Frustration 03/27/21

I have been tired this week. I’m not sure where it came from. I’ve been riding a high of energy for the past few months: work has gotten done on time, the house has been kept clean, errands have been run. Oil changes, gym visits, novel writing, this blog, all of it kept running smoothly.

And then, around Tuesday this week, it ground to a halt. I like to blame these things on astrological timings, but I’m not sure whether my sign is in anything bad. I’m sure one of my professional astro friends could tell me, but I’m tight with cash at the moment and it’s Not Cool to bother people about this kind of thing unless you’re going to compensate them for their time (which I’ve done in the past, yuck).

Most of my friends who I talk to have been feeling it as well, there’s a sense of tempers being short and everything being terrible. I am normally very much not this way. My personality skews towards the annoyingly positive. This hasn’t been helped by my reluctant return to Twitter, because (and this is 100% accurate and no longer up for debate) my books completely disappear as soon as I don’t have a foot in that world. My tweets don’t ever blow up, but without them, nobody buys the books. It’s frustrating. I enjoyed my four months away.

I was reminded as soon as I showed up that everyone on Twitter has learned everything they need to know yesterday, and they’re fine being nasty about it. Do you know how tired I felt once the takes on the boat in the Suez Canal started picking up?

Okay, let’s not complain the whole time. The weather is beautiful. Yesterday my buddy Rob came over and planted cabbage, corn, borage, and spinach in garden he’s constructed for me. It’s nice to see it in action and absorb new information through osmosis, watching a friend who knows his shit do his thing. I’m still reading The Fast Red Road, which is great. I listened to SGJ on a podcast called Page One, in which he talks about his method for writing books, and that’s worth mentioning:

Apparently, he doesn’t finish a draft and then go back and add scenes. It’s all in one go. However, if he gets stuck, he’ll go back and locate the point where he fucked up, erase everything after that, and start again. I often wondered how his books have this sense of organic growth and aesthetically pleasing punk rawness, and that, I believe, is the answer. It’s not that you write the novel all at once and then publish it (which is what I’ve done with the three Black Gum books), but for larger works, more complex works, you do have to watch your step. It became another tool I put into my toolbox, and forced me to reevaluate Dying World, which has truthfully been a thorn in my side for four years. I restarted it two days ago, keeping the 20k or so words of my last draft, and decided to completely streamline it, make it a more intimate crime story, and I think that might be the direction to go.

In the future, I’ll simply let books like this go, but I’m not going to lose a four-year fight. Instead, when it comes around like this again, I’ll have the antennae for it, and turn it into a short story or something after a month. Not the case here, though. I’ll wrestle this one to the ground, and you’ll be able to tell, and then it will be out there, probably not the best book but a book that was hard-won, worthwhile in that respect if nothing else.

And that, if I’m being honest, is probably where most of my frustration came from this week. The Black Gum books just flow out of me, and Dying World doesn’t, except in fits and starts, and that’s frustrating. But it’s also how this shit works, I guess. It can’t be easy all the time.

Four weeks, barreling ahead, I’ll get it done and it’ll sit on my hard drive for a while.

Then on to the next one.

Empire Never Ended (Part 1) 03/26/21

Understanding power is the most important thing you can do. We are on a hierarchy, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Once you understand how all of this stuff works, you begin to see something close to the truth. I’m talking every major news story becomes completely transparent. You see what’s going on.

Maybe I’m overstating it a bit. If this were true, I wouldn’t get things wrong ever, and I do. My point is that you get the gist of what’s going on, and that helps one’s sanity.

Also, it is my contention that if enough people truly understood how influence and money and power really worked, and we all banded together, real change could happen. Unfortunately we always seem to get psyopped right before things can gain steam. That’s by design. It’s happening now.

So today I’m going to embed two short videos. I won’t add much in the way of color commentary, but simply leave them for you to watch. Combined, they’ll take about six minutes. What I want you to do is to think of the implications of these videos, what they really mean. I want you to meditate on the fact that empire never ended, and that the same people who OK’d slavery and genocide are alive today. At least, their brains are still here. New bodies, new smiles, same goals.

The empire never ended. Repeat that a thousand times.

The Empty Man 03/25/21

I’d heard that the director of The Empty Man listed Mulholland Drive as one of his inspirations for the film, and that was all I needed to pop it on last night and give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

The movie opens in Bhutan in 1995. Four hikers stumble on a spooky cave with a creepy skeleton statue that possesses one of them, a discount Aaron Paul (the actor’s name is Aaron Poole and his character’s name is Paul, proving something about nameology). It gets horror-y. You know the drill! It’s well done stuff, the scenery is great. I loved the sounds of wind. I loved watching all the snow fall. I loved the soundtrack, done by Lustmord, whose name rang a bell (as a high schooler obsessed with Ipecac Recordings, I was reminded of the split he did with The Melvins, which I listened to once and then went back to putting California on repeat).

Then we cut to St. Louis in 2018. It’s funny that the year is so specific. Remember when they used to do “present day”? That shit doesn’t fly anymore, because You Know Why.

Ex-cop investigates the disappearance of Goth Neighbor Girl. Ex-cop is played by Sparrow Creek actor James Badge Dale, who has one of the strangest middle names I’ve ever heard. “Hello, I’m James Nametag Dale.” The character he plays is also named “James”, which further makes me think there’s something weird going on with names in this movie. I’m informed by other websites that his character’s last name, “Lasombra,” means shadow in Spanish, a word I never learned, as it is not required for functional day-to-day existence in El Paso, actually most Spanish isn’t, because Mexicans tend to get embarrassed for you if they hear you struggling through basic Spanish, and would prefer you didn’t. I miss that town about once a week.

Goth Neighbor Girl has the same haircut as Mad TV’s Stewart. She tells Ex-cop, as they sit in front of The Dirty Green Backyard Pool (he’s a widower) that thoughts are not generated in the brain, but rather pass through our brains, which is true as far as I can tell. I was on board.

For an hour, the movie is paced, shot, and feels like a capable knockoff of The Ring. I appreciated this element of the film. I like that Prior didn’t try to “art” the whole thing up, as I’m a little sick of artsy aesthetics. In Mandy, for example, which I thought was great, you could have cut that thing to run a bit more smoothly, but we needed those long shots of the cult guy being weird because This Movie is Art. No, Mandy is a movie where a lizard biker drinks a mason jar full of cum (a friend informed me it’s actually LSD juice, but I choose to remember it as a jar full of cum) and while there’s nothing wrong per se with having the shot composition and color palette of an art film, I like that this movie (talking The Empty Man again) chose to go for that made-for-TV feel…and to just own it. It’s refreshing to see a pig without lipstick, for once. But this movie is like…a prize pig. Gold medal pig. My friend had a minipig that he trained to get him beers from the fridge. This movie is like that pig.

A little more plot wrapup: spooky wraith creature is killing teens who foolishly decide to dare each other to blow over a bottle. It’s classic urban legend stuff, and they get dispatched quickly, including one in the shower, which made me think “damn, they’re going there.” There is a nice moment where the thing is hiding in the fog of the spa that works well. Ex-cop is finding bodies and unraveling the mystery, which leads him to something called The Pontifex Institute, which is where my description of the plot will end so that the final glorious hour of this thing can be a surprise for you.

There is a holistic feel to the thing, anchored by a great leading man, and throughout I felt pleasantly surprised how comfortable the whole thing felt, like I was in the hands of a skilled craftsman who wanted to make this type of movie to its fullest. Again, I love Black Rainbow and Ari Aster’s movies (they were my favorites of whatever year I saw them in, I’ll bet) but this one chose to work from the aesthetic genre in which it found itself. The camera is pointed coherently and the editing is fluid. The scares are all earned.

And as a final note, I’ll point to something that freaked me out about the movie. I enjoy reading New Thought as described by Mitch Horowitz, which is the idea that your mind is God, and that thoughts are causative. The problem that I’ve had with this way of looking at the world, however, is that as a person with constant intrusive thoughts, the idea that those might be causative is terrifying. This movie plays up on this fear, including mentions of a “brain itch,” which is how I’ve always described my OCD symptoms. It was nice to see some representation on screen. When James the Badge infiltrates the cult meeting, still looking for Goth Neighbor Girl, the cult leader gives a speech about words being repeated over and over again, how they lose their original meanings and take on new ones, and I thought to myself This might be a bad sign for my mental health that I’m nodding along with the evil cult leader in the horror movie. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. Oh, and the kids in this movie attend “Jacques Derrida High School.” Lol.

The Planet Fitness Smelled Like Weed 03/24/21

The Planet Fitness smelled like weed today. In the locker room, it was so thick I wondered if someone hadn’t smoked it right there. Every piece of equipment, every nook and cranny, all of it smelled like pot. It’s a good smell. I’ve never been a weed smoker, a pothead, never had time for the devil’s lettuce. But I’m glad someone is enjoying themselves.

There are pot stores all over Oklahoma, which is a bizarre thing to say the least. I’d never thought my home state would be one of the first to legalize the leaf. I was used to it when I lived in Portland, and there it made sense…here, not so much.

Thinking back on it, though, people here have never had much of a problem with it. There’re a lot of fundamentalist Christian conservatives, but they seem more focused on stopping abortion (lol) than stopping people from smoking.

It’s never been something that I took to. Every single time I smoked it, I became paranoid in a way that wasn’t fun. I’ve heard Joe Rogan say that’s the best part, just trying to hold on while you slip into a panic attack, but let’s just say I don’t need any help with that.

I’m envious of my friends who can smoke weed about their problems, even more so if they can maintain some kind of focus and clarity necessary to complete tasks and stay on schedule. Again, couldn’t be me. That was the major issue with booze: it knocked me off schedule.

I don’t consider myself a particularly strong person, but I’m smart enough to know that, and to consider workarounds. I know that I need a lot of landing strip to touch down all these planes I have up in the air. To absolutely mangle a metaphor.

What that means practically is that I know that if I drink a beer, I will drink two. Once that happens, I am no longer me. I am Two-Beer David. And Two-Beer David thinks a third beer is a great idea. On down the line until the carton is empty and I’m sitting in my office chair listening to Korn’s self-titled album. Not the worst way to kill an evening, but not the most productive, either.

The real problem starts the next morning. David is not a person who “powers through” difficulty. David is a person who will lay in bed until the discomfort goes away, until he can think straight again. We’re working on this, but at the moment, it is what it is.

David is someone who has to set strict schedules and stick to them. I go to the gym three times a week now because I was militant about it for about three years. Now I’m less strict, but if I don’t go to the gym, it kind of feels like when you’re mildly hungry and irritable. You don’t think “I must eat to power my mind and body!”, you think “I would like a burrito,” and so you eat one. Same thing with writing this blog. I must strictly force myself to do this (and write fiction) every day, because after a few years it will similarly become a thing that I just do, that I don’t have to intellectualize or explain to myself.

And finally, it’s the reason why I’m not drinking beers anymore. It’s been 80 days, but I’m assuming it will take around 1,000 to just kind of “not feel like it” anymore. It’s a project that feels worth my time. I won’t bother equivocating or explaining it away anymore. It just is what it is.

Hopefully, one day I’ll be at a point with booze like I was with the pot smell in the Planet Fitness: I can smell it, look at it, watch other people do it, and appreciate it for what it is, but not feel compelled at all to partake. I mean, I will probably never smoke pot again for the rest of my life. I can’t imagine why I’d do it. I don’t even like it.

Thus by the grace of god goes booze.

Personal Canon 03/23/21

I got Stephen Graham Jones’s first novel, The Fast Red Road in the mail yesterday. It didn’t take long to get blood on it. A little ripped skin from a chewed fingernail and it was my book. I laid it open on the bed after reading a few pages, left it there a while, and went to go lay down, accidentally bending the cover’s corner’s back. The spine will soon be snapped. When I’m done with a book, you can tell. If you ever come over to hang out and look at my shelves, you’ll know which ones I’ve read and which ones are just there to look pretty.

The book whips. It comes right out the gate full force, chunky paragraphs that feel like waterfalls of action, description, and personality. Sometimes, when he’s describing something, Jones sounds like he’s going with the first thought that comes into his head, and it leads to a moment of pause while you figure it out, but it doesn’t take much time. Pretty soon you’re in his register, and the thing moves along at a brisk pace. It’s a book that teaches you how to read it as you go along. There’s a 30-page learning curve. It’s easy. And worth it.

I mean…check this shit out:

I recently became fascinated with SGJ’s body of work based on the success of The Only Good Indians, which I read and loved, and which caused me to go back and begin to read through his whole catalogue. How did someone so unique make it so far? I’m reading these books as much for the inspiration as for the books themselves. One of us made it through.

Stephen has always been cool to me. I remember when I first started Broken River Books, and asked him if I could publish one of his books, he responded to my Facebook message immediately with which one do you want?

He ended up sending me The Least of My Scars, which became BRB #1. But think about that for a second. The guy had books (plural) on deck and ready to go. This is the vibe, this is the energy. Going through his catalogue, I have a few goals, a few things I’d like to teach myself, namely:

  1. How are ideas presented within the book? What does a high-concept novel (Zombie Bake-Off, Demon Theory) actually look like once it gets on the page?
  2. How does the style evolve as the books go on?
  3. Where does he drop the ball? What doesn’t work? It can’t be a lovefest all the time.

Mostly I’m excited, because for the past ten years I haven’t really had an author who I looked up to. It was a key missing piece in my storytelling journey. When I was in high school and the early days of college, I looked up to David Foster Wallace (the internet is going to hell for the slander they’ve put on his name) and James Ellroy (nobody is brave enough to slander the Demon Dog). I frequented The Velvet, a message board community (I miss those) that built itself around a fandom to three authors: Will Cristopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones.

So, you know, I had people who I wanted to be like, trailposts and guides and para-mentors.

Then, over time, I became involved in publishing, I saw how the sausage was made, and most of the people I looked up to began to fade in my mind. The landscape became a bit grey and flat, more of a psychic office space than a world of heroes and villains. Everyone was just kind of trying to get that promotion. Which…that’s fine.

The next year, as I work on my novels, I’ll be going through the SGJ books, but I’ll also be going through Ellroy, Robison, Despentes, Houellebecq, Baker, Moshfegh, Butler, and folks who I know, who are good: Jeremy Robert Johnson, Kris Saknussemm, Autumn Christian, Jordan Harper, etc. It’ll be 365 days of going through stuff I know I like, with the goal of filling the tank to overflowing. I might even revisit WCB and CC.

This is the year of re-discovering what I loved about books. It will not be about reading the new shit, or caring about the new shit. Conversely, it will also not being about diving deep into literature history to read “the classics.” That might come at some point. Instead, I’m going to read “my classics,” and I’m going to remember what I love, and that will come out in mine in turn.

“Scissor Labels” 03/22/21

This article by John Palmer on “Scissor Labels” got me thinking.

scissor label is a word or phrase that, for the first time, establishes a widely embraced name for a trend without simultaneously establishing a canonical definition. It is a vague term masquerading as a specific one, where the missing definition is still up for grabs. Scissor labels aren’t coined or engineered, nor formally initiated by an institution. Rather, they’re discovered by accident, suddenly adopted en masse amidst a trend that’s already in motion.

Once a scissor label is established, controlling its definition means controlling whatever the trend represents. A scissor label therefore represents the battleground for a power struggle. By nature, scissor labels have a peculiar divisive power, building energy and momentum around a trend while simultaneously bringing about controversy and debate.

Plenty more scissor labels from the past come to mind once the concept is familiar. In his interview with Charlie Rose (6:30), David Foster Wallace describes the popularity of David Lynch in the grad school environment he was part of, and dives into what is and isn’t “Lynchian.” In his article for Premiere on the subject, he writes: “…like postmodern or pornographic, Lynchian is one of those Porter Stewart-type words that’s ultimately definable only ostensively-i.e., we know it when we see it.”

In their own time, words like “normcore,” “hipster,” and “vaporwave” were scissor labels as well. When I think of all these terms, I remember the arguments that happened around them, but I don’t remember any of them being particularly edifying. The details have faded in my memory, and the only impression I have is that we debated these terms for no reason other than that the term was trendy, and some cultural cache was at stake.

It reminds me very much of what happened to “alt-lit” and “bizarro” (although the latter still exists in its own way). The theory presented here by scissor labels is that while the label might help the genre to solidify itself in one way, it also spells the doom for that movement. It is the unfortunate price to pay for branding something: it will die, and soon. Or, in some rare cases, it will get lindy.

I remember the debates over what alt-lit was and wasn’t. The way I remember thinking of it back then was that “alt-lit” was more of a description of a certain type of person than genre. They were usually glassy-eyed sex pests who were good at both being on the internet and speaking in monotone, which people found charming in the waiting room of the early to mid ’10s.

Bizarro, of course, has much more positive connotations for me, because that was my preferred group of weirdos. They tended toward the sincere. When I think of that genre I think of bad (but awesome) covers, typos, and performances with live fish, fake blood, and heart. I think of homemade beer and cigars in shacks.

Again, though, it seems as soon as the scissor label is applied, the end is nigh. Bizarro started fragmenting over, surprise, the definition of what was and wasn’t Bizarro, and the offshoot presses kept up this embarrassing “rebel” status against an “establishment”…but anyway.

Is it worth it to put a name on something? We all know that things begin to die as soon as you write them down.

Worth thinking about.

Controlling Characters 03/21/21

There are two schools of thought when it comes to characters. The first is that the characters control the action. How many times have you heard an author say something along the lines of, “I had all these plans for my novel, but then the characters wanted to do something else”?

The second is that the plot controls the action. You are the puppet master, in control of the whole thing, and if something has to happen, your characters are going to do it whether they like it or not.

In the past, I’ve been pretty solidly in the first camp. This comes as a result of frontloading my novels with a lot of character development, and very little in the way of plot. In both of my first two novels, the majority of the page space is devoted to little vignettes designed to gradually build fully three-dimensional portraits of the main characters, and in both books the “action” kicks off in the last 20-30 pages, with a bunch of dominoes falling quickly. I write this way, I think, because The Wire had such an effect on my in my early twenties. I loved the way a whole season would build and build and build, only to have the shit start hitting the fan around episode 8 or 9.

I mean, the action in the Black Gum Cycle doesn’t kick off until the very end of Tomahawk, meaning I wrote three novellas that technically end up at about page 15 of an average crime novel.

However, as I’ve been writing my new novel Dying World, I’m looking to try something different. I’d like for my characters to move along a more pre-ordained path, particularly because I need them to be in certain places at certain times in order for the book to really work.

I was having trouble with this, and was looking for a way in. I’d gotten the first 10k words down, and had another 10k in plot notes, ideas, etc. But I couldn’t figure out how to get these characters to do the things I wanted them to. I talked about this with a buddy of mine on the phone, someone who really knows what he’s talking about, and gets paid for it, and he said, “Characters are what they do.”

Anytime I approach a project, I try to expand my toolkit to make the book unique and interesting. I added that little nugget in, and I have been integrating it to great success. When you lean too heavily on one technique, you can back off on it a bit. I mean, characters are my thing. So that will happen anyway. But what if my characters were also what they did?

What if we forced things to happen, and then we observe how the characters react to it? That’s something that can’t occur if you’re constantly waiting for characters’ permission to move forward.

And it works in the metacontext of Dying World, which is about two Manchurian Candidates from opposite ends of the political spectrum, who get “switched on” at the same time. How do they meet? Well, as the writer, I simply “switch them on.” It works in that fractal sense.

It’s worth giving that technique a shot, at least. It’ll work.

Check out my Gumroad page, that has all of my novels available for a pay-what-you-want model. Shamans and parasites, gods with jackal heads and living tattoos…this is minimalistic, surreal weirdo crime fiction. I’m proud of them!

Sekiro 03/20/21

I finally finished up Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I forget exactly when I started playing the game. I had initially purchased Red Dead Redemption 2 and Grand Theft Auto V. I played those games for about a week. Then I saw Sekiro sitting there at the Gamestop, and I thought “what the hell? I’ll give it a shot.” And I was completely hooked.

Must have been a month ago, maybe two.

I don’t play games for extended periods of time. Often it’s just for an hour or so a day, usually once I get done with all of my work and chores. I did get really into Sekiro, though, meaning there were stretches of play up to three hours. I stayed up too late some days, hacking away at it. Completely immersed.

Aesthetically, the game is so cool. You’re a one-armed shinobi in 16th-century Japan. It all looks very beautiful, very romantic. The combat is amazing. It’s notoriously difficult to master, but once you get it down, there’s never been a game that makes you feel more badass, in my experience. It tricks the brain into feeling as though you’re in the middle of a sword fight. So great.

The story rocks, too. It’s understated and cryptic, at least until the end, and you have to piece a lot of the puzzle together even after the fact (I had to do a YouTube deep dive to understand a lot of it).

Now I have the Dark Souls trilogy to get through. I started playing through the first yesterday, alarmed by things like stamina meters and the slowness of my character. But it’s pretty easy so far, since I’m used to the fast pace of Sekiro, and the gameplay mechanics are largely similar, just on turtle mode.

I’m at a castle thing, grinding for XP. I killed an Asylum demon, got picked up by a huge raven, deposited in Firelink Shrine, and I’m now on my way to Undead Burg. I’ve been to all these places before in the Switch version, but now I’m on the TV, and now I’m actually kind of good at games.

It’s fun.

The Firelink Shrine Model 03/19/21

A question that I’ve been turning over in my head for the past ten years is whether or not it is possible to be a “working class” writer of fiction. Not someone who gets big contracts, magazine covers, or awards, but someone with a small but dedicated fanbase. The “1000 True Fans” model.

I’ll start off by saying yes, it is possible. That’s my hypothesis, anyway.

So how is something like that built?

The first thought might be to enhance your social media presence, although I haven’t seen this work for too many people. Over the past ten years, social media darlings got book deals left and right, and there aren’t many of them still around. They either moved on to work occasionally for Buzzfeed or The Daily Beast, or they do something completely different now. It was an interesting time, hanging around these good-looking people once a year, everyone excited about the new books. There was an energy to it that I’ll miss.

But the most successful writers I know have follower counts between 3,000-5,000. There’s almost no overlap, anymore. You have your Roxane Gays, for sure, but those are rare.

The second thought might be to attempt “one big score,” a kind of “in” with a big publisher that gets you enough recognition to slink back to the indies with a fanbase intact. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few cases that immediately come to mind, this doesn’t seem to happen much either. The reason for this is that books that are released to a wide, general audience are typically read by readers who are only mildly interested. They’re “giving it a shot,” so to speak. Most don’t finish it, or if they do, they forget you the minute they’re done. So I’ve had friends secure the deal, wait a few years for the launch, sell poorly (although much better than I typically sell in the indies), and then disappear for a long, long time. Many such cases.

Alternatively, however, I’ve had a handful of friends make it to the bigs, find a huge audience, and then stay there, because it’s lucrative. This should not be left out as a strategy. Remember, this whole thing is multi-pronged, and while I enjoy developing strategies that make sense practically, it can never hurt to shoot for the moon, as well, so long as that’s not the basket in which you place all your eggs. Shout out Jeremy on his recent success, by the way.

The third strategy, the one that I’m applying (and expect to apply over the next 5-10 years) is what I like to call “The Firelink Shrine” approach. The metaphor doesn’t work 100%, but I’m in a big Dark Souls phase right now, so stick with me.

Firelink Shrine in the original DS is a hub from which you can access different parts of the game. Non-aggressive NPCs dot the landscape. It’s a place to rest and get your bearings before heading off on some quest that will kill you a hundred times.

My goal is to become a hub.

Think of it this way: I don’t typically take a risk on a book I’ve never heard of. Instead, I begin to follow specific writers. I found Gordon White, went down the Rune Soup rabbit hole(s), and when it came time for a membership area, I signed up for $10/month (which I’ve been faithfully doing for the past several years). If Jay Springett posts something, I’m going to read the whole thing. If he had a book drop, I’d read it. I need to shoot Jay some $$, now that I think of it.

These writers are hubs, multi-faceted centers of a spider diagram, the web spreading out and offering smaller and smaller webs still. You know that when they say or post something, it will make you think, and that creates value, which you then reimburse.

That’s the model that really works, especially if you’re trying to amass a small but dedicated audience. It can’t be done through tweets alone, which only have a half-life of 30 minutes. It requires lots of blogging (which has a half-life of two years), lots of podcasting (I am currently, in one form or another, a part of four different podcasts), and lots of actual book writing. It is a multi-faceted approach, in which you become a conduit for interesting things.

The good news is that you don’t have to be particularly smart to do this. Thank god! Instead, you have to have a bit of elasticity to your thinking process, the ability to put on different hats, to be a jack of all ideas and an expert of none.

I’ve only been faithfully blogging for about four months, but I’m already seeing this pay off. The readership has increased, and when I put my Black Gum Cycle books available for pay-what-you-want, I found that people were sending me a lot of money for them. Not a bunch of people, mind you, but a solid third of them were raising the average of each sale to about $15/download. Which is wild, and exactly what we’re looking for.

I put the rest of my books up on Gumroad, by the way.

And then there’s this review of Tomahawk by Ben over at Dead End Follies, in which he praises it to the moon. They are Ben’s favorite books, currently, which is so much better than just casually digging them (although that’s great, too). Readers seem to give these books 1-2 stars or 5 on Goodreads. They’re “love them or hate them” style novels. And it’s paying off, because some people really, really love them.

So anyway, those are my thoughts. In my journey towards becoming a professionally curious person, I’ve realized that it’s more about building relationships and being interesting, and less about being correct/proper/good. How far are you going to get saying the same things over and over on Twitter? You have to be a little anarchic hub. Because if people have spent hours and hours listening to you and reading your blog, it’s not hard to imagine they’d take a chance on a pay-what-you-want book. And then maybe, just maybe, you have a fan for life.

Then that happens a thousand times.

Chabuduo Novels 03/18/21

Perfectionism has often bothered me in nearly every job I’ve had. I remember a year or so ago, when I worked for the education company, we’d have to hang these long pieces of fabric across the ceiling in different patterns, for decoration.

My boss was a complete stickler for these fabrics. He wanted the colors and design to look just right. I couldn’t tell the difference. Put the damn things up, get them kind of even, and move on.

This “close enough for government work” style has a name, and apparently in China it is very culturally common. It’s called chabuduo.

“If you come from the West, you are likely used to things being done according to specifications and high standards. You probably wouldn’t expect less than 100%.

Not so in China. In China, the typical approach is summed up in one word: “chabuduo”, meaning “nearly” or “almost”. For most Chinese it also means “good enough”. You will hear this term a lot.”

Of course, this made me start thinking about writing, and how, for some people, chabuduo might actually make better books.

I spend a lot of time wondering about the ways that books are presented, from their length to the amount of white space on the page. I wonder, however, if I might start putting out “chabuduo” versions of books, with uneven spacing, typos, strange line breaks, etc. For the perfectionist, this would drive them absolutely crazy. But for someone like me…I don’t know. I kind of like the design of slapped-together books.

I like irregular spacing, different fonts, and typos. I find them to be humanizing and weird.

Who knows? Maybe a package deal with books in the future: you get one ugly version, one clean version. Then you can pick which one you want to read?

I’ll think about this more later. That’s good enough for now.