Reading Rampage Nostalgia: Eric Jerome Dickey (NaBloPoMo day 29)

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s blog count: 30

Total blog posts: 30

Finding an old book is like finding an old friend. And, like some friendships, it’s easy to take stock of where and who you were when the friendship started, and how things stand now.

I found copies of paperbacks from an author I used to read religiously, Eric Jerome Dickey, and went on a reading rampage. I started with Friends and Lovers, which was, according to him, the second book he wrote, but the first published. Then I followed with Cheaters. I’m debating on whether to read Sister, Sister (first book written, but not the first published–in fact, some of his characters from this book show up in Cheaters). All of this really got started a few weeks ago, when I re-read Thieves’ Paradise (which remains, hands down, my favorite of all his books–and I’ve read most of them).

sister-sister EJD cheaters EJD friends lovers EJD thieves paradise EJD

One of the things that struck me was that I was in a much different place when I first picked up these books over…wow, has it been at least fifteen years? In the aforementioned books (along with Milk in My CoffeeLiar’s Game and Between Lovers, which were all written during the same time frame), all of his characters are in their late twenties/early thirties. As a result, they were still finding out who they were, their place in the world, and still members of Team Bad Decisions. Fifteen or so years ago, these books resonated with me more because I was within those same demographics (even at the ripe old age of 41, I’m still Team Bad Decisions sometimes). Now, I read the books and enjoy the stories on a more superficial level. Likewise, in reading his later books, I can see where Mr. Dickey has grown as a writer; perhaps that’s why I love Thieves’ Paradise so much: that was when his writing seemed to make that next evolutionary step, which may have had something to do with him being able to finally write the novel he always wanted to write (he told me this after an author signing for Thieves’ Paradise, which was arranged by a mutual friend).

I still have copies of the other books somewhere in a box, and I may dig them out and read them someday, although Between Lovers is one of his most complex books, and was the book that was published right before Thieves’ Paradise (so I guess that’s where I caught glimpses of that evolutionary step). I’ll enjoy the books with a side of nostalgia, then put them back on the shelf when I’m done. I may pick them up again in a few years.

between-lovers-eric-jerome-dickey-paperback-cover-art

I don’t read many of his books now; he’s gone in a totally different direction, for the most part; his books are more in the vein of Thieves’ Paradise and Between Lovers: more gritty, more layered and nuanced adult relationships, and less wide-eyed, finding-oneself, time-to-be-a-grownup tropes. Still, I’m not as connected to them as I once was; I see less of myself in his current slate of books, and thus they have become just entertainment for me. I’m happy for him, that he’s writing what he wants to write, what he was meant to write–heck, that he’s still writing. He’s approximately my age, and his writing has reflected his personal evolution and growth, as well as his writing ones. But like an old friend, sometimes you just go in different directions and have to have a parting of the ways. You find new friends, but you keep the old ones on the shelf–and take them off once in a while, dust them off, and enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

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Aside

Still on E: NaNoWriMo/NaBloPoMo day 13

Total word count goal: 50,000

Total blog post goal: 30

Today’s word count: 0

Today’s blog count: 14

Total words written: 22,198

Total blog posts: 14

 

It’s 11:34 p.m. ET and guess what? I have not written one single, solitary word today. And I’m cool with that.

I didn’t even realize it until I looked at the clock. Which is telling, in and of itself.

I guess my mind realized that it needed to rest. After taking my grandmother to her doctor’s appointment, I haven’t done anything significant other than making a large wok full of homemade chicken fried rice (it is GOOD),  reading (Thieves’ Paradise by Eric Jerome Dickey), watching NBA basketball (YEAH, BULLS!), Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. And playing Bejeweled Blitz and Mahjong. And checking the Bleacher Report app. And drinking wine.

And I have enjoyed every minute of it.

I’ll get back on the good foot this weekend but for now, I’m feeling a lot better, mentally. I hope that you all are still persevering with your writing (novel, blog, or both). See you in the hunt.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

Aside

From “Like” to “Legend”: The transformative power of literary fame

Acclaimed poet and activist Nikki Giovanni recently celebrated her 71st birthday. This was the same day of the funeral service for the late, great, Maya Angelou (Ms. Giovanni even wrote a lovely poem in memory of Ms. Angelou).  While updating my Facebook page with a link to Ms. Giovanni performing one of her most famous poems, “Ego Tripping (There May Be a Reason Why)”, I went to bookmark it so that I can revisit it later on. My dilemma came when I went to select the appropriate folder for the bookmark; I hesitated on “Authors” before deciding on “People”.

My choice gave me pause. Yes, Ms. Giovanni is an author. She has penned many critically acclaimed collections of poetry, the most recent being Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid. She is a contemporary of poet activist Sonia Sanchez and literary novelists Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Yet she is also a Person. By dint of the popularity of her writing among fans and critics alike, she has gone beyond being just an author. Indeed, her name is spoken with the same reverence as those of Angelou, Morrison, Walker, Sanchez.  She is no longer Nikki Giovanni, poet and activist. She has become NikkiGiovanni (one word), or sometimes just Nikki, literary icon.

What is it about our literary folks that propels them from the pool of mere mortal authors into the stratosphere of literary royalty? What gets them to the level of one-name-only recognition? Much as those who are familiar with movies and TV automatically know to whom is referred when the names Oprah, Denzel, Gwyneth, Charlize, Angelina, Brad (other than their occasional uniqueness) are uttered. So does this occur in the literary realm, except there are few first-name-basis authors. Instead, we meld their first and last names into a litany of fervor, to be repeated ad infinitum–or until they fall off in their writing quality.

NikkiGiovanni. SoniaSanchez. MayaAngelou. AliceWalker. ToniMorrison. StephenKIng. JamesPatterson. DavidBaldacci. NoraRoberts. ChimamandaAdichie. EricJeromeDickey (okay, he has three names).

What these authors all have in common is not only reign on the New York Times best seller list, among others, but also lots of sales in general. And book awards: Pulitzer, National Book, National Book Critics Circle, PEN . These writers are practically guaranteed to hit the NYTBL upon publication. Their advances are gleefully handed over by their respective publishers, because the publishers will earn it all back within the first week of sales.

Perhaps it is the lot of writers that we have to rely on first and last names due to relative lack of visibility; when was the last time you saw an author’s face splashed across promotional material as a focal point? Most marketing tools showcase the book cover (because that’s what the reader is most interested in), and leave the author pics to websites and the like. That being said, readers are much more likely to remember the book rather than the person who wrote it. No one usually geeks out and says, “Oooh! XYZ is releasing their latest book today!” Since book titles are promoted months in advance of publication, it’s more common for readers to say, “Ooh! This New Title is being released on this date!” Supplantation of the author by his or her work is the nature of the beast, and lends to the reinforcement of identity via the use of whole names. We’re glad that you like our work, but authors are people too: check out the person behind the curtain. This requires authors to have personality. For those on all-one-word basis, they also have the persona that engages readers during book signings, and this in turn encourages readers to keep up the fandom (people buy from people that they like).

Perhaps that’s the magic ticket: sales plus sparkle. It’s a good start for those seeking to transcend the boundaries of mere book sales.

Thanks for stopping by.

Resistance is Futile: Amazon and the Strong-Arming of Corporate Publishing

There has been much ado about Amazon‘s attempts to get Hachette Publishing to lower their book prices. Some come squarely down on one side (Yay, major publishers!) or the other (Yay, Amazon!). Most don’t really give a flying fig, unless they are authors of the books being “delayed”, or people trying to purchase said books; the only concern is their God-given right to discounted prices.

[Still wondering what’s going on? Here’s a quick recap of this publishing “Clash of the Titans”]

A friend of mine emailed me to ask where I sat on this whole issue. Having had my own tangles with mainstream publishers, and knowing of others who have as well, I’m rolling with Amazon at the moment. Granted, Amazon will eventually turn to a less-benevolent form of operation (corporations being what they are), but right now, they are the BFF of a writer. Why, may you ask? Get comfy, and I’ll tell you. 😉

As an author, I have long been dismayed with the direction of the major publishing houses. I know plenty of authors (especially those of color) who have left major houses and mainstream publishing contracts, in order to self-publish. Publishing houses don’t do what they used to; they don’t throw their resources (PR, editing, marketing, etc) behind authors (especially new authors) unless you are a Stephen King, Eric Jerome Dickey, James Patterson, Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Bill O’Reilly, or a big name that is guaranteed to earn back the six- or seven-figure advance given.  Some new authors aren’t given an advance at all or if they are, it’s relatively paltry. And, the mainstream publishing industry has a long-standing practice of showing preference to white authors, with the lucky Asian slipping in to give some diversity. This is a reflection of the people who make the decisions as to who and what will be published.

Amazon makes it very easy to get a book out there, as there is no one (usually a clueless , sheltered someone who believes in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of book sales/procurement) to tell an author that their work isn’t good enough to be published. Granted, that leaves the door open for books ranging from extremely crappy (by that, I mean disjointed plots, remixed plots, typos, grammatical errors, etc.) to very good to hit the market, but the purpose is that anyone can put their book out there, no matter how bad or good it is (“good” and “bad” being subjective terms. One’s man’s trash, and all that)
Now, Amazon has its own way of slipping a noose around an author’s neck. Case in point: CreateSpace  is the self-publishing arm of Amazon, where you can publish your books via e-book or physical book. When a book is published, it is assigned an ISBN (International Standard Book Number–the long number on the back of the book, right above the barcode). The barcode is associated with that ISBN, and that’s how book sales are tracked in stores. A true self-publisher will buy their own ISBN (you can actually get this through CreateSpace for an extra $10, or purchase it from Bowker [the company that distributes ISBNs] for $250 each, or a block of 10 for $325); this enables YOU to get the profits and sales records in YOUR name. You use a different ISBN for each book format, even if it’s the same title: an e-book will have one ISBN, a regular book will have another, an audiobook will have its own as well.  One can pay the $10 through Amazon and retain rights to use that ISBN wherever, because you are the publisher. Or, for those who have already purchased ISBNs, they can just add their own and still publish through Amazon simply because it’s so easy to get those books out there and ready. BUT…Bowker (the ISBN people) is just inflating the price in an effort to get people to buy in bulk: $250 for ONE ISBN, vs. $325 for TEN (which then comes out to $32.50/ISBN). They are counting on most people saying, “Wow, I might as well buy ten.” But for those who don’t have $250 or $325, Amazon is the best option (no one else is offering ISBNs for $10…as long as you publish through Amazon).

Another temptation for Amazon authors: the book can be for sale within 24 hours of uploading the PDF file of the book. Compare that to waiting nine months (at least) for publication through a traditional/mainstream publisher, or a few months for an independent publisher.
The kicker: most self-published authors are all about minimizing costs. They will take the free covers offered by CreateSpace, and the free ISBN provided (which makes Amazon the publisher, not you). When you do this, though, that ISBN can ONLY be used via Amazon; you can’t list your book on Ingram (which is the go-to and largest book distributor in the world; all bookstores are hooked into it, since that’s how they order books), can’t sell it on your personal website unless it links back to Amazon. So Amazon created this easy, comfortable space for authors, and many are content to swim in that comfort zone. Another way Amazon locks authors in is royalties. Right now, authors get 70% of the royalties from sales of their book through Amazon, but that will probably change. Still, it’s better than what an author (especially a first-time author) will get from a major publishing house. And, like I said earlier, a lot of the authors on Amazon either have gotten shot down by a mainstream house, or figure why should they do everything and let those publishers get most of their money? In this way, Amazon is garnering a lot of loyalty.
So both sides have their issues, but right now self-publishing is the way to go, and you’ve got to give it up to  Amazon for its hustle and one-stop publishing model. I encourage anyone seeking to write a book (any kind of book) to do for self, and Amazon just may be the easiest way to get your foot in the door.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments below.
Thanks for stopping by.