I have been ruminating a good deal on the subject of book covers recently. Having spent a fair amount of time involved in the final stages of preparations for 'Moscow Drive,' I decided to get in front with my third book, the novella 'Get Stupid!' the cover of which now appears above the excerpt on this site.
We all have our own tastes when we view covers, just as we enjoy individual reading preferences. I know that people are often drawn to or repelled from a book due to the initial response engendered by the cover.
I have received e-mails from a number of people who loved the artwork and subsequent cover for my first novel, as designed and illustrated by Eric Uhlich.
I decided to have a look at the approach of some larger publishers and well-established writers in respect of covers and the role that they play in drawing our attention, as readers, to the novel. This is in no way scientific - I have yet to draw any kind of conclusion on the matter - but in selecting 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, it has been easy to provide an example of the various options open to the large publishing houses. Small and independent publishers and indeed, self-publishers are not able, generally, to reconsider a cover design on subsequent print run's or for various formats and markets. At the foot of the publishing ladder, for covers at least, one size is invariably made to fit all.
A word about Michael Chabon... I chose Michael Chabon partly out of a personal bias toward his writing (I am unabashed in my fandom) and partly because Harper Collins have done such a tremendous job in packaging the novel and providing an array of covers. Many critics and readers feel this novel represents the peak, so far, of Chabon's career. Whilst I personally prefer 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union,' I can whole heartedly recommend 'K&C.'
Two final notes here, if we regard the word on Michael Chabon to be a prelude to a footnote (pretext to a subtext? prologue to an epilogue? I'll stop there).
1) The examples of the covers below were ham fistedly culled from across the net and are in no way supposed to represent the best quality of reproductions available. Also, the copyright obviously remains with the relevant people).
2 or 3) finally and for the record, Michael Chabon does not know who the hell I am and did not co-operate or be asked to co-operate for this blog.
Anyway, enjoy the covers and perhaps post a reply if you have a strong opinion or have read the novel.
Harry Crews – a Southern Icon
I’m limited in my exposure to Harry Crews. I have read novels but not nearly enough. The Gospel Singer and Scar Tissue both appealed to me for different reasons. Harry Crews was an extreme writer and an extreme man. His mantra was honesty in all things. It is the reason that he valued sport so highly. The stats, said Harry, could not lie in sport.
“There’s no bullshit. You think you’re faster than me? Fine. Let’s get a stop watch. Boom! We can find out. You can’t lie about that.”
Crews was drawn to body building, wrestling and coaching both sports when he had stopped competing.
His fiction was populated with desperate drinkers and single minded, conflicted thinkers. Whilst that in itself is nothing new, Crews had a style, a stance all his own. His no bullshit policy permeates his writing. The language is often tough, stark and bleak and yet it is often poetic and thoughtful. You get the very real impression that Harry had the fights, emptied the bottles, mistreated and was mistreated by life generally.
But he wasn’t one to hide, look him up on You Tube. Watch the interviews, he can seem overtly arrogant and yet humble within the same clip.
I discovered Harry Crews due to my passion for the writing of two other Southern State writers, Barry Hannah and Larry Brown.
At some point, I will write a blog fully appreciating these two men, each of whom possessed the capability to make me wonder why in the hell I ever imagined I could be a writer.
Tragically, I discovered Barry Hannah and Larry Brown posthumously; at least I was able to appreciate Harry Crews toward the end of his colourful life.
As ‘Moscow Drive’ nears completion and the first three chapters are posted on this site, I wanted to take a moment to say a few words about the novel and how it developed.
Since moving to Liverpool, I have been increasingly aware of its potential as a setting for fiction. This city has everything, locations, humour, darkness and characters abound wherever you are. There is a sense in this city that anything could be possible at any time. So, I knew I would be writing something before long with the city at the heart of the piece.
Dogs Chase Cars came together quickly for a first novel. Although the initial ideas for Harry and Caleb Pink came years before, I wrote the majority of the first draft within a couple of months. This developed over the next three months and it took roughly the same time to revise and edit through Andrew Oberg at Drugstore.
‘Dogs’ had been set in Takoma Park, Maryland partly because I just got a feel for the place when I was based there for a few weeks years ago and partly because my brother lives in the U.S. and I am always fascinated by the vast cultural differences that lurk just below the surface, despite apparent similarities and reference points.
At some point, I will base a novel in Preston, which is, after all my home town. Or at least it was a town before it acquired city status at the turn of the century. I haven’t felt as warm about the place since, it sometimes feels like a town borrowing some big ideas but never quite pulling them off.
Liverpool isn’t like that. It can look any city in the world in the eye and know who it is. This is partly what informs Moscow Drive and the characters that inhabit it.
They are not crushed by small town doubts, although those doubts can make a decent novel too, they are caught up in a city much bigger than them and everywhere they go, there is always someone who knows something you don’t or is ready to drop the bomb.
This novel has a very different feel to Dogs Chase Cars. It is not a cosy, feel good story and nor is it supposed to be. Hopefully, it still supplies the requisite number of laughs and some surprises. The main feature of this book however, should be its pace. Dogs is languid and takes its time to move anywhere because it reflects the character of Harry, whose voice is used to narrate the story.
When I started Moscow Drive, I initially wrote in first person from the perspective of Alex Rifkin. It wasn’t working. I didn’t hear Alex’s voice as clearly as I could Harry’s. I wasn’t inside his head, or he inside mine. The other problem was the sheer number of characters and plot twists needed to achieve what I was looking for. I couldn’t feasibly write this novel in first person. I couldn’t tie the threads to each other in that mode. When I started again and wrote in third person, it freed me to change point of view as often as I needed to tell the story. I really enjoyed the fact that I could get to know each of the characters gradually. This is not Dogs part two, the action is sustained, and people die. Lots of people die. There are somewhere in the region of fifty characters but the story doesn’t hang around in any one place long enough to get to know their inner most thoughts. It isn’t supposed to. Moscow Drive is supposed to be a beach book, a quick read with a fast pace and a shed load, if you pardon the pun, of violence and profanity. It was designed that way. I hope that it still appeals to those who liked Dogs Chase Cars. The hallmarks are still there but the methods have changed. This isn’t a book for those easily offended by “bad” language or extreme violence.
One of the unexpected bonuses of writing in this way is that I feel like my female characters have more substance than previously. I’m thinking here of Judith Barry and Alex’s Nan.
Meanwhile, the sequel to Dogs “The Lost Cause Collective” is 22,000 words in and beginning to take shape nicely. For Harry, Reuben, Lambert and Meg fans I’m hoping it will see the light of day either late this year or very early 2012. There is also a sequel to Moscow Drive in the works and two stand alone novels that are ongoing
As posted on the site of Drugstore Books. www.drugstorebooks.comAny day now the final part of a process that began almost a year ago will occur. The soft landing of a cardboard packet onto carpet will signify the arrival of my proof copy of Dogs Chase Cars.
When it does, I have no idea how I will feel or react. I have been asked by a number of friends and family how it will feel to hold the book in my hands. Well, I think relief and adrenalin will probably compete for attention. What started as an idea for a character in the mid-nineties is now a book and the process has been in turns exhilarating, surprising, frustrating and incredibly rewarding. I have learned things about myself along the way that I did not know previously. For example, I have learned that my attention span veers between monk-like and goldfish-like when it comes to getting the work done. I have learned that caffeine fuels, alcohol hinders. I have also learned that my own particular style is to work very quickly through the first draft and then to take time revising. Often, that revision process is incredibly difficult to let go of. I believe that another person—at least one—absolutely needs to be involved.
It is tough to stand back from something you have created and fix the broken or faulty parts. This is where Drugstore Books came in. I was already a fan of Drugstore. I liked the ethos of promoting quirky fiction and of taking a look at non-mainstream work. Drugstore has been a pleasure to work with. Since day one, they have supported me (at times extremely patiently), in the pursuit of my dream. And make no mistake, it was a dream. My initial contact was inspired by a desire to see my work included on The Book Rack.
As it became two chapters and then three and four, as I made the nervous approach attempting to sound like I knew what I was doing(!), I will never forget the e-mail I received from Andrew, much quicker than I expected, explaining that provided Paul agreed, we would be taking the book forward. Around twenty-four hours later, I received Paul’s confirmation and realised that I now had a goal to focus on, which proved essential in finishing the novel. Andrew urged me constantly: just get to the end of the first draft, we can edit from there.
Andrew Oberg and Paul Rogers have the ultimate set-up for a writer looking for independence and wanting to express their voice in the way they hear it. They offer all of the benefits of self-publishing with two major differences. They don’t take a penny from you and your work is subject to an honest and fair editorial process. They are not running a vanity press. They have to see something in your work that they like. The spark has to be there. But if they believe it is and you all decide to work together, then this is a team effort.
Andrew and I exchanged countless e-mails on everything from AmericaniZed spellings to typesets, fonts and plot kinks. Sports results, Japan (Andrew lives in Japan) and Liverpool (I live in Liverpool). I found Andrew’s help invaluable and his opinions helped me to finish the book. I never lost sight of the fact that I was going to be on The Book Rack. I had wanted that so badly when I submitted and for the record, no, I never sent it anywhere else. I approached the people that I felt would best understand what I was trying to achieve and what I was about. I had no idea how right that judgement would be.
Drugstore Books are not about profit. They are not about ego. They operate like an indie record label put together by college friends to promote each other’s music and retain their integrity and individuality.
We are about to see the final steps of this (almost) year-long process. I have been asked by friends and relatives if I would work with Drugstore again. The answer is: absolutely. Although I am aware that Andrew and Paul also see their niche as helping new writers get a toe onto the ladder. They have done that for me and I could not have predicted things that are happening to me now. I am now being sent books to review and to provide blurbs for. I am making and receiving direct contact with and from writers who inspire me and readers who seem to like my work. And all of this before the book is officially available!
Writing is a solitary task but this really felt like teamwork. Thanks to Andrew, Paul and Eric. Long may the Drugstore doors be open for others like me.
Around three years ago, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a copy of Joe R. Lansdale’s Captain’s Outrageous in a Lancaster book shop. To those legions of readers that Joe has already converted, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are as real as a hot Texas day and a flea ridden dog corpse laying in the gutter.
I have read all my life. I come from a family of readers. I had never read the book that I wanted to write. The book that above all others, I wished I had written. Sure, I had read countless books I loved, admired and read again. Not a single one, however, that lit the fuse directly to my soul and exploded.
Joe R. Lansdale, simply put, made me want to write. He made me want to reach into my imagination and my life experience and drag that stuff out kicking and screaming into the sunlight. He re-awakened all of the characters, bar room stories, bar room brawls and 2a.m. conversations I had ever had or been a party to. His writing reminded me of standing on high ground at dawn with a couple of good friends, the worse for beer and cigar tails trailing into the tree tops, putting what was wrong with the world to order.
I have read and re-read the entire Hap and Leonard series and I am itching for the latest two instalments, Hyenas and Devil Red to land on my porch mat.
It is as a tribute and homage to Joe that my own series of books set in Liverpool and coming before the end of the year, wears the title Mersey Mojo. I am going to keep the details to myself for the time being but suffice it to say that Joe crossed my mind a number of times in writing these books. And whilst it would take a far braver man than I to claim any semblance of parity, I am, in my own way, attempting to infuse the spirit of what made me stand back and start again when I read Joe’s books. I am trying to create a world as magical, weird and downright violent as East Texas. Fortunately, Liverpool has provided me with one hell of a playground in which to set these stories. I hope my love for the city and its inhabitants comes through in my words.
I buy Joe’s paperbacks just about whenever I see them. It means I have spares, which in turn means I can pass them on. Pride of place; a signed edition of Captain’s Outrageous that I stumbled across here in Liverpool. It made me feel as though the whole thing was coming back full circle and it was time to breathe fire into these plots and characters in my mind.
Look out for the Rifkin & Whelan Mersey Mojo series around November of this year. In the meantime, if you want to check out the King of Mojo His Own Self, look no further than Joe R. Lansdale.
Many, many moons ago when the promise of eternal summer was enough to have me reaching for a notebook in order to “be a poet”, my brother Carl and I enrolled on an evening class for creative writing. I was big hearted, big headed and very pretentious. I thought I was Bukowski’s British Brat offspring and frankly, listening to all of these boring people was not what I enlisted for. Unsurprisingly, I was missing the point.
There are two, as I see it (from a distance of seventeen or so years), major schools of thought on this subject. The first involves something called innate or naturally possessed talent. The second school is populated by those who buy into the hard work, practice and improvement philosophy.
As a student, I felt somewhat stifled in many respects. I had this voice, I was sure, that needed to be heard. Why was I wasting my time with the Menopausal Mafia who seemed wholly intent on selling a short story or witty letter to a cross-stitch magazine? (I was really missing the point).
The tutor was a good natured, lovely woman past retirement age by the name of Jane. I used to meet her rolling eyes and hippie beads with an ‘I know’ attitude. Don’t get me wrong; she was the very soul of discretion. It’s just that, well, sometimes and with the best will in the world, it is tough to hear a good idea murdered by clichés, pastiche and plagiarism. Life can imitate art but imitation is not the highest form of flattery, it’s an express way to ridicule.
This year, I am very fortunate to be working with young adults in a creative writing class that I plan, deliver and attempt to sell as a viable alternative to the social disturbances and developmental unrest of the students’ backgrounds. For the most part the writing is marked by enthusiasm and an honest approach. I am genuinely humbled by some of the things I hear in that room. Will I unearth a gem? A bestseller? Who knows? IS that even the point?
You see, what I didn’t realise as an arrogant young student, is that creative writing for most is an outlet. It’s an escape. It’s a chance to get away for a while. It’s much like reading and as far as I know, reading has never been about competitiveness or marketability.
It is fine to write for the sake of writing with no greater goal than to say, ‘I enjoy it.’
As for Jane, I have no idea if I sent her eyes skywards, I was too busy looking at the page and listening to my own voice
Everything is on track, final copies have gone and the advance proof will be with me in a matter of weeks.
Thank you to Andrew Oberg and Drugstore Books.http://drugstorebooks.com/
My latest blog for publisher Drugstore Books. Please see www.drugstorebooks.comHaving just discovered the thrill of Kindle ownership (within the last two days), I became drawn to the story of Laura Maylene Walter, who wrote an article Why We Write for the 1st November edition of The Literary Life. Laura enjoyed enormous success as a twenty-two year-old when her first novel won the Sophie Kerr Prize (Washington College) and the accompanying $61,000 award.
Laura goes on to tell how the pressure of expectation and lack of experience in her writing meant that her confidence gradually eroded and she was left with the task of stripping back her writing to bare bones, analysing honestly and re-building—not for publication or recognition but simply for the love of the craft; writing for writings’ sake.
My own experience mirrors this in all factors but success! I completed my own first novel, Sensible Shoes, when I was twenty-three. I sent it off and waited for the bidding war. It never came. Rejection came. Then doubt. Then a gradual realisation that I just didn’t cut it. The problem for me was two-fold: the writing was not up to it and I was hopelessly out of my depth attempting to convey life experience at a stage in my own life when I had still to accrue any. I tried to be too clever, too verbose and the resulting impression was one of arrogance. For every David Foster Wallace there are countless examples of the initial flame of enthusiasm having been extinguished by the great leveller of reality. It is hard to take. I crawled away into a dark place of self admittance and vowed to show my writing to nobody (the odd drunk excepted) again. I continued to dabble and to practice and to experiment with various forms. I attended a creative writing class, something that I have massively mixed opinions of, and I tried again. This time, I am in my thirties and have not been left unaffected by life’s usual trials and traumas, broken relationships, bereavements and, regrettably, divorce. I know I am far from complete as a writer and I accept that as half the fun. Andrew Oberg here at Drugstore Books has shown patience and loyalty in helping me hammer Dogs Chase Cars into shape. I hope the learning curve continues, I hope I am markedly better next time out. I also recognise that there comes a point where ability and originality of ideas must inevitably plateau and I will have an idea of my true worth as a writer.
How has it been for you? A long and lonely road or a shooting star ascension to greatness? For us mortals, I’m willing to bet that most of us fall into the former category.
In the meantime, and because I am a sucker for happy endings, Laura Maylene Walter did re-build. This year she won the G.S. Sharat Chandra prize for short fiction with Living Arrangements. The collection of shorts will be published in 2011, along with her third novel.
As anyone who checks this site knows from time to time, my debut novel 'Dogs Chase Cars' is coming out through Drugstore Books in early 2011.
Andrew Oberg ('Randolph's One Bedroom', 'Green Skies' -a comic novel, illustrated by Eric Uhlich) and Paul Rogers have graciously invited me to contribute to the regular blogs that feature on the site.
Andrew and Paul blog on a regular basis on all things writing and publishing related. Their blogs are always informative and entertaining and as they have quite different approaches to writing, you never quite know what's coming next.
Please join us down at the drugstore.
The current post of Paul's is all about the 'style sheet' used by copy editors to ensure that a writer's natural voice is allowed to breathe amidst the need for correct form.
'Checking Out' published onto Drugstore Books website at www.drugstorebooks.com
"Short from new Drugstore author Mark Porter - Check out this short story from new Drugstore author Mark Porter. Mark will also be releasing a novel, “Dogs Chase Cars” through us early next year. Keep your eyes peeled for that!"
Many thanks to Andrew Oberg