Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself.... By Lev Butts


I would like to thank the members of The Authors Electric for inviting me to contribute to this blog. I am truly humbled to be in such good company.

I knew I wanted to be a writer as soon as I learned how to read.

I remember being absolutely obsessed with how 26 letters in varying order could make movies in my head. Movies that were, by and large, so much better than the movies I saw in the theatre, especially when those movies had been inspired by the book I was reading.

When I was very young, maybe six, my favorite books to read were the Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear books. The first story I ever wrote was an attempt to crossover these two series: Paddington's foster family, the Browns, took him to meet their very good friends, the Robins, who lived near The Hundred Acre Wood. I vaguely remember a conversation between Paddington Bear and Pooh (whose "real" name you may remember was Edward Bear) over whether they were related. There was also a tea party in which Paddington's marmalade sandwiches fell into Pooh's honey jar, but beyond these two events, I remember nothing else. It really wasn't very good.

A professional reconstruction of this historic meeting
I remember in middle school (sixth grade-ish), I was so determined to be a writer that I kept a red, spiral-bound, hundred-page Mead notebook with me wherever I went in case I had an idea for a story. My step-father absolutely hated this. I never understood why it bothered him so, but every time he saw me grab it on my way out the door, especially if I were going somewhere with him, he'd be quick to remind me that "real" writers didn't take their notebooks with them everywhere. It was not until much later that I wondered how he could know this since he worked as a kitchen manager and knew roughly zero writers, real or otherwise.

Here we witness the fateful day that Tripods
devour the King and the Duke while
Rod Serling and Albin look on in horror.
My first "novel" was written in this notebook. Like "Paddington Meets Pooh," however, it wasn't very good. In fact, The Skylight Zone was absolutely horrid (though at the time I thought it was the best book since The Hobbit). It followed the adventures of a kid much like myself who found himself in an alternate dimension that was much like our own except that kids were kept as slaves to aliens (which had either three or twelve arms, depending on what I thought would be cooler for whatever scene I wrote that day). The story told of his attempts to escape to our dimension with his best friend, Albin. It was an unfortunate blend of John Christopher's Tripod series, a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I am not saddened at all that these two early tales have disappeared into a landfill somewhere.

My point, though, in relating my early adventures in writing is to illustrate that when one truly wants to be a writer, he or she should not give up, even if their first attempts are about as interesting as watching someone else watch paint dry.

I knew my stories were crappy (even I didn't want to read them); I just didn't know why. It wasn't until college, that I reached an epiphany: the problem with my writing had always been that I was trying too hard to write someone else's stories. Why write another version of the Tripod stories, for instance, when they were already available to be read? No one wants to read a story that they've already read better elsewhere (If you doubt me, I direct you to The Iron Tower trilogy, which was so similar to The Lord of the Rings that its author is consistently accused of plagiarism at worst, poor taste at best by die-hard Tolkien fans).
Admittedly, he added his own touch:
Here Frito Booger robs Balan's tomb in
the Mines of Maria for his mithril boxers.

What I needed to do instead was to find a book I desperately wanted to read but that had not been written yet and write that story. This is advice I have followed faithfully for all my writing since. While it means that I often go years without writing much of anything, what I do write has at least been interesting to me.

If you haven't read this book, you need to.
Last year, I published my first collection of short fiction, Emily's Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories. This book consists of several stories that had been sitting around on my computer for years. Some had been published in college creative writing journals, a few had even won awards, but I had not done anything else with them. I published the collection as an e-book, mostly on a whim:

Last May, I was asked by Richard Monaco (author of the 1977 Pulitzer-nominated novel Parsival or a Knight's Tale) to help him set up his recently self-published sequel to Parsival, Lost Years: The Quest for Avalon, as a kindle book. Since I didn't have his manuscript to play with, I used my own work to figure out formatting and such for an e-book, and once I had done that, I decided to go ahead and publish my collection. I then received several requests to make it available in hardcopy, so I released the first edition of the book in hardback and paperback through lulu.com in late June/early July.

I chose to publish Emily's Stiches independently for two reasons: 

Firstly, I was in a hurry to get a hardcopy edition out for those readers who wanted one. With a traditional publisher, I knew, even assuming I could get a contract, I would  be lucky if my book hit the shelves in a year. Both lulu.com and Amazon's CreateSpace, however, work so quickly that I could format and upload the manuscript in an evening and have it on sale by the next morning. I ultimately chose Lulu because it made my book available on both Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Ingram catalog (meaning any independent, bricks-and-mortar book store could order it directly if they wanted to).

This one, too.
Secondly, since I am neither a world famous celebrity nor an already best-selling author, I knew the onus of promotion and selling would be on me regardless of whether I traditionally or self-published. However, I would have to share the rights to my work with the publisher if one picked me up. Additionally, I'd be lucky to get 15% royalties if I traditionally published; but most self-publishing sites offered as much as 70%. Since I figured I'd sell about as many copies regardless of how I published, self-publishing seemed to offer more of a return.

While my initial reasons for publishing independently may have been more practical than idealistic, the experience has made me appreciate the benefits of  self-publishing more than I had ever thought possible. I know I probably won't ever be a best-selling author. However, without self publishing, the chances of my ever being a published author were fairly slim, too. Without self-publishing, I'd probably never have had the chance to see my book on the shelf of my home-town book store (a sight that never ever gets old), or gotten the chance to see reviews of my book in print. 

Sadly, most people, it seems, do not seem to share my appreciation of self-publishing. I'm afraid that many still see self-publishing as the resort of sub-par writers who can't hack it with a "real" publisher (an attitude I will be addressing next month). However, there are plenty of quality self-published books out there: Remember The Celestine Prophecy? Originally self published. There's a film hitting wide release soon, John Dies at the End. Based on a self-published novel. Moby Dick? Yep, self published. Hell, even the last novel of Philip K. Dick, whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep inspired the title of this blog, was recently self-published by his widow. So I feel as if I'm in good company.

This past year, Emily's Stitches was nominated for the 2013 Georgia Writer of the Year Award in short fiction, and I have been invited to speak at various local writing conferences, seminars, and independent publishing classes. I am currently working on two new books: a critical edition of H. P. Lovecraft's work and a novel, Guns of the Waste Land, a retelling of the King Arthur legend as a Western. 

Not bad for a guy who started his writing career having tea with two imaginary bears.


12 comments:

Reb MacRath said...

What a charming introduction. It's good to have you here. Well done!

Reb MacRath said...

Oh, one more thing, as Colombo would say: the Arthurian Western sounds promising. But do you have any concerns about confusion with Stephen King's Wastelands, third in the Dark Tower series?

Leverett Butts said...

Thanks for the kind words, Reb. As far as concerns about King's books, other than some thematic similarities, I think mine is different enough to avoid confusion. However, I would be lying if I denied that Sai Deschain and his ka-tet were one of my influences. Mostly my influences are Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Parzifal, and Monaco's Parsival series. (In fact, I have a character who is clearly a nod to a character in Monaco's books).

CallyPhillips said...

Hey, welcome Lev. What a great introduction. You know what - I think that Pooh meets Paddington is a winner of an idea (I'd pay money for that) and it charmed me to you immediately (I thought Yankees didn't 'do' good kids fiction!!!) As re the notebook - ah, I sense a whole load of backstory there so again, as a writer you're really whetting my appetite to get to know you (and your work) more. And I'm eager to have another voice on the ins/outs/ups/downs of self or indie publishing around as well. Nice to hear all kinds of views and 'stories' and 'reasons.' And then, to know that Dick's first novel has been self-pubbed by last wife... I'm off to chase that down right away. So well done buddy. Great to virtually meet you and thanks for giving me plenty to so before 8.30am. Would it be too corny to say I now have 'Georgia on my mind'?

CallyPhillips said...

Me again. I revise my opinion of you Mr Butts. You are a BAD INFLUENCE. Under your influence not only have I gone out and bought a copy of Emily's Stitches (I've just been re-reading Norman Maclean and thought it might sit nicely side by side as Pooh and Paddington) but you've got me buying a Dick Book. Not the Owl one (that's nearly £250 on CS so it must have been removed from publcation. I'd like it but not at that price.) But no, it alerted me to Tessa B. Dick and I've bought one of hers. Looks very interesting. So why is this a BAD influence. Because old buddy I have no time to read right now, I've got to get the ebook festival up and running pronto. But you've given me the impetus to get work over fast and sit in sun and read! Thanks.

Chris Longmuir said...

Great introduction and welcome to our merry band, Lev. As a point of interest, Createspace does make your book available to Ingrams if you invest in the $25 Expanded Distribution. as for 15% royalties from a traditional publisher for a newbie - good luck with that one. I get 8% royalties for my traditionally published novel, and like you I'm much happier with the Amazon 70%, and the cut I get from Createspace.

Kathleen Jones said...

Hi Lev - welcome aboard this mad ship of notebook-toting swashbucklers. Loved the Pooh and Paddington idea, like Cally. Look forward to your posts!

Bill Kirton said...

Great post, Lev. Welcome. So much of what you say rang bells, from the early obsessions to the 'graduation' to the realities of the trade. I look forward to you sharing more with us.

Leverett Butts said...

Thank you all for the wonderful reception of my post. It has made me blush with pride here at my laptop. I kept wishing it was Facebook so I could "like" them.

Callie, I definitely understand the bad influence. I have literally have enough books to build office furniture (except I'd have to decide which ones I'll not read). Also, do let me know, good or bad, what you think of my book, positive or negative.

Chris, thanks for the info on Createspace, Their cost for Ingram is much cheaper than lulu. Do you know if they offer hardback printing as well as paperback?

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Hi Lev, welcome and what a great post. I love the idea of Paddington meets Pooh. My two favourite bears in the same book! Why has nobody thought of this before? I too am notebook obsessed - your stepfather was SO wrong. Nothing nicer than sitting at a cafe table and jotting things down. Am off to investigate your book!

Reb MacRath said...

Cally and all: you're in for a wonderful treat when you read Emily's Stitches. This book takes its rightful place on my list of great reading discoveries. And adventures.

Lydia Bennet said...

welcome, Lev, great post. love your two bears combo idea!