Let’s keep this first part brief:
THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO GET DYSTOPOLIS FOR BASICALLY NO MONEY
On Monday September 8th, the ebook price of Dystopolis, my short story collection about six humans trying to figure out their place in a future society that has a veiled and incoherent agenda, will be going up to $6.99 - that’s $2.99 more than the current price. I’m doing this for two reasons:
- There is a trend with self-publishing nowadays that says you have to aggressively undercut the prices of other authors to sell books. It’s why I set Dystopolis at $4 when I published it in March - one way of approaching the Kindle store is to seek out the cheapest stuff available, and it sucks for the people who worked to make the things you read.
- Here’s the more exciting thing: on September 8th, Dystopolis will no longer be a Kindle exclusive, so there’s no motive to keep it cheap. It’s had to be both cheap and exclusive up until this point so it can share in profits from the Prime lenders’ library, as well as Kindle unlimited, but I’m jettisoning that approach in favour of spreading things further. So, on the 8th, Dystopolis will be available DRM-free on Gumroad, and I’ll also be submitting it to the ebook stores where you can currently find Tales From The End - so by the end of September, you should see it popping up on iBooks, the Nook store, Kobo, and a few others. This might take a little while - the distributor I’m planning to use submits stuff in batches - but it’ll spread things out a little more.
I’ll also be increasing the price of Tales From The End around that time from $3 to $4.99.
Finally, I’ve mentioned the Dystopolis audiobook once or twice in the last few weeks. I’ll be doubling down on that soon, and I’m hoping to have something polished and ready by the end of September. The key thing here is that you have either the paperback or ebook of Dystopolis, you’ll get the audiobook for free. I’m still not sure how to manage this when the time comes, but I’m determined to make it so people aren’t paying twice for cross-platform releases where possible. If you bought the paperback, you should already have access to the ebook (check the back page) - this will continue that trend.
But anyway: the key thing for now is that Dystopolis will stay at four tiny dollars (or the equivalent regional price) until the first week in September, and you can buy it at this price here. While you still can.
I wrote about Utopia a few months ago after watching the first season - the second six-episode season finished airing a couple of weeks ago, and it’s superbly-crafted, quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television before. There’s a graphic novel sensibility to it all - the tableaux and wide angles you see above are everywhere in the show, and this season ramped everything up - the stakes, the drama, the comedy and even the soundtrack felt even more heightened before.
I’m slightly concerned at the fact that David Fincher currently has a deal with HBO to adapt this series - not because I don’t think he’s talented, but because even the best HBO shows do fit a dramatic arc that is turned on its head here. I worry that the essentially experimental and revolutionary way that this show is might be muddied a little with his name attached. But we’ll see. Maybe it’ll be better. In the meantime, if you can handle a bit of violence, make sure you watch this by any means necessary.
I guess I have this worry and it’s that I’m not being a Good Citizen1 when I distance myself from social issues. There is a lot of stuff in the news at the moment, most of it sad and bewildering and horrifying - the police brutality in Ferguson is dominating my social media feeds, but so is Palestine and Ebola and there’s just so much, you know? We live on a planet where a little over a decade ago, involving yourself in the world’s problems was something you could only do when you tuned into the nightly news; now, it’s everywhere.
And the feeling is: if I’m not speaking out against injustice - if that isn’t part of what some people would probably call my “personal brand” - does that make me a bad person? Further than that, though - if I’m not allocating part of my emotional energy toward current events, am I a terrible human being? I don’t know. It’s something I struggle with. I have seen enough to know that outrage as an undirected force is of little use; even when it’s focused, it depends on the target and the topic when it comes to realising change. Rodney King died a couple of years ago, and I can’t help but feel that despite the national media attention that his beating received, nothing has really changed; likewise, on Twitter, I’m seeing a lot of anger and upset but no real change from the people in power.
All of this is to say: I’m obviously not upset or angry at the people who are using the internet to share their experiences at the hands of a corrupt police force, or the IDF, or any number of terrible organisations who abuse their power; there’s catharsis in sharing.
I’m really talking about something altogether more selfish, though - if there’s nothing that I, a white British bisexual with a decent understanding of the shitty way that people in power tend to operate, can do, is there anything to be gained by involving myself in the discussion around the terrible stuff that happens to people?
I don’t know. There are no easy answers here. There are terrible things, and there are a lot of people talking about terrible things, and I have the sort of social circle where there’s no-one to challenge as far as narratives on those terrible things go. All of this is a work in progress.
I recorded a couple of preliminary takes of the first part of the Dystopolis audiobook tonight. I’m happy with how my voice sounds, apprehensive about the variety of voices I’m going to be attempting, and excited to see who (if anyone) downloads it. I also deleted tonight’s takes, because I’m too drunk to really enunciate properly. I’ll recite a whole paragraph with perfect clarity, and then flub a simple word like “what” or “the”. I’ve established that my microphone works, though. We can move from there. My microphone is tiny, but powerful. There’s something lewd in there.
I’m moving things forward, as far as Life goes - I’ll officially own a car soon thanks to the generosity and good fortune of Arden’s grandparents, and once I get my license I’ll be able to consider jobs that are further away. I’m still working behind the meat counter at the local supermarket, and it’s fine - there are certainly worse jobs to have, and the people I work with are helping to cement my status as someone who lives and works in America, rather than just the inhabitant of some dreamlike existence in a house in the suburbs of southern Massachusetts.
It’s a weird thing to figure out. When I left, I was locked in the middle of growing up - I was paying a quarterly of my (small) monthly income to my parents as rent, working my first real job part-time, and failing to focus on my career because I knew I was moving. Now, there are other obstacles in the way, but soon they’ll be cleared - and with that comes the fear that I might not be big enough to deal with the things life throws at you. When push comes to shove, I think I’ll be alright, but for now, there are a bunch of question marks to deconstruct.
I’ve been watching Twin Peaks. I almost don’t want to write about it, other than to say that it’s affecting me in a way that no other television show has - part of that reluctance comes from the fact that Elizabeth Cantwell wrote something excellent on the topic fairly recently. I love the extended focus on everything, though - how Lynch’s sensibility forces you to take in every shot past the point where other showrunners would usually leave off. I want to hike through the impossible contours of Ray Wise’s face. I have an enduring crush on Donna that refuses to go away.
Altogether, I’m doing better than I’ve been doing in years, while recognising that there is always room for improvement.
1Yes, I know I need to back off with the capitalisation for the sake of emphasis. It’s a crutch. Sorry.
There’s this scene in the 2009 film World’s Greatest Dad where the beleaguered Lance Clayton, played by Robin Williams, discovers his dead son. The kid is a victim of accidental total erotic asphyxiation, and yet the scene is one of the most heartbreaking I’ve ever seen. It’s all the more remarkable because the musical overlay robs Williams of his voice, the tool that he used to carry so much expression in his other work. Instead, you just have to witness his silent anguish, and then the brave front he puts on as he rearranges the scene to look like a suicide.
I watched this scene when the film came out, and it cracked something open inside me. World’s Greatest Dad is a comedy, first and foremost, but there are moments of terrible darkness in there. Lance is a tortured writer in a world that doesn’t care about tortured writers. The film mines that conceit for comedy and tragedy both.
This is the same film that has the now-infamous line that did the rounds in the wake of Williams’s death - you know, the one where he says, grim-faced, “suicide is a solution to temporary problems”. I felt sick to my stomach when I saw people sharing that line with the comment that he should have “taken his own advice”. First of all, because screw you; second, though, because that glib line is intended to be glib in the context of the film. You know why that clip has his character’s name captioned under his face? It’s because by this point in the film, Lance has parlayed his son’s suicide into a successful literary career, faking his own kid’s journal and selling hundreds of thousands of copies. He’s become a megastar and a role model on completely false grounds, and when he says that line he’s being interviewed by the film’s stand-in for Oprah. It’s a deeply cynical moment.
Why does any of that matter, though? It matters because the Robin Williams I’ve seen in countless interviews and stand-up specials and sketches and defining comedic and dramatic roles would have turned up his nose in disgust at that kind of condescending advice. The roles that Williams played were filled with subtext, and hidden layers of meaning, and played with uniform brilliance. Even in that ten-second clip, you can see how conflicted and uncomfortable Lance Clayton is in this new role as an unqualified self-help guru, in the tiny expressive shifts in his face and the world-weary eyes staring out of the screen.
Even in his louder roles, Robin Williams brought so much nuance to the way he acted. He was the first actor I saw who really made me realise what wit is. It’s not necessarily being consistently funny - anyone can make dumb jokes - but it’s more about creating an environment where the people around you are constantly racing to catch up. Williams did this regardless of whether he was being funny or sad - there was always something more going on. You can watch him for the third and fourth time and still find something new.
At times, he lived an incredibly messy life, but you can’t help but think that maybe it was that way because he was even outrunning himself. As an experience extended over a couple of hours, Robin Williams was an exhilarating experience; living your whole life that way could easily turn exhausting, I guess. It’s hard to deal with depression when your head stops you from slowing down and unpacking everything.
Or maybe this is wide of the mark, and the Williams behind closed doors was an eternity away from his public persona, the one that wore his troubles and his sense of humor and his brutal, hilarious honesty on his sleeve; you don’t want to make any assumptions with this kind of thing. But he killed himself, and last night I cried silently for a few minutes in the dark, and the world for a moment felt a little less sparkling with brilliance.
Instead of doing the sensible thing and sleeping last night, I instead read one of the stories I wrote for Dystopolis. It’s called Death In Exile, and by and large I’ve found that people like it the most out of the six in the book. In the story, a woman grows up, becomes an assassin, is embroiled at the centre of a screw-up with her employer, finds herself in exile, and learns the value of relating to other people. I think it’s that last part that’s the hook, and it’s a useful lesson to learn: it doesn’t matter how many ridiculous bells and whistles you put on a story if it’s hollow at the center.
I think this is probably why I’m reluctant to start my latest book. It has to be - the premise of what I intend to write is utterly ludicrous, and features alien civilisations and global terrorism and gameshows and a company that edits together the memories of the dead for popular consumption, and yet at the moment it kind of feels like a bunch of ingredients rather than something whole. I want to confidently answer if someone asks what the point of it all is, even if that answer is that there is no point.
Making things a little more complex is the fact that this is going to be a two-part series, and while Part Two immediately follows Part One, I still want the first book to have a satisfying coda. I think this is the biggest struggle, really - I have some pretty earnest ideas about the final direction of the whole thing (that I need to tweak somewhat because I realised the emotional beats were starting to mimic The World’s End), but Part One ends on a pretty grim note and I want to find a way to at least take stock and give my protagonist some room to breathe.
I think I might have an idea, but it still needs some groundwork. There’s a scene in a metro station towards the end of the first book - in a weird way, the location I have in mind almost acted as the genesis for a lot of the rest of the book. There, the protagonist discovers a portal through which all manner of unspeakable horrors have entered the world, and makes the decision to go on through with the dim hope that they can be stopped. This isn’t an original idea, of course. This sort of thing happens at the end of The Maze Runner, and Catching Fire, and a bunch of other novels that lead into a sequel. Venturing into the unknown at great personal risk is something that makes sense as a narrative beat, but it’s been done time after time. It’s the one thing making me cautious. It’s a gimmick, but I think it’s one I can justify. I just need the right emotional beats.
(Javier Bardem in Biutiful)
When Bardem smiles in this film, something inside me breaks.
I am learning that there is a gulf of difference between being happy and being entirely fulfilled; I have felt happy almost every day since I arrived in the USA, because I’m with the person I love and constantly making little steps forward and there is an overall lack of anxiety when you aren’t waiting for the worst to happen. All that said, I haven’t written in months, and even saying that feels like an admission of guilt.
It is a weird thing to realise that the thing you consider an essential part of you doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on your happiness. I wrote most of Dystopolis in the three-month gulf between submitting a visa petition and waiting on the results; I was definitely fulfilled at the time, but happiness was a distant blip on my radar. We assume that these things go together, because more often than not they do, but I don’t think correlation proves causation in this case. I don’t think that the inverse is true - I don’t think that I need to be tortured to produce art - but life has been moving so quickly that it’s been a long time since I really got to grips with myself.
I never really thought of summer as a claustrophobic phenomenon. In the UK (ah, “in the UK”, one of those phrases I’ve been using so often that it’s no wonder people refer to their ancestral homelands as “the old country”), summer is a few balmy days, a lot of gloomy ones, and maybe a heatwave or two where everyone goes to the park. Here, the heat is oppressive when the sun is at its highest, and you find yourself retreating indoors to the comfort of air conditioning.
I’m a couple of weeks into the new job. Already, the rhythms of it are becoming second nature. It’s funny how easily we assimilate actions that don’t come naturally. The more I start jobs - and this will be my fourth - the more I don’t feel quite as nervous on my first day, because I know that everyone’s making it up as they go along when they first start.
I don’t know how long I’ll be working there. Probably at least a few months. The future looks uncertain, but by entering employment I’m keeping myself busy, staving off the cabin fever that can come from sitting in the same room. I am, by my nature, a fairly solitary person - but I still need regular shots of diverse interaction to keep myself sane. Working - even if it is working hard - helps with all of that. My legs are becoming stronger. I am ignoring the heat, and starting to break the walls.