I think every now and then these days about what it means to be an indie author.
For me, it’s meant being able to publish a literary novel that I thought was never going to make it into the light of day. It’s meant being able to begin publishing stories from my “backlist” on Kindle and being able to make money from them because they happen to be in a genre that’s in demand. (Hint: erotica.)
And it’s meant interacting with other indie authors, most of whom I’ve met or encountered on Smashwords or Twitter. What this means is that I get to feel part of a loose, far-flung, but real “scene.” There seems to be more generosity and cameraderie in this scene than there ever would have been in the old days, when agents and mainstream publishers had everyone placed into little hierarchical boxes.
While the new “scene” isn’t perfect, I do see the benefit of being part of this group of people, some of whom I’ve come to admire and like. I’ll mention a few names here of writers that I’ve come to know over the last few months. Jacqueline Applebee is the first novelist whose work I downloaded from Smashwords. She’s a bi, poly British woman of color who writes predominantly erotica but has published a sort of poly coming-of-age novel set in London called An Expanded Love. I really liked it.
I like my friend Kate Genet‘s work too. She’s a New Zealand novelist and book reviewer for a lesbian online magazine called Kissed By Venus. She’s actively writing and publishing women-centered paranormal and suspense titles on Smashwords and Kindle and has a great blog called The Misbehaving Mind. I know I would never have stumbled across her work if it hadn’t been for my own adventures in online publishing. Kate has a very enthusiastic fan base but has been incredibly generous with the attention she’s given to me, and I’m sure to other authors as well.
Although I haven’t read her book yet, I was intrigued by the premise of Donna Glaser‘s novel on Kindle–she’s a Wisconsin-based psychotherapist who writes mysteries about a therapist sleuth, which I think is pretty cool! You can find her on Twitter at @readdonnaglaser.
None of these people are making tons of money, as far as I know, but they’re all quite serious about their literary careers. They’re working hard at day jobs, or raising kids, or recovering from illnesses. Once the old trope of being a literary “star” is taken away, I find writers can be kind, helpful, and eager for connection. I’m happy to be around in this time, because I find it’s far more fruitful to be self-publishing and promoting than for waiting for Mr. or Ms. hot shot agent to call and make my career happen… I can’t help feeling that this new time for writers–and readers too, as chaotic as it may be, holds much promise.
An interesting blog for aspiring self-published writers to follow is Bob Mayer‘s blog, Write It Forward. He is insanely successful, but only because he started self-publishing his backlist of historical/military thrillers on Kindle and took it seriously as a business. He critiques the publishing industry, which he has plenty of experience with, in an unusually piercing and perceptive way. To boil down his insights into a few words, he thinks that top authors should stick with their Big Publisher contracts, but that everyone else is totally ignored by the mainstream publishers and should take matters into their own hands. He thinks that mainstream publishers are way behind the curve on ebooks, stingy with contract terms, and don’t have a clue what they’re doing, essentially. And their publicity efforts never benefit writers except for the ones who are absolutely huge best-sellers.
Much to think about.
I promised a review and here it is. I recently read Shannon Yarbrough’s”Are You Sitting Down? (Amazon Kindle edition, $1.99) and found it an amazingly good read. This is Yarbrough’s third novel, and it shows in the fluency of the writing and the depth of character. He’s someone who is as yet unacknowledged by gay writing organizations like Lambda Literary, which themselves seem to be hanging on by their fingernails. This is not a “gay novel” so much as a family novel, though. Here’s my review of the Kindle edition:
I am so glad that I read this novel. First off, my impression was that it would be a realistic Midwestern family drama. As I got further immersed in the book, I began to see that it is in fact a deeply Southern tale, concerned with secrets, sex and death. The book opens with a death, in fact; the father, Frank White, has a stroke while his wife Lorraine weeps at his side. Yarbrough does death scenes in an unusual and interesting way. They are strangely intimate, as we see the thoughts of the dying person as they fade out of the world. Their thoughts are for their loved one, but the implication is that they are being freed from something messy and sad. In fact, the family that Frank is leaving behind is not really a happy one. Each adult child has secrets which they haven’t shared with the others; each carries burdens and regrets and shame. The anchor of the book is the third child Travis, a gay man who has lost his lover Justin to cancer. Each person reflects on their life in short chapters, making this a many-angled novel of unusual depth.
Travis is an outsider to the family, living in Memphis while the others have stayed in the small town aptly named Ruby Dregs. (The foul rag and bone shop of the heart, anyone?) While he adores his mother, he realizes at the end of the book that he hasn’t been as close to her as he thought. The driving plot of the book is the leadup to the family Christmas, where all the Whites will be together. This Christmas, it’s well-behaved Travis’s turn to make a scene–a shocking outburst that had me laughing out loud, but also keenly aware, as a gay person, how painful it is to always be the person pushed aside and not central in a family. Another highlight of the book is Travis’s first visit to the Ruby Dregs cemetery to see Justin’s headstone, which he has picked out. In a powerful scene, an old black woman selling flowers seems to be channeling Justin’s spirit as she brings Travis messages from beyond the grave. “Are You Sitting Down?” deals with themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and a journey to wholeness, but Yarbrough’s writing makes clear that death is always just around the corner and that despite the hope of family togetherness, each of us is stumbling through life alone dealing with our past and our secrets.
There’s another element to the story. Justin’s parents, the Blacks, are painted as truly toxic. In fact, as we see more of Justin’s father, who initially seems like a mild-mannered, obese old man, we get peeks into the mind of a sociopath. To deal with love, death AND evil… this novel takes on a lot, posing destabilizing questions about reality at every turn.
Here is a quote that seems to sum up the spirit of the novel. It comes as the Whites’ youngest daughter, Clare, is thinking about what she found when she looked through her father’s desk after he died. “Sometimes we yearn for the truth that we think is hidden from us. It’s only when we find the truth we’ve been looking for that we often wish we didn’t know after all, and then we see why it was kept from us in the first place.”