Kilgore Trout on CreateSpace

THE BUSINESS OF AMERICAN WORDS
 
Kurt Vonnegut’s Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons vs. Ayn Rand, Ama­zon, and acad­e­mia.

In the midst of arrang­ing Fee­bles in Night for print, I stum­bled upon an author and “book design­er” engaged in launch­ing a com­mu­ni­ty for self-pub­lished, inde­pen­dent writ­ers. I’m not going to spec­i­fy names because I have no inter­est in shit­ting on his com­pa­ny, nor “what it stands for.” I don’t want to shit for you at all, actu­al­ly, just note a few still-under­re­al­ized real­i­ties about the sheer ludi­crous­ness of the word busi­ness as it stands.

 

Let’s say you’ve got some man­u­scripts you’ve been sit­ting on for a few years, and you’re intro­duced to the con­cept of self-pub­lish­ing by an ever­more earnest­ly-curi­ous man on the radio named Audie one day. He and his inter­vie­wee (the own­er of a self-pub­lish­ing ser­vice) seem to say, curi­ous­ly, that because an author’s prof­it-per-unit can poten­tial­ly be “four to five times more” than if he/she is pub­lished tra­di­tion­al­ly, self-pub­lish­ing has now shed com­plete­ly its aura of des­per­ate ama­teurism.

 

But — whoa, Nel­ly — writ­ing to sell books, and writ­ing books have per­haps nev­er been fur­ther apart. And gee — you cer­tain­ly didn’t write to sell; sell­ing hadn’t occurred to you at all for a very long time, but from just one search, you find Our Friend, back from his own expe­ri­ences as an author and edi­tor, qual­i­fied and insis­tent that you can make mon­ey sell­ing cre­ative works of fic­tion.

 

And Jesus Christ… All that said, I must admit to you that I’ve just fin­ished Kurt Vonnegut’s Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons, and was unable to com­mence this “review” with­out won­der­ing aloud for you how Kil­go­re Trout — per­haps Kurt’s favorite cre­ation — would feel about this Friend’s busi­ness.

 

It was actu­al­ly my Aunt Ayn who taught me to read and write, so Vonegutt was a mediocre Ray William John­son-asso­ci­at­ed YouTube band until after high school, when “lots of peo­ple” start­ed telling me to “read Von­negut, man,” even though I can­not recall any spe­cif­ic events or rec­om­mendies. For what­ev­er rea­son, though, I’d bought a copy imme­di­ate­ly after a friend men­tioned it, recent­ly, and found him (in this par­tic­u­lar work, at least) to be awful­ly sane for my taste, yet par­tic­u­lar­ly res­o­nant. Though writ­ten to make me think it was all a big one-draft ram­ble, Kurt’s a bit too curt for it to be believed, I think. Aun­tie Rand would’ve dou­ble-tak­en his berate­ment of “in non­sense is strength” if she’d made it that far. I hope she did, because I found the image of her tak­ing in his occa­sion­al hand doo­dles to be very amusing.Dwayne Hoover is awful­ly absent — and there­fore, a very ver­sa­tile sto­ry­telling device, though not in a lazy sense. We’re repeat­ed­ly noti­fied about an immi­nent con­ver­gence. Even­tu­al­ly, it’s explained that the endgame involves Dwayne explod­ing into a vio­lent revenge­ful tantrum against all the life­long ene­mies of his sub­con­scious. Includ­ing “peo­ple with brown skin.” Can I just bring up Ayn Rand again? I hope it’s okay.

Dwayne Hoover is awful­ly absent — and there­fore, a very ver­sa­tile sto­ry­telling device, though not in a lazy sense. We’re repeat­ed­ly noti­fied about an immi­nent con­ver­gence. Even­tu­al­ly, it’s explained that the endgame involves Dwayne explod­ing into a vio­lent revenge­ful tantrum against all the life­long ene­mies of his sub­con­scious. Includ­ing “peo­ple with brown skin.” Can I just bring up Ayn Rand again? I hope it’s okay.

 

Kil­go­re Trout is the most dan­ger­ous vil­lain I’ve ever expe­ri­enced. He has lit­tle to lose, and — like Von­negut, it would seem — finds his obser­va­to­ry posi­tion in the world to be immense­ly amus­ing. His last amuse­ment, even. Remem­ber Ellsworth M. Toohey, the cor­rupter? I think they would’ve got­ten along, fun­ny enough.

 

Yes, and Hoover would be Peter Keat­ing, the cor­rupt­ed. I’m reach­ing, yeah, but when do I not? Their imme­di­ate dif­fer­ence is the lack of mali­cious intent in Trout, of course. He is an aim­less sci­ence fic­tion writer, who gives Dwayne a vol­ume sim­ply to shut him up. Nei­ther vil­lain is believ­able, per se, but both were writ­ten to be per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of ideals; vehi­cles of metaphor.

 

I think Rand could’ve quite eas­i­ly become Von­negut, were she to stick around much longer, but per­haps I believe so only because I’ve expe­ri­enced a quan­tifi­able tran­si­tion from her sort of think­ing (vague­ly) to his (per­haps less vague­ly.) An incor­rupt­ible com­mit­ment to absolute was Ayn’s most potent con­vic­tion. Grow­ing up a white cis male, I was aching for a method of sim­pli­fy­ing the world which I knew more and more to be infi­nite­ly com­plex. Inevitably, with age, I think a lim­it­less appetite for the com­plex­i­ty must form, lest one spend the rest of his/her life fight­ing the sin­gu­lar truth in a mis­er­able fortress of seclu­sion and amphet­a­mine abuse.

 

The key to Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons’ genius is its utter lack of angst. Aside from his brief def­i­n­i­tion of a being — “an unwa­ver­ing band of light” — Kurt had lit­tle inter­est in writ­ing a man­i­festo, yet his per­spec­tive in his curi­ous com­men­tary man­i­fests a much more pro­found cri­tique of Amer­i­can soci­ety than Rand ever could’ve from her hole.

 

As such, I think it’s wis­est to leave a rudi­men­ta­ry whole mea­sure­ment of a writer to Aunt Ayn, but per­haps a par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant spec­trum in this case is clar­i­ty of sight. Rigid ide­al­ism has its place in lit­er­a­ture, no doubt, but it’s an awful­ly bor­ing one with­out a writer’s feet on the ground.

How does this all relate to self-pub­li­ca­tion? Well, Our Friend, it turns out, offers pre­set nov­el “tem­plates” to mem­bers of his writ­ing com­mu­ni­ty, into which one can “plug in” char­ac­ters, set­ting, and basic plot ele­ments to a degree of his/her choos­ing. And his YouTube chan­nel is stuffed with all sorts of tuto­ri­als on for­mat­ting and — more dis­turbing­ly -how to cre­ate sell­able cov­er art with Pho­to­shop. Nat­u­ral­ly, it includes instruc­tion on stock and rights-free images. Though I’ve yet to read one, it doesn’t take much imag­i­na­tion to com­pre­hend the inevitable prod­uct. From Our Friend’s vlogs, I can sup­pose a heavy focus on the ado­les­cent mar­ket.

 

What makes the whole con­cept note­wor­thy is the why. I’d like to think that I have a fair­ly-real­is­tic grasp on the poten­tial­i­ties of writ­ing for prof­it, and am oblig­at­ed to won­der why one would “com­pro­mise” his/her “cre­ative integri­ty” by pub­lish­ing lit­er­a­ture to sell, of all things. As I under­stand it, the method­i­cal approach to author­ship being shipped here is applic­a­ble to lit­er­al­ly any oth­er field, cre­ative or not. It’s curi­ous and impres­sive, frankly, as their sales poten­tial seems to be vast­ly supe­ri­or to any­thing I’ll ever both­er to pub­lish, but I must weigh in because of one quan­tifi­able detri­ment: sat­u­ra­tion.

 

Some­one is spend­ing their mon­ey on these works — prob­a­bly for their kids. I’m not a par­ent, but I’d be tremen­dous­ly ashamed to dis­cov­er that a book I’d giv­en as a gift to any­one had been man­u­fac­tured in this man­ner. Not just in the sense that most light lit­er­a­ture is man­u­fac­tured — writ­ten in hearty obser­vance of aca­d­e­m­ic rules of sto­ry­telling — but lit­er­al­ly mass-pro­duced with a god­damned intel­lec­tu­al sten­cil.

 

With­out sound­ing like I’m com­plain­ing… My sin­gu­lar self-pub­lished poet­ry col­lec­tion is prob­a­bly of sig­nif­i­cant­ly less whole-val­ue to the major­i­ty of read­ers, but I can’t help but think the effort put into its hand-drawn cov­er art and metic­u­lous­ly-arranged typog­ra­phy would make it a more com­fort­able invest­ment, if any­thing else.

 

This brings us to a dis­tinct­ly-aca­d­e­m­ic main­stay which I have always tak­en issue with: “con­sid­er your audi­ence.” I first encoun­tered this proverb in the con­text of a com­po­si­tion stud­ies course, mind you, where its con­sid­er­a­tion in the essay medi­um makes unequiv­o­cal­ly good sense. If we agree that an essay is defined by an uncom­pro­mis­ing com­mit­ment to its effec­tive­ness in mak­ing an argu­ment, audi­ence aware­ness is essen­tial. If you were asked to decide on one pri­ma­ry pur­pose of writ­ing in gen­er­al, though, would it not be iden­ti­cal?

 

Why didn’t Kurt Von­negut or Ayn Rand sim­ply write essays? Well, the lat­ter wrote many, but their sales have always been all but invis­i­ble com­pared to The Foun­tain­head and Atlas Shrugged. (Both of which are much more essays than fic­tion, at times, but I’ll spare you that con­ver­sa­tion.) Did they con­sid­er their audi­ence? Cer­tain­ly not in the way acad­e­mia would encour­age.

Ensure that your doc­u­ments meet the needs and expec­ta­tions of your read­ers.

Ooo boy. To me, that trans­lates a lit­tle too eas­i­ly into “write what your read­ers want to read.” And maaaan… If there’s any­thing to be learned from Mad Men’s Don­ald Drap­er, it’s that peo­ple have no idea what they want, espe­cial­ly from art. And that’s a rea­son­able men­tal­i­ty, isn’t it? Per­haps even an exhaltable one. I know that pre­dictable sto­ries are my num­ber one turnoff, per­son­al­ly. If I expect­ed to exist for an eter­ni­ty, I’d absolute­ly indulge every sin­gle cre­ative work I could find, but I do not, and that real­iza­tion (as I stat­ed in my last Freq Check,) has pro­pelled an under­ly­ing pref­er­ence in all of my con­sump­tion deci­sions: what I have not (before) seen.

 

Obvi­ous­ly, then — if you take my word for it — Our Friend’s endeav­ors are in direct ide­o­log­i­cal oppo­si­tion to my own, which would make him my arch neme­sis, if 21st-cen­tu­ry indus­try were a bit more the­atri­cal. But — like most hero­ic pro­tag­o­nists — I’d be much more inter­est­ed in “turn­ing” him than cen­sor­ing him, were we ever to engage. In fact, I’d prob­a­bly end up defend­ing his and/or his con­stituents’ right to sell their trash if Cre­ate­Space or oth­er self-pub­lish­ing ser­vices called it into ques­tion.

 

Over­whelm­ing con­tent vol­ume can be enter­tain­ing; Dry­wall was my own for­ay into that unique­ly con­tem­po­rary exper­i­ment. It’s the sheer ease of pub­li­ca­tion, though, that makes “good” lit­er­a­ture more pre­cious than ever. Admit­ted­ly, a glance at Amazon’s cur­rent top ten best­sellers list indi­cates that I am undoubt­ed­ly out of touch as far as the mar­ket is con­cerned. I know that the few Kin­dle users I know have mys­te­ri­ous­ly and unan­i­mous­ly revert­ed back to print, recent­ly, and that audio­books make me supreme­ly uncom­fort­able. I also know that read­ing a book — when­ev­er I bring myself to shut out every­thing else — is an unri­valed vehi­cle of cog­ni­tive seren­i­ty.

 

A sig­nif­i­cant mis­sion for Extra­tone lies in an upcom­ing reac­tionary move­ment to culture’s “cir­cus stage” (by way of the Inter­net.) We deter­mined the event’s inevitabil­i­ty on Drycast, a year ago, and have made occa­sion­al efforts to posit more thor­ough­ly on The New. It must involve a reduc­tion in con­tent con­sump­tion, fun­da­men­tal­ly, which will con­strict because of an increas­ing demand for more explic­it pur­pose in all media. We are not to be the alter­na­tive, nec­es­sar­i­ly, but the inter­me­di­ary arbiter of the enabling dis­cus­sion, hope­ful­ly with the out­come of increased aware­ness. What is and is not rel­e­vant? Why am I con­sum­ing this?

 

As the end of Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons draws abrupt­ly clos­er, Von­negut men­tions his schiz­o­phre­nia, which is — as you prob­a­bly know — fun­da­men­tal­ly char­ac­ter­ized by loss of the abil­i­ty to deter­mine what is and is not real, and pri­mar­i­ly treat­ed with antipsy­chotics. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, extreme­ly high dos­es of amphet­a­mines (which Ayn Rand did use heav­i­ly, by the way — I wasn’t mak­ing that up) can actu­al­ly induce psy­chosis, which could crude­ly be described as cog­ni­tive noise. I could’ve missed the intend­ed func­tion of their works, but for me, they illu­mi­nate a dis­tinct rela­tion­ship between the abstracts of truth and rel­e­vance which, for the moment, seems par­tic­u­lar­ly nec­es­sary.

 

Two oppos­ing reflec­tions of Amer­i­cana; both help­ful in prepa­ra­tion for its future.

 

May we nev­er lose our­selves in the noise.

Edi­tor-in-Chief