Friday, December 31, 2010

5 books I found essential in 2010.

Despite marketing experts' efforts to get me to care about long-suffering love, becoming an internet millionaire, white people who should be happy but aren't, The Girl Who Just Kept Doing Dangerous Shit, and America's obsession with fictional young rape victims, these are the five books I find most memorable from the past year. Visionary? Meh. Life-changing? Nah. Poignant? Hell no! Shove it, Sparks!

1. The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier
I was so bent on finding a "real" publisher that I actually can't remember why I bought this book. But it changed all my notions about self-publishing within the first two chapters. It spent the next twenty chapters changing my life. These gals tell you only what you need to know, and they cover everything: considerations for printing, pricing, how to get stocked in stores, all the shit you need to be legit (ISBN, LCCN, EAN, etc), how to gain web presence, and how to handle order fulfillment. My only gripes are that the book openly admits to being more useful to non-fiction writers (a trend I find frustrating about self-publishing advice in general), and that the section on using Facebook is actually about how to use Facebook. As in how to set up a profile, how to message people---not how to use powerful social marketing in regards to successfully promoting a book. Other than that, this guide is pure gold. 

2. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
I spent a long time thinking that Tom Robbins was the only guy who had any right writing contemporary fantasy. The Douglas Adams knock-offs: always too silly; the darker stuff, always too nipply (granted, I really, really adored Gaiman's solo novel, American Gods, which is highly fantastical, fairly dark, and not at all nipply, but I couldn't include him twice in this list). Omens is an all-out fun read, and it's smart. The little running gags are what make this impending-armageddon "buddy cop" (angel, demon, working together) story really great: ripping on NPR gardening shows, Satan speaking between Freddy Mercury lyrics, and a corporate leadership paintball retreat turning deadly. And at no point do the authors try and wax poignant or preachy. They quickly get to the point--"Living on Earth is actually pretty rad. Do we really want to spend eternity singing boring praises and playing harps?"--and then they let the good times roll.

3. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Despite a few strikes against it (protagonist with a fucked-up childhood! romantic flashbacks/fables that beg to be Lifetime movies!), this book has just stuck with me all year. I have to hand it to Davidson, he knows how to treat details. Descriptions of anything static--architecture, landscapes, even cakes--tend to make my eyes glaze over after two sentences, but Davidson makes descriptions of everything from burn victim recovery to Mediterranean food so downright compelling that I was left wanting more. Which is good, because there was always more. My description? Boy has too much whiskey while driving, boy gets covered in grotesque burns, boy meets girl, girl tries to convince boy they were lovers in past lives, girl sculpts gargoyles and is bat-shit crazy. Skin grafts and pregnant 5th century German nuns. You'll love it.

Title says it all. I actually bought this book in early 2009, but I have returned to it countless times this year to create and maintain such gems as and Straightforward and assumes no prior knowledge of how the web functions. Trust me. Nothing is more fun or rewarding than testing your crazy html/css gymnastics in a web browser, seeing a resulting senseless jumble of graphics and code, and then spending hours finding and correcting your markup until it actually works. I'm serious. It's like spending eight hours making a perfect sandwich, and then getting to eat it forever

5. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Kelly Link is a freaking prodigy. She writes dreams. Her short stories read like the narrative in your head just before you wake up and realize how ridiculous it'd be to build a fort entirely out of VCRs. The entire world is a 112-story library because it just is. The character and his co-worker always wear pajamas because the just do, and the pajamas all have patterns of pictures within pictures because they just do. When you finish a Link short, you literally feel like you just regained consciousness. Beware though: her stories all set up the beginning of a greater story and then end the moment we dive in. I thought Magic for Beginners was a novel, and at the end of the incredible first chapter, I was so ready to see what happened next. Could the heroine retrieve her boyfriend from the time-lapsed Eastern-European world hidden deep in her grandmother's furry handbag (which by the way, is made from the skin of the Hounds of Hell)???? I'll never know, because I turned the page and another short story began, and I fell out of a tree in the park and bruised my ass. I hate Kelly Link for that. I love Kelly Link for that. If Kelly Link wrote a full-length novel, I'd pee rainbows for a year.

And until that very special year comes...happy reading, happy trails, and Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

In which Tom is less crotchety regarding e-books.

Here's a subject that's been on my mind since my slippery adventures releasing Vessel as an e-book. Up until about two weeks ago, I was one of those "need to hold the book" kinds of people. I still am. If it's a book I'll love and adore--or one I'll refer to often--then I want the cuddly, old-school print edition. Yes, when it comes to books, I'm a regular old Paper McPaperson.


Like an emotional drinker on a date of desperation, I am starting to come around to the e-book's merits. Here they are, as I see them:

a. Authors with limited resources (i.e., they are broke as shit and can't seem to catch an agent's heavenly gaze) can build a substantial following of readers by releasing e-books. The e-book party is like a Presbyterian fellowship dinner--anyone's allowed to contribute and no one is rejected (with a few notable exceptions). If you don't suck, and if you work hard enough to advertise your book, you can sell it, get readers interested, and then move boldly into print.

b. On the flipside of that: e-books allow readers access to hundreds of authors and works which they'd otherwise never see--maybe even track down printed books after making these new discoveries. Seriously, there are some real gems to be found, if you can get through all the teen fanfic and the porn . . .

c. Porn! My god, the porn! Something like half of all e-books published on Smashwords are amateur erotic shorts, followed closely by romance stories (lady porn, with more talking). The sickest things imaginable, all at your sticky fingertips. And it's literature, so you feel better. Before as well as after.

d. Think of the trees.

e. Free books! Loads of e-books are available for free. Free how-to guides. Free reference material. Free poetry. Free shorts. Free novels. It's true that free can sometimes mean poor quality. But who hasn't bought a book that sucked?

f. Cost and convenience. Really want that $25 book on social media marketing strategies (I sure do), but know the information will be obsolete next month when Mark Zuckerburg decides to once again fuck everyone's eyes and rearrange facebook? Pay way less for the e-book version. Stuck at the airport and don't want to pay two human limbs for The Girl Who Kicked A Pit Bull in the Head? Hunt a good novella down on your Kindle. You get to read good work you'd never otherwise have seen, and some girl in Vermont gets $3. Everyone wins. Except the Girl Who Kicked A Pit Bull in the Head. And she had it coming.

Bottom line: E-books eliminate the widening, festering moat between author and reader. They are a necessary good in the current battle to gut the publishing industry. Do not fear the e-pocolypse. Do not fear the "end of books". Books aren't going anywhere. Socrates was afraid that writing would make discussion and thought obsolete, but the Greek alphabet came out 3,000 years ago and guys still sit around talking about bitches, music, and politics. Books are safe. Bookstores are not. So you like books? Then continue creating demand for them. Go to a bookstore. Buy books. And we will all live happily ever after.

Also, give e-books a try. Starting with Vessel! Don't even kid yourself by downloading the free sample--you know you want to read the whole thing.