A Letter to My Readers

Okay so here’s the thing.

I’ve been having something of a crisis of confidence. Maybe not a crisis, actually, because it’s been going on for quite a while; I’m still not out of it, in fact. But I’m realizing that it is probably more important than I’ve been giving it credit for being, and it almost certainly has to do with this blog, and what has happened to the kinds of things I post on here. I think this is the reason why I’ve reduced myself to posting only book reviews (Not that there’s anything wrong with that), and why all of my intentions to post frequently have fallen by the wayside, so that now I’m lucky if I get one post a week on here.

What happened is that I found out that I’m not actually very good at arguing. I think quickly, but I think shallowly; I tend not to do much research, I don’t argue about things that I have spent years learning; I jump in with both feet and start slinging opinions around everywhere. Then I get angry, and I start insulting my opponents – sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much – and when they insult me back, then I get huffy and leave the argument on my high horse. Though frequently, I say I’m leaving the argument but then I don’t; I just take a little longer to think up my next response, or I let other people talk for a while and then I wade back in. Basically, I’m really, really annoying, and the main reason why I always thought I was good at arguing was because I surrounded myself with people who agreed with me, and who therefore complimented me on my ability to take down my opponents. I don’t think I actually took them down very often; I just needled them into shutting up, or else I made wittier fun of them than they made of me, and so my audience applauded.

I don’t like this, but it’s true. It may be a little too harsh; I have had many arguments, and some have gone well, and sometimes I do know what I’m talking about. But ever since I found this out, I’ve noticed how often I talk without thinking, how often I ignore the need for facts to support my arguments, relying on words and, y’know, “logic.” Meaning explaining my thoughts and expecting other people to agree with my thoughts, which is mostly what we mean by logic. I have noticed how often I get angry and then say something shitty. And so I’ve started deleting those nasty comments, and more importantly, I’ve started avoiding arguments. Which I think is a good thing.
Along with that, however, I’ve stopped thinking that I should be ranting about the state of the world, and then sharing those rants with the world. I no longer see myself as a natural authority on truth, justice, and the American way, because my reason for thinking that was mostly that I could win arguments, which I thought made me right. It doesn’t. And if I’m not right, what exactly am I bringing to the table when I post about politics or the state of the world?

Not much, as it turns out. I don’t have a whole lot to offer society as a whole. So I’ve stopped wanting to offer it.

But there’s good news. I still think I write well. I think I have good stories that I’ve written, that I am writing. I think I do a decent book review, though there are certainly others who do more thorough assessments of their books, and who give more useful information; but I think mine are okay, so I’ve kept writing them. But that isn’t the exciting part. The exciting part is that I have kept writing fiction, and other than the fact that I have to spend much too much of my time working and also living my life, I have been writing fiction the whole time I have been pulling away from blogging and ranting and arguing. Which, yeah, that’s good news. Because I write well.

And then this last week sometime – the days all blend together, it seems – I had another realization. While I’m going through this fiction-writing adventure: why the hell am I not blogging about it? I mean, sure, it’s a change from what I’ve done in the past, but if that stuff was not very good, maybe this is a good change. Maybe I should stop ranting for a while, and instead keep this blog as, y’know, a blog, a weblog, an online journal detailing what I’m living through right now.

So to that end, I plan to start keeping a record, as often as I can manage, about this new thing I’m doing. I may still rant sometimes (I certainly will have some ranting to do about school and the world of education, I have no doubt) and I’ll keep up with the book reviews as much as I can; but otherwise, this will be the subject of this blog. Rather than trying to be Just Dusty, I’m going to make this – just Dusty.

Oh right. So what am I going through, you ask? Those of you who are still reading this, that is? Both of you?

I’m publishing my book.

I did this before, but I did it in such a terrible way that I don’t even count it. I wrote a book, completed it in 2006, and then when it wasn’t picked up by an agency or a publishing house after fifteen or twenty query letters (I think; I don’t even remember at this point how often I sent it out, though I do remember buying at least three Writer’s Markets to look for leads), I decided to self-publish it as an ebook. I joined Amazon.com’s Kindle publishing program, followed their instructions, and uploaded my book to the Kindle Store. I made an author profile, and – that’s about it. I didn’t really edit the book — still had more than a dozen simple typos, and I don’t know how many clunky passages, because I didn’t go through and smooth them out. It didn’t have a cover; I found a pattern image on my cheap-ass graphics program, slapped the title and my name on the front, and called it good. Here, this is it:

 

The Dreamer Wakes (The Dreamer's Tale Book 1) by [Humphrey, Theoden]

Yeesh.

My plan was actually to include a plug for my book in all of my Amazon reviews, because at the time, I had something like 100 book reviews on the site which had garnered some thousands of positive votes; seemed like a good opportunity to say, at the end of my long and detailed reviews, “Hey, maybe you should go check out my book, too.” But when I added a line at the end of my reviews, Amazon pulled them from the site. Because you can’t advertise for a book in the reviews of a different book. And of course I get that – but also, why the hell not? The whole page is designed to get customers to look at other books, other books by the author, other books that people bought after looking at this book, other books that Amazon thinks are related to the one you’re checking out. My review plug clearly wasn’t Amazon’s choice for readers, only mine, so I didn’t see why they got pissy about it. Anyway, I pulled the plugs out of the reviews, and then I did nothing at all to promote the book. It’s still there, still for sale, but in the two years – three years? – that I’ve had this particular blog, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned it before.

Turns out I’m not only bad at arguing, I’m also bad at advertising.

But it’s okay! I’m really not trying to denigrate myself. It’s still a good book. (Though the larger problem now is that it is actually the first book in an intended trilogy or tetralogy, and I’ve never written the other books. Which is vile and wrong of me, and considering how much crap I’ve talked about George R. R. Martin for never finishing the Song of Ice and Fire series of books before he turned into a TV mogul, it’s really pretty appalling that my only work available for sale is an unfinished series.) It’s just not the story I’ve been writing.

The story I’ve been writing, which I have brought back for its second go-round as a serial blog, is The Adventures of Damnation Kane. It’s the story of an Irish pirate from the 17th century who finds himself, with his ship and his crew, in 2011. I started this story in 2013, kept it as a serial blog for about a year, and then stopped. But I love this story, and I want to finish it all the way to the end; and this time, while I’m writing it, I also want to publish it. This time, I have a real plan. This time, I’m going to do it right.

And that includes trying to talk up the book wherever and whenever I can. I want people to be as excited about the book as I am.

Which means that I should be talking about it – here. Among other places, of course, but certainly, at the least, in this space, which is supposed to be a collection of my thoughts, of the things I believe are important. If I don’t put my own book into this space, what the heck am I doing? If my own work isn’t important to me, then what is?

So here’s the deal, you two people who stuck it out through all this navel-gazing: The Adventures of Damnation Kane are currently available, from the beginning, on my other blog. But only until I get the book published, and then the chapters will come down; I will keep up a couple of the first chapters so a new reader could get an idea of what it’s all about; and I will keep posting new chapters every Saturday as I’ve been doing for ten months, now. The first volume of the Adventures will be available in trade paperback form, and also as a series of four short ebooks; my readers on this blog who review books, I will be asking you all to write me a review, if you would be so kind. And in the meantime, while I am working on getting these books out into the world, I will be writing about the process and the experience of writing and publishing books.

I hope and believe that this time, I’m on the right path. Thanks for coming along with me this far.

Yours,

Dusty Humphrey

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So It Begins . . . Again

A little more than five years ago, now, I started writing a story about a pirate. An Irish pirate from the year 1678, who accidentally traveled through time, arriving in the year 2011 off the coast of Florida. I kept it up for more than a year, reaching 60 chapters and publishing usually one a week. It was difficult but incredibly fun, as writing usually is for me. But then the madness of my life caught up with me, around the time we decided to move out of Oregon, and I let the story lapse.

A year ago, I tried to get it published in book form by a local small press that features maritime adventures, and was trying to get into fantasy; since that describes this story, I submitted it to them. But like every other agent and publisher I have ever sent my work to, they passed. I don’t quite understand why: I know I don’t write the kind of feverish, non-stop action they all seem to want; I know that I can be wordy; I know, most of all, that I am essentially an unknown, without a proven track record of publishing credits to my name. But I believe that I write well. I believe that I have made a good story here, one that has a genuinely interesting character, and a fun concept, and some interesting things to say about life and the world and about honor and loyalty and morality and all of those things — and dammit, it does have action, all kinds of action.

So I am saying to hell with the publishing industry: I’ll do it myself.

Therefore I hereby present (And no, despite the date, this is not a Fool’s joke), for your reading pleasure, The Adventures of Damnation Kane. Please check it out, and if you like it, please let other people know. (Also check out the Facebook page)

Chapter The First: Arrival

 

 

Tied Down at the Edge of a Cliff

We say we have to get me out of teaching. We say it often, laying in bed at night before we turn the lights off, when we usually turn to face each other, heads on pillows, and sort of put a punctuation mark on the day – sometimes an exclamation point, sometimes a question mark; but usually just a comma or a semi-colon, because the end of the day is almost never an ending, almost always a brief pause for breath before we go on with the next clause, the next day, separate from the last but still connected – always connected.

My life is a run-on sentence. And I don’t know how to stop it.

No: I know how to stop it. (And I’m going to leave this metaphor behind now, this navel-gazing grammatical pun. Jesus, Dusty. Get a life.) I could change my life quickly if I leave everything behind, including my wife and my pets, a sentence that took me several tries to actually write. I could change everything if I left everything. I do what I do so I can earn what I earn so we can live how we live: as we. But our bed, where we lay at night together, is actually the ground at the top of a cliff. Everywhere I go, I am at the top of this cliff. At night we lay together, our heads heavy on the pillows, and we look into each other’s eyes and I tell her how much I love her and she smiles at me and I love her more, and then we kiss goodnight, and roll over – and I stare off the edge of the cliff.

The cliff is the edge of my world. I don’t mean the end of life; I’m not talking about dying. I’m talking about where the place I am, the place I live, where it ends, abruptly, startlingly, dangerously. Honestly I have pretty much always stayed near that cliff’s edge, in various ways. But never too near: because I am a coward, I think. And though every night I look out into the open air beyond that cliff, to actually jump off that cliff and land somewhere entirely different – or perhaps instead of landing, take flight and sail across the sky, which is how I imagine it would feel to be a writer – I would have to leave behind everything I am now, everything that is this place where I live, this life where I live, where I sleep with my head heavy on my pillow and my eyes straining to look out farther but tired, so very tired, with the looking; but behind me (or no: before me, between me and the cliff, not to protect me but because she is even closer to the edge of that empty space that might hold a new life) is the best woman in the world, and at our feet lies the sweetest dog I’ve ever known, and nearby are a bird and a tortoise who need me, who are tied to me, who are weighing me down. And none of them – not even the bird, sadly – can fly.

Let me be clear: it is not my wife’s fault. She never asked me to get this job, never demanded a larger home, a larger paycheck, health insurance, stability, all the tethers of the modern world that tie me down at the top of the cliff, safe and immobile, able to turn my head and look out to eternity, growing and throbbing out there beyond the fall to the bottom. She doesn’t demand them of me now, never tells me when I talk of leaving teaching that I can’t do that because the family relies on my stable income and health insurance. She has never said that once. She never would. She lies with her head on her pillow, holds my hand, her fingers exploring mine as she imagines drawing my hands (as she imagines drawing everything), and says, with her eyes sad, “We have to get you out of teaching.” Now that she has tethered herself down right next to me – but closer to the edge of the cliff than I am – she says “We have to get ourselves out of this.”

Then we talk about how we can be free, mobile, able to pick and choose what we do with our lives, if we just buckle down and teach for three years and pay off all of our debts. Maybe four years. Maybe five. Tethered down right at the edge of this cliff, looking out into space, lying with our heads heavy on the pillow, holding hands.

I’ve never jumped off a cliff. I jumped off a swing into a river, once, but I landed flat on my back when I tried an ill-advised backflip; it hurt. I don’t remember if I went back on the swing again after that, but probably not; I’m a coward, and I always have been, and that’s why I’m still at the top of this cliff, near the edge but not on the edge. I’m looking out on this vista, this panorama, of wide open space, and I’m – I don’t know, shouting over the edge? Maybe whispering, blowing words like soap bubbles, glittering and evanescent as they drift pointlessly free? But I’m still here, on solid ground, holding on for dear life even though I am nowhere close to falling.

I should be falling. If I was a writer, I’d be falling; if I was falling, I’d be a writer.

Instead I am – yes, I know it. A spider. Remember the tiny ones at the end of Charlotte’s Web, how they spin out a single thread of silk and throw it up into the wind, letting the air lift and carry them away? That’s how I want to go out over the edge of the cliff; not free fall, not dropping down and just hoping that something will catch me, though I’m not sure now if that’s because I’m a coward or just because I don’t care for the thrill, never have, never liked adrenaline, never wanted to feel alive because I almost died. I hate stories that rest on that idea: that life is either risk or boredom, that everything that is lovely or pleasant or simple becomes blasé, because I feel like if I could live forever, I would just read all of the books that I won’t have time to read, and play all the video games, and walk over every inch of the Earth, and why would that get boring? I don’t believe that it would. And so I want to drift over the edge of the cliff, not plummet. So here I lay, throwing out single threads of silk, gossamer words, hoping that one of them will catch the wind and lift me free and sail me away through the sky – and my wife and our family with me.

I’m growing roots. I have been for years, though I frequently pull them out of the ground and let them wither and die. I don’t need the roots, though I don’t hate them; that’s probably why I let them grow, and maybe that’s why I haven’t gone over the cliff, because I don’t mind the slow growth, don’t mind drifting down into the earth instead of up into the sky. Maybe if there was a way to sink below the surface, grow a taproot large enough and deep enough and then pour myself down instead of drawing nutrients up, follow my own growth into the deeps, and then tunnel down through the cliff from behind its face, back behind the bones, down and down and down until I came to the bottom and then slid out from between the teeth, out with the breath of the earth back into the open air. Then I’d be in a new place, and not at the edge of a cliff looking out; then I would have changed, would have moved.

But I would have never flown. Never left the ground. Is that, could that be, what it would mean for me to be a writer? To move through the earth to new ground? Does that metaphor make sense?

Is this the thread that will lift me? Or the one that I can crawl down, like Dante down the leg of Lucifer, crawling down until suddenly he was crawling up, out of the depths of Hell to the mountain of Purgatory? But see, he was carried on that final voyage out. He was on a mission from God. All he had to do was hold on and wait.

I don’t think I can just hold on and wait. I think I need to move. I don’t know if I can fly and take my family with me – and I won’t leave them behind. There is nothing that would be better without them. I don’t even know why I say it, other than I know that most people who jump off the cliff, who make themselves suddenly into writers (or into flattened, shattered remains), go it alone. I don’t want that. I don’t think I ever have, but I know I don’t now. So the question is: do I keep throwing strands of silk into the air? Do I stitch them together into a single sail, and just wait for a wind great enough to lift me, and my wife, and our heavy heads from off of our pillows, and we can grab the bird and the dog and the tortoise in passing and carry them with us? Could there be a wind great enough to lift a sail large enough to carry us all aloft?

Or do I try to find a new way, this magic that will turn the earth beneath me malleable, let me alter the flow and the path of all things so that I grow in the wrong direction, turning the wrong into right? Honestly, I don’t even know what this metaphor means: would I write for the local scene, find local websites, write for the Tucson newspaper? Is that what it means to go down your own taproot, to go deeper into the earth, to become a writer by digging down? I don’t know. I want it to be magical, somehow, to be an alteration of the paradigm, a new path, a new alchemy that turns stone into water, just for me, so that I could swim through something that can’t be swum through – but though I can imagine that, I don’t understand it, I don’t know how I could do that, if it could be done. I don’t know if I’m creative enough to do it, if I have the wizardry to break the laws of nature. But since it took me four tries to actually type the word “wizardry,” I’m going to say the omens are bad.

Maybe I should try to climb down the cliff. Grind it out, slow and steady, keep working, keep writing, keep moving; no magic, just constant effort, every moment testing my strength to the limits, every moment hyperalert, looking for that next ledge, that next handhold.

I don’t know. I’m 42, and I haven’t started climbing yet. I might already be too tired just from lying at the top of the cliff. Lifting my head off that pillow every goddamn morning. Looking out at the expanse of sky and thinking about how wonderful it would be to sail away. Spinning my silken threads, my tenuous sails – watching them break and fall, or vanish off into the ether without me. And here I lie.

I don’t know how to fly.

Update.

Toni read this. We talked about it. And having talked to her about it, the answer is clear: we will be alchemists. We will swim through the Earth, and see where we end up.

I consider the metaphor of flight to represent getting published by a traditional brick-and-mortar company, selling books out of Barnes and Noble, the whole Best-Selling Author bit. I’d still like to fly. I’m going to keep sending up streamers of spidersilk, hoping that one will catch just the right breeze and lift me up into the sky. I would like that. For Toni, the same metaphor probably applies to suddenly hitting it big in the art world: becoming a name, being sold in galleries, getting commissions for public art, all of that. And that would be swell, too.

But that’s not the goal. Neither is the goal a safe and sure and trying descent.

No: the goal is to try something new. We plan to write and illustrate and sell graphic novels, and illustrated novels. I plan to go back to publishing a serial novel, which will be available as enriched and expanded e-books, featuring extra stories, back stories, side characters, and so on. Maybe we’ll run a book store. I will publish my novels, and she will sell her art – and we will see what we are capable of and where we can go. What new places can we discover, and explore? What exactly is down there, underneath us? Could it be even more intriguing, even more wondrous, than the sky above?

We will never jump off the cliff. And we will never leave each other behind. (Nor the pets.)

We choose – magic.