By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
There will be two main characters in the story of publishing your novel online, protagonist and antagonist, and just as in life, they’re both you. Call them Author 1 and Author 2.
Author 1 has had some good reviews and has a secret image to uphold about being better than the pack. When people offer him new ideas, like to publish his novel on the Internet, he retells, acidly, the old anecdote about the great but impoverished conductor Nicolas Slonimsky, whose in-laws urged him to apply for a bandleader job at Disneyland (“He’s a musician, isn’t he?”). Then he goes out on the back porch and sulks.
Author 2 looks more like Harlan Ellison, who once wrote a novel in a bookstore window. Or Jamal down the block, who sells his CDs from a gym bag in front of Starbucks. Or my friend Bruce, who, when I couldn’t find an agent for the new book, said, “So publish yourself! That’s what Jamal does.”
That’s when you meet your third main character, the Devil, who says only one thing, over and over: But — you can’t.
The Devil is right. The listings on www.onlinenovels.net all confirm what Author 1 fears: It might really be possible to die of literary illegitimacy:
Redeemer’s Law, by Dan Jolley: Matt steals an armored body suit and uses his powers to take out the anger and frustration of his tragedy-filled life on an unsuspecting public as the masked vigilante known as the Redeemer.
Stolen Warrior, by Wes Platt. Neurojournalist Len Dixon ... should be overjoyed at the prospect of exclusive coverage of the conflict, but all he really wants is to get back to his home universe.
But when is your home universe no longer home? I remember a Twilight Zone episode where James Whitmore, revered leader of a colony of shipwrecked space travelers, hides trembling in a cave when the rescue ship arrives rather than give up his post — marooned by the sin of pride. This teleplay has haunted Author 1 through life.
So I ended a kind of dysfunctional, common-law marriage to an agent who’d spent five years not committing to my book. The agent had said, “The problem seems to be that I can’t decide ultimately if this is a great novel or just a novel with great writing in it.” He said everything but No. On the day I broke it off, he wrote that I was more than justified, for he still couldn’t commit to the novel — but that he wasn’t absolutely sure, and, “I might even be talked out of this position.” It freed me. I finally got the joke.
Then came the cosmic avalanche. Out of nowhere, I met Jerry Burgan, co-founder of We Five, the electro-folk ’60s band that recorded my all-time favorite song (“You Were On My Mind”), and we began collaborating on Burgan’s memoir. When I told him I was going to post my full novel online, he offered me an original song to accompany it. I heroically resisted tainting my literary work with a stunt like that.
Except that it just made so much sense. The novel is, after all, about a country rocker.
When I asked more bands for songs, Stanley Wycoff donated a track (with Dave Alvin and Chris Gaffney) and David Stadalnikas donated two. We all began planning live performances at indie record stores. Suddenly, Author 1 was photographed for the cover of the alternative weekly in Long Beach, camera-flash blazing off his glasses, like Milhouse’s dad on The Simpsons.
Someday, when everyone has something like a Kindle-iPod and a pocketful of e-novels with playable clips in the text, the endgame of digital publishing will seem as natural as Al Jolson and the talkies. But it can’t be Author 1 saying this.
Nor has the literary world leapt up to cheer. When I e-mailed news blasts all over the country, baffled agents sent robo-rejections before I’d finished typing their names.
But when I lit a flare for help on Facebook (“Can anyone get these sound clips to play?”), I received nothing but fellowship, encouragement, and that blue-sky Gypsy sense that all of us are together, drawing hearts in invisible ink.
Honestly, I still see Author 1 in the mirror. Onstage, whenever we do our first reading-performance, I’m going to look as odd and émigré, and I hope as gracious, as Leonard Cohen, while not nearly as well dressed. Moreover, Alt. Country is embarrassingly flawed. In many ways unpublishable. A poor pioneer. The dysfunctional agent, I am Author 2 enough to say, is welcome to be right.
And yet — the beauty of publishing your novel online is that the future is ever correctible, the past’s footfall erased. (The reason so few novels have endings worth their beginnings is that the value of a novel lies in what it resurrects in you while it lives — an open-endedness made for the Internet.) I can revise my installments again, watch characters say what they mean, move myself to tears with a once-troubled passage that finally touches truth — be unfinished and finished at once, like the day’s conversations, online and off. And watch God’s hands shape the whole new adventure, past into future, in fresh clay.
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