what it all comes down to in the end is essentially that one singular transaction between you on the one side and the person with the badge on the other and if they take it in their head to take exception to some little thing or other you’re basically fucked, you know? Game over. Best case scenario, all those little pins come out of the bag and go into the trash. Worst case? I’m not going to lose my temper, no, but I don’t have money, I don’t have time, not to get another ticket, not to deal with any sort of delay, my only chance, my only choice—
(A couple-some years before, in Newark, I’m on the security line, I’m wearing a loose light green vest over a T-shirt, it’s more like a sleeveless shirt, really, I’ve taken off my shoes, I’m not wearing a belt, I’ve dumped the contents of my pockets in the bins, I’m ready to step through the metal detector, but the guard on the other side of the table says sharply “Hey. You want to take off your vest?” and it takes me a minute, like I say, it’s more of a shirt almost, so “I’m sorry?” I say, quizzically, which is enough for me to realize what it was he’d said, figure out what he wanted, my hands coming up even then, automatically, Pavlovianly, reaching to open it up, but he’s leaning, lunging even, over the conveyor belt, “Hey,” he’s bellowing, “you looking to start something?” —This man, with a badge, and hard eyes, and a finger, stabbing at my nose.)
—so I’d brought only a handful, of each type of button. In plastic bags, in my carryon. They went through the scanner without a hitch. I never got a second look from anyone.
“Your safety is our top priority,” says the announcement over the loudspeaker, as I sit at the gate, glowering at no one in particular at all.
I used to like flying. I even once liked airports. You know?
- Marfisa, once the Axe, had finally broken with her brother, the Axehandle;
- Luys, the Mason, had been sent by his occasional lover the Duke to find Jo;
- now, the two of them have met under the tree in Pioneer Square (where they’d fought a duel just weeks before).
- (Luys had been wearing a mysterious mask at the time, the mask worn by the swordsman Vincent Erne, when he’d been Huntsman to the Court.)
- —The Duke then went on to challenge the Axehandle and the Guisarme, Banker to the Court;
- That done, he went in a snit to sit the Throne, and only his (mostly) ex Jessie to witness his apotheosis.
- His other ex, Orlando, the Mooncalfe, had won the keeping of the Bride by defeating Jo in a duel;
- the Mooncalfe then went on to murther the Shootist and the Gammer, all to take away the Bride he’d already won;
- but Ysabel, terrified she might be broken, appalled she might not be, fled from the Mooncalfe…
- …only to meet a lugubrious, grey-faced man, who hailed her as the Queen.
- (Jo, meanwhile, who’d found the Huntsman’s mask, went on to trade a briefcase full of porn for a gun,
- (and Messrs. Keightlinger and Charlock went somewhere—else?—and brought back something—else?)
- Then, it started to snow.
- Marfisa, Luys, and Orlando have asked their questions of the witch, Miss Cheney;
- Ysabel, having run from the Mooncalfe, runs to Messrs. Charlock and Keightlinger, and their employer, Mr. Leir;
- Jo finally figures out what it was Miss Cheney had told her, and goes to see Becker, the right one, second;
- and she fires the gun she bought, even as Mr. Charlock—Mr. Leir?—looses what he’d found;
- and Ysabel, Bride of the King Come Back, Queen of the Court of Roses, is suddenly gone from a rather different world—
That’s, I guess, where we were.
Beginning Monday: City of Roses no. 21, “Gallowglas.”
I forgot to mention (here, anyway) when it went up: the folks at the Skiffy and Fanty show invited me to describe my superpower, which being: I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I don’t know a goddamn thing. (Previous visitors to the pier might recognize it as a less belligerent, more accessible version of this post.)