January 28, 2012

Reading Infinite Jest

One way I had thought of describing Infinite Jest is as a long scream with funny bits. It’s an evisceration of Amarican-style, commercial, pleasure-based culture where there is so much choice that choice is meaningless, in a USA where people are over-entertained and sad and bored and lonely. Especially lonely.

I set out to read IJ as a challenge to myself. I read some reviews and comments on it and every one said it was difficult. It's certainly long, at over 1000 pages if you include the 388 footnotes (yes, it is a novel) that are invariably referred to by reviewers.

There's a LOT of detail, whether it's the description of a room, or a person, or the person's state of being, or the drugs they use, or the tennis academy that is one of the locations of the story, or the workings of AA or whatever. The plot is not-quite-hidden in the details, and I'm not sure I could say exactly what the main plot is.

Infinite Jest was first published in 1996 and its setting is the 2000s, so there's an element of futurist technology. One device key to the story is something like what we know as a DVD, and there is a particular one of these around that has such a high entertainment quotient (not DFW's word) that once a person starts watching it they cannot stop. One plot line is to do with various agencies seeking to find and destroy the master copy of this Entertainment, which of course can't be watched by anyone wanting to destroy it. Such pleasure is fatal! Which creates funny and gruesome and fascinating scenarios.

Protagonist Hal Incandenza is a teenage tennis star at an invented academy. The training regime is horrendous. And, as with most of the contents of this book, it provides a context for exploring a whole range of ideas about society and power and success and so on. Including loneliness. The man who created The Entertainment was a film-maker (he's committed suicide before the book begins) and Hal's father. The mother of Hal and his two brothers is a really creepy character who is so nice and considerate and outright good, she gave me what DFW calls in a couple of places the "howling fantods."

Across the road from the tennis academy is the house for people getting off drugs. That's where another protagonist, Don Gately, is. A main source of treatment is going to AA meetings, and IJ includes an exhaustive level of detail about these meetings. "Yes, of course 'one day at a time' and such are clich├ęs, but, hey, they work."

There are a myriad more characters, themes and story threads, such as the Concavity—a huge area encompassing Vermont and part of Quebec where no-one lives and the trash from the northeastern cities is catapulted to. The various plots and characters are carried along on an accretion of details.

The writing is extraordinary. I still haven't figured out why some sentences start with 'And but so...', or variations of that. It's not possible to ask, because DFW himself committed suicide in 2006. There are plenty of clips of him speaking on YouTube and masses of articles about him online, but I haven't found one that asks why he started sentences like that.

So much more could be said about Infinite Jest, and has been—try googling it. My conclusion is that in the end it is maybe a plea for doing our best to live in an actual, present world, and never mind an imagined (remembering is imagined) past or future. Or something. Anyway, I found it utterly worthwhile to make the effort and persist through what were almost boring bits, and excruciating descriptions of coming off drugs.

January 22, 2012

Self-publishing my novel as an ebook (2): Nearly There

I have done the formatting for Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com) . I have created a cover (much better than the earlier one I included in a blog post of 12 November 2011). Thanks to Jill H. who helped me put together the earlier cover, I knew just enough to add the text for the title and my name as author to a photograph of my own to make this cover. A blurb is written and tags—maximum of ten—sorted.

The process for getting the US tax exemption number I mentioned in my last post is not completed and involves a lot of waiting, so I’ve decided to go ahead without it.

Because Smashwords does not yet distribute to Amazon for the Kindle store, athough I gather they are working on that, I am looking into putting it there myself, but that needs more research. As far as I can tell, people with a Kindle will be able to buy the book from the Smashwords site, but there are sometimes problems with the way it turns out. If I can get this to work, I’ll include instructions in my next post.

So, tomorrow morning, I’ll upload to Smashwords. Their process takes about a week at the moment. They vet the book, but only for technical issues, they don’t assess or edit the content. Watch this space, I’ll let you know when it’s up at the Smashwords site. The price will be $4.95 USD from there. If you buy Where the HeArt is from Smashwords you can download it in any of the main ebook formats—epub, mobi, Palm Doc, PDF and so on, or all of them if you want. They also distribute to ebook retailers (except, so far, Amazon/Kindle).

January 6, 2012

Self-publishing my novel as an ebook (1)

My recently-completed novel, Where the HeArt Is, having been turned down by all the New Zealand publishers I cared to submit it to, I think self-publishing. I self-published Take It Easy, a earlier novel as a print book and managed the process well, except for the dreaded self-promotion and marketing. At which I was a failure.

The advantages of publishing as an ebook, once you have an edited, proofread manuscript, as I see it, are:
1. Little or no upfront costs (depending on whether you do your own cover, layout and so on.)
2. Riding the wave (well, there are a lot of people saying there is one) of sales for ebook readers.
3. There are some online promotional options that seem to be accessible to individual authors. Some of these I can contemplate doing, others I can’t. (More on this is a later post.)

There are a lot of people writing on the web saying how easy it is to publish an ebook. Don’t be fooled. To do a proper job you have to do a lot of work. I’ve been cruising (as it were!) the web for some months now, gathering information about how to epublish and how to sell ebooks, some of it contradictory, some downright offensive (like spamming your friends), some useful.

I’m sure there will soon be, and probably are already, people who will do all this for an author, epublishing agents/ publishers if you like, for a fee or a percentage. I am not interested in a new career, but I do want to figure out how to do my own book/s, producing a quality book for all the major ereaders. (Amazon/Kindle has to be done separately, in usual Amazon restrictive style.)

(For a touch of visual interest, this is where I do most of my writing.)

I plan to use the aggregator (a way of distributing to all the main ebook sellers, except Amazon) Smashwords. I’ll write more about Smashwords in a later blog, but it’s worth checking out the author sections of their website at http://smashwords. com

Some not-so-obvious things I have discovered:
1. The US Inland Revenue Service (IRS) will take 30% of your earnings on US sales unless you jump through a whole bunch of hoops to get an IRS exemption number. Which you can do from New Zealand. I have a notarised copy of my passport from the US embassy in Auckland (no other sort will do) and am waiting for a letter (an email won’t do) from Smashwords so I can submit (by snail mail) an application to the IRS. I got the “how to” for this from Roz Morris’s blog, “Nail Your Novel” at https://nailyournovel.wordpress.com I am extremely grateful to Roz Morris for this information.
2. To get a good-looking ebook that is a pleasure to read on an ereading device it has to be formatted to very specific instructions. I am familiar with the Smashwords ones, for which you can get a free-to-download pdf from their webiste. Search for Style Guide on their website.
3. People who write about epublishing on the web write with authority, as though their information is accurate, sensible and up-to-date. Sometimes it is. You have to find websites etc with information you trust. This takes time, and is not as simple as me putting in here a list of ones I like: finding the ones that work for you is part of figuring out how to do this thing.

Maybe I am making more of a meal of this than is necessary. If that is the case, so be it. I’m kind of enjoying the trip.

This is number 1 of a series!