Your Musical Community Is Where You Find It

Music as a communal event is difficult for someone like me, who doesn't play any instrument and doesn't (or shouldn't) sing. I've attended concerts where the sense of community was created by the shared music we all knew, or by the intense efforts of the performer to make sure that connection happened. But for the most part, I've always Read more

Help Plot My 2015 Reading Tour

Would you like to hear me read Long Black Curl to you this summer? Maybe ask me some questions in person? If so, here's what you need to do.  Go to your local bookstore, ask if they'd be interested, and if they are, send me the contact info, including the name of the person in charge of author events. Don't Read more

Why I Haven't Blogged Lately

I haven't blogged in a while, so I thought I'd blog on why that is. Enjoy the brisk taste of meta. Primary among my reasons for not blogging is the continuing work on Long Black Curl, the third Tufa novel that comes out in May. You'd think it would be done by now, wouldn't you?  Alas, 'tis not the case. Read more

Win an advance reader copy of Long Black Curl

The third Tufa novel, Long Black Curl, doesn't come out until May. But you might win an advance reader copy right now by leaving a comment below telling me about your favorite folk song (new, old, original, traditional, it doesn't matter). I'll be giving away eight copies, so pass the word and let everyone know. Deadline is midnight on Read more

Win a copy of Mythica!

Recently the good folks at Arrowstorm Entertainment were kind enough to give me a sneak peek at their latest production, Mythica: A Quest for Heroes.  You can read my review of it here, and an interview with two of the stars here. Short version: I found it very enjoyable, with a terrific main character (played with full-on commitment by Melanie Read more

Rant: the high cost of low quality

Posted on by Alex in creativity, fiction, James T. Kirk, movies, originality, pop culture, self publish, Star Trek, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Last night, the wife and I saw Skyfall. I’ve seen every James Bond movie in a real movie theater since Live and Let Die, so my streak continues. I thought Skyfall was an adequate spy thriller and action film, but not much of a James Bond movie. Perhaps, given how this one ends, the next one will be more of a return to the Bonds that had an element of distinctiveness. You’d never mistake a Bond for a Bourne back in the day, the way you can now.

But we also saw previews for Jack Reacher, Django Unchained, and A Good Day to Die Hard, none of which did their job and convinced me I needed to see them. In fact, both Jack Reacher and Django Unchained reinforced my prior decision not to see them. And that, along with the trailer for the new Star Trek Into Darkness (which might as well be called Star Trek Jumping on the Nolan Bandwagon) hitting the internet, got me thinking seriously about something.

Why are we, as fans and consumers, satisfied with this?

JJ Abrams’ Star Trek was loud, noisy, and funny. It also had plot holes big enough for the Enterprise itself, and reduced one of SFs great heroes (James T. Kirk) to the status of a punk with a chip on his shoulder. I go into more detail here, but it’s the kind of movie that diminishes in retrospect, or with repeated viewings. Now there’s a new one, with a villain Abrams is playing coy about, only letting slip that it’s a “canon” figure. Khan? Gary Mitchell? Harry Mudd? Who knows? And more importantly, why should we care? Those stories have already been told, and told well. Yet here we are, as a demographic, getting excited about this movie when we should be ignoring it until someone comes along with some real, genuine new ideas.

The original “Django”

Similarly, Django Unchained, by virtue of being a Quentin Tarantino film, is practically guaranteed to be made up of parts of other movies, most obviously the spaghetti western Django series. More so than any other filmmaker working today, Tarantino has been praised for what is essentially sampling: taking bits and pieces of original creations and recombining them. He has yet to really create anything on his own, and it seems likely that this one will also have knowledgeable film buffs nudging each other and going, “You know where that’s from?”

The new “Django,” “unchained” from originality.

I understand completely the corporate mentality behind this: they’re known quantities, they’re existing properties, and most of the heavy lifting of creating them has already been done. What I really don’t get is why fans are excited about it. Another Star Trek movie that retreads vast swaths of the existing canon instead of “boldy going,” as its own damn catchphrase says? Bruce Willis, looking really old, in another Die Hard movie?

Then again, maybe I do get it, and just wish I didn’t. We’ve devalued our artists to the point that they can only make a living cranking new versions of old things. As a popular internet meme says, we’re willing to pay more for coffee at Starbuck’s than we are for music and literature. We justify piracy as entitlement. Girl of the moment Lena Dunham gets $3.7 million for this, while many formerly published authors are having to self-publish their own ebooks now.

And it seems we, as the consumers and fans, are satisfied with this.

I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.

Interview: Tim Hall, author of Half Empty

Posted on by Alex in Half Empty, Joris-Karl Huymans, self publish, Tim Hall, Undie Press | Leave a comment

Tim Hall’s novel Half Empty (which I reviewed here) is a real rarity: a self-published book that avoids all the pitfalls of that particular enterprise. I spoke with Tim about both writing the book and publishing it himself, through his own Undie Press.

Alex: A musician can record a CD in their parents’ basement, master it on a laptop and burn handfuls of copies, distribute these from their car trunk, and still retain their professional dignity and the respect of their peers. Often they are even praised for their “indie” spirit. Why do you think this doesn’t apply to self-published writing?

Tim: I wish I knew. Probably because the whole business of writing and publishing is so much older and more established; it’s actually that snobbery that has been proven to be vanity. But that’s an attitude that I completely reject without malice–it’s just an archaic and untenable position in today’s multimedia world. It also makes this a really exciting time to be a self-publisher–I have no doubt we’re going to make a much bigger, more positive mark on literary consciousness than anybody is yet willing to give us credit for.

Did you attempt to get Half Empty picked up by a major publisher? If so, what reactions did you get?

I was shopping around a couple of manuscripts in the late 90s/early 00s and got increasingly positive feedback from agents and publishers. Finally an editor at Other Press expressed some interest in Half Empty. I was incredibly excited, since Other Press is one of my favorite publishers and I use a lot of their titles to get psychological insight into my characters, and at that point I stopped shopping it around. Well, after more than a year of back and forth there were some changes at the press, the editor left, and that was that. I was crushed for a few days, then I realized I just couldn’t go through that heartbreak again, so I started Undie Press as a way to turn my disappointment into action.

Undie Press states it wants to “remove the stigma of self-publishing once and for all.” How has that stigma impacted the release, critical reception and sales of Half Empty?

The only overt resistance I’ve felt has been from distributors and media, and given the flood of self-published titles coming onto the market that resistance is certainly understandable. Media attention and distribution are of course hugely important, so I’ve focused on events, readings, book fairs and the like. It’s been great training and I love meeting potential readers personally. Things have actually changed considerably in the four years since I published Half Empty; some of the big review journals that wouldn’t consider self-published books back then have since changed their policies, and fewer distributors have hard rules against self-published titles, and I’m incredibly happy and grateful about that.

But in general, as far as readers are concerned, they couldn’t care less and I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback and encouragement. The publishing and promoting sides of the business are indistinguishable from the creative end for me. The whole publishing process is the art form that I’m working in now.

You’ve said elsewhere that the story isn’t autobiography. What attracted you to this character and these situations?

Well, like much of my stuff it was written using something of an autobiographical framework–for example, like Dennis I had to give up drinking in my late 20s, and I thought chronicling the emotionalism of early sobriety was a great topic to explore–but what I found as I was writing it was that the character just kept talking back to me. I’d have fights with him, plead with him, negotiate. Finally he got away from me and became his own person. In that way my characters absolutely taught me more about myself, which is kind of the magic of fiction.

From an artistic standpoint, I was influenced by Des Esseintes, the character in [Joris-Karl] Huysmans’ Against Nature, one of my very favorite books. I tried transplanting that ruined, sensitive, lonely archetype into a Brooklyn hipster, except with internal monologues built on emotionalism and neuroses, instead of the philosophical and historical musings in Huysmans.

But getting back to the question, what I liked about the character was that, like me, what he was really looking for was a sense of agency in his own life. People feel so trapped and bullied at every socio-economic level. Dennis was a way for me to examine how romantic failure, family, money, competition, jobs, bosses, substances and the like conspire to keep us limited and afraid. That’s why I was billing it as “the horror of sobriety,” because he only begins to see all this once he’s quit medicating himself. One guy actually wrote to me and said, “I was expecting bugs to be crawling up his arms from withdrawal,” and I was like, “Then you don’t what’s really terrifying about getting sober!”

The entire story is seen, and evaluated, through Dennis’ perspective, yet you chose to write in a third-person voice; why?

That’s a great question. My little private joke when I was first writing it was that it was a “third-person memoir,” since I was mapping my emotional states from that time through the character. Early sobriety is so alienating and dissociative; your body and thoughts really turn against you in such frightening ways, that my initial intent was really to write a memoir. But like I said, these damn characters are hard to keep in their boxes, and Dennis grew into his own person by the end.

Thanks to Tim for taking the time to talk to me about Half Empty. He has re-released the novel with extra chapters and an extended ending; you can purchase it here.

The white crow: Tim Hall’s Half Empty

Posted on by Alex in fiction, Half Empty, reviews, self publish, Tim Hall, writers, writing | 1 Comment

The rules say that a “self-published” book equals…well, crap. These are the books that, for whatever reason, couldn’t make it past the “gatekeepers” of publishing (agents, editors, etc.). Sure, there are books that began as self-published works and went on to be best-sellers (The Celestine Prophecy, for example, or Eragon), but the conventional wisdom is that if you have to pay to publish it yourself, it must be…well, crap.

Before you jump to the defense of the downtrodden self-published author, peruse the catalogs of iUniverse and XLibris. You’ll find that in this case, the maxim is mostly true. Gatekeepers weed out the books that come with recommendations like, “My mother thinks it’s great,” “My children used to love it when I’d tell them stories,” or the dreaded, “Everyone tells me my life would make a great book.” Without these gatekeepers, readers would be buried under egregiously bad grammar, Wagnerian spelling errors, derivative characters and recycled plots.

But wait.

They say that in order to disprove the statement, “All crows are black,” you need only produce one white crow. And I believe I have found that white crow of self-publishing: a genuinely good, well-written, powerful and original self-published novel.

Half Empty by Tim Hall tells the story of Dennis, a New York slacker who, thirty days into new sobriety, tries to sort through his past and find direction; his choices are represented by the two women in his life.

Well-traveled territory, to be sure, but author Hall doesn’t make this a trite or even predicatable story. Dennis is a rich character, well-defined and contradictory, whose emotions (whether noble or base) are clear and understandable. He lives in a particular, detailed environment and has the troubled minutiae of life common to us all. The two women are certainly not virgin/whore caricatures, but individuals with unique strengths and believable flaws. More importantly, Hall doesn’t take any of the easy narrative turns: we never learn exactly why Dennis sobered up, nor is his sobriety under constant, melodramatic threat. In other words, this is a well-written, gripping contemporary novel that could easily be from a major publishing house, certainly the equal of something like Bright Lights, Big City (a dated reference, I know, but hopefully a clear one).

So why isn’t it from a major publisher?

I’ve asked Tim Hall that question, and a few more. Watch for that interview coming soon.