Thursday, December 17, 2009

Google Wave Interview by Small Stories

This interview was conducted via Google Wave and is being cross-posted here from

Quick plug: Google Wave has a lot of exciting potential uses for indie authors.  If you're on it and want to hit me up, I'm moxiemezcal [at]  And if you're not on it yet but are interested, I have a few invites.

Is this Moxie Mezcal?
Moxie Mezcal Interview
by Small Stories

Can you tell us about your writing for readers who may be unfamiliar with your work?

I've dubbed what I write "punk-as-fuck guerrilla fiction" - and at this point I'm not sure if that's meant to be taken seriously or not. But I guess what it means is that there's a certain attitude I'm trying to achieve, a sense of immediacy - I have stories that I want to tell, and I'm going to do it by any means necessary and not worry about making them "commercial" or "accessible" or even "serious literature". Which on the one hand I guess you could call lazy, but I come from an indie, DIY mindset where making shit look slick and pretty is all well and good, but what really matters is content. I mean, look at The Cramps' "Songs the Lord Taught Us" - it sounds like it was taped on a busted cassette recorder with a dying battery that someone just absent-mindedly left turned on in the middle of the studio, and it's still one of the most intense fucking albums ever.

But getting back to my stuff, if I had to distill the essence of my stories into a couple tidbits, it'd go like this: First, I like to write stories where things happen - people fight, fuck, drink, steal, solve mysteries, and just generally get up to shenanigans. I'm not really interested in the kind of navel-gazing and pointless florid descriptions that signify "serious literature".

You Are Under Surveillance Right Now
Second, I'm fascinated by technology, particularly by the way it's causing an intersection between celebrity-YouTube-web2.0 culture and the surveillance-police-state mentality. It's like, once you get accustomed to broadcasting every inconsequential detail of your existence, surveillance cameras don't seem so bad. In fact, in a way it's an extension of that celebrity culture, it validates our existence, turns everyone into a star. Meanwhile the systems of control tighten around our collective necks. There are a lot of video cameras in my stories.

And third, I like writing about people who exist somehow on the fringes of society or mainstream culture. Personally, I've never felt entirely comfortable fitting into the mainstream, so I'm interested in people who operate on the outside of things, either by choice or because they've been ostracized, or maybe they just wake up one day and realize they've gradually slipped through the cracks.

Would you agree that the Internet has changed everything for the non-mainstream writer. ie: they now have a cheaply accessible audience, which was almost impossible to find before without a lucky break in the publishing industry?

Absolutely, this is a very exciting time for the independent author. The internet has gone a long way to democratizing content - blogs are breaking major stories before the supposedly "established" news media, and last year even the fucking Macy's Thanksgiving parade did a rickroll.

The other development that is propelling a lot of writers specifically to take a stab at independent e-publishing is the emergence of e-readers. Because to be honest, reading for any prolonged period of time off a back-lit screen is a headache, so while that's fine for short stories, I could never deal with reading a full-length novel off a computer. But I love my Sony Pocket with its sexy little gray screen, and I've read more books in the past few months of owning it than I used to read in a year on paper.

Couple that with Feedbooks and Smashwords, sites that allow any author with only the smallest modicum of tech savvy to produce decent ebook files, and the threshold for entry is ridiculously low. Which some people will moan and hiss about, complaining that there's no editorial control or the sentences end in fucking prepositions or whatever. But honestly, these are the types of people who get off on being controlled, who are so used to the mainstream arbiters of taste telling them what to like and what's shit that they probably don't even have actual opinions of their own anymore.

Me, I prefer to see it like punk rock. Sure, you can't really carry a tune, and yeah, your guitar is only held together with duct tape and a prayer - but you're raw, you're honest, you're passionate, and fuck-it-all you've got something to say and you're going to say it as loudly as you can.

Perhaps the fiction 'market' itself has changed, what people want to buy and read? I'm my experience the middle market has hollowed out. Now it cuts from post-chick lit to worthy literature, something like the late 70's music scene going from pop to 'serious' prog rock without anything in-between ... when you walk into a book store everything feels plastic and over-marketed, writers are talking about their careers and people only listen to the cash register? It's all very competent and slick but there are less and less off-the-wall characters sitting behind their writing machines, trying to say something? Could we be waiting for something fresh, a kind of literary-punk?

The problem is that paper publishing (I call them the tree-killers) is a sinking ship - in all forms, fiction, news, whatever. So what naturally happens is these treekillers stop taking chances, they only want to publish the kind of warmed-over, puerile gruel that they know will sell. So the Dan Browns and the Stephanie Meyers superstars will always have a place, as will the tell-all celeb bios and formulaic genre work.

But for anything that's edgy or experimental, it's going to get increasingly harder. Because as the audience for prose fiction shrinks, it's going to reach the point where it's just not financially feasible to publish difficult work with limited commercial value. Killing trees is expensive, running a printing press is expensive, shipping is fucking insanely expensive, and running a bricks-and-mortar bookstore - well just ask Borders how that's working out.

But the good news is that e-publishing is easy and nearly free - and most importantly, that audience that's hungry for novels that are challenging and audacious and fresh and artistic hasn't gone away. So if the treekillers don't want them, fuck 'em - they can come play in Mox's front yard.

Do we expect too much from writers? They are no longer counter-culture role models or political heroes or, indeed, artists ... they are more like business people and celebrities. I suppose we live in a more visual culture and many people who would have been producing the great American novel are working in TV and writing filmscripts. How do you see the role of the writer today?

Christ, that's a good question. Definitely, the old heroes of the counter culture are nearly extinct. Thompson finally blew his brains out and RA Wilson has moved on to the next plane. Those were the last two I really gave a shit about, I think. And there's not much in the new crop to replace them. I mean, you've got Palahniuk, but he's an anomaly - if the Fight Club film hadn't done so well in the after-market, I'm sure New York would have gotten sick of his bullshit years ago, what with his ripping colons out of assholes and what-not. Nick Cave, too - Bunny Munro was brilliant, but he's a rock star first, and who doesn't love rock stars? True, TV and film and music have tapped the well in terms of talent. Grant Morrison is the best we've got as an uber-counter-culture icon, but then he's not even prose, he's comics (ahem, graphic novels, sorry).

Shit, maybe I'm in the wrong medium.

All that aside, though, seriously, if I had to take a shot at defining the role of the writer today, I'd say that people will always want to tell stories, and they'll want to be told stories. It's primal, it goes back to cave men and shit. Sometimes they want stories that help them escape - tell them about an adventure or make them laugh or make them dream of true love. But then other times people need stories that do more, that challenge them, make them analyze who they are, make them feel uncomfortable and question their basic prejudices and assumptions. And the two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but the point is, you'll always need the counter culture writers, the shit-stirrers.

One of the interesting things we've seen with the proliferation of new media (web videos, blogs, satellite radio, even the millions of new cable TV channels) is the fractilization of audience - there are niches within niches. You no longer have three TV channels so everyone's watching the same shows. Which is liberating as an artist, because it means success doesn't necessarily have to be measured by ubiquitous mainstream penetration. Instead, it's a question of finding your niche, building an audience that connects with your work on a genuine level, whatever the size.

There's so much history and social status associated with being conventionally published by a good house, the trade hardback, national newspaper reviews, book signings and so on. Even though for most writers they never experience this world, how does someone writing digital fiction get taken as seriously and hope to achieve anything like the same kudos?

Well, the hard honest truth is that very few if any indie authors are ever going land national newspaper reviews and international renown and film adaptation deals and all that. I think the best approach is to have realistic expectations and do as much as you can within your own sphere of influence to build an audience.

For instance, you don't need a publisher to do a reading or a signing. Just go to your local cafe's open mic night, or connect with some local musicians and see if they'd be interested in combining music with spoken word and other types of performance art, or find an art gallery and see if they're interested in having spoken word at their next opening reception. Make connections. Meet people. That's what art's about - not giant fucking hardcover monstrosities.

And while we're on the subject - I'm going on record as saying I hate hardcovers. I mean, sure there's probably some archival value to it, and maybe you need a sturdier binding for something like the Oxford English Dictionary, but other than it - there's no reason you're making me pay $30 for the fucking hardcover for new releases. Just give me the cheap paperback and the ebook right away, you godless-fucking-swine.

Do you think being a digital writer is a first step towards getting into print or do you see it as an end in itself?

I think to some people it is, but personally, to me the "real" product is the e-book. Sure, at some point I think I'll print some copies on dead trees and try to sell those indie DIY-style, but I don't expect to sell that many, it's mostly only for a few people I know who still complain about "liking the feel of a real book" whatever that means.

I don't think a serious publishing house would ever reach the depths of either self-loathing or crippling lunacy to want to sign me, so I don't really have that on my radar as a goal. And frankly, I don't feel like it's necessary for me to feel validated as an artist. My ego is big enough that it takes actually very little validation for me to feel like a superhero.

People talk a lot about declining attention spans on the Internet. Do you write differently knowing it's going to be read on a computer screen or iPhone?

This is something I find really interesting, particularly because I think this is the way things will eventually go, and I fear I may on the back-ass tail of this trend.

Yes, I think the more people read on screens - especially mobile devices - the more of an audience there will be for short fiction or even shorter formats - flash fiction, micro fiction, etc. Without sounding too much like hollow praise or kissing the interviewer's ass, I think this is something you do exceptionally well, along with Nick Name and a few others.

The problem is that flash fiction is ridiculously easy to do, but at the same time ridiculously hard to do well. I'm a dinosaur in that respect, I still like to ramble on for pages and pages, and I tend to think in terms of more traditional story structure.

The major project I'm working on, the thing I've been working on for the last year or so, is a novel. A real, honest-to-goodness, bloated, overwrought, self-indulgent novel. I'm trying to think of ways to break it down to be more mobile-friendly, possibly serializing it in four or five smaller chunks, but still, they'd be chunks of 40-50 pages, hardly flash.

While working on the novel, I've written a few short stories, mostly as diversions or stylistic experiments, but a few of those I've liked enough to release as e-book singles. I think that's really the ideal format for me now - single stand-alone stories, 20-40 pages, still bloated and self-indulgent, but at least they could be read in a single (extended) sitting.

In the future I want to experiment with remixing and repackaging content, taking chunks of my shorts that could be repurposed into a decent stand-alone flash, much in the same way you'd pick and excerpt for a reading. One of my singles, "Making Dylan Maxwell" was an early experiment at this - basically, I took chunks from my novel that introduce the main antagonist and remixed them with a little new content to form a cohesive short.

The trick to do this thing well is you can't treat it as a sample or tease - you have to make it a real, stand alone experience that's satisfying to the reader even if they don't continue on to read the full source work.

Are your influences literary or from other areas such as film and music?

My influences are all over the spectrum - literature (PK Dick, Chandler, Borges, Palahniuk), film (Lynch, Aronofsky, Gregg Araki), music (christ, too many to name), comics (Alan Moore, Grant Morrison), even the occult (big ups to Crowley, crazy pervert that he is).

Also, drugs and alcohol have probably been a huge influence on my work. I mean, I'm pretty clean now, but there's a history.

What techniques do you use to create and share your writing on the Internet? Do you have any tips for other writers who may be new to this field?

Tip #1 Smashwords and Feedbooks are your friends.

Tip #2 get a web site, make it as easy to navigate as possible, and put anything that's good enough for other people to read on it as free, downloadable content.

Tip #3 get on Twitter, get on Facebook, get on MobileRead forums and goodreads and connect with people who might make up your potential audience.

Tip #4 It's not just about promoting yourself as an independent author, it's about building a independent e-book community. It's not a zero sum game; the more people who read indie e-books in general, the more people will read your indie e-books. Find other authors, read their shit, and talk up the ones you like. Write about them on your blog. Post reviews for them wherever they're listed for public consumption - Amazon and B&N and Sony as well as Feedbooks and Smashwords and goodreads. Customer reviews really are the new great democratizer of literary criticism. Fuck the national print reviews, most people just read the comments on the Amazon page.

when you see this image on a book cover, read it
Are you currently working on any big new projects? Where do you see you and your writing going in five years time?

I'm finishing the last draft of my novel, CONCRETE UNDERGROUND, which I'm very excited about. I know it's the last rewrite because as I work on it, I'm feeling for the first time that it's finally been shaped into the kind of ugly, unsettling monster I wanted it to be. So hopefully after this it'll only be copy-editing, and I'll finally release the bastard.

After that, I have two major projects in mind. One is a novel (or possibly a series of ebook singles, interconnected vignettes). It's a magical-realist love story about coming to terms with death, and I'm sure it will land me on Oprah's reading list.

The next is a series of novels or novellas about a lesbian detective in an alternate history United States where religion has been outlawed. Seriously. It's a hybrid sci-fi/pulp detective story. It'll be my Harry Potter.

That'll keep me busy for at least five years, slacker that I am.


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Creative Commons LicenseMoxie Mezcal Interview by Small Stories is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Please feel free to reprint, re-post, excerpt, and share as you like, but please give credit where due to Small Stories.  He did great work on this and is a fantastic interviewer and author.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Review: Tokyo Zero, by Marc Horne (Free-E-Day Fallout #3)

In my last post about the Safe Holiday Guide and my own half-baked Operation Indie Christmas notion (and apologies for my un-PC use of the term Christmas, please feel free to substitute whatever phrase best suits your particular set of superstitions), I talked about giving indie books away as presents.

If you're interested in doing this yourself and are open to suggests, I'd like to recommend Marc Horne's novel Tokyo Zero, which is listed on the Safe Holiday Guide and partly why I was inspired to cook up this scheme in the first place (I have someone in mind who I think would love the book).

If you're interested in sampling the novel yourself, Marc just posted a new edition over at Feedbooks as his contribution to Free-E-Day with a spiffy new cover and an "author's commentary" appendix.  And if you want to gift it, you can buy a paper copy at Amazon and enjoy all the benefits of making commerce with a corporate powerhouse, like "supersaver shipping" and "oneclick buying" and all that good stuff.

Here's a review, 'cause that's how I roll.  And fair warning - this is one of those irritating, pretentious reviews that starts of talking about something else completely unrelated to the matter at hand, but bear with me.

Tokyo Zero by Marc Horne

Back when I was living in Los Angeles, I used to go to this really cool little comic shop in Culver City called Comics Ink.  There was a clerk who worked there - Adam, I think, but memory fails, as that was a lot of drugs and scotch ago - who I heard, on more than one occasion, berate customers by saying: "If you're not reading Powers, then why the hell did you even learn to read?"  Now I didn't necessarily share his enthusiasm for that title specifically, but I always loved the notion that a book might be so good that not reading it is in some way squandering your literacy.

Tokyo Zero is so good that, if you haven't read it, you may in fact be squandering your literacy.

Ostensibly a thriller, it starts off feeling more like a travelogue about a westerner's first observations about Tokyo, then starts cooking with a nice, tight little plot about the planning of a terrorist attack - inspired by Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks in '95.  But the overall structure of the book is like a whirlpool, and soon everything speeds up, frantically and furiously, with crazy shit being tossed at your head around every corner - great big chunks of sci-fi, eastern mysticism, posthumanism, and conspiracy theory.

Seriously, this is the kind of novel that takes you by surprise,  sneaks up on you in a dark alley.  You're plodding along pleasantly, enjoying some adroit observations on Tokyo that deftly straddle the middle ground between hollow reverentialism  and ugly-American criticism, and then BAM - you suddenly realize you're alone in a subway car with a footless cult leader who's telling you the real story behind Judas's betrayal of Jesus.

Because make no mistake about it - this is a novel in every sense of the word.  Characters evolve and develop over time, the plot is advanced gradually in hints and teases, and the book that you finish is not the same book you thought it was when you started reading.  It's the type of story that you have to set aside your 21st Century Web 2.0 micro- nano- attention span for and let the work take its time revealing its many faces to you.

Recommended if You Like...

Marc once described it, tongue-in-cheek, as "Lost in Translation meets Fight Club"; the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking about The Invisibles.  If there's someone on your gift list who likes any of those, you won't go wrong with Tokyo Zero.

And yeah, The Invisibles makes two comic book references in one post - deal with it.

Both old-skool and new-skool covers for Tokyo Zero are copyright Marc Horne and used under Creative Commons license.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Interview with Dan Holloway (Free-E-Day Fallout #2)

Dan Holloway is the mastermind behind the Free-E-Day festival, founding member of the Year Zero Writers collective, indie culture blogger, and author of Songs from the Other Side of the Wall.

I wanted to ask him what he thought about Free-E-Day after the fact, to get his perspective on its success as an event and see what lessons we can take from it moving forward to promote indie culture.

MM: Can you talk a little about how it started and what the goals were?  How did you get the first idea, what if any person or persons made you realize it could actually be pulled off, and what were your real, concrete goals for the event?

DH: It was the stereotypical back of a napkin thing. I had an idea on the bus home - what if every indie writer and musician and artist gave something away not just randomly on their website or through a directory but out and proud and FOR the fans. At first I wanted to call it e-Christmas because of the timing and the presents thing, but I soon realised that would alienate the 90 whatever percent of people who don't care less about Christmas - and the whole point of culture is it's a universal thing. I wanted to get everyone together - wherever they were from. I'd been doing a lot of blogging and arguing about indie culture and whether it was a threat to the mainstream,and so many of the people I came across on both sides had this total Westernised bubble they thought the debate took place in, and I wanted to say "hang on a minute - there are people producing great art in the slums of Sao Paolo - we're all in this together. Let's celebrate everyone." Concrete goal - a starting point for years to come. Idealistic goals - 1. to get a whole world of individuals together and make them - for one day - into the biggest gig on the planet 2. to show people that they don't need the mainstream for brilliance and originality 3. to build communities and resources to help those working outside the mainstream - wherever they are. Hence the development of the web workshops.

MM: From your perspective, was it a success?  Is there a way to quantify how successful?  Did you get what you hoped for in terms of response, participation, downloads, etc?

DH: I expected no one to show. We had 100 contributing participants, 3725 hits on the website plus getting a top 10 in the bookbuzzr charts with the brochure. Everyone I've spoken to got some downloads, several got proper spikes. Lots of people clicked through from the website and more, from word of mouth, from twitter (though that's unquantifiable). Most of all, people wrote about the event (see the Across the Web page), and there was so much enthusiasm - and I got e-mails from loads of strangers, and participation in the workshops from some great people who put in a huge effort to give detailed, helpful info. I can't begin to describe how excited I am by the response.

MM: From where I stood (virtually speaking of course) it seemed like there was an awful lot of nuts-and-bolts work that had to get done for this thing, and it looked like you were shouldering it all more-or-less solo, bless your heart.  Can you talk a little about the actual nitty gritty of what it took to put this together, how much you did yourself versus people pitching in, and any lessons learned?

DH: I think the first year with something like this it's always one person doing it out of a shed. The main problem has been the tech. I have an old PC and very little software - so putting the brochure together has - well, it's taught me a lot about formatting! Putting it together has mainly been a question of being loud, enthusiastic, and cheeky - those three qualities will get you a lot further in most things than talent or experience. The website is simply a free wordpress site but it does everything I need - one of the things I was crystal clear about was that I wasn't going to host material - I'm an administrator by day job (most of my job is events management, which helped!), and I do too many legal risk assessments to chance that - all it takes is one person to plagiarise their content or have something defamatory or stuffed with a virus and it would bring the whole thing down. I have no artistic talent but I'm OK at design, so I love the logo even though it's really shoddy (it's a scan of something I did with a felt pen). I've been able to play off the "homemade" nature of indie. But next year we've got a lovely shiny shiny one courtesy Lawrence Thomas, who has kept the design but polished it up. The main help I had was from everyone who participated or blogged about the event or got behind it in any way. I'd like to mention by name in terms of practicalities Nikki Loy, who put together Free-e-day live, and Vikram and Freya from Bookbuzzr who held my hand through the scary technical bits.

MM: What was the most challenging or difficult thing you encountered putting this together?  Were there any surprises?

DH: The most difficult thing was the brochure. I put it together as a Word document and converted to pdf. People naturally sent their work in in every format under the sun, and it wasn't always possible to paste it in. I was a regular with Zamzar, and I soon learned that the most common cause of formatting issues was not embedding font, so I learned a lot. Of course with better tech it would have been a breeze - but I'm a broke creative like everyone else. This was put together with 100% no expenditure. The surprise - that people were as enthusiastic about the idea as I was.

MM: Are there plans to do something like this again - either as a recurring annual Free-E-Day, or doing something similar but under a different guise or with a different focus?

DH: This will be an annual event. I've already had people e-mail me to say they want to put on live events next December 1st and can they come under the Free-e-day umbrella. I will have a whole year to plan it, and now there's one successful event under the belt, it will make it easier to get media coverage. I'd love to see more people take part as contributors - and more people downloading. For the rest of the year I'll keep the website active. The webchats were always meant to be the basis for permanent resources, so I'll be building on the "making money outside the mainstream" and "DIY Workshop" sessions. I'll also keep the blog at the front rolling discovering exciting new indie creativity. In the "curatorship" or "gatekeeping" arguments currently raging, I've often said I'd like to devote an hour a week to finding something amazing I never knew existed - a site or an author or band or artist or craft - and bring it to a wider audience. I already do something similar with "The View From the Shoe" on my personal blog but I'd like to do it on a wider platform & this is perfect.

MM: What I found most interesting about Free-E-Day when I first heard of it was the fact that it was going to encompass musicians and visual artists in addition to writers - I think you referred to it in one chat as the "cross-pollination" of arts.  Was this part of the design from the beginning, or an afterthought?  What gave you the idea in the first place, and how critical did it turn out to be in shaping Free-E-Day?  Were there pros and cons, in terms of casting a wide net versus losing a certain focus for audience or marketing?  Do you have plans to pursue future cross-pollinations?

DH: No, this was always the aim. I'm a writer but only because I'm tone deaf and can't draw. I write about music and art - in my fiction, and in the music articles I write for The Indie Handbook. I've always seen culture as culture, whatever form. For my own live gigs as a writer I invite musicians. I think drawing distinctions is a bit daft. I know more writers than musicians and artists because I am one, but I want more musicians and artists for next year. Those musicians who have been on board have been really supportive so I'm hopeful - and we had a great art exhibition at Free-e-day live. And you only have to look at the brochure to see the art/literature crossover.

Future plans in addition to Free-e-day? Am I allowed to plug? If so, I'll say a brief bit about Year Zero Writers (, the collective I'm part of. We'll be taking our next anthology, Thirteen Shadows Before Sunrise, on tour just like an album, with gigs featuring invited bands and T-shirts by our in house artist Sarah E Melville. There will also be video - one of Penny Goring's stories, Temporary Passport was picked up off the site by an animator who's making it into an adult animation. That'll be part of the show. At Year Zero we're kind of a cross between Andy's Factory and the Left Bank - only largely virtual. We're writers, but that's really a very tenuous boundary - we just want to give people a great experience and see what we can do with art.

MM: There was an issue raised in one of the chats that the problem with using the internet to market indie art is that there's a tendency to make yourself believe you have more of an audience than really exists.  On the one hand, just because some you had 100 page views, it doesn't mean 100 people actually read your book.  On the other hand, you can have a small, insular group (say ebook writers) thinking that they're putting all this great work out, but the only ones reading are each other plus maybe a handful of friends and family.  Now this is getting long and rambling, so I'm going to break it off into two parts:

First, do you think that Free-E-Day was successful in broadening its reach to the "average" reader/listener/consumer and exposing them to indie art they hadn't heard of before?  Or were the 100-or-so people who submitted work the same 100-or-so people who downloaded?  What did you do to help expand the audience reached?

DH: To the specific question - I have no idea. I can only go by a google search and what I'm told. And discussions I've found on various forums. What I CAN say is there's a network of people now very few of whom I knew beforehand. And that can build media and so on. I think a problem indie people have in general is expecting things to happen now. And without going totally Morrissey, these things take time. With my personal career, I expect it to be at least five books in before I make any splash - but I expect always to be growing a following. I think too many people play one gig say no one turned up and quit. Think if a band did that - they'd be laughed out of town. Most bands I know play hundreds of gigs before they get the owner to turn up to see what his dog's doing down the pub, let alone get thousands of downloads. But writers tend to give up if they fail to sell loads of their first book. I have a terrible feeling the reason the stats for indie projects seem so poor is because people don't persist.

MM: Okay, second part, do you think that there are particular challenges faced by online or e-format art in gaining new readers that old-school physical art does better?  For instance, do you think word-of-mouth is easier when you have a physical book or zine or CD to pass off to your friend as opposed to a digital download?    Is someone who picks up a physical object necessarily more engaged in the work than someone who clicks a link?

DH: Free-e-day isn't actually about e-art. The electronic part was simply a way 1, to make the global aspect possible and 2. to allow creatives to give something away without it costing them an arm and a leg. And there's no way as a writer I'd limit myself to ebooks. My primary means of building word of mouth is live reading. And it works - every time I read people are surprised - they come for the music and end up liking the writers better. And there are T-shirts, and free pamphlets - and I'd like to do something like bookcrossing. I think people who go the e-only route will find it hard. Do people buy into a physical object more? To me that sounds like a crooked antiques salesman telling us about patina.  In terms of word of mouth - I think a physical object makes it easier for people to tell one friend.  An e-object makes it easier for them to tell 100. I think the answer has to be in trying lots of things and seeing what works for you, then doing more of that and still trying new things as well. Stay absolutely true to your audience, but be an absolute floosy with the mechanics.

MM: Taking a step back from Free-E-Day the project for a second, I'm actually curious on your experience of the whole thing as Dan Holloway, writer.  Did you personally get some exposure for your own work?  How does Free-E-Day fit into the larger goals you have in terms of building your own online and offline presence?  Are you trying to build a fanbase, go pro, conquer the world?  If so, how's it going?

DH: Interesting. I deliberately pulled back personally and with Year Zero on the site (I mentioned in the very early days the event was hosted by Year Zero - a friend said that sounded like a plug, and she was right)- I hope there's nothing that reads like a plug. On the other hand I'd like to have some kind of a presence in the wider web as someone who's supportive of the indie cause, but only because that means I can do more - I have no money so reputation is what I can build and offer. every day I come across great talents and want to do something for them - if putting my name behind them, even just by having a couple of thousand followers on twitter, helps in any way, that's great.

I'm also utterly sick of a lot of people who claim to be for the cause and then it's all about them, or it's about monetising the product. I want to bring the culture-loving public and the very best culture together. To make sure that happens I need a presence.

What am I aiming for personally? Well I would like to earn a living from writing so I can do more of it, of course. I DO think I'm good at what I do, and that there are enough fans out there willing to pay that I could make a living. What confidence in my ability as a writer and a passion for culture do mean is that I can trust the audience. So the only real goal I have is putting great culture in front of the public and making sure mine's as visible as anyone else's. If it is, they'll buy in. If they don't buy in, why should I make a living at someone else's expense? The upshot of that is that I see culture as a non-zero-sum game. What we need to do is get people interested in reading, or in art, and show them the wealth of stuff out there, and trust them to know what they like and what they don't. I can do that through Free-e-day in a largish but relatively unfocused way. I can do it more focused through Year Zero, bringing great contemporary, exciting fiction to people, and stimulating debate.

I do want to use this question to make a semi-political point. There are two kinds of people in this debate who make me utterly sick and, frankly, furious. There are people inside the establishment who resent those outside trying things like giving stuff away for free in case it takes their jobs away - especially the people who claim they are sticking up for writers. well i've got news for them - I'm a writer and I can stick up for myself. And if their work is better than mine what have they got to be worried about, and if it's not then why the hell should they have a job doing it when I don't just because they're in a position to spout this kind of protectionist bs. The second kind, who makes me more angry because technically they're on "my side" so they're tarring me with their brush are the "help me I'm Indie" brigade. These are the people who give each other glowing reviews on Amazon (yes, I've done it for friends whose work I love in the past but I don't any more because I think it sends the wrong message). The kind who want others to big up their book because it's indie. Well, sorry - I'll big up your book if it's any good. And if it's not why should you get more readers just because you're Indie? I want to bring Indie culture and the public together so people can discover great work wherever it comes from. There's nothing cool about bigging up crap.

MM: Taking another step back, talk about Year Zero.  How does it fit in with Free-E-Day - obviously the two are separate entities, but do they dovetail together in any way, in terms of goals or approach?  Also, tell me a little more about how the collective came into existence, and why, and have the goals or your conception of what it is changed at all as it's grown and come into fruition?

DH: Well, I've probably answered most of that already. We started out as a group of people writing literary fiction who were fed up of being told we'd get published if only we were a little more commercial. So we made a place where we could write what we wanted to write. "Uncut prose" is basically what we stand for. Not, of course, meaning unedited, but meaning edited the way we want and not someone else. We originally thought it would be good to get together and market our self-published novels together, but we've grown into more than that. Now we have a blog with daily new fiction and weekly articles, we have started asking the same questions, and have become some kind of, I don't know if you'd call it a mini-movement or what. What we are is a group of people who want to do something new and see what's possible with prose, and write the very best we can. And whereas our first anthology, Brief Ojects of Beauty and Despair, was just a sampler, our second, Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise, is very much themed, around the subject of "writing pain". It feels like we're in a middle of one of those moments where people with individual aspirations and ambitions are brought together for however long and for that time live and breathe and share together and, without getting Precious Moments, it's quite magical and almost unreal. The 13 Shadows live events are going to be something very special.

Of course, we're all interested in the future of publishing debates going on, and many of us blog ferociously about it (especially Jenn). But as a group we don't talk about it. We're not interested in defending our position. There's nothing to defend. We do what we do and we're damn proud of it, and people will either like it or they won't.

Operation: Indie Christmas (Free-E-Day Fallout #1)

Free-E-Day Fallout

December 1st came and went, leaving in its wake a formidable backlog of reading material on my Sony Pocket, and - perhaps more significantly - a flurry of new ideas bouncing around my head thanks to the webchat discussions.

(Side Note: The discussion comments are still viewable on the Free-E-Day blog, and many of the giveaways are still available.  So even if you missed out on Dec 1, it's still worth a click.)

One of the topics that I found most relevant was the limitations of online marketing and promotion.  The question is this: giving the ethereal nature of web content, how can you really be sure your work is reaching interested readers - particularly when you consider that page view do not always equal downloads, downloads do not always mean people are actually reading it, and social networking friends/followers aren't necessarily readers?

PD Allen drew an interesting parallel to activist groups that think they're doing a lot of great work and making an impact, but they're so insular that no one really knows about them but their handful of own members.  It resonated with me given my own experiences with political organizing/instigation (back before I became a sellout).

His comments and others' got me thinking about my own online marketing.  I mean, I see the traffic stats from my website and the download counters on Feedbooks and Smashwords, but are people really reading this shit?  Am I doing enough to reach living, breathing readers?  Or is my work only reaching a small handful of other indie writers (who have been incredibly supportive and inspiring and helpful)?  Did anyone come to Free-E-Day, not as a contributor who also picked up others' stuff to show support, but solely as a consumer, just the average reader/listener looking to find something new?

Also, if this is indeed a problem, how much of it is specific to the limitations of online/e-format art?  Oli Johns had some interesting things to say about the success he's had with Gupter Puncher Magazine and made the point that word-of-mouth is easier in the real world than it is online because you've got something physical - be it a book or CD or 45 or zine - that you can pass of to your friend, rather than just hoping they click on a link.

Now, I'm of two minds about this - I agree up to a point, but I also think people are becoming more accustomed to passing art on electronically.  For instance, I regularly trade music with friends through flash thumbdrives (fuck the RIAA).  But for a large portion of people, a book is still a bunch of paper, music is disc they can hold in their hands, and they're far more likely to try out an indie artist when they see a living, breathing person behind a merch table at a performance, reading, or exhibition.

Certainly I think there's more I could do to market myself in the "real world".  But it's also not just about me.  I think I'm pretty realistic when it comes to my own limitations as a writer and the selective appeal my writing has; at the same time, however, I'm becoming more and more invested in promoting the work of other indie authors.

"It's not about promoting yourself as a single independent e-book author.  It's about creating a thriving independent e-book community."  I wrote that, a couple posts back.  And as cheesy as it is, I actually believe it.

And then I realized that we have the perfect opportunity this month for introducing friends and family to indie art using those old fashioned paper-and-glue books and hard plastic CDs.

It's called Christmas.

Operation Indie Christmas

The idea is simple:  You're going to buy people gifts anyways, and a good portion of gifts will be books/CDs/DVDs.  But instead of just buying a bunch of bland corporate crap, why not throw in a couple books from indie authors?  Your money goes to a more deserving source, and the recipient gets introduced to a great new artists, and now has a physical object that they hopefully can lend and share with others.

Credit where credit is due, the idea really came from MCM, who created the Safe Holiday Guide, is a listing of books, music, and film released under Creative Commons licenses that are also available in a physical, purchasable, and giftable format.

MCM's guide lists plenty of deserving works to pick from (including Marc Horne's outstanding Tokyo Zero) but you're by no means limited to stopping there.  Plenty of other indie writers have books available from Amazon or print-on-demand sites like Lulu.  Did you like Free-E-Day?  Show some love and order someone a copy of Dan Holloway's Songs from the Other Side of the Wall.

Or Oli John's Benny Platonov.  Or MCM's The Vector.  Or Marc Nash's A, B & E.  Whoever the bookworm on your gift list is, there's sure to be an indie writer to fit their tastes.

Operation Indie Christmas: Spread the word, show some love.

Shameless Self Promotion

In deference to the public's lingering taste for dead tree pulp, I've caved in an made a selection of my shorts available as a print-on-demand release. 

I called it the TreeKiller Sampler.

As fair warning to potential buyers, I decided to format the thing to look as little like a legitimate book as possible, lest anyone mistake it for a serious literary work.  It's a big, comic book-sized, saddle-stitched monstrosity from my Cafe Press store, and it reeks with the sickly-sweet stench of deforestation.

If you have anyone on your Christmas gift list who's been particularly naughty this year,  I humbly submit it for your consideration.  It's the literary equivalent of a lump of coal in your stocking.