The Funny Ones Are Always the Sad Ones (RIP Robin Williams)

My first reaction upon learning that Robin Williams had died was initial shock. He was 63, so he was in that age where something like a heart attack could have killed him. In fact, he’d undergone bypass surgery some time ago.

When I learned he’d committed suicide, my own heart skipped a beat. I felt it stop. I read it over and over: Robin Williams committed suicide. He was only 63.

Seriously, I don’t want to write this blog post. Knowing that depression claimed another life makes me angry beyond reproach. Beyond FUCKING REPROACH.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought much of Robin Williams over the years. His creative output – with the exception of the criminally overlooked World’s Greatest Dad, one of the DARKEST comedies you will ever see (no, go ahead, watch it…I’ll wait…you tell me) – left me wondering if we’d seen the last of Williams’ legendary, risk-taking talent. His ability to mine every possible depth of humor imaginable was one thing, but to then see Williams willingly straight-jacket himself and perform so brilliantly in some of the most challenging dramatic roles – after all, he was a Julliard-trained actor, you know – was a testament to his skill to both put everything out there, but to also be incredibly open and willing to take himself out of his comfort zone.

The news of his suicide frankly makes me want to cry repeatedly, because, God fucking dammit, none of this is fair.

Robin Williams didn’t just make me laugh. He made me clutch my sides because I couldn’t catch my breath from laughing so hard, the tears running so hard and fast. I must have watched Robin Williams Live at the Met repeatedly, obsessively. “Cocaine, a drug that makes you paranoid AND impotent? GIVE ME SOME!”

That manic intensity, of being able to go from 100MPH to light speed in a nanosecond, and take risks, was exhilarating, for him as a performer and for us as the audience. But it must has been exhausting for him as well. Because to have that kind of manic intensity means you’re capable of extreme highs and extreme lows. (He must have been bipolar. MUST HAVE) I can’t presume to know about the severe depression that Robin Williams was for him, but I do know what depression can make you do. Or not do.

Some will say he made his choice to end his life, but those are the people who’ve never understood – or have never been under the throes of – depression. Depression doesn’t discriminate, and neither does suicide. Depression made that choice – the choice to end his life. Depression consumed him, in the way that depression consumes so many people, in the way that it’s consumed me in the past. In the way that it probably will consume me in the future.

The more I dwell on Williams’ suicide, the more it hits home: what if this is me 20 years from now? Hell, ten years from now? What if I’m at a point where I’m so low that I’m thinking of this ultimate long-term solution for my short-term problems? News reports say Williams had been “battling depression,” as if this were cancer. Sorry, but I’ve never “battled” depression. I’ve endured it, put up with it, shook my fist at it and cursed a thousand tiny deaths to it. No amount of medication or therapy can “combat” depression, and that’s something we need to understand. Williams was coping with depression, and inevitably he could no longer cope. “Battling” implies Robin Williams was waging a war against depression, and he lost the war. He committed suicide. He was “weak.” No he fucking wasn’t. Ernest Hemingway wasn’t “weak.” Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t weak. Virginia Woolf wasn’t “weak.” They couldn’t endure anymore. This wasn’t a battle for them. Depression is an ugly beast that haunts us and makes us do things we don’t want to do, and tell ourselves lies and half-truths we don’t deserve to hear, and ignore the love and hope that exists all around us. Robin Williams could not bear another day of depression telling him otherwise. So he opted out. And that’s what depression does in its finality. I fucking hate depression with every fiber of my body, because living with this motherfucker reminds me that someday I may be in the same shoes Robin Williams was the moments before he killed himself, and I ask to somehow find some tiny sliver of strength and courage to say, “Not today. And not tomorrow, either. I’m not dealing with your bullshit, depression.”

There is so much we don’t know about depression, and so many myths about depression. Of course we were surprised that Robin Williams would have committed suicide; he seemed so full of life, so joyous, yet he was at the right age when suicide is prevalent among men. How frightening.

This morning, I listened to Marc Maron repost his 2010 interview with Robin Williams. Fighting back tears, Maron expresses the same disbelief everyone feels: how could someone who just seemed so alive fall victim to the lowest depths of sadness and despair? The answer might be in the interview itself. With about ten minutes left in the interview, Williams talks frankly about his depression, and about having once ideated about suicide. He’s funny about this, of course, in his manic, off-the-cuff improvisational fashion, but it takes on a chilling poignancy. If somehow he’d listened to the very same advice he’d given himself during the interview. Give the interview a listen, I promise you, you will not have a dry eye when it’s over and done with.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance Robin Williams is seeing the immense outpouring of grief and love his death has elicited. But most tellingly, the Internet has collectively gathered to warmly remember him and his funniest jokes and his greatest scenes, and acknowledge both the actor, the comedian, the humanitarian, and the person.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for making us all laugh until we couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Thank you for remind us “It wasn’t your fault.” Thank you for being so alive.

And fuck you, depression. Fuck you for taking another life from us.

 

TOO MUCH ANTHOLOGY RELEASED FROM UNKNOWN PRESS

Gus Sanchez:

My story, “Shake, Shoot, and Squeeze” is appearing in the new anthology “Too Much,” a collection of stories, poems, and essays that document tales of excess. Times when our obsessions and desires went way too far. It’s a terrific collection that’s now available at Amazon, and you should get a copy RIGHT NOW.

Thanks to Bud Smith and Chuck Howe for curating this fine anthology.

Originally posted on bud smith:

The TOO MUCH anthology, a collection of stories, poems, essays about that one time that excess reached a pinnacle.

I’m very proud of this anthology. Chuck Howe stepped up and did a wonderful job editing the collection for Unknown Press. The quality of submissions that came in were overwhelmingly good. It’s a damn pleasure putting together a book when the pieces included are this fun, original, bizarre, touching …

The book is available on Amazon now. 20140805-091731-33451483.jpg

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There is a reading for the anthology in NYC at Jimmy 43s on the lower east side. 6pm-9pm. Contributors will read, afterwards there will be a bar crawl. Here’s a link to the event if you’re on Facebook.

If you have any questions about the reading or the anthology please contact me at budsmithwrites@gmail.com

Also on the way from Unknown Press, Mik Everette’s memoir “Self Published Kindling: memoirs of a homeless book store owner”

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What “Sharknado” Teaches Us About Perseverance and the Power of Positive Thinking (Sort Of)

Last week, like many of you, I tuned in to watch Sharknado 2: The Second Coming.

 

 

Remember the names Anthony C. Ferrante and Thunder Levin. I’ll get to them in a bit…

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, the original Sharknado (in which a freak hurricane attacks Los Angeles, causing man-eating sharks to be scooped up into the storm by water spouts, thereby creating a “sharknado.”) because a huge cult phenomenon. Naturally, a sequel was immediately commissioned. I watched Sharknado. I laughed hysterically at how idiotic it all was. I watched Sharknado 2. I laughted even harder this time around.

But let’s be real here: Sharknado is beyond fucking stupid. It has plot holes the size of New York City manholes. The acting is deliberately awful. The special effects seem like they were designed on an iPad. And let’s not get into how beyond implausible the whole Sharknado thing is.

Implausible. Sure. But we love implausible. Consider the top grossing film at the box office this past weekend: an adaptation of an obscure comic book series about a misfit group of heroes, one of whom is a humanoid tree, the other a wise-cracking, gun-totting, genetically-modified raccoon. You read right. So lest anyone think we’re all about cinema verite, then Rocket Raccoon and his Guardian of the Galaxy mates proves we love premises that are bat-shit crazy (provided they keep us entertained AND don’t insult us), then surely the wink-wink insanity and sheer stupidity of the Sharknado films isn’t all that hard to swallow now, is it?

The point to Sharknado and its sequel isn’t art for the sake of art. It’s a glorious attempt at redefining what “bad” means, and by “bad,” I mean, “it’s so bad, it’s actually good!” Sharknado makes no bones about how stupid and brainless it is, and when Ian Ziering rips a shark apart with a six-foot chainsaw, you’re howling with glee. Why? Because there’s nothing cynical about the purpose behind Sharknado. Shit, why not be as insane as you can be, right? Why not be over-the-top, and do it with tongue firmly in cheek? See, the difference between this steaming pile of shit-sized fun and a $200 million dollar home movie like the Transformers films, directed by a 10-year-old for other like-minded and drooling 10-year-olds, is that Sharknado never takes itself so damned serious in the way Michael Bay wants to make the Citizen Kane of rock’em, sock’em robot films. That fucking idiot.

So what do the names Anthony C. Ferrante and Thunder Levin have to do with all this? Well, respectively, they’re the director and the screenwriter of the Sharknado films. They’re the creative (and that’s putting it mildly) geniuses behind these cult classics. They had an idea: a hurricane that somehow smashes into LA (IMPLAUSIBLE IDEA #1), which then sucks up all these man-eating sharks (IMPLAUSIBLE IDEA #2), the mashup which then creates a “sharknad0″ (IMPLAUSIBLE IDEA #3). And not only did they see this idea through, some producer, probably a coked-up fellow just coming down a weekend binge with a few high-priced hookers, heard this idea and shook his fists at the heavens and shouted, AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, ‘SHARKNADO WILL FUCKING HAPPEN, BITCHES!

And then Ferrante and Levin got the green-light to see their creation come to life.

And then Ferrante and Levin got the green-light to see their creation come to life in a sequel! This time, where New York City gets bitch-slapped by the Mother of All Sharknadoes!

The cynics will scoff and declare that Sharknado proves anything gets made these days, and they’re right. For you, the writer, the artist, the creative, it proves that if something like Sharknado, with its emphasis on insane set pieces bordering on the shamelessly stupid and with tongue once again firmly in cheek, can see the light of day, then your work, the one you keep telling yourself is just too weird, too offbeat, and that no one wants to read, well, then think again.

Because if a screenplay involving man-eating sharks falling from the sky can get made, and spawn a sequel, then my novel, in which a suicidal woman embarks on a road trip with the protagonist from her favorite novels so she can convince the author to kill the protagonist, will not only be finished, but it will be published, and it will be read.

Scratch that. AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, MY NOVEL WILL NOT ONLY BE FINISHED, BUT IT WILL BE PUBLISHED, AND IT WILL BE READ, BITCHES!

Word.

And yes, there will be a Sharknado 3. Please please please let it happen in Miami. I’d pay money to see a Sharknado chomp on some over-tanned Euro-douches. Or Kim Kardashian.

On Mood Disorders and the Writing Process

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The good thing about being both creative and bipolar is that when you’re hypomanic (or manic if you’re Bipolar I), all you want to do is create. The itch, the urge, the drive to create is there, all around you. It’s inescapable. It’s a thrill ride. Words seamlessly form into sentences. Those sentences suddenly morph into lucid, fever- withered paragraphs. That bat-shit crazy WIP you’ve been avoiding for months because it’s too crazy even for your sensibilities now seems like it’s falling into place. Hell, you even caved in and tried the “index cards” approach for once, because, why not, and your hypomanic hairs stood up in awe over how easy it was to follow this device.

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Just the thought of writing makes you want to quit your white-collar job and chase this creative dragon until you wrest that book you’ve wanted to write out of her.

The bad thing about being creative and bipolar is that when you’re depressed, at the opposite end of the bipolar spectrum, all you want to do is ignore your creative side. You want to just gather up every scrap of paper you’ve written sentences that barrel make up a coherent paragraph and toss them into a bonfire, and loudly declare you’ll never fool with this writing garbage ever again.

Just the thought of writing makes you want to run away in terror.

When you’re hypomanic, you wish this high would never end.

When you’re depressed, you wish this low would end already.

I run on a mood clock, and I’m most creative when that mood clock is, symbolically speaking, from mid-morning to early evening. Right now, my mood is, to use chronological reference, somewhere around 10:15AM. I’m awake, refreshed, and itching to go. The thing is, I don’t know how long that clock will run. Will it run a couple of weeks? A month? Several months? Almost a year? Not likely, but who knows. What I know is if I’m the kind of writer who’s forced to write when the mood strikes because my moods are out of whack, then right now I need to strike while the iron’s hot. That means not wasting time doodling on a WIP, and figuring out how to finish this. Because time’s a-wastin’.

I’ve spent the better part of the last two years learning how to “maintain,” and be mindful of my mood swings. I don’t cycle the way I used to, and the right medication has helped me to stay balanced. But it’s also robbed me of a little edge. I don’t know exactly what’s gone on, but a little of that edge has seeped through again. Not the self-destructive one, but the one that wants to leave a library behind. Know what I mean?

Friday List Blog: 101 Favorite Films, #80-71

(Author’s note: apologies for not having posted a new list recently. But if you’re wanting to catch up, here’s Favorite Films #101 – 91, and Favorite Films #90 – 81.)

 

 

80. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

“KHHHHAAAAAAAAN!!!”

For the most part, Star Trek films have been pretty spotty affairs. J.J. Abrams’ reboots have been good so far, but…Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a crushing bore, The Voyage Home was a bit too self-reverential for its own good, and The Next Generation films…well, never mind. But there’s a gem in that collection, and it’s this one. Wrath of Khan feels the most like an episode from the original series (it’s essential a sequel to an episode called “Space Seed,” but you already knew that…), and its’ fast-paced story and Moby-Dick-esque subtext brings much zest to the festivities. But it’s the acting…or should I say OVERACTING…from both William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban that makes Wrath of Khan so memorable. It’s the one that reinforces my love for Star Trek, and the one film I turn to most when I want my Star Trek movie fix.

 

 

 

79. Aguirre, the Wrath of God

I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I will found the purest dynasty the world has ever seen. Together, we shall rule this entire continent. We shall endure. I am the Wrath of God!

There have been many outstanding actor/director collaborations throughout the history of the cinema. DeNiro/Scorsese, Mifune/Kurosawa, Dietrich/von Sternberg, von Sydow/Ullman/Andersson/Bergman, just to name a few, but none was ever as toxic, violent or artistically rewarding as the relationship between Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog. The volatile relationship between the criminally obsessive Herzog, and the deranged, mentally unhinged Kinski made for outstanding cinematic drama, and, in my opinion, never captured as brilliantly as in Aguirre. Made under a miniscule budget – this was German cinema, after all, which for all intents and purposes vanished after WWII, but resurfaced with the arrival of Herzog and Fassbinder – in the Peruvian jungle, Aguirre tells the tale of a glory-hungry conquistador named Lope de Aguirre, played with controlled fury and horrifying madness by Kinski, who leads his search party into the depths of madness and despair in his thirst for the lost city of El Dorado. If the natives don’t kill you, the jungle will, and if the jungle doesn’t kill you, the insane Aguirre will, leading his expeditionary force towards an inevitable death. The struggle of man versus nature is a theme Herzog has explored in several of his films, including Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde and Grizzly Man, yet that metaphorical struggle holds greater depth and meaning in Aguirre; The final scene, in which Aguirre, alone on a single raft with only monkeys now as his charges, uttering a monologue of insanity,will haunt you for days, even weeks, to come. And that story regarding Herzog forcing Kinski to act by pointing a gun at his head? Herzog debunks that claim, but that lends much credence to the volatile, mutually destructive relationship both men shared, and one Herzog would examine in his documentary on working with Kinski, My Best Fiend.

 

78. Shawn of the Dead

That was the second album I ever bought!

Shawn is an amiable if directionless salesman who has something of a difficult time keeping his focus in life, while trying to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend, sort out his issues with his mum and stepdad, and cope with his crude and childish best friend/roommate. Oh, and to make matters worse, a zombie uprising take place to further complicate Shawn’s life. Now that the entire zombie subculture has been infected (no pun intended) with the silliest kinds of mashups (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone), Shawn of the Dead now seems an even more original work of parodic art than it was probably intended. In any film that pokes fun at its subject (see Airplane!, for example), the fun is gentle, yet reverential, and that’s demonstrated in spades here, and you can see Simon Pegg’s and Edgar Wright’s affection for George A. Romero’s zombie epics (see Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead), not to mention the hundreds of references to other zombie flicks and pop culture miscellany. The scene that always kills me is the one where Shawn and his best friend Ed fend off a zombie in their backyard by raiding a milk crate filled with LPs and tossing them as weapons – “That’s the second album I ever bought!” – is a shining example of Pegg and Wright’s genius. In an impressive canon of zombie films now available for our viewing, Shawn of the Dead is one of the best of the genre providing both laughs and jump-out-of-your-chair thrills, and it’s easily the funniest of them all.

 

77. King Kong

Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes…it was Beauty killed the Beast.

In this, our CGI (and now 3D) saturated age, it’s easy to dismiss a film like King Kong with its stop-motion special effects, but to dismiss this film on those grounds is pure pettiness. Peter Jackson might have made it prettier-looking a few years ago, and the 1976 remake was bigger and louder (and lousier), but the 1933 original still retains so much of its magic and awe (and not to mention the larger-than-life personality Kong displayed in spades) that subsequent remakes have failed to capture. King Kong reminds me of a simpler time in my life, if there ever was such a thing, where my imagination was easily captured by such a thing as a giant gorilla named Kong who captures a beautiful woman and raises hell at the top of the Empire State Building. Even better still is how, as an adult, King Kong still manages to capture my attention and my imagination, and for all the stiltedness of stop-motion animation, the scene in which Kong battles and kills that pterodactyl sends shivers up my spine; that scene leaves me with a deeper understanding, appreciation and gratitude towards the animation wizards who, working with what they had, created what is still today the Second Greatest Monster Movie Ever (the Greatest comes in at #49; feel free to guess which one it is). And anyone who talks shit about how cheesy the animation is in King Kong needs to be locked in a dank cellar somewhere and be forced to watch Transformers 2 in an endless loop until their brains explode.

 

 

 

76. Before Sunrise

You know what drives me crazy? It’s all these people talking about how great technology is, and how it saves all this time. But, what good is saved time, if nobody uses it? If it just turns into more busy work. You never hear somebody say, “With the time I’ve saved by using my word processor, I’m gonna go to a Zen monastery and hang out”. I mean, you never hear that.”

There are several reasons why I love this film. Maybe it’s because I have a penchant for talky films. Maybe it’s because the existential dialogues between the American Jesse and the French Celine, both sharing one romantic night in Vienna, spoke a lot towards the existentialist dread I was consumed with in my early twenties. Maybe it’s the ambiguous nature of the relationship between Jesse and Celine, one in which we’re asked to draw our conclusions as to how it will end or where it will go. Or maybe the idea of one man taking a chance and striking up a conversation with a beautiful woman whom he’s shared a moment with and making a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at a connection that appealed to the hopeless romantic in me. Whatever those reasons may be, I’m always drawn to Before Sunrise for very personal reasons, many of which I’d rather not go into. It was the right film at the right time for me, and it still is. Most telling for me is how a film that’s small in nature dares to embrace big ideas via smart dialogue and sharp acting, without the need for melodrama or needless subplots. And, yeah, it’s crazy romantic, in that way that makes my toes curl without any hint of self-consciousness whatsoever.

 

75. The Passion of Joan of Arc

Will I be with You tonight in Paradise?

One of the greatest films of the silent film era. And a miracle that the film even exists at all. Carl Dreyer’s original print was considered lost, until it was rediscovered in, of all places, a Norwegian mental asylum. Rather than focus on the now-familiar story of a French peasant girl who, acting upon the voice of God, took up arms and spurred her country to battle against their English occupiers, Dreyer focuses instead on the heresy trial that doomed Joan of Arc to death. Using the court transcripts of the trial of Joan of Arc, Dreyer brilliant frames the film like a stage play, creating space and intimacy, and adds to that immediacy by incorporating hand-held camerawork (a relatively new concept in cinema back then) and, most impressively, utilizing close-ups of all the actors, thereby creating tension.  It would have been a pity had Dreyer’s original print had been lost, because if it’s entirely possible for a performance to be delivered that transcends the cinematic medium, Renee Falconetti’s heartbreaking performance as Joan of Arc; being a silent film, Falconetti’s performance is a master class in the use of facial expressions and physical acting, wherein by being limited to the constraints of silent film, she used her stage acting training to evoke pathos and heartbreak. Hers is a towering performance, and quite possibly the best acting any actor or actress has ever had the privilege of committing on screen.

 

74. Rushmore

I saved Latin. What did you ever do?”

Oh, to be Wes Anderson. To be an auteur that possesses the genius ability to bring to life characters filled with audacity and danger, characters possessing both strong and weak wills, and to be able to do this so colorfully. Makes you want to hate Wes Anderson. But no. Rushmore is the quintessential Wes Anderson film, in which a larger-than-life character named Max Fischer, a precocious high schooler played wonderfully by Jason Schwartzman, is forced to make do with the limitations placed upon him, limitations that include people who either hate him, don’t understand him, or want to kill him. Fischer’s look-at-me-world antics alienate him from the prep school he attends, which isn’t so much a place of higher education for him (in fact, he’s pretty much failing every class), but more a proverbial Petri dish where he can explore and examine the ways he can impose his will upon everyone and everything. Of course, nothing can go exactly as Max has intended things to go, and his life is further complicated by his involvement in a love triangle with one of his professors, also the object of desire of a brilliantly funny Bill Murray, in easily one of his Top 5 greatest acting performances ever. I’m not really describing this film with the justice it’s deserved, so let’s just say that if you’ve seen Rushmore, you probably love Rushmore. You love Max Fischer, even if he’s an insufferable brat who probably does deserve his comeuppance, but you root for him to succeed in any way possible, because seeing his ambitions crushed would be the end of Max Fischer, and we can’t have that, now can we?

 

73. Repo Man  

I don’t want no Commies in my car!… No Christians, either!

The Eighties were a ripe era for indie B-movies, the weirder the better. Fewer took the cake in terms of sheer lunacy like Repo Man. Is it a comedy? Sure. Is it a sci-fi flick? You bet. Is it bat-shit crazy? Oh hell yes it is! I mean, the plot doesn’t make a whole lick of sense – the gist of it involves Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton as a pair of repo men responding to a $20,000 bounty put on a piece-of-shit Chevy Malibu that is also being sought out by government agents because the car may or may not be radioactive and…well, who cares? Emilio Estevez has never been better, Harry Dean Stanton has never been funnier, and Repo Man comes at you so relentlessly out of left field, you can’t help but marvel at how original yet insane this all is. It shouldn’t work, because it’s so low-budget, and it feels low-budget, but it’s big on big ideas, and the ideas pay off, somehow making this mashup of comedy and sci-fi and paranoia thrillers and punk rock work so gloriously well. The soundtrack’s fucking awesome, too.

 

 

 

72. The Conversation

I’m not afraid of death but I am afraid of murder.”

 

The 1970s were a golden era for the paranoia thriller; films like Klute, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men reflected the tension in the air, when nothing was what it seems, and that gnawing suspicion that everything was based on lies soaked your very insides. Well, not much has changed, huh? The Conversation just might be the best film of that genre, and more often than not, an overlooked masterpiece. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, straight from the overwhelming success of the Godfather (and right before The Godfather Part II), The Conversation is a look inside the life of a surveillance expert, and the cloistered existence of both his personal and professional life. Played with beautiful, mute understatement by the great Gene Hackman, his Harry Caul is a lonely man who seems incapable of being able to remotely connect to colleagues and strangers beyond a rudimentary fashion. His inability to connect basically with people gives The Conversation that air of dread and paranoia; what seems to be a routine surveillance job leads Caul down a path where nothing is obviously as it seems, and we learn that for all his expertise, Caul is shockingly unable (or unwilling) to comprehend that the observer is being observed himself, leading towards a bitter ending. Look for a brief appearance by a pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford as a creepy messenger, who gives Caul some much-needed advice that he sadly fails to accept.

 

71. There Will Be Blood

I drink your milkshake…I drink it up!”

There’s 2 schools of thought regarding There Will Be Blood; one school of thought is this film is a searing, mesmerizing, deliberately-paced epic of a man whose greed inevitably strips him of his humanity, and the second school of thought is this film is a dull, slow-paced drag of a man with no redeeming social qualities whatsoever. Obviously, I’m in the former camp, and I’m often struck by why people seem to dislike this film. Admittedly, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Daniel Plainview, a man whose ambition is corrupted by greed, is, at times, unnecessarily over-the-top, but that’s precisely the point; There Will Be Blood isn’t a plot-driving film, but a deeply intense character study in which we’re witnesses to the downward projection of Plainview, and, with the exception of Paul Dano as the false prophet Eli Sunday, everyone Plainview comes across can simply be disposed of, and mean absolutely nothing to him. I think people are put off at how bleak There Will Be Blood is; there are no happy endings, and Plainview, rather than becoming redeemed, morphs into a full-fledged monster trapped inside a human body. Yes, it’s slow-paced, and deliberately so, that pace allowing the film to breathe and treat the California desert landscape as Plainview’s true adversary. And, yes, it’s overwrought, but you can’t ever take your mind off Daniel Day-Lewis; his genius as an actor is his ability to fool you into thinking he’s not acting – he becomes Daniel Plainview, and as repellant as Plainview is, you’re mesmerized by his depravity and his inhumanity.

 

A Self-Published Author’s Thoughts on the Whole Kindle Unlimited Thing

Like you, I was completely caught by surprise by the whole Kindle Unlimited thing. Unlimited access to over 600,000 titles on any device for just $9.99 a month? Wait…doesn’t Scribd do something like this already? Do we really need another Netflix-like book-borrowing system. I was skeptical, but on the hunt for something to read (I’m still slogging through The Goldfinch, for some reason…), I fired up my Kindle after a several month hiatus and saw the ad for Kindle Unlimited. I took a read. A 30-day free trial was enough to get me at least remotely interested.

The good thing was I did find a lot of titles I would be greatly interested in reading. Of course, no titles from any of the Big 5 publishers, but that was to expected. The bad thing: you’re only allowed to borrow ten titles at a time. Bad deal? Maybe, but then again, your local public library probably imposes a borrowing limit as well.

Limits aside, I was hooked. I blitzed through three books in a day and a half, and I eagerly returned these so I can picked up three more. I can see why this, for the customer, is appealing. I know Amazon has the same kind of thing with Prime, which is included with the Prime membership (which I don’t have), so for Amazon to offer something similar seems like a win-win for both the online retailer and the customer.

Then I started thinking about the authors. How are they getting compensated for their books being “borrowed?” Immediately, I’m thinking about the shittastic business model that is Spotify, where you have to download, for example, the new Imagine Dragons album, oh, what 87,124,713 times in order to match the same exactly royalty payment the band would get where I to buy their album from Target? Not that I would, because Imagine Dragons bore me to tears, but you get my point. What if a book has to be borrowed about 93 billion times before an author sees a $120 royalty check?

Better yet, where is Kindle Unlimited getting all 600,000 of these titles from? I noticed a few Harry Potter titles, and the Hunger Games trilogy…hang on, didn’t I see an e-mail from Kindle Direct Publishing the other day, that I may or may not have ignored?

Today we are excited to introduce Kindle Unlimited-–a new subscription service for readers in the U.S. and a new revenue opportunity for authors enrolled in KDP Select.

Do I know of any authors enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing Select? Oh, wait a minute...I’M A KDP SELECT AUTHOR! HANG ON! WHY WASN’T I INFORMED OF THIS? THIS IS AN OUTRAGE? HOW DARE AMAZON ALLOW MY MASTERPIECE TO BE oh who I am kidding?

 

(Here’s the pic I snapped of the search results for my book, which I posted on my Instagram account)

Upon first reaction, I was pleased. It means some more exposure. Some new ways to market my book, perhaps (more on that below), and spread the word.

Upon second reaction, I started thinking about that Spotify example again, and whether I’d get royally hosed in the ass, royalty speaking. I started looking into this issue a little deeper.

From the friendly little e-mail I received from Kindle Direct Publishing just the other day:

KDP Select authors and publishers will earn a share of the KDP Select global fund each time a customer accesses their book from Kindle Unlimited and reads more than 10% of their book-–about the length of reading the free sample available in Kindle books-–as opposed to a payout when the book is simply downloaded. Only the first time a customer reads a book past 10% will be counted.

Ok…huh?

I dug a little deeper, searching for help topics at KDP’s website:

To qualify for royalty payment

You’re eligible for royalty payment from Kindle Unlimited each time a new customer reads more than 10% of your book for the first time. A customer can read your book again as many times as they like, but you will only receive payment for the first 10% read.

So this means that in order for me to get the royalty due my book, which is 149 pages long, should someone borrow it, they need to get past Page 15. In other words, they’ll read the first two or three essays. Fine.

But nowhere does it tell me how that royalty is calculated. I did see this over at Michael J. Sullivan’s terrific blog piece at Digital Book World:

Self-published authors are paid from a pool set by Amazon each month. They have no idea how much they will be paid per book.

Huh?

So rather than settling on, say a flat 20% royalty (I’m probably overstating, considering Amazon’s going to get their pound of flesh and maybe more) for every borrowed book, I might (key word “might) be getting, on average, $2 per month, whether my book gets downloaded a shit-ton or four times max. I mean, just how is this pool calculated? How will I, or the thousands of other self-published authors who’ve opted into Kindle Direct Publishing, know exactly how much of a payment we can expect?

It’s fuzzy, that’s for sure, but my hope is that enough voices will be raised, and a royalty structure that’s fair to self-published authors will come to fruition very soon.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I threw my book up there just to get the feel for self-publishing, to give myself a crash-course on the good, the bad, and the ugly on what it means, and what you have to do, in order to self-publish, and do it successfully. My book’s a non-fiction tome with a somewhat limited audience, and I readily accept it’s something of a challenge to market an anthology (I’ve found people really do hate that term!) of previously-published blogs, but so be it. As far as my experiences with Kindle Direct Publishing – and, to a larger extent, CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing imprint – have been very positive. Should I decide to self-publish, and that’s a very distinct possibility, I will likely opt for KDP once again, exclusivities and fine print be damned.

But I do admit the current payment format allotted for self-published authors whose books are part of the Kindle Unlimited program has me concerned.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting marketing strategy: why read when you can borrow? Sure, I’d rather my book sell like hotcakes, but I’ll take it being available in a wide format like this. So, if you’re on the lookout for some funny, insightful, slightly offensive but always thought-provoking essays on sex, marriage, politics, music, why your favorite band sucks, leggy supermodels, and James Patterson, then be a cheap ass read my book, “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere” for free, once you sign up for Kindle Unlimited.

Then tell me how much you loved it.

Guest Post: “A Self-Publishing Blueprint” by Bud Smith

Hi gang,

For our next installment of the Guest Blog Post, I turn to my good friend and all-around fantastic author Bud Smith. Bud’s a veteran of the self-publishing wars, and in his guest post, “A Self-Publishing Blueprint,” he imparts the knowledge and wisdom he’s gained while publishing his own collections of short fiction and poetry. With a healthy dash of humor, to boot. His guest post will surely answer any questions you might have about self-publishing, and ease your mind as well.

A little about Mr. Smith:

Bud Smith is the author of the novel, Tollbooth (Piscataway House), the short story collection, Or Something Like That (Unknown Press), and the poetry collection Everything Neon (Marginala). He edits at JMWW and Uno Kudo, and lives in New York City. 
www.budsmithwrites.com 

And now, without further ado…

 

 

 

A Self Publishing Blueprint
                       

by Bud Smith

 

 

Oh Jesus, this again. The debate, ‘Should I self publish my book, or should I sell it to One of the Big Five?’
Who knows what you should do. Should you be getting an agent? Should you be looking for a movie deal? Should you be finishing your book? Should you start writing your book? Should you get off the floor, you’ve been laying there curled up in a ball for three weeks, just eating crumbs that roll over.

Regardless of all that, I think it comes down to, Have I put in the time to learn how to do what I want to do great.
Okay! I saw this coming … YOU’RE GREAT! Knew you’d say that.
So then, you probably wanna talk about self publishing. There’s no time to waste, you say, I gotta self publish this book ASAP. Alright, keep reading. But also, if you are against self publishing, keep reading. I’ll talk in this article about how to use POD to print your drafts out in paperback form, for you to edit and finalize, before submitting to small presses, agents, even God. She likes a good book too.
 

Self Pub 101
1. There’s still a stigma against self-published books. I call it, the grime of self-publishing. But, they can be great books. And they can be just as great as books released from major publishing houses.

 

* Whenever I say just as good, I mean, they can actually be far better, because they can say whatever the hell whacked out thing they want.
* When I read a book, I’m reading it for the art of the writing. It doesn’t bother me if you put your book out yourself or if the biggest publishing house in the world put your book out.

* I think of small press books in the same light that I think of indie films. Some of my favorite movies are made by solitary directors who wrote, produced, and acted in their own films. There’s a handful of books on my self that are from authors who’ve pulled off that same level of commitment to their books. It can be done. It will be done again.

2. Not all self-published books are created equal.
* The problem most readers have with dedicating their time to reading a self published book, is the fact that the creators of the book, sometimes seem to give zero fucks about spell checking their work, editing their work for typos, working on the appearance of the text, considering font, sizing of page, spacing of lines and characters … in short, the readers are mad because they are looking at a sloppy/ugly book that is not pleasing on the eye or brain, regardless of the content or quality of the writing, and the purpose that writing achieves on an entertainment and educational level.

*Successful self-published books, are that way because of the level of care put into ‘building the thing from the ground up.’

*And it’s all bout the person who’s putting together the project, hence the self in the self publishing. If the self wants to take their time and do something beautiful, the self can do that. If the self wants to put it out raw, the self can do that too.
Whichever. I’m a fan of both ways.

I’m probably not the best person to ask if self publishing is cool. I’m biased, and by biased, I mean, “I don’t give a fuck what is considered cool.”

I just care about making stuff. Sometimes making stuff involves me working with a press on a book that they will publish for me, like I got to did with my novel Tollbooth (Piscataway House), and did with a collection of my poetry called Everything Neon (Marginalia Press); or other times, it’s all ‘me’, and by that I mean Unknown Press, and I’m doing all the layout of the book myself, from cover to cover  and the inside guts between. That self publishing stuff happened with my short story collection Or Something Like That, the literary anthologies, First Time, and the forthcoming anthology Too Much.
I like books, and I like making them, any way that I can.
I get all starry-eyed with the process. But, had a big trial and error period with making my own books, ie. self publishing my own books. I scoured the internet looking for people who would ‘tell me how to do it.’ And believe me, they would—there’s no shortage of long-winded advice that leads nowhere.
Just look at this fucking article. Long-winded, check. Semi-helpful, check.
But my purpose here … is to just say what I do. To give you the details. To get you set-up, so that your book looks the best it can, whatever that means for you.

Self-publishing for release.
Or using the self publishing model to generate your own ‘draft books cheaply.’
 

 

The Process Step By Step

1. Your book should be done, finished, finito.

 

*  By finito, I mean: you’re ready to stop writing for a little while, get it printed up as a ‘proof’, order yourself a copy, and read it. Run spell check on your draft at least.

 

2.  Layout

 

*  I make 6 X 9 books generally. 5 X 8 books will follow the same general layout and formatting tips though.

*  margins are 1 inch. All margins, Top, Bottom, Left, and Right.

*  Header and Footers, I Set at .5 inches, but generally put nothing in them but page numbers. I like a simplistic, clean book.

*  all indents are set to 0 in.

*  tabs= .25 inches. The tabs are set this way, so they create a pleasing paragraph start. A moderate bump in, at  the start. Most bad looking self published books have 2 dead giveaway layout messups. The first, is over exaggerated paragraph starts, ie. .5 inches-1 inch on a 6 X 9 book … The other mess-up I commonly see, if that the self pub author decides to put a an extra space (line break) after the conclusion of each paragraph. This always looks unnatural.

3. Formatting
*  text is 11 pt. Georgia, Garamond, or Minion.

*  Line spacing is 1.1, or 1.2 (white space is your friend in book design.)

*  Alignment = Justified. Clean edges. Text like a box. Open up a pro-book by a big pub house … oh shit look at that, they are all aligned as ‘Justified’

*  Character spacing I usually leave alone, but you can add a little white space between the individual characters if you prefer. 1%-2% max is recommended for this, in the body of text for a standard novel, short story collection, book of essays.

Sections

*  First of all, when you open a book, the inside of the cover, does not count as a page. Page one, is on your right hand side when you immediately open a book. This might seem counter-intuitive to some. But, all books start on page 1. Well laid-out books will not be numbered (in header or footer) until after the title page, publisher page, any other pertinent page, before the actual text of ‘page 1’ of your novel starts

In example: there should be no ‘page numbers’ in the headers or footers of these pages, in this: section one.

*  page 1: title page

*  page 2: publisher’s page/copyright page

*  page 3: table of contents (A/)

*  alt. page 3: “for”

*  alt. alt. page 3 “quote”

*  page 4: blank, (add section break)

 

Section Two: begin automatic page numbering in header or footer.
*  page 5: text of book begins here.

*  page 5-whatever (body of book)

*  last page of body text (add section break)

Section Three: no page numbers here.

*  at end of book, on an even page, add acknowledgements

*  blank page

*  finish with bio page

Tip
I always like to ‘start’ a new chapter, on a new clean page. I add page breaks to the end of paragraphs that will be the finale to a chapter. This keeps things clean, and organized. You could just hit return a bunch of times, but if you add a page break, your formatting will improve dramatically, and as you edit, add/remove text in later drafts, the start and stops of paragraphs will be cemented.

Conversion

You have a pleasing looking document now. I go into the Menu>File>Print, and in the print window, I convert the .doc into a PDF. A PDF is beloved by printers. What you see on the page is what you see in the book.

I use Createspace for my printer. There’s benefits to using them, especially in the price, quality, ease of upload … and my favorite thing, the ability to keep ordering cheap proof copies of your title as you see fit, before approving it (if ever) for release online and in the Amazon store.

 

Other benefits of PDF

*Pdfs can be uploaded to issue.com And you will get a preview of how the interior of your book will look in printed form (on screen). You will be able to flip through your book by cursor, to take a look at your layout, choice of font, sizing, spacing and page numbering …

*Upload the PDF to your printer, ie. Createspace.

*Be sure to select 6X9 book if your file is a 6X9 PDF, or however you set your pages up.

 

Book Cover

Of course book covers are important. If you don’t have much experience with making your own covers, it’s a good idea to get help. A bad book cover steers people away. Generally, if I see a book with a bad cover and know it’s self published, I make the assumption that it is not edited, even proofread, laid out nicely, or in general, worth my time. Remember this is all happening digitally online, mostly. People are going by a thumbnail.

So … that said, if you are going to make your own cover, and have a working knowledge of photoshop, at least, you can, and should give it a shot on your own. (Q: Do you suck now? How will you get better? A: BY DOING IT.)

 

*Sometimes simpler is better.

*Graphic, timeless covers do better.
*Make sure the title is clear.
*Make sure your name is clear.
*Avoid: busy
*Avoid: cheesy
*Avoid: blurry, crooked and smudged

 

Some of my favorite covers are from Charles Bukowski. All his press did was put the title of the book and the author’s name, with minimal fluff. See also: Ask the Dusk and Catcher in The Rye (red cover yellow letters)

Don’t like how it comes out? Fucking hire someone to fix it, maing.

 

Order it.

 

When it’s all loaded up on your printer’s site, and you finally get that email that says they are ready for you to order your proof copies, or they are ready for you to CLICK APPROVE PROOF COPIES, slap yourself in the face if you thought for a second to just approve the proof copies.

 

*  Order a physical copy

*  Read it.

*  Revise it.

*  Mark it up.

*  No matter what you do on your own, you will not find all the typos.

*  Again: No matter what you do on your own, you will not find all the typos.

*  Fix the original doc.

*  Make a new PDF.

*  repeat until you are happy with the result.

*  I recommend getting people to read your book, extensively proofreading it. I recommend paying them what you can. I recommend that till the cows come home. A new author will not listen. That’s fine. You will one day break. You will one day learn. Or, you can just take my fucking advice now. HAVE SOMEONE ELSE, who is not your friend or lover, proofread your book. Better yet, get two people.

*  Fix it again.

*  Make a PDF.

*  Re-upload it.

*  Look at the physical proofs.

*  Like it?

 

CLICK APPROVE.

 

Congratulations, you just made a book. I like art and I love books, so I’m happy. Another book for me to read!

Those are some of the tips I can offer. There’s a lot more, and things always change, but  that’s what I’ve got right now. I hope it helps you make a book.

Chances are, it’ll take you a few tries before you are happy with the results. Don’t give up. And keep getting better at writing, designing, editing and making in general, by practicing it.

Even the pros have to learn this stuff. Don’t let anybody tell you that they just skip it. While they make not be physically making and releasing their own titles, their publishing houses are not carrying them as far as legend would have you believe.

Writing and book making is hard work. But hugely satisfying work.
Enjoy it, party animals.

Suzanne, Part III (Writing 101, Day Sixteen)

Part I, click here.

Part II, click here.

 

Even though she’d disappeared from my life, I thought about Suzanne frequently. I’d wanted to call her, but never could get myself to do so. There was a part of me that was hurt she’d disappeared, just like that. It was stupid, of course, to feel this way. The relationship was doomed to be nothing more than short-term. I wouldn’t have been surprised. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Yet I was stung by how the end just came, without warning.

I still rode the 7 train to work every morning. In time, I stopped looking for her. She’d moved on, and it was time for me to do the very same.

Several months later, right as the weather was starting to flash the first signs of summer’s arrival, I spotted a familiar face across a 7 train car that was sparsely crowded in spite of it being rush hour. Without hesitating, I walked across the car and positioned myself next to her, as she was standing by one of the doors. When she recognized me, she blushed, then threw the kind of bear hug that betrayed her not giving one shit as to whether or not someone had anything to say about her very public display of affection. I certainly wasn’t complaining. It was exactly the kind of reaction I was hoping for.

“Omigod, how are you, how have you been, how’s everything, my God, I’ve been busy, I’ve missed you!”

Suzanne said a lot – she landed a new job, she went on that trip to Jamaica she’d threatened to go, did you see Jerry Maguire? – but all I heard was I missed you.

What didn’t matter to me was, if she missed you so much, why didn’t she bother to pick up the phone and call you?

What mattered to me was, how much did she miss me?

We met for dinner and drinks a couple of nights later, and caught up.

We chatted about every topic we could imagine.

All the while, I was waiting for her to say something to me: I’m sorry things ended so abruptly. I have to apologize to you for what I did. I need to tell you what happened.

The conversation was lively, as it had always been. Months had passed between us, but it felt as if Suzanne and I hadn’t seen each other in mere days. Nothing had changed.

Yet everything was different. Her eyes were still alive and wild, and I could tell she really wanted to be around me, but there was something missing. I hadn’t expected any flame to be rekindled, and it wasn’t going to happen. The same overwhelming desire to chase this high that she exuded was gone. In its place was a relationship that was going to be strictly platonic.

And I was going to be perfectly fine with that.

The irony of the platonic relationship, in losing a romantic relationship, but finding some new relationship, was that Suzanne and I now spent even more time together. We attended parties together. We would meet for lunch often – the steps in front of the New York Public Library was a favorite spot to meet for a quick bite and people-watch – or just hang out at her place, sharing what red wine and recreational drugs she had readily available. Whenever she’d call and ask what I was doing, my answer was typically, “Whatever you’re doing.” What I found in Suzanne was a partner in crime, an equal of sorts whom I could bounce ideas off of.

Yet I couldn’t get past why she ended the relationship, the romantic one, so suddenly. I never got an explanation. I imagined all sorts of reasons why she disappeared and didn’t return my calls. Maybe there was another man. Maybe there was a coke-and-booze fueled weekend. Maybe she just got bored of me. I never probed for an explanation, knowing I wasn’t going to get one. But it still rankled me.

In spite of my unresolved feelings towards Suzanne, we remained tight. Then we drifted apart. The last time I saw her was on – surprise, surprise – the 7 train; she was getting on, I was getting off. She invited me to a party she was having. Just a few friends, at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park. I told her I wouldn’t miss it.

I didn’t go. And I didn’t get a “Why didn’t you come to my party?” phone call from her.
POSTSCRIPT

Several years later, I’m in a relationship, with the woman who would later become my wife. We’re living together. I’m happy, excited about the future.

On the commute to work one morning, I see her. Suzanne. She doesn’t see me. She’s wearing a smile on her face, clearly amused or pleased about something unbeknownst only to her. I think about walking across the car, just to say hello, but I don’t. It’s for the best, anyway. What’s the point in saying hello and writing another chapter to a story that wasn’t going to have a good ending to it, anyway.

She gets off at the next stop.

I never saw Suzanne again.