I have partnered with a $4.9 BILLION COMPANY to sell my books. Be jealous.

I admit that I’ve sold a few hundred copies of my novels here and there. Amazon is nice enough to carry my book, as are most other online bookstores like BN.com and Powells. But never have I been so excited for sales as I have with my new partner: PayPal.

PayPal, you say? That $5 billion company that lets people buy creepy dolls and sell car parts off of eBay?

PayPal is my payfriend

Well, yes, but let me explain. While PayPal is best known for being bought by eBay so that eBay could make the world safe for people to buy souvenirs to places they’ve never been and to move along that heirloom piece for $30 that’s been in the family since the Magna Carta, it is so much more with this now that they have this thing called PayPal Here.

My more tech-savvy friends — the ones who “surf the Web pages” or “talk on the Skype” or “have a telephone” — probably are already very familiar with this, but PayPal Here is a setup where you load their software (called an “app”) onto your smartphone (I have an iPhone) or smartpad (I have an iPad) and then use their little free doodad thingy that plugs right into the headphone jack–

But it isn’t headphones. It’s a got-dang credit card swipey reader thing like they have down at the Stop ‘N’ Go. That means that wherever you are with your iPhone or iPad (or, if God doesn’t love you, some sort of Android thing) you can take credit cards.

That sinking feeling of ‘sale fail’

Like … for books. I can now accept credit and debit cards for my books! A truly sad feeling is when you’ve just published, say, a book on them Roswell aliens that in the right light look like dollar signs from gullible people, and you have one of them people right there in front of you, and you done got the books, but they don’t have any cash because frankly cash is so over, and they don’t have a check because this isn’t inside a Gimbal’s from 1947.

In the olden days (which I call BPPH and had its day zero yesterday, so we are now in the first day of the common PPH era), you just had to watch that person leave without your book, even though they wanted it! I AM SLAIN!!!

But now, that person would end up with a shiny new copy of ET’s Done Been In My Butt or whatever, because the author can take credits cards!

This may not be exciting to you, Gentle Reader, but as an indie author, believe me, it is frickin’ exciting. Now when I have a reading like the one coming up in Las Vegas on July 27, I can bring my books and sell them to the audience’s desire, no matter if they have cash, “cheques,” or credit/debit cards!

The heat is on to produce good stuff

Of course, this puts the pressure on me to write and publish (and read from at readings, of course) something that people will want to buy, but that’s what’s so great about the current technological age of publishing! Indie authors are like microbreweries, turning out product in small batches for those who will appreciate it. And in the same way that a microbrewery can become very popular and be able to scale up to a larger operation, so can an author move from indie to small press to midlist to best-seller. It is an exciting time to be a writer, indie publisher — heck, to be alive!

Where to hawk your stock

All right, let me reel it back in here: So I now can take my little bookcart and peddle my wares like a wandering old Jew who sharpens knives and fixes pots and pans. (See the year 1905 for more information.) But here are some great places to sell books for the indie author hand-selling his or her work:

  • Farmer’s markets
  • Libraries, maybe even to them while you’re there
  • Festivals of all kinds, because everybody loves books. And almost every town or county, from New York to Hooterville, has some kind of festival every year, and of course larger towns and cities may have more than one. Here in Las Vegas we just had the Electric Daisy Carnival, which brings music lovers and lovers of illicit hallucinogens together for three days of incoherence and fun — which I know goes well with certain kinds of indie novels out there. Here’s some more examples where you can sell your books (there could be a nominal or larger-than-nominal fee for the table, of course):
    • Literary festivals, natch
    • Art festivals, craft festivals, arts & craft festivals
    • Flea markets
    • Historical festivals like Renaissance Faires
    • Town festivals honoring founders or battles or local industries
      • The Mustard Festival in Middleton, Wisconsin (home of the National Mustard Museum)
      • The Popcorn Festival in Clay County, Indiana (hometown of Orville Redenbacher)
      • The Ethnic Festival in South Bend, Indiana (home of, um, ethnic people? And Catholic Jesus, of course)
  • Open mic nights or karaoke nights at bars and other meeteries

There are, of course, literally a lot of other venues you might be able to hawk your literary wonderments. What all these places have in common is that they (1) host communities of people who are either artists themselves or aficionados of some kind of art; and/or (b) are civic-minded and would thus to be open to a local author being a part of things; and/or thirdly, are places people are likely to have spending money earmarked for that event; and (iv) are places where it is legal to transact business (as opposed, say, to putting out a blanket with your books on it in front of other businesses). You can probably think of some right off the top of your head, and that’s kinda what I’ve been trying to get you to do the whole time, ya bum. (Please put your ideas in a comment here, won’t you?)

At any of these, you don’t have to worry about power outlets, because you’ve got your portable cash register right with you — it’s the PayPal Here thingy from the beginning of the post, remember? EHRMAGERD WE’VE COME FULL CIRCLE!

Wanna play nice with me?

I’m going to be hitting it hard on The Act when it comes out this August, and I would be delighted to share my space with any local authors in the Vegas area who want to get their book out there as well. I’ll be blogging about the ups and downs as they happen, so stay tuned. Or logged in. Or whatever this is.

Happy writing!

P.S. — I know there is a thing similar to PPH called Square, but PayPal rocks my world and I don’t have to set anything else up in order to use it. But OBVI all of this applies to the Square thingabob as well.

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My bang has let out a bit of a wimper

Son, I think we need to talk. Here, sit down on this tree stump with me.

Of course I know we live in an third-floor apartment. I brought the stump up special so we could have a heart-to-heart. Just take off your hula hoop and have a seat.

All right. Remember that new novel of yours, The Axe? Or The Ask?

Right, The Act, right. So anyway, seems like you had your heart set on it coming out on July 2. Am I right about that?

Yeah, I thought so. Well, listen — no, take off that miner’s helmet — okay, your Jedi training visor — and hear me out. The book … ain’t gonna make it to stores by the beginning of July.

Hey now, don’t cry … would Andy Ken Skywalker cry about this?

What? Really? What the hell kind of name is that? Anyway, never mind — the important thing is that remember how you’ve been working with a proofreader on whipping The Act into fighting shape? Well, it’s turned into a final-draft-type polishing project. Coupla timeline things don’t make sense. A character disappears for no reason. Little things, but important. It’s not the end of the world —

No, it is not. Put the 9-volt battery down, son — licking it is only hurting yourself. It isn’t the end of the world. You just want it to be the top quality book that your readers deserve and expect. So we’re changing the release date to the beginning of August so it can be perfect.

No, that is not “forever from now.” Get off the floor. Let’s say August 6, the first Tuesday in August, okay? Tuesday, August 6, 2013, your new novel, The Act, will be released.

Yes, I promise. No, it isn’t like that other promise — look, you wouldn’t get down from the monkey bars, you’re 44 years old for Chrissake, what was I supposed to —

Never mind. The good news is, the Second Edition of Isn’t That an American? is still going to come out in the beginning of July, isn’t that nice?

What? Right, Ain’t That America. New cover, refined content, cheaper price. We’re all very proud of you, putting out books like such a big boy.

Hmm? No, Harry Potter has not called. He isn’t r–

Aw, jeez, again with the crying? I, um, you know, think he is more used to owls than PayPal bribes. Incentives. Whatever, son, I’m gonna go check on … on your Griffendorf or whatever.

Sigh.

The “Z” stands for “Zirony.” (It’s a silent z.)

I went to see the $150 million zombie undeadtacular World War Z starring my doppelgänger, Brad Pitt, and a cast of thousands of very fast and very digital revenants.

Yay, the movie

I had been quite worried about this movie since I adore the Max Brooks “oral history of the zombie war” and didn’t want to see it shot in the head, so to speak. Luckily, my fears were (mostly) unfounded — it’s a very, very suspenseful film, and Brad Pitt is so natural it doesn’t even seem like he’s capital-A “Acting.”

Sure, it doesn’t have much to do with Brooks’s novel, but let’s face it, a really faithful film adaptation of the novel would have had to be essentially Ken Burns Presents Zombies at War and not much of a compelling visual narrative ’cause that ain’t what the book was about.

So two thumbs up on the movie. Go see it — but be warned: It respects its source material in the way of zombies being treated as a serious existential menace, and this is one unrelentingly grim ride. How a war movie should be, actually, not glamorizing but really showing pain and sorrow and weapons that end up more of a problem for those wielding them than for their ostensible targets.

Irony has teeth what bite

Anyway, now that I have spoken upon the movie (I’m sure everyone is breathing much easier now, a-heem), I must address the intense irony of World War Z as it has made its way from the page to the screen. In particular, the issue of China.

Those of you who have read the book may remember that Patient Zero was a young Chinese boy who either was bitten by or scraped his foot on something that was on the bottom of a shallow, muddy river near his rural village. He did the 12-hour zombie drop and revive, and boom — the zombocalypse was born.

In the movie, they’re not quite sure who Patient Zero was (there might be multiple simultaneous or near-simultaneous cases), and it seems to have started in South Korea instead of China. (North Korea SPOILER ALERT has come up with a novel solution to infection: Pulling out all the teeth of all 23 million residents of the closed-off nation. Hurray?)

You may be hungry for human flesh an hour after eating a Chinese zombie

This may not seem like a big deal, but O Gentle Reader, it is huge. In the book, Max Brooks the Novelistic Interviewer (as opposed to the author and son of Mel) presents evidence after piece of evidence that China’s secrecy — not wanting to show weakness or ask for help, which as we know is how China in real life acts on the world stage (which is their perogative, of course, to act how they want) — is to blame for the epidemic not being snuffed out early on.

Also, Brooks makes a very pointed … um, point that human organs trafficked from their political prisoner hosts and which made their way around the world carried the Solanum virus silently and made it seem like people were randomly dropping dead and reviving as zombies. In the book, I believe, exactly what happened is not discovered until well after the War is near its end.

Official opacity. Unethical medical practices. Lies and recriminations instead of buckling down in a multilateral way to solve a problem. These are all like China (and sometimes other countries including the US, but I mean as an apparent rule of behavior) in the real world, and so seem like really salient points in the novel of WWZ.

I’m not bashing China here — this is a book about zombies taking over the world, after all, and so we shouldn’t necessarily look to it for trenchant political science — I’m just saying that the public face China shows to the world works extremely well in the novel as a place where the epidemic could spread before most of the world was even aware of it.

Money talks, but all mine ever says is “BLARGH KILL HUMAN ARRRRRRGH”

The irony of all of this is that the filmmakers changed the location of Patient Zero from a very plausible (for the reasons noted above) China and its buddy-in-secrecy North Korea to a bland-if-not-nonsensical South Korea. You can almost here the producers saying with an aw-shucks grin, Hey, Asia’s Asia, right?

Well, no, not really, because South Korea is a close ally of the West and it ruins the — anyway, why is it now South Korea instead of China? The answer, as usual, lies in the green stuff that isn’t gangrenous zombie flesh: Money.

China is the number-one overseas market right now for American action movies. It is huge — so huge, in fact, that foreign revenue can count for more than half of a movie’s gross, and so every effort is now taken to avoid offending our easily offended neighbors to the East. (Remember that character called “The Mandarin” in Iron Man 3, but who had an accent placing him somewhere between Baton Rouge and Raleigh? There you go.)

Not offending potential customers is not a bad thing in itself, but it weakened WWZ with the heavy irony that in the book, one of the reasons the exploding zombie infection is already a pandemic by the time China admits it’s even happening is because officials want to placate China, our important trading partner, and not, you know, imply that they are hiding on one hand and spreading on the other a world-killing epidemic. It’s not exactly political correctness — it’s more like business courtesy. And it kills 3/4 of the world.

That’s the book. In the movie, people just ignored the “zombie memo” that came out of South Korea (except the Israelis, who are tough as goddamn nails but not into SPOILER ALERT turning down the stereo when a hundred thousand sensitive-eared undead are waiting fifty feet on the other side of a wall). It puts the blame … nowhere, really, because would you believe a memo saying zombies are attacking? (Okay, bad example — if you’re reading this then you, like me, would probably totally believe it. Forget I said that last bit.)

Everybody play nice, we’ll all be undead soon

It takes WWZ from a haunting and all-too-plausible novel to a scary but kind of random horror movie. Which is fine, really — I love horror movies, and this is one is particularly well done, acted, directed, and paced. But by not wanting to offend the Chinese, the producers of the movie act exactly as the government officials do early in the novel, valuing smooth relations over the possibility of doing something really singular and right.

If anybody wants to talk WWZ, book or movie, have at it in the comments below and I’ll jump in.

Methinks my 15 minutes of zombie fame are just about up.

Video

“Video” of my gorgeous punim while I talk zombies on the WMAL morning news show. I have an mp3 on my website at http://www.seanhoade.com/zombies.htm.

They pronounce my name incorrectly and also say I’m writing a “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies,” which I’m not (they already have one), but that’s showbiz for you, I guess.

This has been very fun this week and it’s been great connecting with zombie enthusiasts and other assorted lunatics this past week or so, but now that World War Z is out, I think I’ll be settling back into my writer’s life where I think about things other than the undead menace.

Okay, other things in addition to the undead menace.

A call from the writing wilderness … and an answer

Having been a writing teacher and acclaimed (ahem) author for nigh on 13 years now, sometimes a friend or former student comes to my a bit shyly and asks for help getting back on track when it comes to writing. I love the opportunity to talk shop and also to help build the confidence of other writers, especially since this was done for me many times as I tried to convince myself working at Kinko’s wasn’t enough. So my friend calls out from the verbiage hinterlands:

I’d like to ask your professional advice on writing. You see, I want to write. I even have a few good ideas. At least, I think they’re decent. I’m no longer a student, got kicked out middle of last year (that’s a hellava story, but not the point at the moment), and since then, I’ve wanted to write even more.

I haven’t read anything from this young man in a while and I don’t remember anything about either his preferred subject matter or his style. But to be honest, that’s not important — if I’m being asked for specific help rather than what this inquiry was, a general “writing life” question, I always ask to look at some of the person’s recent work.

I do know that this fellow — let’s call him DN — is very intelligent and curious about the world, two qualities I think most good writers share. He got kicked out of school, which I think is often a very good sign for a writer, if not for the comfort of his life for a while. There are several fiction writers out there who don’t even have MFAs and so are rankly unqualified to write.

But anyway, let’s see where this is going:

Yet, I find myself lost in where to go with anything. I can start an idea, but I can never seem to get anywhere with it. I used to type things out on a computer, but found myself hating how things could so instantly be changed, erased, deleted. Any edits on a computer replace original work, leaving no trace.

This is less true now than in years past, because Microsoft Word (and other equally powerful word processing programs) allow you to “track changes” and see exactly what was changed from draft to draft. This is a great improvement, although it’s nothing that’s going to rival Maxwell Perkins making novels out of the pages of Thomas Wolfe. One can hardly picture “the Hoade compendium of tracked changes” being perused in a library years from now.

I will say that having great ideas, or starting writing on said ideas, is without a doubt not enough to see you through to a finished short story most times, let alone a finished novel. I know, because I have so many goddamn great ideas, I can’t believe Oslo hasn’t called about a prize of some sort.

The problem here is that an idea — and that can mean anything from a visual image to a pithy one-liner to a concept about how alone we are in the universe — isn’t what people read fiction for. It is true, especially in speculative fiction, that there is very often an intriguing, even unique, “great idea” around which the book or story is written, but that isn’t what people read fiction for.

In my opinion — and, DN, you did ask for my opinion — people read fiction to experience a world more deeply than one non-Godlike person can experience, whether that means knowing the lust and guilt of Lady Chatterley from inside her mind; experiencing what it’s like to be a citizen of a dystopian planet; or visiting the afterlife and coming back again. Readers are after a narrative experience that real life just doesn’t offer. They are not after an idea.

Have you ever seen the 1982 movie Night Shift, with Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler? (You should — it’s very funny.) In that movie, Michael Keaton keeps a small tape recorder with him at all times in case he has a magnificent idea, so he can record it for later work. One of his ideas was as follows:

What if you mix the mayonnaise in the can, WITH the tunafish? Or … hold it! I got it! Take LIVE tuna fish, and FEED ’em mayonnaise! Oh this is great. [speaks into tape recorder] Call Starkist!

Great idea (and a great little joke that reveals character), but it’s a Twitter message, not a story. Similarly, if a writer’s idea never goes further than “It’s a society where people who can’t dance are surgically changed to have two left feet, literally!” then that writer is going to have a heck of a time writing anything of any length or interest.

Moving on:

Then I started writing by hand, and it seemed to go better. But I find myself never going back and retrieving what I’ve written, never actually getting to editing, only writing new things, with no continuity. Hell, the best writing I feel I’ve done was an essay on a typewriter a while ago, as I saw it being physically created, I scribbled notes over the printed font, then cut the paragraphs out with scissors and rearranged them till they fit together how I liked.

Okay, this is unfortunate, DN, but it makes sense. For you the artifact of the written piece — the feel of pencil on looseleaf paper or the smell of typewriter ribbon that remains on the page — is overwhelming in good and bad ways. Bad, because ultimately it is content that matters to readers; but good, because there are a lot of writers like you out there, more multimedia artist than pure wordsmith, perhaps, who want to have a carnal relationship with the medium of manipulable paper and ink.

Not that anyone should follow his pharmaceutical path, but Beat writer William S. Burroughs liked to work with way, with hundreds of small pieces of paper with a scene, or an image, or perhaps just an interesting phrase typed or written on it. He would accumulate hundreds of these crots and then assemble them into something approaching a narrative or at least a consistent mood. In fact, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg came to Tangiers where WSB was recuperating from some drug-induced nonsense and made it their project to make a book out of this mountain of material. Working with the physical pieces of paper (as, of course, one had to do before the computer), Kerouac and Burroughs put together WSB’s best known book, Naked Lunch.

There’s even a name for this: It’s called the pastiche method, and writers as diverse as Burroughs, John Dos Passos, and Vladimir Nabokov. The last had very neat boxes of index cards with scenes typed on them and would arrange them in the most novelistic way he could, and then he had a novel. (Of course, I imagine he then wrote transitional material as connective tissue, but WSB didn’t.) Maybe this is an approach that would work for you. It frees the writer completely from worries about flow and even about “making sense.” It is a high tactile experience that sounds like something you might be able to enjoy and create with.

So I guess I need to ask you a question now, DN — what kind of stories do you want to tell?