Broken River. King Shot. Ladybox. They’re all here, y’all.
Hey folks! I forgot to mention that we’re doing a pre-order Kickstarter for March Madness…a crazy day, March 11, when BRB will release 12 books…at ONCE! We reached our funding in about 5 days, but there are opportunities for stretch goals, now, like paying pro-rates for the BRB Annual!
Here’s the spiel from the page:
Last year, through the support of fantastic people like you, I was able to release the first five books on the Broken River lineup: The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones, Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres, Street Raised by Pearce Hansen,Gravesend by William Boyle, and XXX Shamus by Red Hammond. Since then, Broken River has maintained a relatively steady schedule throughout the year, releasing 2-3 books per quarter, for a current total of 15. We’ve done everything from Michael Kazepis’ breakout crime drama Long Lost Dog of It, to Cameron Pierce’s masterpiece Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon, to David James Keaton’s colossal and hilarious The Last Projector.
The books have received praise from authorial titans and review juggernauts alike. From Tom Franklin and Megan Abbott to The Los Angeles Review of Books and Electric Literature, it feels like every corner of the literary world has had nothing but nice things to say about our project. And that brings me joy.
In the spirit of Broken River’s reckless and headlong rush into literary scene, we are trying something special, risky, and huge for the first quarter of 2015. We’re going to put out a dozen books on the same day. Because it’s happening in March, I named it March Madness, because I am never lax in making an easy joke. For some presses, that’s not a huge deal. For a scrappy little indie running on ramen noodles and passion, that is a massive undertaking. Usually they’d be released three to a quarter over the course of the year. But I’ve got my summer and fall slots filled, and I want to get these books to you now. So why do them all at once? Ideally, what I’d like to see happen would be a crossover effect, in which folks who come to the Madness looking for one or two authors come away finding ten more that they love. Is this realistic? We won’t know until we try. And on my end, I can say that every book is a winner. I’m consistently floored by the level of talent that knocks on my door (or you know, sends me an e-mail) every single day. These are the cream of the crop. Every single one.
I’ve enlisted four heroes to help me on this journey. Michael Kazepis, he of the phenomenal Long Lost Dog of It, will be piloting the new King Shot Press imprint of BRB. Michael is a fantastic author and a keen judge of quality. After reading the bizarro kick-in-the-face Trashland a Go-Go, and seeing the incredible job Constance Ann Fitzgerald did with her limited-edition box-set of zines (by seven different talented women), I knew that she had both the control of the word and the eye for talent necessary to run her own imprint. I have my complete faith placed in these two individuals. And they will do wonders. On the Broken River end, I enlisted historical novelist and painter Alan Clark, who is something of a legend, to assist me in the editing of the noir mind-floop On the Black. Finally, I got Wonderland-Award winning author and wearer of great clothing Brian Allen Carr to edit Robert Paul Moreira’s debut collection, Scores. That’s a team, right there.
The Kickstarter is basically a pre-order, so if you want to get down on the Broken River March Madness catalog (for cheaper than they’ll be individually), then HEAD ON OVER!!!
Some time ago, what feels like a long while past, Amazon was engaged in a high-profile battle with a big sixer by the name of Hachette. It was over the price of e-books. Amazon felt like they should be this way, Hachette thought otherwise. So Amazon decided to stop featuring Hachette titles, going so far as to recommend other books, not by that particular press. It was messy and weird, but it was kind of like watching two Wall Street brokers violently sixty-nine each other. Kind of sexy, but mostly gross and also, who cares?
But there’s some fucked up shit happening with Amazon right now, and it’s effecting us little guys. I run a humble press out of my apartment. It’s pretty cool, I like what I do. I present incredible books to the world. To do so, we employ the services of the largest bookselling giant the world has ever seen. They get the books in front of customers who otherwise wouldn’t have a clue we exist. That’s great. However, there is trouble in paradise.
I’m sure most of you know the issues with XXX Shamus. Amazon declared it obscene and stopped carrying it. That’s frustrating, but what’s worse is that they didn’t give me a single real-life human being to talk to. Throughout the whole process, no matter how much I protested, I was met with an automated message that essentially said, “Tough titty. What we say goes.” And so now we’re doing something different with that book. We carry on. But that’s not the worst of it.
Two titles in particular have had a hell of a time being featured on Amazon: The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare and The Last Projector by David James Keaton. People go to the page on Amazon, click to buy, and find out that the book is “temporarily out of stock.” Let me make this abundantly clear: the books are never, ever out of stock. When you click that “buy” button, an order is placed to Lightning Source, which prints the book and ships it out. That’s it. It’s that simple. It’s called “Print on Demand” and it means just that. There’s no warehouse full of these books. You click, they print, they ship.
Imagine, for a second, that someone trusted you with their baby. You said, “I love this baby, and I will take care of it.” Now imagine a monolithic corporate giant pouring acid all over that baby, so as to make a point to its competitors. It’d make you mad. That’s how I feel, when an author trusts me with their book, and I get that bullshit “sorry, it’s just not there,” notification.
So why on earth are they saying that the book is “out of stock”? Further, why is that, despite the fact that these books are print-on-demand, are people waiting weeks, if not months, for their books to show up in their mailbox? The answer is pretty simple: Amazon’s Createspace is in direct competition with Lightning Source, and so they are throttling those orders until people move to a more “reliable” source. This is essentially like two bakeries opening up next to each other, and the bigger, meaner bakery sneaking in at night and throwing all the dough on the floor. When they open, you have to go to the bakery that actually has bread.
Making this even more infuriating, Amazon deploys the same tactic every time you talk to them. You do not get a human. You get a robot. I’ve complained about both of these books, and Keaton wrote them a lengthy e-mail. Each time, you receive something along the lines of, “We’re terribly sorry, but go fuck yourself.” I’ve even pestered them on Twitter. I noticed a guy hadn’t gotten his Projector for a fucking month. He complained to Amazon, and they responded with “we’ll get at you,” but when I further questioned them, it was radio-fucking-silence.
I even posited this theory to my rep at Lightning Source, and she kind of chuckled nervously and said, “You never know, I guess.” I do know. I know exactly what the fuck is going on. Lightning Source can’t say shit because even though they’re getting dicked, Amazon is “The Biggest Game in Town,” and therefore they need them to keep going. I get it. But that doesn’t help.
Why not go with Createspace? Well, they routinely fuck up the spines of their books, and just generally do a much shoddier job than Lightning Source. I want quality books. I don’t think that’s too crazy a thing to ask.
So, what do we do? Broken River Books will have an online store soon, and I implore you to buy direct from that store. We can’t quit Amazon just yet, as they are the Big Guy. But we can offer an alternative.
Amazon started with the Kindle Unlimited, which fucked us. What’s to stop them from having a system where you pay money to be a “featured” book alongside a big bestseller? What’s to stop them from having us pay to play in general? Amazon is looking more and more like a big evil bastard every day, and we need to find alternative routes if we want to keep going. The website will be the first step toward that.
Please talk about indie presses. Please link to their websites. We’re doing our best to survive, and we’re dealing with a monopolistic giant that keeps on fucking us, then sending us a form letter telling us they’re sorry, but fucking is just what they do.
I’m very much over it. Let’s build something better.
Carlton Mellick III once told me that if I really wanted to make this career as a writer and a publisher work, I’d quit my job and work at it full time. The stress and the pressure would act as an impetus to get the job done. Mellick is a large man, an imposing figure, but he speaks quietly, and for whatever reason, whatever he says I take as gospel. So I did it. And now here I am.
Where exactly is that?
Several years ago, I wrote a piece for a now-defunct online magazine called “The Low Tide Showcased a Promised Land.” I had just taken a job at a tire shop. Before that, I moved furniture for a living. I woke up early, I lifted heavy shit onto a truck, and I went to people houses or apartments and unloaded that shit with my partner and we hauled it in. The essay that I wrote was about how the world doesn’t care that you struggle, but that struggle is important all the same. That it builds who we are, it thickens our skin. Makes us tough. But I haven’t really updated that, for my current station in life.
A year ago, I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to start a small press called Broken River Books. I started it out of a desire to make a mark on the current publishing landscape, to spend my time doing what I love, but most importantly, to make a life out of the only thing in this world I’m good at. BRB has published 15 books in that time, and I’m gearing up for an even bigger sophomore year, starting with 12 books in the first quarter, on the same day. For all that work, however, I live a very modest, humble life. I eat spaghetti, ramen, sandwiches, pickles, and tostadas. I buy one pack of cigarettes a day, and go through an 18-pack of PBR every three days or so (two if I’m celebrating). My apartment is Spartan; I had no furniture to speak of for the past six months. A writer friend donated a desk, upon which sits my computer. I found my sweet-ass swivel chair in the trash. I slept on the floor until about two weeks ago. My new bed is fucking up my hustle. I dream a lot, now. Last night I dreamt that I traded bodies with Jaden Smith. Shit is weird. But my life is far from difficult. I’ve lived in my car, and I’ve squatted in trap houses, and I’ve broken my back and scarred up my hands to get by. I do none of those things at this time. I have a heater in every room. I have a deck where I can stand and smoke and listen to the rain. I have a wife and a dog and my wife always has coffee and my dog always has kibbles. I’m full of love for everything and everyone around me, and I’m not scared to say this is the happiest I’ve been in my life. But still. I’m just above the poverty line, unless it’s a good month.
I’ve heard the self-published Kindle success stories, the fan-fiction writers given six-figure deals. I’ve heard about the rockstars in New York selling the latest hot thing. But I’ve seen very few articles detailing the day-to-day of the “blue collar” indie presses, and I think I can provide maybe a unique perspective on the whole thing. I’m neither savvy enough to conjure up the next big groundswell, nor am I handsome and connected enough to ingratiate myself into the world of big publishing. Watch sensible advice bounce off me like bullets off Superman’s titties. What I am, instead, is wonderfully wind-resistant, conveniently hard-headed, and perhaps stupidly optimistic.
But please, don’t for a second think that I’m asking for your sympathy, here. I asked for this. One time someone told me that there was a Satanist “Wheel of Desire” (which I picture as being much like Wheel of Fortune, except Pat has a robe on and all the contestants are severed goat heads) that posits if you take what someone says they want, just go to the opposite pie slice on the wheel and see what they’re really after. So it’s entirely possible that I want your sympathy, all of it, though I just Google searched that Wheel of Desire and found zero results so it’s entirely possible I made that up. Anyway, maybe that’s a disclaimer.
Back in the day publishing was all about who had the money. You start a big company, you sign some high-profile writers to your roster, you buy a nice watch. Then, the internet happened, and kept happening, and it’s all fucked up now. You know this. The means of production have been streamlined and laid bare. Any fuckup (holler) with some spare time can take advantage. I cut my teeth for years as a writer, until, much like Zach de la Rocha in the RATM classic “Down Rodeo,” I said, “Fuck the G-ride/I want the machines that are making them.”
I acquired the necessary tools to create books (InDesign, namely) and raised some funds and I was off to the races. That’s literally all it took. The programs, the money, and a small contingent of people who believed that I could do what I said I was going to do. The first batch of Broken River Books consisted of five novels by writers I love, and those five novels continue to do well. So I repeated the process until I had fifteen of those, and now here I am.
So here’s my day-to-day:
I wake up when my wife is ready to go to work. Sometimes I drive her there, if I need the car for something that day. I get home and walk my dog. She likes to sniff stuff. She’ll get all tangled in a bush chasing some scent or another, and I do my best to shake off the pre-coffee, post-booze morning haze. I look at the trees or the hills out in the distance. I take in the fog that I’ve adopted since my move to Oregon. I force myself to love this beautiful place because on the inside things are churning, evil reminders of shit I haven’t done yet, things that have to be done and soon.
I check my email. There’s someone who’s interested in submitting a piece to Broken River. They really dig what’s going on, and can I check their shit. Also, there’s a message from someone I’ve just rejected, telling me to go fuck myself and they hope I feel real bad when they’re the next big thing and I passed. This is like looking at before and after photos where the only difference is that in one someone’s sucking in their gut.
I rummage through my fridge and roll up some turkey with a piece of cheese and put some mayo on it and eat that shit quickly, before my dog becomes privy to my culinary designs and gives me those big eyes and I give my food away like I normally do.
I sit down at the computer and open up InDesign and my internet browser.
Everything comes rushing at me. I have twelve books to design. This entails taking the files and putting them into the program and checking them for widows and orphans and typos and by the way make sure everything’s justified and also make sure you have headers but that they’re in the right spot and dammit everything looks the same now so spice it up and find some different fonts. Oh, and now the program is doing this adorable thing where the indents just do whatever they want. Have fun with that.
Then it suddenly occurs to me that I have a dogshit website that I never update. The books are all there, sure, and there are some fun blog posts scattered about, but it’s not the hub it should be, it’s not the place people come back to if they want information about things they think are cool. You are a symbol and a brand and no one gives a shit because your house isn’t in order. So I research how to build a good website and set about making one because I don’t have the money to hire someone to do it for me.
An email lands from an author: “Hey, where’s that contract?” Shit…didn’t you send that out already? Fuck. Better print some off and drop them in the mail, except I haven’t sprung for a printer yet because I’m an idiot, so here we go to Kinko’s and from there to the post office.
An email lands from an author: “Hey, we’re not doing enough for this book. It should be in more places.” Fair enough, that’s kind of my job, so I research all the different places where I could possibly send the book for maybe a review or an interview or just some fucking coverage, and I work up my email and I send it out and I hit the author back like, “Gotcha, bro.”
An email lands from someone who ordered a book I put out in a pre-order, because again, I am a goober of the highest caliber, and it says “Hey, I never got that book,” and I’m like FUCK because I know I sent that shit but what can you do? So, back to the post office. God help me if the order is overseas.
We need covers. These books need covers. I send a message to the maestro and he says, “Sure, of course,” because he’s a fucking mensch. I detail what I need. He works the magic.
I call an author to see about maybe moving a book from hardback to paperback.
I call an author to see about how the edits are moving along in the book.
I call an author to see about the reading we’ve scheduled in a far-off land for which I haven’t yet bought my plane ticket, because the money…
The money will be there. Eventually. I hope. I’m supposed to be paid by The Publisher of My Stuff here soon, very soon, and then I’ll have some funds to work with, to buy that plane ticket and pay for some ad space, maybe…but ad space doesn’t work, everyone tells me not to waste money on ad space.
I check my mail and there’s a blurb request with an attached manuscript and a dude looking to get me to write him a script. I look at the script email and see if there’s money involved. I look at the blurb request and my dog puts her Kong toy on my lap and I look at her like, “are you serious right now?”
Then I play fetch with my dog.
When I come back, there’s a follow-up email to an email that I meant to respond to but minimized and forgot about and now someone’s upset with me because I forgot that there was supposed to be a feature on x,y, and z in some magazine and now I’ve fucked that one up. Okay, whatever, moving on.
The authors for the new books need ARCs for their work, so I need to get these designs done, and I need to send them their copies, and some of them are going to expect me to send the ARCs to a specific place, which is fine, because a lot of places (goddamn them) not only demand ARCs in advance of publication, they need them from the publisher. That’s not how we work, really. We release, we get people reading, we build buzz, but unfortunately that model closes us off to a lot of promotion, so we have to get the ARCs in those hands, so I need to do that.
Where’s my novel at? I need to finish that novel.
Also, I should work on my screenplays.
Payment is coming up. I need get ready for tax season. I need to go through my receipts. I need to do some accounting. I need a beer.
Shit, it’s dinner time.
Maybe I’ll read a book. Or watch Netflix. Or both. I’m good at doing two things at once, now.
There are fifteen books in my past that I can’t let sink, and there are twelve books in my immediate future for which I need to build a life raft. I need to write, I need to manage all the different personalities of my authors (some are cool with whatever, some staunchly make their way to the nearest bridge upon realization that they aren’t a runaway hit), I need to craft the books, make them look how they need to look, I need to promote them, which involves having my brain go this way and that, to dozens of different publications with dozens of different editors who have dozens of requests for each. and. every. book. I need to keep people up-to-date with the press, via social media or my website. I need to do all of the things. All of the things that big-money presses used to pay people to do, I do every last one of those things. Name it. I do it.
All of this is okay.
What is beautiful about the world we live in today is that I’m able to do this. This is a brilliant, wonderful thing. It is damn hard work and at times I am pulled in every direction, all at once. I’m really not doing this thing justice. It’s wild.
So there are the authors who score big and those who work their way into the system, but I think what both of those profiles are missing are us folks here in the middle, who scrap out a living day in and day out doing the jobs of twelve people, because it’s the only thing we can do. There are a ton of people just like me, who wake up to remembering all the things they forgot, and bless their hearts, forgetting them again as the day goes on.
There is a new caste in the publishing world. The old days had the hack writer, pumping out pulp lifeblood. Now there are hack publishers. I don’t mean our work is “hacky” or that we suck (some of us do, but that’s okay). I mean that we are constantly churning. We grow arms. We go Janus. But we do it because we are brave, and because we understand the nobility of hard work. Never, ever let me catch a fool devaluing what we do.
If you’ve ever asked a pro how to get into this world, they’ll tell you it’s like storming a castle. Once one hole opens, it’s closed for good. What the good ones will tell you, though, is that if your skull is thick enough, and you don’t mind losing a few brain cells, you’ll always have a pretty decent battering ram.
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Well, this is awkward. It looks like an intrepid reader and fan of Broken River Books has done their homework. From an article that’s clearly dated “1983,” it appears as though David James Keaton’s novel The Last Projector, a book I’ve spent countless hours working on, was in fact released sometime around Fall of that year, AND it had a featured review in THE NEW YORK TIMES. Sitting demurely next to a review of Return of the Jedi and above a review of Stephen King’s new, shiny-from-the-showroom Christine, the critic seems to view the The Last Projector in a very favorable light, but I really don’t know what to make of all this. My head’s still spinning. This newspaper snapshot also claims that “Broken River Books” published it, which to my knowledge I did not invent until a couple years ago, although the author and I did brainstorm possible names for a publishing house when we shared a bus ride to the previous Winter Olympics. Or did we? Or is this just a calculated attempt by an author to manufacture a scandal? I can’t remember. I need to sit down.
Figured I’d do a quick roundup of some of the stuff I’ve read, recently.
First off, here’s a review I did over Blake Butler’s 300 Million for Electric Literature.
I have also been remiss in my duties as a crime fiction fan, in that I haven’t yet sung the praises of Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer. On a sentence-by-sentence basis, this one is the king of 2014. It brings up themes that will feel familiar to the dutiful crime reader: fatherhood (obviously), responsibility, alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence. I read this one months ago and I feel like I’m still digesting it. I still don’t really know what to say, other than I felt it hard, and that I think you should read it. One of those rare “un-put-downables.” A sticking point for me, and something I’d like to discuss further, is the book’s ending, but I’m gonna save that big spoilery motherfucker for a while down the road, once it’s been widely read.
I went to see James Ellroy read at Powell’s. That was a big moment for me. There’s no one who’s influenced my writing more than that strange, tall man. I felt inspired by his showmanship, inspired by his confidence, inspired by the guts of his shtick. I couldn’t meet him, though. Jeremy Johnson and Michael Kazepis did, but I just couldn’t. It wasn’t time yet. I didn’t want to look at him and see him and have him see me. Just didn’t seem right. I like him as a writer and performer, but I didn’t want to meet him as a person. I’m still not sure why. Probably just nerves. Anyway, I read Perfidia and thought it was awesome, but probably my least-favorite of his so far. All the parts with Ashida were awesome. That procedural-type shit. I don’t know. For someone who’s so good at keeping it short, this one felt, for the first time, too big.
Young Gods by Katherine Faw Morris occupies an ever-widening space in crime fiction, a space that I dislike with a passion. That Morris cuts out a spot inside that space with deft and at times flat-out brilliant prose creates a kind of dissonance in my mind, in that this type of book represents a big problem that I whine about a lot, but it’s so well done that I liked it. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who moves in with her pimp/drug dealer father after the death of her mother. It moves from anecdote to anecdote, in which the girl takes drugs, attempts to enlist her friend as her dad’s new trick, commits murder, and finally, in a sense, becomes her dad. It is an extraordinarily bleak book, and by the end of it I wondered what it was trying to do, exactly. The journey is fast-paced and the prose is on-point, but man am I ever tired of poverty porn, where the sharp descriptions of violence and depravity serve to move the characters, usually poor and ill, away from the reader, until it’s like we’re looking at the whole thing from space, and maybe that’s the point, but I’m still not 100% convinced as to the overall value of something like this. I’m not saying “the violence made me feel gross,” I’m saying “the violence seemed unreal.” If there’s not three-dimensions to hang it on, it just is what it is. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. Lots of people seem to like that stuff. And, like I said, overall I liked it, too. Recommended it if you want a clinic in how to write like a demon.
And finally, I’d like to talk a little about Dogo Barry Graham’s wonderful, eye-opening Kill Your Self: Life After Ego. In the spirit of a book that is all about losing the self, and working to curb suffering by muting the ego, I’m going to make this review all about me. As of late I’ve found it increasingly difficult to let go of my anger. It’s always been a problem, that I tend to see and expect the worst from people. After reading this book, I realized that, as is typically the case, it all stems from a problem with myself. Or rather, the story I tell my self about myself.
Graham uses quick, succinct aphorisms to move the book along, never dwelling on one thought or the other. I’ve always enjoyed this about zen writing, in that even whilst explaining a koan or a deep subject, the writer typically just expresses the question in the clearest way possible, once, and then dips out. After that it’s up to you. It’s something you’re supposed to think about, and the process of thinking is the solution in and of itself.
This book is packed with a-ha moments. I reflected a lot upon reading it. In particular, I enjoyed the passage about the fishing boat, in which the owner of said vessel takes his newly-painted baby out on the water on a foggy day. Another boat bumps into his, and he turns around and starts yelling, only to find the other boat empty. The boat is always empty, but we bring our stories to it, the story that goddammit this drunk motherfucker is out here not watching where he’s going or goddammit I just got this painted and of course it gets fucked up…no. These are all stories we’re making up as we go along, all stories designed to make us the protagonist of our lives, the put-upon, the only one who “gets it.” After awhile, this becomes easier than breathing. The boat is always empty, until we fill it with our own bullshit.
The book is presented in a “take-it-or-leave-it” style. It isn’t preachy. It doesn’t want you to do this or that. It just is. And it’s so refreshing. Couldn’t recommend it more.
Well folks, we’re finally here. The biggest Broken River Book of all time is getting ready to drop. The Last Projector is a dense, convoluted, funhouse-mirror-Russian-nesting-doll work of absolute insanity and genius. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on a book. It’s taken its author years to write. It has been the underdog, shunned by stuffy New York presses. It’s hard to categorize, harder still to wrap your mind around, and I would venture to say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.
The hardcover will be a thing of beauty. Here’s the cover:
Here’s the synopsis:
“In this hysterical fever dream of a novel, meet an unhinged paramedic turned porn director uprooted from an ever-shifting ’80s fantasy. Discover a crime that circles back through time to a far-reaching cover-up in the back of an ambulance. Reveal a manic tattoo obsession and how it conspires to ruin the integrity of a story and corrupt identity itself. Unravel the mystery surrounding three generations of women and the one secret they share. And follow two amateur terrorists, whose unlikely love story rushes headlong toward a drive-in apocalypse.”
“The Most Anticipated Book of 2014. Hell, it’s the most anticipated book since this podcast has existed.” – Booked
“Imagine Harry Crews’ grit-filled world head-butting William Gaddis’ dense, rollicking literary hopscotch and you’re firmly entrenched in David James Keaton country. His thrilling debut, THE LAST PROJECTOR, is the bubbling, epic story of how wonderfully screwed up America is.” -Patrick Wensink, author of Broken Piano for President
“That thing called ‘voice’ authors are said to have? Keaton’s are legion. That ‘Tap, tap, tap’ you may hear issuing from this book? I wouldn’t open it up without a quick ‘Klaatu barada nikto’ for good measure.” -Jedidiah Ayres, author of Peckerwood and Godfather of the Noir at the Bar reading series
It’s the literary equivalent of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales as written by a film-obsessed David Foster Wallace. The pre-order is available below.
Get the hardback HERE.
Get it for Kindle HERE.