Straight Jacket – Once More Into the Breach Part 2

Today is the 11th of September.

On the 9th of last month I determined to report regularly on the progress of my new novel – Straight Jacket (published by High Horse Books, Melbourne). This is like my own personal reality show in which I report and speculate on the story so far. Will Straight Jacket be a success, or will it get voted off the show by the bookstore audience? Stay tuned.

It has been a good month.

Highlights have included the following:

• Interview with the Law Society Journal
• Major promotion by the Co-op Bookshop in Sydney (in anticipation of a signing event being promoted in the LSJ)
• Arranged to do a launch at Readings Bookstore in Hawthorn
• Arranged to do a signing event at Dymocks Erina
• Arrangement of a local launch party at Avoca Beach Surf Club
• The first ratings appearing on Goodreads (all Fives so far with the exception of one Four);
• The first reviews appeared; and
• The film rights to the novel being optioned by Ealing Studios, one of the largest and most famous film studios in the UK.

And of course, publication. The book has now been out for a week and the energy and goodwill out there is amazing. Almost everyone who has read the book so far has really enjoyed it which is incredibly gratifying, not least as I believed the book to be a bit of a challenge. The reading public are obviously much sicker than I thought.

Mind you, you can’t please everyone (and I wouldn’t expect to – especially with such a sick puppy main character as Morgen Tanjenz). One reader, quite close to me, was disappointed that the book did not conclude in a particular way and that the main characters did not have particular qualities she expected. (Fear not, there is no spoiler here.) Concluding in the manner she described would have done three things:

• Forced my story into a fairly standard (and predictable) resolution;
• Made my characters similar to other fictional characters; and
• Lost all the more subtle and ambiguous consequences and connotations with which the reader is now obliged to deal and could stay rankling in their head for days, months or years to come.

Books about ordinary people doing predictable things tend not to be remembered. In fact, they tend not to be published in the first place.

I was blown away by the first review. The creation of a novel happens more or less in a vacuum. You do get feedback from friends, family and publisher, but all of them have some sort of vested motivation for believing the book to be good. It’s not until you start seeing the reviews from independent readers who have no connection with you that you can truly start to gauge the book’s worth in the marketplace.

This is even more problematic in the context of such a challenging character as Morgen. He’s a real bastard, doing some pretty bad stuff and incredibly arrogant about it. And yet I want people to love him (or at least love being with him), which is a difficult thing to achieve when the main character is such a cad. Get it just slightly wrong and the book will fall flatter than a fart joke in a colostomy ward, but to my relief, the first reviewer said Morgen is: “attractive, clever and dreadful – all excellent qualities in a protagonist. His machinations are horribly enjoyable in that kind of grim way that makes you worry a bit about your own sanity.”

Reading that review was profoundly satisfying. What it means is that there is definitely a subcategory of readers out there who will enjoy Straight Jacket – it just remains to be seen how big that subcategory is and how well we can reach them.

I’ll get a better idea of the size of my potential public when I see a review in the major papers. There is nothing more important to the life of a book than good reviews in prominent publications. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising but personal networks can only stretch so far, and you only have so long to reach a critical mass of people who can start selling for you. Before then you have to get large numbers of strangers interested in your work and the only way to achieve that is good reviews – or a massive media and marketing campaign, but neither the publisher nor I can afford that, so fingers crossed that some of the energy and goodwill I spoke of transmits itself to the independent readers in the major newspapers and literary journals.

So how do I feel right now?

Nervous, excited, full of hope, and increasingly confident that Straight Jacket is the right novel to take me to the next level. I’ve set myself the target of selling 20,000 copies, which I believe would be enough to really establish myself as a writer in Australia, and possibly beyond.

So, as I continually ask, if you have enjoyed Straight Jacket, please don’t keep it to yourself. Tell the world and make it your gift of choice at birthday and Christmas time!

After all, if you want to see a sequel, it’ll only happen if there is enough demand for it. So help me create the demand.

I’ll be your pal.

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The Strange Gods of Publishing: Part 2

Readers of this blog may remember my first ever entry which was entitled: The Strange Gods of Publishing. It was a whimsical piece which related some of the odd things that have happened on my journey to become a successful writer and positing the theory that the Strange Gods of Publishing entertain themselves by killing off or injuring any publishing professional who takes an interest in my work.

It is absolutely true that, in the past, the more enthusiastic a publishing professional was about my work, the more likely the Strange Gods were to intervene in some lethal or life-threatening manner to prevent me being published. One agent died after raving about my work and telling me he was going to make me the next big thing.

Another agent was hospitalised, had her car broken into and then refused to take my calls after initially telling me mine was one of the best new voices she’d read in years. Clearly the Strange Gods had sent goons round to warn her off.

Well now they’ve taken it a step further.

Not satisfied with bumping off or threatening humans, they’ve now resorted to something far more dastardly.

They’re trying to kill my cat.

* * *

I thought I had finally thwarted the Strange Gods when Mr Cleansheets was published in April 2010. Maybe they had finally relented and turned their evil attention to some other poor bastard?

Well, the first time I was invited onto a radio show to discuss my new book (back in 2010), the following incident occurred:

I got home about 6.30 pm with the interview (over the phone) scheduled for about 8.15. As I always do, I pressed the button to close the garage door, and when it ground to a halt I could hear an odd banging. I almost ignored it, thinking it just one of those weird metal noises that soon go away, but something inspired me to check it out. I opened the internal door to the garage, and there was my cat, Grishnakh, pinned by the garage door and writing in agony.

I bolted upstairs, hit the button again and ran back down. As the door released him, Grishie started to stand up but then collapsed as though the life had gone out of him. He was just a dead weight – eyes staring – not breathing – so in a panic, I did the only thing I could think of. I gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation.

I forced open his jaws, clamped my mouth over his and started blowing, while manipulating his chest. It was like blowing up a spiky, fish-flavoured balloon, and I must have looked very strange – dressed in a business suit, kneeling on the wet ground, apparently french kissing a cat.

I’ve got no idea whether my actions had any effect, but after about a minute he coughed, and a spasm went through his little body, and suddenly there was life in his eyes. But he wasn’t moving. I ran and got a couple of towels, picked him up and brought him inside, and laid him on the dining table – continually stroking him and talking to him, but he just lay there. Catatonic.

Eventually, I remembered the interview, and started to worry about whether my wife (Kazzie) was going to be home in time to take over my ministrations while I sparkled wittily on the radio. Fortunately, with about ten minutes to spare and Grishie still lying in a stupor, I heard the garage door going up again. I explained the problem and she, being a medical professional, took a completely different approach to the crisis. She fetched a bowl of cat food and placed it next to him, and the suddenness of his recovery was awesome. Not a full recovery mind – he staggered to his feet and started gingerly licking at the food before wolfing it with almost his customary gusto.

So, I was able to fulfil my media duties (and several more times also) and Mr Cleansheets was moderately successful.

But I did not heed the warning.

It never occurred to me to link Grishie’s brush with death with the Strange Gods of Publishing, but this week their influence is all too apparent.

My new book Straight Jacket was available in the shops on Monday morning, and on Monday night, Grishie was hit by a car.

Kazzie discovered him on Tuesday morning whimpering under a bush with a broken leg and a huge gash in his side. The local vet was able to sew up his gaping wound but the broken leg was beyond him. (Do you know they actually have orthopaedic surgeons for cats? There are eleven in Australia and they all live in solid gold houses with ruby-studded roofs.)

There can be no more obvious explanation for this ‘accident’ than the evil influence of the Strange Gods of Publishing kicking up a notch – once again taking out their vengeance on a poor, innocent creature to try and convince me to cease my authorial activities.

What will it be next? Poison-baits tossed over our fence? A greyhound trainer moving in next door?

Well it won’t work Strange Gods.

I am more determined than ever to thwart your evil designs. I will be a successful novelist and Grishie will stay safe no matter how celebrated and widely read I become.

So help me stop the Strange Gods of Publishing! Spread the word about Straight Jacket and encourage others to buy copies for themselves and all their friends!

How else am I going to afford the bloody vet’s bills?