Does my free novel devalue entertainment? OR Why do I hurt the ones I love?

Note: This post was originally conceived of as a forum topic here.

Exhibit A: I believe that creative/intellectual endeavors frequently bring value into the world, even when they are digital objects.

Exhibit B: I have decided the best thing (for me) to do with my novel is to give it away.

Providing my novel for free meets a variety of my goals (I am not convinced that it alone maximizes my readership, but that’s a topic for another day).

But doing so puts me in a precarious position vis a vis exhibit A.

In theory, some readers will hopefully enjoy the book and think that it was of value to them. It will be value they did not pay for, which could contribute to the general devaluing of electronic entertainment.

Once people are used to getting something for free, it loses value. Similar to the race to the bottom (read 99 cents) in the iTunes store, where many people no longer even consider purchasing a 5-dollar game, I wonder and worry if giving away my book does not help train people to think they should be able to get e-books for free.

I finesse the problem slightly by mentioning gift economy a few times, encouraging people to share the book with friends and so on. But even that has problems, because it can lead a fan to assume that I am simply operating within a successful business model that they simply do not understand.

That model does not exist. For me at least.

That’s ok for me (except inasmuch as it means people don’t bother to try the book because of perceived value problems) but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been the moral thing to do to charge something as show of solidarity to my fellow authors.

All of this is probably taking the impact of a single book by an unknown author too seriously, but the larger question seems worth considering.

Thoughts?

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney died a few months ago. Today I came across the column of his that made me fall in love with him. I loved that created a solid, entertaining column about his love of wood. I came to his work with irony in mind. I wanted his job. To simply absorb life’s details and report them without pretension.

In retrospect that column was not his best work perhaps. For his best you really need to grab a copy of one of his books. Even then what he was after was something that doesn’t link well. It was not flashy or attention grabbing.

But in his own way, like Roger Ebert and Miss Manners he was so good for so long that he came to define a genre, and the quality of his work hovered on being taken for granted. The joking was usually in good fun, but if you look his work with fresh eyes it holds up on its own.

 

Life – Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Media Images and so on

Eventually this post will resolve into a minor point of media criticism. But it starts with…

I just finished “reading” the Keith Richards “autobiography” Life.

Whew, that was a lot of hyperlinks.  The word reading is in quotations because I listened to the audiobook rather than using a print copy (and the link goes to Stephan King’s thoughts on the practice).

Autobiography is in quotes because the book’s creation process strains the word “autobiography” without quite breaking it.

Overall the book was well-written enough to offer some insight into Keith Richards, the human being, despite the fact that it never quite escapes being based on interviews with someone who has spent years cultivating a very limiting media image (and potentially a limiting self-image).

For instance, the book manages to capture the contradictions and insanity of the junkie logic Keith still uses to defend his past addictions even as it also includes his protestations that heron is bad.

How much you will enjoy these ramblings may depend on your tolerance for an insightful portrait of a rock and roll star who defines a certain kind of “cool”.

Or more to the point of this post, the book conveys some of the depth and breadth of the complicated relationship Keith has with Mick Jagger (his co-song writer in the band the Rolling Stones), without actually spending that much time on it. It captures the sense of two men who have the capacity to create something greater than themselves even as they are weighed down by years of history and very petty infighting.

Certainly Keith comes out looking better than Mick in his telling, but again, the book is good enough that a careful reader will notice the broad outline of why Mick may not be the only villain in their story.

This doesn’t answer the question of why you should care about their petty infighting. But it does offer some insight into to how small it must be to have to be Keith Richards all the time.

The most limiting factor of the book is that it’s written by someone who knows in his media-savy bones that of all the nuanced, spiteful, loving, and childish things he says about about his relationship with Mick, the headlines will boil it down to a particularly juvenile penis joke.

If not that, then something like that was always going to be the cage. And it was one he played into. Maybe he did that to himself, and maybe it’s not a problem for him, but the willingness of the world around him to reduce and celebrate that kind of nonsense probably didn’t help to broaden anyone’s horizons.

I wrote the rest of this to give me an excuse to actively avoiding perpetuating the myth that the worst thing he says about Mick is that joke. Because the media seems to think it is, and this does a disservice to everyone involved. The book portrays the man as something much worse, and more nuanced, even within its severe limitations.

The book is a glimpse into the mind of someone who knows they live in in a cage made of gold and beauty and myth. But can also make music like this.

The Value of Publishing

“Anybody who likes writing a book is an idiot. Because it’s impossible, it’s like having a homework assignment every stinking day until it’s done. And by the time you get it in, it’s done and you’re sitting there reading it, and you realize the 12,000 things you didn’t do… And when you’re done, people tell you “Well, gee, I’m not interested.”

– Lewis Black

Everything I write is a reflection of me (yes – even a genre fantasy novel). The relationship may not be intuitive or straightforward, and it may not be the relationship you assume, but it exists.

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.
– Goethe

Towards the end of Avoiding Space Madness, Darwin starts ranting about how hard it is to find a truly comfortable chair. This is a minor scene, but it does a few things. It illuminates Darwin’s temperament and history; it fills in some details about the world he inhabits, and it was fun to write. It’s a good solid piece of writing.

I wrote the first draft of it over four years ago, and I am no longer same author now that I was then. I would not disavow it, it is a scene that I fully stand behind, but my mind now understands that interaction in subtly different ways.

The last time I edited Avoiding Space Madness, I was tempted to cut the scene out. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but it’s no longer how I would solve the problems it solves. Alone that is an edit, but the ranting about chairs scene does not exist in isolation. Every part of the book affects everything else and I could not simply delete it without doing damage to the rest of the book. The problem is not the scene. The chair rant fits perfectly fine into the book I wrote.

The problem is that I probably would not write the same kind of chair rant anymore (instead I might write a sophisticated diatribe about lawn art).

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
-Leonardo da Vinci

To truly get at the heart of the changes I’ve undergone as a writer large parts of the book would need to be gutted and re-written. Which would be worthwhile if it would produce a better novel, but it wouldn’t. It would simply produce a different novel. And that novel is the one I am now working on.

At the same time I want to honor the book I wrote. Trying to work on the sequel with an unpublished manuscript in the same series in the drawer was apparently more trouble than it takes to just put it out into the world. So I did.

Part of the story is that I worked on and off on a sequel for a few years. But progress slowed and then stalled.  It didn’t help that every year or so I took a couple of months to go back and revise Avoiding Space Madness.

What it really needed more than anything I could provide, was a copy editor. Since I could not give it that, I kept flailing away at it with the talents I have, rather than the talents it needed. But when book 2 fizzled under the weight of my excitement for what I wanted to do in book 3 I knew I had to change something. Writing for me is a slow process, made slower by the fact that I actually enjoy my day job. It also requires a certain sustained passion for the story I want to tell. I need to care enough about what I am creating to write the boring scenes, to walk away from my partner and write for an afternoon. One day I had to admit to myself that I had been living with my ideas for book 2 for too long, and it had proven fatal. Time to move on.

Time to throw the dead weight overboard.

Putting any work out to the world provides a snapshot, a definitive moment captured. It is the final step in the authorial process.

More importantly, I was shocked to discover that nobody had registered Fantasyofanovelidea.com and had to capitalize on my good fortune.

My first priority for any profits I receive from my donation button is to purchase fantasyofanovel.com and fantasyofanovelideal.com as redirect sites.