The River Doesn’t Care

The river doesn’t care.

It doesn’t care about the crystalline, perfect Spring day’s sunshine pouring down. It doesn’t care about me, or my older brother who is home from Uni, or my mother who has made a rare visit back as well and has taken us out fishing for the day. The river doesn’t care about any of that.

We haven’t been all together for a day’s fishing in years, though nothing’s changed. Not for them at least. For me, much has changed. I’ve had to learn how to navigate high school and my father’s moods all alone, just he and I in that big, empty house. She is still mostly-oblivious to the dynamics of her sons, the power struggles for her love. My brother is six years older and will do everything in his power to remain the centre of attention, trying his best to shine bright but belittling me if needed.

We stand on the gravel bank of a bend in the river, rods in hand. The sunshine and water are something out of a poem. They are perfect. She digs her camera out and tells us to pose, her boys. I have not been taciturn, but I have not been boisterous, obnoxious, or interruptive while he performs. I’ve been waiting for them to see anything that’s changed about me and when my brother goes to put his arm around my shoulders, always an act of domination rather than affection, he has to reach up for the first time ever.

Something has changed, and I wait for them to notice. I don’t want to dominate him, I never have. I don’t want to own or defeat him. I just want to be and I want to be seen. But I know his ego won’t allow that unless it’s suitably assuaged. She’s never realised this, and blurts out that by the next time we all get together I’ll have outgrown him. He stiffens next to me, and I brace myself for what he’ll need to do to bring the focus back to him.

He’s smart enough to know that conspicuously taking me down without elevating himself only brings him down too, he smiles as if all is well. Both of us stand there brandishing our fishing rods, posing. A split-second before the shutter snaps, he turns in a flash, grips my head and plants a cartoonishly sloppy kiss on my cheek. My mother roars with laughter and goes on about how funny he is.

The moment leaves smiles on all our faces as we hike up the river past the big bend, leading to whatever spot they think is best. They are the more experienced, more successful, fishers after all. For them, nothing has changed. I trail along behind them for a bit before I stop. I realise they’ll just continue on through the grass and brush without me, so I call out that I’ll be trying my luck at this particular spot.

Both look with confusion at me and then the water. It’s not a good spot, and he feels the need to tell me as such. I shrug and throw together some words that placate and show some river knowledge, anything that doesn’t betray my desire to be away from them. Something about working my way downstream toward the massive logjam at the bend. I turn to gesture to it to confirm but they are both already walking away.

I cast into the swift water, knowing nothing will happen but feeling the need to do something. I realise I need to be on the other side of the river for the best angle at the logjam, but the water here is hip-deep, and fast. I should try upstream for slower water. But they are up there, talking and laughing as they fish. I could go down, cross below the logjam and then walk back up, but there’s too much brush. I’ve forded the river before, so in I go.

The river is so strong that every step is a struggle, every solid footing its own success. I’m ever-aware of the river’s power, keeping my footing and my focus. As I near the middle where it’s fastest and deepest, I turn and look at them. I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t have time to ponder though, as my foot slips and down I go.

At first, the river is gentle. Not too cold or rough. But I am moving fast, too fast. A strong swimmer, I’ve never been afraid of the water. But that logjam is dangerous, deadly, and I am headed straight for it. The river bends away from it and I expect the current to bend with it, like the letter “J”. I am not swimming hard yet as one hand still grips my fishing rod, until I realise that the river doesn’t bend gracefully, it rams into a corner before continuing on like the letter “L” instead.

I’m not aware of losing my pole or my favourite hat, I only know I am swimming as hard as I ever have in my life. I am fighting the power of the river, but I am losing. I don’t panic but my thoughts cease to be thoughts and are now pure reflex. I stop fighting and try to protect myself as I am slammed into the logjam, the immense mass of tangled and broken trees having any number of sharp, broken-off branches in it. Then I am under.

The force is the biggest shock. My body isn’t mine now. Like an amusement park ride or under a dogpile of enthusiastic teammates, I am helpless. I don’t even register relief at not being skewered as I am pinned against the underside of the logjam. My thoughts return as I look up at the water splashing around on the logs above and start thinking of something, anything, that I can do to get out.

Pushing out against the river isn’t an option, as I’m barely able to move my arms. I angle one forward into the current and my hand slides along the surface of a massive log above me. Bubbles dance along the underside of it as I reach for something on it to grab as I couldn’t wrap my arms halfway around it. I find a limb’s remnant that fits my hand perfectly and brace myself, knowing that I am strong enough to pull myself up and out, to fight against this river and win. I pull with all my strength and I can feel movement.

But it is the log moving, all I’ve done is roll it over, and now my handhold is underwater with me. The reward for my efforts is to be pinned helpless again. I watch more bubbles dancing up to the logs above and realise I am running out of options as well as time. There’s no room for more mistakes.

I stop fighting. Because this isn’t a battle. The river doesn’t care about me and my struggles. It’s not something to be battled, to be victorious over. The river doesn’t care about winning. It’s not something I can fight anyway, it is too powerful to be fought. I am pinned, helpless, but I can move my arms upward along the rough bank I am pinned against. I won’t fight the river any more, I will work with it.

If I was able to pull one of the logs over before, there’s a chance I can push up between them. Gradually, I force my fingers up through the mass of timber wedged above me. The logs are heavy and the river strong, but I push steady and I don’t stop. Suddenly my hand is through and then the rest of my arm as well.

The logs resist, the hammering of the current pressing them painfully against my arm and I worry that it will be crushed. Or worse, that I’ll get my head in-between them and the relentless force of the river will squish me. My hand finds purchase on the riverbank, my fingers grasping a clump of tough grass, and I push my other arm up to grab hold as well. Then I pull with all I am.

And I am free. I slither onto the bank, gasping and heaving. I stand unsteadily and walk from the trees onto the gravel bank to that perfect sunshine. I feel like something should be different, like I should feel triumphant over the river in the battle for my life. Like I should have seen a light in a tunnel or a showreel of my exploits roll by, but nothing has changed. The logjam sits innocuously, water lapping up and around the leafless branches of long-dead trees before it rolls out the side and smooths out into the slower, wider, riffly and less-deadly, gravel-banked shallows.

I am shaking but I don’t feel cold. I am calm but feel like I shouldn’t be. My mother bursts through the brush, her normally passive face panic-stricken, her mouth a worried half-cry. My brother is a step behind her, in a breathless hurry while his eyes scan coolly across me and the riverbank, assessing the situation. My mother pulls me forcefully into her arms and makes both panicked and relieved noises. I don’t feel the comfort in her grip that I wanted. She is grasping me like something that she has nearly lost.

My brother glibly comments on how they had both seen me crossing and worried until they realised I wasn’t there any more. He accidentally admits it was only when they saw me climbing free from the logjam that they came running. He’s absently smiling and nodding at me as if all is well now that he’s arrived. My mother still holds me firm. Though I am calm, I remember shaking moments before and I try to manufacture a shudder, something to give her to make her feel like she’s needed, like she’s calming me. Instead she steps back, holding me at arm’s length and commenting on how cold I must be before turning me fully into the sun.

We hear his footsteps on the gravel before seeing my brother splash roughly into the river, swimming with a rescue stride out into the easy water. For a split-second I am confused, thinking he’s trying to valiantly rescue me, and I wonder if I’ve actually died in that logjam and I am now watching him attempt to recover my body.

He comes back, his smirk never fading as he gracefully returns to shore, strutting back to me, dripping wet and smugly handing me my favourite fishing hat. He makes some comment about how he couldn’t let our favourite team’s hat go floating down the river and I stand there wondering how he’s missed that this hat is for an entirely different team, their colours a slightly lighter shade of red than his favourite team. I see it for what it is. He needed something to bring the spotlight back to himself, so I put my hand over the hat’s logo and nod at him, thanking him as if he swam like that to save me.

She goes on about how impressed she was that he threw himself into the dangerous water to rescue his younger brother’s favourite fishing hat, and I see both of them. I turn to look at the river, feeling like I should feel poetic, roused to some beautiful articulation about the contrast of the violence and unrelenting force of the water against the logjam that then peters out into a peaceful and gentle flow that meanders across the gravel. I’m sure there should be some sort of comparative reviewing of my own life, some sort of analogous duality I can draw from this moment following my own struggle against this power for my very survival.

But the river doesn’t care. The sun shines on me and I am drying out and warming and, in that moment, neither do I.

Reading and Writing.

The best thing about reading something really good is that it inspires you to write something equally good.

Well, maybe not “you” but the figurative “you”.

Just like when I was a kid and I’d watch The Lone Ranger or Zorro and feel absolutely compelled to go out and try that jump onto the horse’s back my very own self, I’ve always felt a strong pull whenever I’ve really been able to lose myself in someone else’s creative exploits.

Art, music, writing, action… it’s never really mattered.  It’s as if the artist has somehow put so much of their soul into it that my own innards resonate with a kindred spirit.


Okay, YOU find a better explanation for why I jumped off the deck knowing full well that saddle was going to crush my nuts.

So, reading good things makes me want to write good things.  Reading though, is fairly easy.  I can lay in bed, falling asleep, and read.  I can feed the baby, and read.  I can sit on the toilet, the only completely alone spot in the house, and get a chapter out, it’s fantastic.

Writing though… uffda.  Finding the time isn’t a nightmare, I can take time just about any time.  Finding the quiet though, the ability to use both my hands, the ability to string 2, sometimes 3, coherent thoughts together in the form of anything resembling a story…

Well, that’s a different kettle of worms altogether.

What’s that?

Yes.  Yes, I am completely aware that I just spent precious writing time writing about not being able to write.  This kind of thing isn’t difficult though, even though there’s a wiggly somebody on my lap insisting that her shoving her thumb in my eye is tickling.

“It’s ticklish, Daddy, now hold still!”

Oh dear.

Why I’ll make it as a writer… someday.

I was a Junior in High School the first time somebody ever called me a writer. The reason that memory has always stood out for me is not because it was momentous at being called a “writer”, because I still figured they were tweed-wearing hermits who didn’t do it for the money.

Nup, the reason I remember it was because it was the first writing assignment that I ever said, “Aw, what the hell” towards, and wrote from my heart.

I was fairly used to “A”s because I toed the line (on my writing assignments, not when I duct-taped Mrs. Stabnow’s thermos lid from the inside) but the grade on this paper didn’t matter a bit to me.

When I saw the “A” I felt more relief than anything, but when I read the next words my spirit actually soared.

“Well done Judd.  You are a great writer!”

But writing a novel is hard.

Years and years later and I’m finding it interminably difficult to sit down and work on my novel.  I’ve got the goddam thing all written, all laid out as far as structure and style goes, my continuity is fine and I’m even writing fresh stories to fill in gaps and add needed humour and character development.

But something is still missing.

I’ve got 4 kids and a wife and I work from home.  Finding “writing time” is never easy.  I have to get into the right frame of mind, I have to find the right mood and I have to get everyone to shut the fuck up for at least an hour.  None of this ever seems to coincide.

Yet, somehow, I’m able to sit at my computer for 2-3 hours at a time and bang out emails to friends, write blog entries on various sites and sometimes even churn out a short story or so for something on Page Buoy.

Why is it then, that I’m struggling so much with my novel?  Because it’s so BIG and IMPORTANT?  Because I’ve put so many goddamed hours into it?  Because I’m at that stage where I’m trying desperately to make it as perfect as possible?

Maybe it’s more simple than that.

Les Edgerton to the rescue… AGAIN.

I’d ordered the book so long ago off Amazon (who has to ship from the US and can take weeks) that I’d all but forgotten about it.  I’d been up one sleepless night trolling for books and remembered one of my absolute favourites, “Hooked” by Les Edgerton.

I Googled him, found another book or two on writing, got all excited and ordered one.  Then I found his blog and then I emailed him.

He wrote back about an hour later.  I still feel pretty effin’ coooool about that.

Then he joined Page Buoy, and that got me pretty fired up too.  So I got all caught up in the excitement of trading emails with one of my Writing Heroes and the novel was, once again, an afterthought.

The book showed up yesterday, and it’s called “Finding Your Voice.”

Which is funny, because I’ve had a couple of people, one of them heavily-codenamed but still one of my e-favourite writerfriends, all tell me I had a very unique and funny “voice”.  I can’t say as I’d ever heard it called that, but I knew what they meant.  I suppose in literary terms, your “voice” is a pretty unique way of describing something that would be called “style” in other languages.

I started thinking about the voice I was using in my novel.  And I started to get worried.

Finding my voice.

Then some of the gals in my other Writery Email Group Thingo were all commenting that I was good at cracking them up, and how they couldn’t wait to read my novel because it must be OMG Pee My Pants Funny.

“Shit,” I thought, “it’s really not.”

I wasn’t so worried about that though, it’s not really a humour piece and I’m not always out for laughs.

But it’s still missing something.

Wifeage and I got to talking about things last night, about how I relate stories from my experiences and how I used to blog about this and blog about that, and I got to thinking about my “voice”.  I use my “voice” in just about everything I do, from Facebook to Small Business Forums to emails to my mother.

It’s easy, it just flows, and I almost never have to think about it.

How to get it into my novel though?  Rewrite the whole bloody thing?

Writing is like sex.  If it feels like “work”, you’re doing it wrong.

“Well shit,” I thought again, “I’ve got some serious work ahead of me.”

Then I emailed my new email friend, Blue Skies Les, and told him that he’d written yet another book that had completely rocked my writery world, and I was only 35 pages in!

See, the problem, thus far, is that my novel IS a lot of work.  I’m working my ass off to find time, to find motivation, to find the right words, the right style, the right flow.

Writing, good writing, my good writing, shouldn’t be this much work.

And I don’t reckon it will be.

For the first time in a very long time, maybe ever, I’m really looking forward to starting in on this novel again.

Because, if it ain’t fun, then why in the hell am I doing it?

A Slightly Different Crowd

Hanging out with writers on the forums and the email lists and the newsletters and all that, has taught me a few interesting things about the types of personalities that I’m drawn to.

There is a certain level of disappointment that falls over me whenever I see the reaction when I’m saying something mildly inflammatory on Facebook.  Sometimes I spout off about how gay people should be able to get married and it shouldn’t be a thing at all, or that I don’t mind if others believe that Jeebus went zombie and then took flight but don’t try to treat it as undeniable fact, and I will inevitably get an earful from the small-minded (usually folks from back home in Montana) that are quick to inform me that there is, in fact, only one way to look at things.  Seems to be theirs.

At the risk of sounding incredibly wanky and elitist, I’m really enjoying discussions that don’t devolve (too quickly) and the articles and blog posts that talk about industry changes and the way the world is changing in regards to writers and publishing.

It’s incredibly refreshing to be able to take all this information in and NOT feel like my hackles are hackling.  Not that I tend to get hackly, but still, I like feeling calm and zen at the end of a week where I’ve accomplished f*ck-all with my books, websites or house.

Maybe I’m hanging with a better class of people?  Heh.  Well, I’m certainly doing what I can to drag that down.

From: David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—The Future of Publishing

Through my good friend Abel Keogh, author of “The Third” which I am currently enjoying very much, I found David Farland‘s Daily Kick in the Pants, and even though I had a hard time relating to a guy who’s mega-successful as an author and teaches other mega-awesometastic authors like Stephanie Seymour, I am positively loving him now.

Like few others, he’s happy to talk about traditional publishing and e-publishing in the same breath, comparing the two in an unbiased way (or at least calling out his bias openly) and speaking candidly about his thoughts on it all.

This is the latest “Daily Kick” that I got, and I tell you what, this guy is fkn Spot On.

Last week I had my agent look over a movie contract, and in one clause that dealt with retained rights, my agent said, “We can’t sign this contract. It doesn’t allow us to sell enhanced books, and that is the entire future of publishing.”

I’d been talking to a prospective business partner about starting a company that will make enhanced books (books that may combine elements like film clips, music, video games, author interviews, and audio files, which are then sold electronically to be read on your iPad, phone, computer, and so on), so I thought that my agent’s comment was timely. But are “enhanced books” the future of publishing?

There is good reason to think so. But I don’t think that it’s the “entire future.”

Let me explain, and even prophesy, if I may. Now, I’ve been making my living as a writer for more than twenty years, and I watch the markets pretty closely. As most of you know, we’re going through some dramatic changes in the publishing world, with the new e-book revolution.

Here is what is happening. Right now, the e-book market is growing at over 10% per year. Meanwhile, the sale of paperbacks and hardcovers is dropping disproportionately. In fact, sales last month on hardcover books were down more than 40% from just the month before!

Now, there are reasons for this. Part of the problem has to do with the collapse of the Borders bookstore chain here in America. That might account for a drop of 25%. Another drop of 10% might be claimed because of the rise in sales of e-readers that people got for Christmas. But that means that there is still a substantial drop that doesn’t make sense—another 8%, more or less. What’s going on? I think that there may be people who are delaying hardback purchases in anticipation of buying e-readers. After all, why pay $25 for a hardcover when I plan to buy a Kindle and then get the electronic copy for $15 on Mother’s Day?

Whatever the problem, you have to realize that the entire publishing world is in trouble. As people switch to e-readers, then they quit buying at bookstores. As bookstore sales drop, their profit margins plunge into the red, and thus they can’t pay the distributors who sold them the books. As the distributors lose revenue (as happened with Anderson Distribution and others last year), they go out of business. When they don’t pay the publishers, what happens?

Well, publishers can do some things to save money. They can quit printing as many books. They can stop advertising. They can hold off on buying new manuscripts. They can use cheaper paper and binding. But there is a limit to how much they can cut their costs. Can they make up for the 50% losses that they’ve taken this year? No. There is only one thing that they can do, really. They have to get money from the authors.

Now, since authors don’t actually pay the publishers, there is only way to acquire money—from the author’s accounts. Money that is owed for past books sales just disappears. Or the publisher seeks to renegotiate the old contracts with worse terms, ones that let the publisher keep more money.

That kind of thing is happening a lot right now, if what I’m hearing is true. Publishers are publishing out-of-print books, or claiming that they hold the rights to OP books so that they can turn them into electronic books, and they’re basically stealing the author’s money. Or they are vastly under-reporting electronic sales, and perhaps even paper sales.

I’m sure that the publishers in most cases are hoping that they’ll figure a way out of this mess and pay the authors later. For example, most publishers are now demanding more and more from the authors in the way of electronic rights, movie rights, and income from foreign sales.

The publishers won’t make it. This change to electronic media is likely to take place over several years, and the publishers are in a downward spiral.

What I suspect will happen is this: most publishers will take money from the authors and be forced into court by writer’s groups. The judges will look at what is going on, there will be RICO investigations and allegations of mail fraud, and the publishers that are acting inappropriately will be reprimanded. They won’t go to prison. We never send white-collar criminals to prison. Instead, the authors will win their lawsuits, and will be awarded treble damages. This process will take several years to complete. When it is done, the publishers will declare bankruptcy, and the authors will never get anything in their settlement. In short, we’ll lose our shirts, if we keep on publishing with the big corporations.

Ten years from now, there will still be a business for paper books, but it won’t be an industry that makes $17 billion in US sales. It will be a much smaller business, maybe $4 billion in sales.

So if you’re a publisher, you need to look at scaling back now. You’ll need to move out of your fancy New York address, cut back on your print runs to something logical, and try to figure out how to ride out the storm. Latching onto author’s money is one way to do it. It has worked for decades.

As an author, I can’t afford to play this game. But there is an option: the e-book. With the rise in sales of e-books, an author can now go out and sell his own books. The market is expanding. Some authors are genuinely making millions in this new market.

By putting out a novel in e-book, I reach a much smaller market, but I might also cut out my publisher and my agent, with their high overhead, so that I make a much higher profit on a per-book basis. Sounds like a great idea, right?

But with the new market, there is going to come a lot of “white noise.” New authors, terrible writers, will be publishing, too, and readers are going to have to figure out how to decide what to read. Getting a reader’s attention will be terribly hard to do.

Well, how do you do that? One way may be to have critics giving reviews of books—not the author’s friends, but genuine impartial reviewers working for independent agencies. Another may be to have awards for each category of electronic book, so that we have something like the “Farland Award for best SF and fantasy novel next year.” Hell, consider this an announcement. I’ll set it up.

A third way to rise above the white noise may be to rely upon trusted “electronic publishers” to select books.

That’s where I’ve decided to step in. By creating an “enhanced book,” we’ll be investing a lot of money in a book’s future. We’ll take it from being an electronic Word file then and add background art, music, video, sound, and so on. We’ll have an author interview with the book, and it will become part book, part movie.

By investing that kind of money, we’ll not only enhance the reading experience for the audience, but we’ll also be putting our stamp of approval on a book. We’ll be saying, “We expect great things from this author. This one is really worth looking at.”

In short, I expect “enhanced books” to become the dominant art form for novels in the next few years, replacing and outselling simple e-books on the bestseller lists, and even outselling hardbacks and paperbacks within a couple of years.

As a person with a long history in publishing, videogames and film, this is sort of a natural step for me. My partner, Miles Romney, and I have agreed to start our company, in part because I believe in this new medium. So, look for us in the future as East India Press!

I’ll be announcing our first project in the next couple of weeks.

Now, I have no background in traditional publishing. I have no background in self-publishing either. I have yet to publish my first e-book and I can’t even effing finish the books that I’ve started.

BUT… this is the way this is heading peeps, and if I were more inclined, it’s the kind of thing I’d blog about just so that in a year from now I could go back and point out how awesome and smart I am.

Ahhhh… but I’m going to do that anyway now aren’t I?

Regardless. E-books aren’t paper, they’re stand-alone documents right? Well the mode that helps them stand alone is going to be more and more standarised the more popular they become (which is growing almost exponentially). Once a more standard format is in place, e-books are definitely going to be “enhanced books”…

…and the world will, once again, change completely.

Which is why I’m still completely shat off that the most popular e-book authors of today have f*ckall for a web presence. The American Capitalist Pig part of me wants to start a business based solely around exploiting this, but the No Worries Aussie Laid-back Surfer Dude in me wants me to just sit back and write and be awesome.

And finish Page Buoy, of course, which I will do in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.