Some Amazon Stuff

As I was eating my breakfast, I wandered over to File770–as I do every breakfast–to discover the tweets I tweeted about this item over there had been collected into this item over there.

The two main points I was trying to make in a short space are as follows:

  1. University presses try to get their metadata to places like Amazon as early as possible, even before things like pub dates have been firmly nailed down. We put placeholder pub dates in the metadata and update it later. (Not that books aren’t published on the first or fifteenth of a month, but a good indication that you’re looking at a placeholder pub date is if it’s on the first or fifteenth of a month. At work, all our pub dates start set as the fifteenth of the month we’re hoping to hit.) For many reasons, some of which are baffling and some of which are just that Amazon huge and we are small, the pub date updates don’t always make it into their system or they get into the system but don’t update correctly. This is not just Amazon, but every place that gets metadata. Finding that, say, Barnes & Noble lists a pub date for something as 10/15/16 but then the publisher lists a pub date of 2/13/17 only tells you that, at some point, probably way back before the book was even in copyediting, a marketing person optimistically believed books would come out in October.That marketing person was wrong and the place you’re looking hasn’t updated the metadata recently. That’s all it means.
  2. Trade publishers may be able to accurately predict what Amazon is going to do in any given case, but I haven’t met a university press that can. We get our books from the printer and then set a final pub date four to six weeks in the future from the day we get books in. This is to give the books time to get to various fulfillment centers and then into stores. We want the pub date to be the date consumers know, for sure, they can get the book. Many retail outlets will get a book in stock and then not put it for sale until the pub date. Some retailers get the book and put it out for sale, pub date be damned. What will Amazon do? No one knows. Sometimes they’ll put the books for sale as soon as they get stock. Sometimes they hold it for the pub date. I regularly have both happen and my metadata is set up the same, so it’s not something the Press has any control over. In the past, we’ve tried to use the “on sale date” field to control when Amazon puts the book for sale, but we’ve found that Amazon doesn’t update that field, so, if way back at the dawn of a book’s life, you said, “Pub date: 10/15/16” and “On sale date: 10/15/16” because you wanted Amazon to not sell the book until the pub date, you may find that, no matter what you do, Amazon considers that book’s pub date to be “10/15/16” because they don’t update that field. (Now, it’s possible that Amazon has fixed this glitch, but we were burned very, very badly on this in the past–a book that hadn’t even gone to the printer showing up on Amazon as already published even though we’d been regularly updating the metadata to reflect the slippage and rightfully angry customers wanting to know why Amazon said the book was out and they hadn’t gotten their copies–that we don’t use that field at all anymore. Like I said, it may have been fixed, but I’m not going to risk it to find out.)

So, there are many reasons a pub date at Amazon might be wrong. Normally, this doesn’t matter, but, as in the case of Diana Glyer, where it’s affecting her Hugo eligibility, obviously, it matters quite a bit, since it appears that at least some of her books entered the marketplace before the end of last year, even though her pub date wasn’t until early this year.

The best thing to do would be to go by the pub date the publisher sets. Otherwise, university press authors are always going to be in a weird, unfair position, because university presses don’t work like trade publishers and they don’t have the same ability to make Amazon (or other retailers) work the way that people seem to think publishers can make Amazon (and other retailers) work. We can’t control when retailers sell books the way trade publishers can.

An author should not be at a disadvantage when it comes to an award because she published with a university press. Nor should people treat Amazon like an infallible authority. They’re very, very good, but, ultimately, not perfect. Books, especially university press books, enter the marketplace early. But the pub date the university press sets is the date everyone can get it. That’s the date that should count.

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Water

This weekend, I realized that I have always thought that “Callin’ Baton Rouge”

and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Day Light”

were the same song. On my walk this morning, I was trying to think about how young I must have been to make this mistake and never realize I’d made that mistake. Pretty damn young, I think. Because, in my head, those are the same song.

But listening to them now, it’d seem like I might assume that they were related songs, like two parts of the same story. So, whenever the conflation happened, it had to happen before I was telling myself stories, I think.

Anyway, all this is preface to say that it’s worth listening again to “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” if you haven’t in a while, because it’s both a really good song and then, somehow, a really weird piece of poetry hiding in a pretty straight-forward narrative.

I mean, you think you’re listening to a song about one thing–a girl trying to run off with a stranger–and the nature of the road and of young girls and traveling men.

And then it ends with “Oh there ain’t no way to stop the water.”

(It occurs to me that the single above might not end that way, but check out Emmylou’s version.)

There’s been nothing explicit about water before this point. And yet, that lyric comes and I feel like maybe I’ve misunderstood the whole song. I listen again and I feel like there’s some mystery at the heart of the song that I can’t get to.

It’s just brilliant.

Hospital Visit

A while back, many years before she got married, one of my dear friends was hospitalized in Illinois. I asked my dad to go see her, because I would have felt better if someone I loved put eyes on her and I, being in Tennessee, was not able to.

He refused.

It hurt and confused me.

This weekend, both he and my mom called and asked if I would go see their friend who is in the hospital and sit with his wife a while, since they’re at Vandy and know no one here.

I was pissed. Am pissed. But I went. Even though I had Saturday plans. Even though I don’t know these people. My mom says I’m a good person.

I didn’t do it because I’m a good person, though, really. I hate the idea of “good” almost as much as I hate the idea of “deserves.” They both seems like kind of bullshit mind-games we get stuck in with ourselves.

I did it because I want people to do that shit for me.

I did it because it wasn’t that hard and I could.

I did it because I heard in my mom’s voice how important it was for her.

But mostly I did it because saying “no” would have meant admitting–both to me and them–that I have a list of grievances against them I carry around in my heart, running fingers over regularly, telling myself I keep poking to see if it still hurts, but doing it to remind myself of the pain.

This weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how there are these kinds of conversations we remember our parents having from our childhoods where they complain about something their family does that really pains them. And now, here we are, thirty years later, and they’re doing the same damn thing they hated that their parents did.

The Phillipses know every slight, every wrong. We horde them in our souls and use them to justify all kinds of terrible behavior that then causes other Phillipses to compile their own “here’s how I’ve been done wrong” lists which they then also weaponize.

I hate that, mainly because when you’re devoted to “I hurt you because someone hurt me and I want you to soothe it but you won’t so fuck you,” you’re pretty miserable. And I just don’t want to be miserable.

I don’t expect to be able to get out of misery all together, but, if most of us find 60/40 misery/okayness normal, the main gift I want to give myself in this life is to have 60/40 okayness/misery. And a lot of that means not doing things I don’t have to do that would make me miserable.

Scrutinizing the “you done me wrong” list, as soothing as it can be, serves to reinforce the idea that I should be miserable, that this is the normal state. And so, most of the time, I try to not even look at the list, to forget that it’s there.

But whoa doggie, was it temping to bring it out and start reading from it on Saturday.

But I did not, because I don’t want to keep all my hurts fresh, even if I’m not as good as I would like to be about letting them all fade.

Lovecraft Country

It’s been a long time since I read a book I was enjoying as slowly as I read Lovecraft Country, but I didn’t want it to end.But then the ending! Oh, man, the ending was perfect. What is a Lovecraftian Horror in the face of an American Horror?

I’m especially going to be thinking about Ruby for a long time. I found the resolution to her character deeply troubling and I’m not sure what to make of it, which, obviously, is what the story intends.

But I really appreciated the humor of it, the horror of it, and the arguments about family and community that it makes.

Morality

I’m enjoying the shit out of season two of Daredevil, even though the trial sequence was bad enough to almost ruin it for me, but I’ve decided that the show’s immorality is starting to wear on me.

I don’t normally care if a show is immoral or not. But this one is really hung up on morality, so it seems weird that it is so gutless about whether what Daredevil’s doing is moral or not. It seems, I think, to have skipped asking itself that question. I mean, yes, Matt asks himself that question in the first season and settles on an answer, but Matt is a madman.

Does the show think that what Matt’s doing is right? If we’ve skipped ahead to asking if Matt’s approach is better than, say, The Punisher’s, then the question of whether what he’s doing is right seems to have been settled. But I can’t help but feel that the moral thing for the show to do is to never let the viewer stop asking him or herself if Matt’s actions continue to be moral or were ever moral to begin with.

Which is weird because everyone else in the show seems to have a moral code, some of which have a moral dilemma at their core. Karen wants the truth. Foggy wants to do good. Elektra wants to be good. Frank wants to find the people who killed his family and have his revenge. Karen has some lie she can’t live with. Foggy has to defend a guy he loathes. Elektra murders people. Frank may ultimately find that some decision he made put his family in harm’s way–and then what? Kill himself?

But what does Matt want? I honestly don’t think the show has decided. And, since it hasn’t decided, it can’t effectively make the argument that what Matt wants is right, which, presumably, if he’s the hero, is the argument the show should be making. Or, if it wants to be a more grown-up show, it could do a better job of arguing that Matt is undermining at every step his ability to get what he wants. Which, upon reflection, may be what it’s trying to do… but it’s just not getting there for me.

If protecting your community is important to you, then you need to be a part of that community. Matt puts his community at arm’s length. So, why does he care about protecting it?

 

A Racing Heart

Much of last week was not good. (Much was, but this is not about that.) I had some setbacks and some stress. And I just couldn’t relax, couldn’t calm down.

I took the weekend truly off. I stayed off social media most of the time. I didn’t check work email. I didn’t turn the tv on. I read and ran errands and paid bills and basically, just listened to my heart in my chest beating at a normal speed. It was nice.

But as I laid awake in bed last night, I listened to my heart racing  and I couldn’t calm it. I couldn’t stop thinking about work. I couldn’t come up with a plan for tackling things. I need to find ways to calm down and remain calm.

Anyway, I read the Southern Reach trilogy. It was pretty wonderful. And I’m about halfway into Lovecraft Country, which is blowing my mind, it’s so good so far.

I don’t want to die, you know? I especially don’t want to die soon because I can’t figure out how to destress my head.

I’m probably not going to die soon, but I can’t tell you how much I deeply resent that the gremlin that had only been bothering me during panic attacks has found a way into the rest of my life.

Another Lovely Review

Here’s a cool review of “The Four Gardens of Fate.” I’ve been having such a crisis of faith about my writing this week that I am especially glad to see this.

It’s not that I think I suck as a writer. No, that anxiety seems to have subsided, only to be replaced by the anxiety that I’m a crap submitter. I don’t have the skills I need to sell my good shit.

The brain. Bleh. It will always work to undermine me in stupid ways.

It looks like

Hel

One explanation for how Indo-European gods spread across Europe was that they left female deities in place. You can argue that the Deyous-Pater/Jupiter/Zeus/Tyr/etc. god is pretty much, at core, the same dude. But Hera is not Frigg. The theory is that there were these local land spirits–goddesses, if you will–and the “foreign” god and His followers come into the area and set up worship of the new god by insisting that he married the most prominent of the land spirits. So, you’re not really changing religions so much as modifying.

That idea: that you change a people’s religion by marrying the land and its goddess off to the new god.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the reason there’s a devil in Christianity. When humans are so willing and so capable of evil, and with Christianity’s good explanation for evil–we have evil because humans are sinful by nature and it’s only through their relationship with Christ that they can be changed and steered from that nature–why does evil also need an outside explanation? Especially one that is so often depicted as a direct threat to God?

I posit that the devil is often doing the old things we expect from new religions. He’s exciting and seductive, he’s supposedly not that much different than what you’re doing now.

This is, I think, why the Devil rules Hell. There were a lot of underworlds in Europe that the Devil could have ruled (and, in truth that the poets sometimes give him), but the one to stick was the underworld with a local female spirit.

Jeff VanderMeer

We went to see Jeff VanderMeer speak at Vanderbilt last night. It was really interesting. He was speaking as a part of some kind of ecology series, so his talk was a lot about writing about nature and global warming.

One thing that I thought was especially provoking and that I intend to make time to talk to the Professor about is that he argued that it’s important for fiction writers to engage with philosophy and, especially, to not get it, to flounder and be mistaken about it. To fall short and be wrong. I would go so far as to say that he sees it as equally valuable for writers to read philosophy and be mistaken about it as it is for them to read it and understand it. That as uncomfortable as being wrong is, that there’s value in wrestling with something you can’t get.

He is currently wrestling with Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects (which, go, Minnesota!) which is about how things like global warming, which are literally too big for humans to wrap their minds around, are causing all sorts of breakdowns in philosophy and such. VanderMeer put up a slide that had some of Morton’s ideas about what a hyperobject is–huge, atemportal, not located any specific spot, but having specific instances, beyond comprehension, etc. (I didn’t take notes, so those aren’t exactly right.) But, basically, “what is a hyperobject?” is the same question as “Where is Tanis?”

I haven’t read VanderMeer’s Southern Reach books yet, and I intended to buy one before the speech, but didn’t and then, afterwards, the talk was so good, I bought all three. So, oops.

I’m also going to try to get my hands on Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam. When I learned she won a Tiptree, I was like “Then why don’t I recognize her name?” But she won the same year as Caitlyn Kiernan did for The Drowning Girl, so that explains where my attention was.

 

 

 

When the Bad Reviews are Right

This weekend I read Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, which I loved. It was, I think, what I hoped True Detectives would be. The interesting thing for me was when I saw that it had a bunch of bad reviews on Good Reads and I read some. They were all right. The complaints people have about the book are accurate complaints. Most of them were even things I noticed when I was reading.

I just didn’t care. Those things didn’t seem very important to me.

The role of the reader and what the writer and the reader are doing in the text and to the text are not easy to figure out.

I mean, if I made you a chocolate cake with butter cream frosting and put cherries on top, some people will like it. Some people will think it would have been better with chocolate frosting and lose the cherries (and they might be right!). Taste matters. But, at some point, you make the cake you’re going to make and the people who wish you’d made a different cake either have to wait and see if I’m going to make another cake or try to make the one you’d like to eat.

So, are the negative reviews useful to this particular author? Do they really say something about whether the book is worth reading? I think only to the extent that your tastes line up with those reviewers’ tastes.

Third Man Books

The Third Man Books first anniversary party was incredible. One thing I really admire about Chet’s ability to set a vibe in a room is that the vibe is “Let’s enjoy this.” No nitpicking, no cooler-than-thou ironic stances, no eye-rolling, just show up and be open to things.

I admit, that’s hard for me sometimes. My cousin, A., keeps lecturing me on what I think she sees as the barrier I put up between myself and genuine compliments, but it’s not just genuine compliments. I think I have a hard time openly enjoying things without also wanting to hide a little of myself from it. I’m trying to be better about it.

Rita Bullwinkel was there in the audience and I got to say “hi.” She does such good work. The Parnassus people were there and they’re so giddy about Stephen King coming that it made me happy for them. I got to say “hi” to Robert Gordon, who I haven’t seen in ages, so that was nice.

It was just such nice energy and it was invigorating to be sitting in a room full of really creative people all delighted to see what other creative people are up to.

It was also my first time in the Third Man building and it was very lovely. The women’s bathroom was cold as shit, though. It seemed like an aesthetic point, but I’m not sure what the point was. Again, maybe it was just the vibe of the night, but there was something nice about “oh, here is very cold.” “Oh, here is warm and toasty.” The building is definitely set up to make you feel like everything has been considered for the effect it will have.

Also, apparently, Third Man is going to start publishing some fantasy & science fiction. So, I slipped a note to Chet telling him to publish Bullwinkel, because, whoa, Christ, of course he should!

It is Happening!

I have all my squares done. I have begun piecing it together. And I think it does have the kind of hippie patchwork vibe I was hoping for. I think it’s going to be gorgeous.

I’m going to the Third Man Books party tonight. I’m a little nervous and excited. A couple of poets I really admire are going to be there.

All of a sudden Nashville has a literary scene or something.

Seven

I have seven squares left on this afghan. Then I can start piecing everything together. I think it’s going to be quite lovely, but I wish I’d found a brighter self-striping yarn. That could just be the springtime talking. I wonder if I’ll finish it this weekend?

Probably not. But sometime next week, it will be done.

Then I need to get back to writing some and I need to make a baby blanket. Or two. I might need some smaller accomplishments before I take on my next afghan, which will either have flowers–which I’ve never done before–or be join-as-you-go–which I’ve also never done before.

Did I show you what I’ve given the afghan recipient to choose between?  Though, if I do the first one, I’m thinking of doing it in white, red, and black.

Stable Eyes

I went to have my retinas looked at yesterday. They remain the same, which is good. I am still intrigued by how much the insides of my eyes look like their own landscapes, like I carry around two tiny worlds.

They give you these drops that make your pupils way dilate, which is good if you ever wondered what you’d look like as an anime character.

But it meant that it was so bright when we went outside that sunglasses put no dent in it. They literally just changed the color of the brightness. They didn’t lessen it.

So, I had to shut my eyes all the way home. I watched black and gold swirls mush from one shape to another on the back of my eyelids. I was trying to decide if it was a hallucination, but the Butcher thought I might actually be seeing the remnants of the drops swirling around in my normal eye juice.

It was neat, but it made me a little seasick.

The Octagon House

On Saturday, we went to the Octagon House and the Shaker village. The Octagon House is the kind of place that you’d think wouldn’t exist any more. It’s too…too…exactly what it is, reeking of tobacco smoke and lost causes. And yet, what became clear to me walking around it is that a lot of the horrors of history get lost when the preservers of those horrors learn to be ashamed of the preservation.

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This is the back of the Octagon House.

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The Confederacy is not dead inside. Which, I think, is fitting, since the owner was a huge confederate sympathizer and hid guerrilla fighters in his house and in tunnels leading from the house.

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But this, this I had never seen before and did not know was a thing. These are the metal tags–literally dog tags–that slaves who often had to leave plantations wore so that white people would know where and to whom they belonged.

Well, Here It Is

There’s a point, with every afghan, when I’m miserably and wondering if it ever will be done. I had been so fascinated by the swirls that it didn’t come when I thought it would–with the tail tucking on those swirls.

But here it is, halfway into making the squares out of those swirls, and I’m like “God, will this never, ever end?”

Collaborating

I guess I’m not done thinking about The Black Tapes or Tanis yet. I want to learn the trick they use all the time of leaving a kind of blank space of innuendo for the reader/listener to collaborate in the story with them.

It’s there in the “affair” Strand and Alex may be having/may have had, which is never alluded to in the text of the show, but happens wholly in the inflection of the text. Like, they create this unspoken something and they leave vague signposts pointing to it and then they leave it to their audience to decide what’s going on there.

And, like we talked about yesterday, there’s something similar going on in the way they set the stage for the assumption of Alex’s possession.

And like, with Tanis, I think this trick is even more explicit. Nic goes…someplace, right? But then he can’t remember what all happened while he was there. So, we’re again circling around something unspoken and trying to guess what’s in that blank spot based on all the clues surrounding it.

To me, the hardest part of this trick has to be that you need to know where your story is going and you need to rightly judge which parts you can count on your audience to fill in, but you need to leave plausible signposts along the way that clue them into what you might not be saying, BUT you need to not make those signposts so obvious.

I appreciate that the people making the podcasts are playing it straight–like those really are real podcasts and their involvement is as real, non-fiction podcast makers. But man, I would also really love to know who they are because I would LOVE to ever hear them talk about their craft.

Pacific Northwest Stories

The Black Tapes: There’s a glitch (or there was, anyway, the folks on Reddit are making it sound like they removed it) in the Squarespace ad where Alex repeats herself in slightly different phrases that, when it comes, is so fucking unsettling I had to pause the podcast and walk around a little. I’m fascinated just by the ways they put their stories together, how they make things creepy. The Squarespace ad was so brilliant because it felt like a moment where Alex’s falling-apart was so bad that it had leaked into the framework of the show, instead of just staying in-narrative.

The other structural thing they did that I thought was brilliant is that very, very early on in the show, I guess it must be in the first episode, before things settle into being about Strand and his black tapes, they mention that they’re going to look at people who do lots of different things. They specifically mention geocaching.

Then this episode starts with them “re-piloting” the series and interviewing a geocacher. This, to me anyway, has the effect of bringing past episodes directly into mind. This is reinforced with the re-introduction of Tannis Braun. And then the knocking.

Oh, wait, maybe I’m actually talking about the same narrative technique. They are, I think, making good use of the expectation of sets of three. We hear three recording “glitches” with Alex–the knocks, the voice, the Squarespce ad. Then there are three call-backs to early episodes.

So, without explicitly saying it, it sets up a kind of line of thought for the listener–something unnerving is happening involving Alex; think of earlier episodes. And she states explicitly in earlier episodes that she’s terrified of being possessed. They barely have to show us anything strange with Alex–just that she can’t sleep and it’s making her feel weird–but they’ve left us the right kinds of things to allow us to jump to the conclusion that she’s possessed.

That level of control of the subtext is something I’m really envious of.

Tanis. Whoa. I genuinely don’t know what to say about it. I think they nailed the landing. So, so good. I now want to go back to listen to the whole thing and see what I think.

A Couple of Ancestors

My parents found this when they were digging around in my grandma’s stuff. This is Clayton and Marie Rich, my great-grandparents. She was Irish. His family made her life miserable. They eventually divorced. It’s hard for me not to see a little uncertainty in this picture, but I’m sure I’m reading a lot into it.

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