Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Misrepresentation of Johnny Appleseed

What do you know about Johnny Appleseed? Is it something like this?

A quote from one of the characters in my novel, wherein I scratch the surface of this misconstrued legend through fiction: "All I ever heard of you was that you would travel the American wilderness and plant apple orchards to feed the hungry colonists that came behind you because you were some kind of benevolent nature-spirit come down to Earth in the shape of a human being, or something like that.”

A devout follower of the fundamental Christian teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, John Chapman was an eccentric, to say the least. Rejecting the idea of the Trinity and believing the threefold god was found in Jesus alone, Swedenborg also believed that faith alone was not enough to save one's soul, and that one must also perform charitable acts to attain true salvation. Chapman followed this Swedenborgian doctrine to the letter, refusing to eat meat or harm even the tiniest of God's creatures. He befriended usually hostile Indians and was said to be quite fond of children. Preferring to go around barefoot at all times, he would entertain adoring audiences by walking over hot coals or sticking needles through the thick, leathery calluses on his feet.

Surely John Chapman did not intend or expect to be mythologized. But by the end of his life, he had become much more than man: Johnny Appleseed, one of the first homespun American folk heroes. A living legend.

So far, so good, right? Everything on par with what you remember? But about that thing with the apples...

In modern depictions, Johnny Appleseed usually shares the spotlight with seeds. Sackfuls of apple seeds. Apple seeds pouring from his hands into piles at his bare feet, often wearing nothing but a burlap sack and a tin cooking pot on his head (this attire is based on fact).

John Chapman did bring relief in the form of the apple to colonists, but not in the way you were taught in elementary school. He was known for carrying around apple seeds. Let me reemphasize: apple seeds. And the apples that grow on the branches of apple trees grown from directly from seeds are almost always inedible. In order to ensure an apple tree's fruit will taste good, it is necessary to graft the tree.

Grafting is a means of domesticating fruit trees where a shoot of the desired tree is fused into the trunk of the undesirable tree; basically a form of cloning plants. But John Chapman, habitual wanderer, did not stay in one place long enough to graft trees and cultivate orchards to their full, edible fruition. He dropped seeds, ensured the orchard would survive, and moved on down the line to the next plot of land. He often sold off the new orchards to colonists.

But if these orchards were filled with trees that produce only inedible apples, why would ol' Johnny even bother with them? And why would colonists be willing to pay for a bunch of worthless trees?

But that's the whole thing. The apple trees filled with uneatable fruit were far from worthless. In fact they were quite valuable. But for a different reason than eating, though these apples were consumed.

At that time in colonial America, what was there to do? Not much, you would think, and you would be right. And when there's not much to do, what do people do (besides reproduce like rabbits)?

They drink.

And where would they get their alcohol in this far-gone age of Manifest Destiny? From the corner liquor store? From the local brewery? Wish it into existence? No. Of course not.

The early American colonists' alcohol came from about the only place to get it: seedling apples. When pressed and allowed to ferment, seedling apples produce a hard cider about half the potency of wine. If frozen, voila!, you've got 70-proof applejack.

So, yeah, Johnny Appleseed brought relief to the colonists. In the form of drink.

Am I advocating the altering of the inspirational, "feel-good" legend of Johnny Appleseed? Am I proposing the complete stripping of myth from our childrens' minds? No. But perhaps the time has come for us adults to wrest the Appleseed banner from our youngest generation and hoist it as our own.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How I indie published my novel: An eight-step guide to get your book "out there!"

"The Fountain of Eden" is now available in the Kindle store for the low price of $2.99. For those thinking about indie publishing their own work, these are the steps I took to get my novel "out there." I would suggest doing more research than reading just this one blog post before publishing, but it should give you a nudge in the right direction.

1) I wrote the novel.

This took some time.

2) I revised and I rewrote.

I did a lot of this. In fact step 2 took longer than step 1. The first draft was a monster at 250K words. I had it scrubbed down to a still quite daunting 130K when I sent it to the editor. For the type of story I was trying to tell, this was way too many words. Revise, revise, revise. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. You can always use the stuff you cut later (look at me: I've got material for two complete novel from the cuts I made, though I doubt I'll reuse even a quarter of it). Your first draft, no matter how great you and your mom think it is, just ain't gonna cut it.

3) I hired a freelance editor.

Kathleen Dale did a great job helping me weed out superfluous parts of the novel, tighten up the language, fill in all those little plot holes, and correct those slight inconsistencies it's so easy to miss because you're so in love with the sleekness of your prose. After we went over the novel three times (one content editing pass, one copyedit pass, and one final proofread) it had been polished to a brisk 85K. She's not going to do all the work for you; it's up to you to revise and rewrite. But she will help you improve your novel. And man, she's got snark. Which is what you need.

Since hiring an outside editor is like hiring a private contractor, you do not have to take every single one of that editor's suggestions and follow them to the letter. Nevertheless I took about 80% of Kathleen's (but don't tell her that percentage, because her figures will probably be lower). Sometimes I didn't like what she had to say ("You're changing my . . . art! You're asking me to eff up my . . . my masterpiece!"). But usually, after I mulled things over for a day or four, I would realize in a moment of insight: she's flippin' right. She's not effing up my art, she's making me think in new ways about my art. And that would make the narrative stronger.

As an indie author, you can't slack off, or your novel will drown in the sea of "dollar dreadfuls" available in the Kindle store and elsewhere. Even if you do it right, it still might flounder in that sea of sloppy sentences. But at least you did it right. Hire a professional to double-check your work before you publish. Get an extra set of eyes on that manuscript. Objective eyes (this means not your mom). This is very important. It doesn't matter what kind, type, or genre of story you tell. Hire an editor. Or at the very least, hire an effing proofreader.

4) I hired a cover artist: Rich DiSilvio.

I, in my newbie ignorance, did steps 3 and 4 in reverse order. DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. Have your manuscript finalized BEFORE you contact your cover artist, or your cover artist is going to be waiting around for weeks while you put the final grammatical touches on your baby and then wait for Createspace to finish designing your book's interior so you can get the final page count and figure out your book's exact spine width (sorry, Rich). Rich can also do other graphic design stuff for you. Seriously, check him out. He's very, very good.

I would recommend hiring a professional to create your cover. That is unless you have a graphic artist in the family, and if so you should at least buy them a case of beer and/or take them out to an excellent dinner for all that work they put in designing you a bad-ass cover! Go ahead and do it yourself on Photoshop if you want to, but beware the consequences. A book's cover is a draw, and if yours is ugly some potential buyers won't go any farther. Even if you've written the best book the world has never-ever seen. Ugly cover, and the world will forever remain in ignorance of your prolific writing skills and paradigmatic storytelling ability.

5) I chose Createspace to design the book's interior for the print version.

This is far from the only option available, but I thought they did a great job. If you're just trying to hawk e-books, it is not even necessary to publish in print--but it is cool to be able to hand a friend or a family member a signed copy of your book, even if they are just going to go home and use its printed-on-demand pages as backup toilet paper. I recommend going both digital and print. Print isn't dead yet. Zombified? Perhaps.

6) Createspace also converted the manuscript to Kindle format for me.

And they did a phenomenal job, but . . .There are plenty of independent digital contractors across the web who would be happy to convert your manuscript to Kindle format, and this will enable you to get the Kindle version out weeks before the print version is available. Usually they can do it in a matter of days, if not hours, if you don't require complex formatting.

And you could always learn to format your own e-books, if you have the time and patience. There is oodles of information about it out there on the web. Go look for it.

7) I published my novel on Smashwords.

Smashwords is an independent e-book retailer and distributor. The "Smashwords Style Guide" will help you with the arduous process of formatting your manuscript to meet their standards. Upon first viewing the "guide," I thought the formatting might take weeks. But if you set your pace and get to work, it's not so bad. I did it in an evening (I was up past 4AM, but maybe I shouldn't start projects like that at midnight). After a couple weeks, if your file passes through their "Meatgrinder" without a problem, your book should make it into their premium catalog, which makes the e-book appear for sale on B&, the iBookstore, and elsewhere.

8) I started up this blog.

Not many people have been reading it, but hell, it's better than doing nothing.

During all of these steps, I researched indie publishing. There is a wealth of information about it on the Internet, and thousands of books on it available for free or a minimal fee in the Kindle store and elsewhere. J.A. Konrath's blog is a good place to start your research.

And check out the Fountain of Eden. It's a lot of fun.

And please, let me know how your indie publishing adventure goes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"The Fountain of Eden" paperback now available on!

"The Fountain of Eden" is now available on in paperback!

If you want to wait for the Kindle version, it will be out in a week or two for $2.99. Once again, here's the link for "The Fountain of Eden." And thanks for your support!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Zen in the Debacle of Grammar: It's killing me with its obviousness . . .

The Fountain of Eden's release has been delayed for a week.

I discovered a . . . mistake. On the back cover blurb, no less. After the proof copy of the novel was shipped to me and approved—by me. Most of those who might have glanced over the back cover probably wouldn't even have noticed it.

But the blurb is a draw. Misuse a word there, and some readers won't even crack open the book.

Someone would have noticed.

Oh yes, it's sure someone would have.

It is, oh yes . . . it's?

So that you may learn from my follies and avoid them in your own endeavors . . . welcome to the first installment of Zen in the Debacle of Grammar, a series I will periodically run as I come across interesting grammar issues and other writer's quandaries.

It's” is a contraction that combines the words “it” and “is”, or "it" and "has". It is used in no other way.

The letter “s” with a leading apostrophe is used to show possession everywhere else throughout the English language. The phrase “Jack's toy” indicates that, well, the toy belongs to Jack. The phrase "the idiot's miscue" indicates the miscue was the idiot's.

But the possessive for the word “it” is “its”. No apostrophe. “Its toy” is correct. “It's toy" gets you a big fat X on the grammar quiz.

What happened (i.e. my excuse): Two sentences of the blurb, as it reads ("The beer is called Hoppy Heaven Ale. It's main ingredient: the Water of Life."), were originally one sentence ("Hoppy Heaven Ale's main ingredient: the Water of Life."). When revising the blurb I made the one sentence into two and left the apostrophe behind the word "ale" in there without noticing. 

"The beer is called Hoppy Heaven Ale. Its main ingredient: the Water of Life." Correct! You get a check-mark!

Indie writers, learn from my mistake. Check your work. Then double-check it. Triple-check it. Quadruple-check it. Check, check, check it hard into the boards of infinity. Step back, meditate on everything else in the universe for a while, and then check it again. Until your prose sings and your eyes bleed. You still might miss something. Actually, it's a good damn bet that you will miss something. But the more you look, the more likely you are to catch those aggravating little bastard somethings.

And don't just gloss over the obvious stuff, like the back cover blurb. Most times its the obvious stuff—like that simple, overlooked misuse of “it's”—that you're gonna miss.

As writers, we have . . . selective vision . . . when it comes to our own work. You must drop this subjective mindset--especially when you're rewriting or revising your novel, or your eyes are glancing over your back cover blurb, distracted by all the pretty artwork everywhere. Let go of your writer's ego. Place yourself outside of yourself, and rip yourself a new one. Leave no word uninspected.

Apostrophe, translated from the Greek, means "to turn away".

Damn. It sorta all makes sense now, huh?

(By the way, did you catch the misuse of "its" in this post?)