Monday, September 8, 2014

A fizzing fountain of joy

Close your eyes, keep them closed, and this is great. It's mane-tossingly European as it clip-clops by the glittering Rhine, and all that jazz, but the person who posted it has not provided any identifying information, nor have they given us anything to look at but a smudgy, distorted painting, presumably of Schubert.

Schubert isn't always my favorite, but there are moments. That awful one about the little boy and the father and the black demon - oh God, this will start me on a wild goose chase to find it for sure. With Schubert, only a melody comes into your head, you don't know where it's from, but then it plays and plays and just won't leave.

I remember a tenor - God, what was his name? - it was on CBC Radio, I was on one of my endless walks with my headset on, and the guy comes on and sings some Schubert and it is simply heartbreaking. He breaks it wide open in one of those scary moments in which an artist exceeds himself, does better than he knows how to do. Does he borrow power from the work itself, the composer, or from heaven above?

Ah yes, this. I only remembered "Schubert, Rosamunde," no details, and it took some clicking around -  not much, in this magic age. And it was in my ears once again, some of the most life-loving music I have heard in a very long time. Music that is supremely joyous in the moment. Life eats us, all of us, don't you know that? But some few leave something behind that buoys up the survivors, just for a little while. Which is all we have, anyway.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
         It took me years to write, will you take a look. . .

A fool there was. . .

In other words, I just got my library copy of The Movies by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer. I've barely leafed through it, but already I've found some things I remember from when I was a child. I was movie-hungry even then, and this book was an excellent primer, especially about the silent era. It fairly radiates excitement and boyish enthusiasm. My only problem with it so far is the near-drooling about Chaplin, about whom he writes about twenty pages, while Harold Lloyd gets maybe two. No clock-dangling, no nothing. Here's a sample which I also remember:

“Intellectuals lured into the movie houses in search of the source of his fame found that this world hero was a homeless tramp whose shabby elegance and careless poverty bespoke a spirit equal to life’s cruelest and most humiliating blows. They found in him as many things as have been found in Hamlet. They found him sly, cruel, pretentious, disdainful, crude, witty. They found a touch of madness in him, and a bottom of hard common sense. And behind this urban lover of nature, this hopeless, hoping lover who snapped his fingers at the universe, there was something that hurt.”

Oh yes. I suppose that's the common point of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd: not just that they were superb and superior comedians, unique talents that would never come around again, but that they came from deprivation, pain and shame. It could be argued that Lloyd got off the easiest, since he never lived in hovels or was thrown across the stage like some inanimate prop. But the family moved every year or so, and his father was shiftless and unreliable - not quite a crook, but seen as a charming failure. Finally his parents divorced, which was nearly unthinkable then, no doubt causing people to murmur that Harold came from a "broken home". Even worse, his mother had to work as a milliner to help keep the family afloat. Tension must have abounded, and Harold went out and worked three or four jobs at a time, furiously trying to make up for the awful abyss at the core of his childhood.

"The Vampire" poem at the start of this post is loosely based on a Kiplng poem, which in turn inspired a wildly-popular movie starring Theda Bara in 1915. That long ago. There's no credit for the delicous and memorable parody, so it likely came from a movie mag of the period. 

The Vampire

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste
And the work of our head and hand,
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand.

A fool there was and his goods he spent
(Even as you and I!)
Honor and faith and a sure intent
But a fool must follow his natural bent
(And it wasn't the least what the lady meant),
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned,
Belong to the woman who didn't know why
(And now we know she never knew why)
And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide
(Even as you and I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside --
(But it isn't on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died --
(Even as you and I!)

And it isn't the shame and it isn't the blame
That stings like a white hot brand.
It's coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing at last she could never know why)
And never could understand.

-- Rudyard Kipling 

Bonus verse, gleaned from a 1928 newspaper whose name I have forgotten. . . 

A fool there was and he saved his rocks
Even as you and I;
But he took them out of the old strong box, 
When the salesman called with some wildcat stocks,
And the fool was stripped to his shirt and socks,
Even as you and I.

I want to say to the poet: stick around another year, and you'll lose your shirt, too.

Steal this book (no, I mean it!)

I will tell you what I'd like to see.

Go to the library to read The Glass Character. Don't pay. Borrow it from a friend. Kindle it because it's cheaper and can't be pulped (or at least I don't think so, though no doubt it can be terminated somehow). I prefer the idea of Kindle now because Kindle never seems to be outrageously discounted - it's worth something to them, I guess. Though I hold my nose to say this, you can buy the paper version very, very cheap on Amazon now - I can do nothing to change this. I would prefer you buy it at the sane price offered by Thistledown Press or even the retail stores, who can't afford to sell a new book for four dollars a pop. I'd say, don't support these capitalist pigs. On the other hand, you can get it way cheap, four for the price of one, and give three away to friends. Or resell them: they ARE yours, after all, aren't they? And that means more people will read it. It's all I have right now. 

It amazes me how often this is seen as pure ego. You mean she wants someone to READ this? Isn't the process of writing its own reward? If you cooked a great dinner and no one ate it and it sat there and rotted, ask yourself if preparing it was "enough". If a concert pianist, after 20 years of training, had to play in an empty hall that he had to pay to rent, well. . . you get the idea. I hope.  Not only that - the passion and excitement I felt around this era and Harold Lloyd himself led me to the false conclusion that my enthusiasm might catch fire somewhere. Wrong.

If nothing else, my link tells people how to get their hands on my backlist, and tells them there IS a backlist, that it didn't disappear altogether. If this story gets into people's hands, I don't care whether there is money attached to it. There isn't going to be, anyway. The only review I had, after waiting half a year, was an evisceration by a standup comic from Winnipeg, and I wasn't supposed to say anything: in fact, I was advised to thank him! The whole system is so bizarre and sick, no one else would put up with it, but there are always a few who are fat and happy and thriving and very quick to tell you what you are doing to bring this on yourself. 

So go ahead, order it from Amazon. I can't stop Amazon, and I can't stop you. It means you get the book and hardly have to pay anything. In an economic sense, it's a fantastic deal. You, the consumer, the potential reader, will benefit. So will Amazon, but what's it to them? Used marbles would garner them more profit. They told me the writer still makes the same royalties, though I don't see how that could happen. So why aren't I happy? Everybody seems to be really puzzled. Hey, it's on sale now! More people will buy it! Isn't that a GOOD thing? Who cares about prices anyway?

Meantime, my copy of The Movies, my cinematic primer from when I was a kid, just arrived at the door. I never thought I'd see it again, and in fact for many years I thought I had dreamed it, like a lot of those old TV shows buried in the grainy vaults of the brain.

Go on and have a good week. No, go on.

(News flash: today I noticed that Amazon has just knocked another 20 cents off the price of The Glass Character! Go buy it, no, I mean you really SHOULD buy it now, because at these bargain basement prices, they'll really go fast.)

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
         It took me years to write, will you take a look. . .

Fire sale: another way of burning books

Message From Customer Service

Your Account

Hello Margaret,

I regret that we haven't been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction.

However, our decision to discount books is based on a number of strategic considerations, which can vary over time. As a result, we cannot confirm how long your title will be discounted.

Amazon may choose to discount a list price, and in this case you'll see both a List Price and a final Price on the Detail page for your book.

I can assure you that many people work to make our pricing calculations as competitive as possible for both you and your readers.

Please also be assured that the discount does not affect the royalties you receive for sales made while the book is discounted. Royalties will continue to be calculated from the list price provided by your publisher, which you can see listed here above the discounted price on your book's Detail page:

I request you to contact your publisher to make any further changes to the price of your book.

If you've self-published your book through a company like CreateSpace and would like to make a change to the list price of your book, you may update the price through your self-publishing company. If your books are traditionally published, I encourage you to contact your publisher to update the list price for you.

Once the publisher provides Amazon with the book's new list price, the Detail page will be updated within 3-5 days to reflect this change.

It's possible that a future change will result in the discount's removal from your title. In that case, the discount will disappear automatically and immediately.

We won't be able to provide further insight or assistance for your request.
We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Best regards,
Preethi H

Thank you.

The story: while setting up a more stylish-looking link to my Amazon page, I realized to my horror that the price of The Glass Character had been lowered from the list price of $19.95 to $4.73. That's right: $4.73, when it is a paper book that has been out for only five months. Kindle format goes for $7.96, and a used copy may be had for $16.21.

The correspondence above represents my fourth attempt to get through to Amazon for an explanation. At one point I was on the phone, and if I hadn't been so furious it would have been funny: the lady trying to direct me to the right department had the most buoyant Southern accent I've ever heard, and kept calling me "sweetie" and "hon". Over and over again, Amazon tells me they don't know why they are selling my new novel for $4.73 instead of $19.95. They keep repeating that I should contact my publisher for updated information on the list price and to convey that updated information to them: WTF? Updated? The list price is the same now as it has always been. I have absolutely no desire to change it. My publisher has absolutely no desire to change it. It will not be changed for ANY reason! But Amazon's implication is that they've only lowered their price because the LIST PRICE has gone down. Or at very least, because I don't know anything about how prices work and have somehow got it wrong, that the list price is really only two dollars or something. It's simple, silly!

I'm trying to see all this in a favorable light. On the bad side, the book now looks almost worthless, a cheap piece of pulp fiction that they are obviously trying to get rid of at church-rummage-sale prices. It has only been out for five months, and obviously it is already obsolete. On the good side, I just found out I get the same royalties on each copy, no matter what price it sells for. Or at least, that's what Amazon told me.

I am embarrassed, chagrinned, and full of pain and grief over this. I will never publish again. It's not my publisher's fault, as they are the only house in Canada who would take a chance on me. And they are doing what they can against the juggernaut. But I am tired of being casually mauled this way. I am sick of the hustling, the posturing, the rah-rah and other things I feel I should be doing. I am sick of the sense I am never doing enough, or never doing it right, the discomfort, the squirming shame for something I can't even articulate. I am tired of being told I should thank reviewers who have eviscerated me. Kiss the whip! And to do this whether I really mean it or not. And I am REALLY tired of those who take a wrench and a saw and try to "fix" the problem, rather than listening to me and trying to help me figure out what is really going on, and how I can be authentic in the middle of an insane game.

This whole industry has turned so poisonous that I can no longer be part of it. I stand behind The Glass Character because I still think it kicks ass, no matter who tells me what about it. I loved writing it, and so far the writing of it has been practically the only reward (that, and seeing my grandkids watch Harold Lloyd climb the building at the launch). But after this, no more. Four copies for the price of one just hurts me, and it has nothing to do with greed or how much I will "make" or how much I will be "known" or ANYTHING like that. I swear, I have not been able to get across to a single person why this bothers me so much. I'm trying to yell under a bell jar again.

I've been publishing short fiction on my blog for several years now, and it has been gratifying, though a "real book" somehow always seems to carry more - what, cachet? I don't know. It lifts you out of the realm of hobbyist. But If I feel another novel coming on, I will go and lie down for a while, and if it's really bad I'll take a little vacation. Like my very good friend Matt Paust, who keeps me laughing at all this insanity no matter what, I will blog my next novel, chapter by chapter. If someone reads it, great. If no one does, I don't much care because I have no control over that anyway, and I will save myself an enormous amount of stress.

My readership here is extremely uneven, mostly rather sparse, but with one post garnering nearly 100,000 views, and several others over 10,000. (Why? Hell if I know. This thing is anything but hip and high-tech, because I despise those things. The day it turns slick, I will either unplug my computer for good or finally jump out of my psychiatrist's 17th-floor window.) Being a published author was my dream, and after a ridiculous amount of work and grief and tears and perseverence, it actually came true three times. But by the time the third one came out, everyone who could hold a pencil was a published author, whether they could cobble together a coherent sentence or not. As Moxy Fruvous put it, "Everyone's a novelist, and everyone can sing/But no one talks when the TV's on."

What they're asking for is product, the more uniform the better. I just don't see the advantage in contributing something that has already been contributed over, and over, and over again, and shoved in people's faces the same way. But I hear it in my ear all the time: well, that's what you gotta do now, sweetheart. A writer has to hustle.

A former post is recreating itself, growing back like a chopped-off limb. It was such a howl of grief and rage, so nerve-baringly honest, that I knew I had to delete it. But it's back again because, by God, I was not put here on this earth to dissemble. I am an oddball, I do not belong, and so be it. Do not try to convince me otherwise because it will make me insane. This is all about dignity, and identity, and dreams. It's all about those in power casually poking holes in those dreams, and slapping down hope. I've asked a few other writers about this situation and have had four or five different variations on "well, what can you do?" Our powerlessness appalls me.

$4.73, folks. Or you could get a used copy - that's always a better bargain, isn't it? It will only set you back $16.21. The Kindle, if you can afford it, is $7.96. They must want you to buy the paper version - or do they just want to unload it? Fire sale prices, obviously. I don't know what to think.

Dear sir or madam, please buy four or five of these books for the price of one. I don't care what you do with them after that. I just don't want them to be pulped like the other two. Anything but that.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
It took me years to write, will you take a look. . .