Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Blog:

After 85,000 plus pageviews to this blog, you'd think I'd have to be crazy to change to another site, right. After all, not all writers get to have that classy "" tacked on to the end of the urls of their blogs. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Why? Capitalism, mostly.

My novel, The Sum of Our Gods, will be coming out in November. The book has a website, here. You'll note, it's There's no funny suffix. Yea!

Since I want people to know about the book, I'll be doing my blogging right from that site. Some of the blogging will specifically have to do with writing, so there will be a blog that's just about that. It's here.

Don't worry! I'll still maintain my irregular schedule of rants about other things. They'll be here.

 The website has a guestbook, so if you've been one of the 85,000 people who've checked out this blog (or one of the three who have checked it out more than 28,000 times each), you really should come over and sign that here.

There are other writers who are still attached to this site, so maybe one of them will start using it. I'll pop by from time to time to share things that are going on over at You know, like Homecoming Week. Or Hollywood Squares for people who used to be famous. Or high school for college students. Am I putting down my own blog? Sort-of. Because I want you to come check out the new one. It's cooler. And you want to hang out with the cool kids, don't you?

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Story of a Book Cover

When I decided to commit to indie publishing, one of the first things I did was to search for the advice of successful authors. I read their blogs, their ebooks, followed them on twitter, even connected with some of them via email. They gave me wonderful advice. I’ve been following most of it. One thing they all agree on is that book covers are hugely important. This shouldn’t be a big revelation. For years I’ve been telling my students that the aphorism, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is outdated. It comes from a time when books looked like this:

While we certainly shouldn’t make too much of our assumptions about a person based on their outward appearance, we can absolutely make judgments about a book when it is wrapped in an advertisement that is desperately trying to communicate information about the product inside. A good cover doesn’t necessarily mean the text inside will be the next Great American Novel, but the inverse is a safe bet; if someone didn’t bother to create an inviting cover, they probably also don’t care enough about the reader to put in the necessary effort on tasks most writers consider the drudgery of the process, things like revision, editing, and interior layout. 

So, if we accept this basic argument, it seems reasonable when all these experts advise indie authors to go out and hire someone else to design their covers. I hired an outside editor for my novel. I hired a web designer to help me create the website for the book. Why wouldn’t I hire a graphic designer?

But I didn’t. From the outset, I made a commitment to myself: If I tried my hand at cover creation and it came out looking like amateur-hour, I’d hire somebody to do it. I even wrote a projected expense into my business plan (yes, indie authors, you should take the time to write out a detailed marketing plan). Despite this commitment, I wanted to try my hand at it for a different reason. Sure, I want the book to be successful. That means different things for different authors, but for me it means getting it read by as many people as possible while covering my costs. I’m not quitting my day job. I’m a teacher. I love my day job. But that day job gives me a slightly different take on this process; I’m also trying to learn as much as I can about every facet of the publishing industry so I can share that knowledge with my students. So, beyond learning about query letters and agents and ebooks and ISBNs and the demise of the traditional publishing model, I thought I’d also try to learn something about cover design.

Here’s the story of how my cover evolved.

1. It starts out looking like this. The template is handy, and it reminds you that a book, when laid out, has the front cover on the right and the back on the left. It also makes it clear just how much of the cover could get sliced off when it’s printed so you don’t put any text too close to the edges. 

2. I downloaded a program called GIMP. It's essentially Photoshop, but free, and it's my new favorite computer program ever. I started with the part that would be the front cover. This will also be the only thing people will see when they are buying the ebook. That's important to remember. Robert Kroese, author of Self-Publish Your Novel, says the 1st rule of cover design is "Make the Title Bigger." I took that to heart.

3. You'll notice I used a portion of Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel for the cover art. Why? Because Michelangelo dead, so he can't send me a bill. The image is fair use. It's important not to use any copyrighted material on your cover. (There's a little legal trick with famous works of art. The work itself is fair use. Someone's photo of that image is, technically, copyrighted. So I would advise people to make sure they are using an image that can't be distinguished as a particular photographer's take on someone else's masterpiece. Is that ethically questionable? Maybe. I ultimately tweaked the image enough that I'll sleep fine at night.)

4. Then I noodled with that.

5.  I created parts separately before placing them on the template.
6. It started to come together. One key: Use models! I had a half a dozen of my favorite book covers sitting out next to me so I could see how those professional designers had done it. If it ain't broke...

(Be careful not to stretch or skew the barcode!)

7. Once I had a complete 1st draft, I posted it to my Facebook page to get feedback. I was actually hesitant about that. I wasn't sure it was entirely appropriate to impose on my friends in that way. In retrospect, I'm so glad I did it. It turned out that I had friends and friends-of-friends who were experienced designers, and the feedback I got was excellent.

 (I'm still embarrassed about a typo in the text on the back cover. I would have been a lot more embarrassed if it had made it to print.)

8. I went back and made the changes my friends had suggested. Then I posted it again and got even more good feedback.

9. Then I thought I had a finished cover, so I sent it off to the printer.

10. I bought a galley proof. If you are anything like me, the day you get to hold your novel in your hands will be a pretty big deal. If you are like my son, it will be a chance to photobomb your goofy dad. 

11. I went through the proof with a red pen and bloodied it mercilessly. This was a novel I'd edited some thirty times before turning it over to a pro, and I still found a misplaced comma or two. More importantly, I fixed layout problems. I can't recommend this step highly enough. Make sure you see what it will look like before you let it fall into anyone else's hands! Mine was full of interior layout errors that were nightmares to fix. Headers were too short or too long. Page numbers were incorrect or missing. That took the bulk of my time, but the cover needed a bit more work, too. I'd wanted the spine to wrap around to the front and back covers, but the printer thought it was just out of place and shifted the whole image a bit. Also, images on paper are darker than glowing images on a computer screen. I made the last fixes and sent it off for another galley proof. And I'll do it again, if need be. I'd rather buy 10 proofs and delay my advertised drop date (November 22nd. Mark your calendars) than have it look like a misprint. 

12. So, here's what it looks like now. The last few changes might seem too small to notice, but I agonized over every one, and I think that's the key. I want the cover to say, "I love this book, and I hope you will, too."

I suppose the moral of this story is contingent on your opinion of the cover. If you like it, this means you can create your own cover without hiring a pro, despite all the warnings to the contrary. If you hate it, you have been reminded why hiring a pro is such a good idea. Regardless, I hope it's at least clear that the process is ardous and worth taking seriously. 

Oh, and I'm still taking feedback if you've got any!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Are Universities Too Liberal to Provide a Real Education? Sounds Like Conservative Sour Grapes to Me

Over at Narratively, Natalie Axton reports on a theory promoted by many conservative thinkers, both inside and outside of academia, that says that liberalism dominates academia to such an extent that these schools can no longer provide a real education, since they can't provide the kind of balance necessary to produce real debate. The the article makes the straightforward and convincing case that the best critics of specific policies of academic institutions will come out of the Right (self-proclaimed outsiders generally do), but the more sweeping argument falters, and the broader it gets, the more utterly it fails. She even cites unschool advocates who promote traveling and a lot of self-selected reading as worthy replacements for a college education. I could rant for hours about the flaws in the philosophical underpinnings of unschooling (it's not scalable, people who truly want to learn should read things they didn't pick out themselves, classroom discussion can't be replicated in any other setting, etc.), but I'm most irritated by a particularly tired argument repeated in the piece.

The conservatives Axton quotes lost me when they trotted out one of their more tired criticisms, the old trope that liberals are hypocrites for advocating tolerance and then being intolerant of conservative ideas. I've heard this line of argument many times before, and I always find it unpersuasive; it denotes an understanding of tolerance that is so limited it's downright deceptive. Tolerance doesn't mean an idea will be adopted. It just means it will be studied and weighed. Liberals in academia, in my experience, are more than willing to tolerate conservative ideas. They just don't buy into them. Liberals can tolerate the study of monarchy, too. You don't hear a lot of people going around claiming liberals are intolerant of monarchic ideas. In my experience, the only reason conservatives complain that liberals are intolerant of conservatism is that they feel conservatism is fundamentally correct, and that anyone giving it a fair hearing would ultimately conclude the same. It's a kind of rhetorical trap; either you will prove you are tolerant by agreeing with me, or I will call you a hypocrite for being intolerant. The third option, that conservative ideas, especially on social policies like gay marriage and women's reproductive rights, have been weighed carefully and found to be objectionable or outdated by the majority of the general public, is not considered. Certainly liberals share the same notion that their ideas are so correct that anyone who hears them should share them. When liberals even hint at this, they're derided for being snooty and condescending. But the conservative version is equally condescending and more than a little juvenile due to its "gotcha'" quality. While the assumption that one's own ideas are correct is completely understandable (as Wittgenstien pointed out when he wrote, “If there were a verb meaning 'to believe falsely,' it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.”) but liberal tolerance does not dictate a conservative education. It just demands that ideas get a fair hearing. It doesn't even mean that the ideas which rise to the surface will be True with a capital T. The implicit assumption is that liberal tolerance will produce ideas which are popular. Combined with the notion that people are essentialy decent, this should produce a positive outcome. If, on the other hand, one holds that people are "fallen" or essentially rotten in some way, then it should also come as no surprise to conservatives that liberal ideas are more popular at universities; from a conservative perspective,  the fallen people have made the evil, liberal ideas into the popular ideas. 

Not that liberalism holds the universal sway over academia that the article seems to imply. In fact, libertarianism is alive and well on college campuses. I'll bet Ron Paul would have defeated Mitt Romney at a lot of schools, and I'd also guess that libertarian ideas about legalizing marijuana would defeat liberal compromise positions or a more progressive limited-legalization-with-taxation scheme at most ostensibly "liberal" universities. I was particularly struck by this quote: "Part of the argument at Minding the Campus is that political ideology in the form of race, sex, and gender studies has captured the humanities and social sciences and that as a consequence, American students spend their time practicing identity politics instead of learning history, philosophy and literature." I would argue that the best defense of the study of Western culture, and of Western culture itself, involves learning the role identity politics has always played in history, philosophy, and literature. It wasn't called "identity politics" two hundred or two thousand years ago. If some student escapes from a university without knowing the roles race, sex, gender (and, I'd add, class and sexual identity) played in history, philosophy, and literature, he cannot count himself an educated person, and stands as a testament to the persistence of white, male, straight, upper-class privilege. I understand and share the opinion that there's a lot about Western culture that deserves to be protected (though I may disagree with conservatives, and even with libertarians, about what deserves that protection). Any attempt to excise the study of race, sex, and gender from the studies of history, philosophy, and literature will not defend Western culture any more than building a base consisting solely of white, Christian males will defend the Republican Party. Complaining about the intolerance of a changing world is just petulance. A higher education has to tolerate a recognition of a changing reality.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Naming My Independent Publishing Company

My novel, The Sum of Our Gods, will be available this coming fall. As a part of the process, I’ve decided to buy my own ISBNs for the book so the imprint will be something other than the printing company. This has some obvious benefits (I can write off the costs of marketing as business expenses) and some more subtle perks, too; though most people pay no attention to the publishing company of a novel, it would be good if it didn’t advertise that it was from a “vanity publisher.” I don’t want to be deceptive (I am self-publishing), but the name of a publishing company will look more professional. This creates a bit of a bottleneck in the process, though. I can’t get a small business license from the state of Oregon, or get too far on the design of the book’s cover, until this decision is made.

I couldn’t think of a name, or, to be more specific, I couldn’t limit myself to just one, so I put out a kind of all-call for ideas to my Facebook friends. Besides my family and personal friends, I friend my former students after they graduate, so I have lots of smart, creative people who drop by and make funny comments on my page. Boy, did they come through! Ultimately, I had over a hundred ideas. I didn’t tell them anything about the novel itself, so they were working off of what they knew about me. Also, I didn’t thoroughly explain the fact that I wanted to avoid sounding like a vanity publisher, so a lot of them were related to my name. Still, they came up with some great ones. I checked out each one through a domain name search engine to see if they were available, and then I wrote down my thought process about each one just to show that I had considered them all. Here’s the whole list with the availability and my comments:

  1. Pillar of Fire Publishing Taken Bummer. This would have fit the novel well.
  2. Burning Stars Press Taken …by a music magazine
  3. Scrawl Publishing Taken …by a magazine
  4. Blackberry Thorns Press Available …but is taken by a design firm. Also, Paige didn’t like this one.
  5. Nine Millimeter Press Available I’m shocked this one is free. It might surprise some folks to learn I am a fan of my 9mm, but this seems a bit too aggressive for my subject material. I try to write boldly, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily write about violence.
  6. Assay Publishing Available I like this one because “assay” is a synonym for “decipher” or “decode,” but it was immediately mistaken for a misspelling of “Essay,” and that would probably happen a lot.
  7. Wisdom Tooth Publishing Available I like this one because, true confessions here, folks, I kept my wisdom teeth after they were surgically removed, I drilled holes in them, I strung them, I wore them as a necklace for a while in college, and now they hang from my car’s rearview mirror. If you are thinking, “Gross!” then that puts you in a camp with my wife, Paige, but I still think they’re cool because I can joke that I have retained my wisdom. That’s a big deal for a philosophy major. So it remains in the “Under Consideration” pile.
  8. Nose Bacon Publishing Available (…but is one of my new favorite tumblrs.) I have a great story about a time when a friend of mine drank way, way too much, stopped to eat some pizza, continued drinking, was sick, slept for a while, was sick some more, and, in the morning, discovered some bacon lodged in his sinuses. We were just out of college and thought “Nose Bacon” would be a great name for a band. Under consideration.
  9. Grammar Geek Publishing Taken This was doubtless a reference to the Grammar Geek videos I made to show in my English classes. Unfortunately, some corporation in the Cayman Islands bought the domain name. Also, it wouldn’t fit this novel, though I’d be tempted to get the domain name just for the videos.
  10. Guile's Press Available According to the person who made this recommendation, this is a reference to the witch trials (Salem’s?), but since I don’t remember it, it’s not the right thing for me.
  11. Wise Yoda Press Available The availability is deceptive. I am 90% sure George Lucas would sue me into the stone age.
  12. Mortar & Pestilence Publishing Available I love this one. One thing to bear in mind: There are no ampersands in domain names, so that could cause some confusion. Still in the running, though.
  13. Fahrenheit Press Available …but it’s not even my favorite Ray Bradbury book and it’s a word I cannot seem to learn to spell.
  14. The October Press Taken It was also a reference to Fahrenheit 451, and one I didn’t remember. I guess I need to re-read that book. It’s been a decade, probably.
  15. Knucklebonz Press Available Well, I’m not a fan of creative misspellings because I make enough accidental ones without help, so I looked up and The name, like Nine Millimeter Press, is probably too aggressive for my writing, but I think it’s cool. Somebody should snap it up. But write a good, bone-crunching novel first.
  16. Deus ex Machina Publishing Available. At first I thought this was very cool, but the more I thought about it, the more it won’t work. First, this is something I tell my writing students to avoid. I try very hard to keep this out of my writing. Second, it’s a video game series I’ve never played. Third, it certainly doesn’t fit this novel.
  17. Terminator Publishing Available …but if Nine Millimeter and Knucklebones are too aggressive, this one definitely is. Also, the movies are only okay.
  18. Space Bound Press/Publishing Available …but this novel isn’t Sci-Fi. Plus, I don’t think I’m Space Bound, though I would love to travel there someday. I’m pretty sure that, ultimately, I’m Dirt Bound, and that’s a bit morbid for a publishing company name.
  19. Dark Ages Press Available …but this novel isn’t Fantasy. I wouldn’t want to create unnecessary confusion.
  20. Phonetix Press Available I have mixed feelings about this one. First of all, as mentioned previously, I’m not a fan of creative misspelling, so I’d go with “Phonetic Publishing.” On the one hand, it’s funny, and the novel is, too. On the other hand, it might create the wrong impression about the book, since it’s a joke that’s completely unrelated to the novel. On the third hand, the very word “Phonetic” amuses me because it’s not phonetic. One the fourth hand, people don’t have four hands, and they should have mixed feelings about the names of their sole proprietorships.
  21. Kingdoms of Fantasy Press/Publishing Available …but the novel isn’t fantasy. Also, it’s a bit cliché even for that genre.
  22. Figurative Analogy Publishing Available I think this is a bit redundant, but I looked up Analogy Press/Publishing, and Figurative Press/Publishing. They’re available. Metaphor Press isn’t, and I’d feel like I was getting pretty close to that. I still like these, though. They’re in the “Under Consideration” pile.
  23. Soda Pop Press/Publishing Available These have nothing to do with the novel, and I’m trying to cut down on my soda intake, but they’re still cool. Maybe?
  24. Earthrot Publishing Available …and too dark, even for me.
  25. There and Their Publishing (There Their & They’re Publishing) Available I really like this idea. Though it’s not connected to the novel, it seems like a stick in the eye to the old publishing industry (they’re publishing without going through the old fashioned channels, after all). And it fits an English teacher who rails about these homonyms all the time. Certainly under consideration.
  26. Buzzbeep Press Available …though is taken. Plus, I don’t get it. Is it a reference to R2-D2? To building buzz for the novel by beeping about it? To Buzz, our school superintendent?
  27. Gormans Book Publishing (Gorman’s Book Publishing) Available …but screams “Vanity Press!”
  28. Gore-Man Clan Press Available The person who suggested this idea acknowledged “that one sounds like a stabby cult” Yep.
  29. Stasis Publishing Taken That surprised me. The last thing I want someone thinking about when they read one of my books is being in some form of stasis.
  30. Green String Bean Publishing Available …but it has nothing to do with my novel and I don’t really like string beans.
  31. The Great Conundrum Publishing/Press Available I like this one! It fits the novel. Unfortunately, there’s already a Conundrum Press. Looks like they put out some cool stuff, though!
  32. Wunderpress Publishing Taken …and I’m not German.
  33. Imagine Press Taken …probably by a John Lennon fan.
  34. Visual Press Taken …and more fitting for a book with pictures.
  35. Day to Day Press Available This doesn’t really fit my personality, though.
  36. Living Press Taken This doesn’t fit my personal philosophy, either.
  37. One Chance Press Available This implies that the novel is a one-off from this company. That might be true, but I hope not.
  38. Dream Press Taken This sounds a bit hippie-dippy for me, anyway.
  39. Your Dream Press Available This would be deceptive. It’s not your dream press. It’s not even my dream press. My dream would involve some huge publishing company that wanted to give me a huge advance and was going to throw all their weight behind a massive marketing campaign. “Settling For This Press” doesn’t sound too great, either.
  40. Stockade Press Available This sounds like a publishing house that would produce military fiction and offer a veteran’s discount.
  41. Cameo Publishing Taken …probably by a company that puts out biographies of B-List movie stars.
  42. Lock Stock & Barrel Press Available I like this one, but, in the same vein as my Nine Millimeter idea, it’s just not right for my writing.
  43. Data Press Taken Why? Nothing says “boring read” like “data.” Oh, it’s a database management firm. I rest my case.
  44. Wubbly Publishing Available I don’t know if this suggestion came from someone who knew “Wubbly” is slang for a pot hookah or not, but that’s not my thing.
  45. Insomniac Publishing  Taken Of course it is.
  46. Isopropol Press Available I had to look it up. Not for me.
  47. High Fructose Press/Publishing Available I’m trying to cut this out of my diet, though. Check out Funny.
  48. Le Press Taken …and too cute for my taste.
  49. DOS Publishing Available That surprised me, but the name sounds like a late eighties computer textbook, so nope.
  50. Batch File Press Available See above.
  51. The Artificial Intelligence Press/Publishing Available The novel isn’t Sci-Fi, but I’m tempted to buy the domain name to appease our robot overlords.
  52. Supernode Publishing Available The book isn’t Sci-Fi, and this sounds slightly porn-y.
  53. Billy Goat Publishing/Press Taken Good one, though.
  54. Anion Press Available I had to look it up. Chemistry references don’t fit me at all.
  55. Integral Press Taken It sounds a little too cool for me, anyway.
  56. Key of D Publishing Available “No idea why,” the person making the suggestion wrote, “but I'll bet Mr. Gorman likes classical.” No, he doesn’t, but I’ll take that as a compliment because the people I know who like classical music are all smarter than I am.  
  57. Inaugural Publishing Available …but I worry people would associate that with a Presidential inauguration. My novel has nothing to do with that. It is my first novel I’m going to publish, but then the name would be inappropriate for the second and third.
  58. Lubdub Publishing Available I had to look this one up, too. I found how some people use the term. I wouldn’t be one of those people.
  59. Rubber Ducky Publishing Available …but far more appropriate for a children’s book.
  60. Qwerty Press/Publishing Taken Easy to type, though!
  61. Mozart Press Taken The person suggesting this one wrote, “[Mozart] is vulgar & wrote music out of spite, desperate approval from his father & drunken pick him!” I’m spiteful and desperate enough, but I don’t drink much.
  62. Fine Articulate Publishing Available This one sounds pretty arrogant. Also, I couldn’t bear a name with two adjectives and no comma between them.
  63. Mole Fraction Publishing Available Somebody was doing her chemistry homework while she made suggestions, I think. I’m no chemist. I’d be a lot wealthier if I were.
  64. Dark Swamp Publishing Available This sounds more like a press for a horror novel. No swamps in my book.
  65. Jigawatt Press Available I do like Back to the Future, but not that much.
  66. Wizards Keep Press (Wizard’s Keep Press, Wizards’ Keep Press) Available Good name for a publishing company for a fantasy novel, but not for mine.
  67. X and Y Publishing Available It sounds a bit mathematical.
  68. Faded Culture Press Available I like this one, but I don’t want people to associate my novel with negativity before they’ve cracked the cover.
  69. Fuster Cluck Publishing Available This is funny, but I don’t want people associating the novel with a cluster.
  70. RightHand Press Available The person who suggested this wrote, “Benjamin means Son of the Right Hand (which does not mean he is our favorite son...he was the only son until Joe Gorman was born!” Wonder who suggested this one! Though I like the playfulness of Mom’s idea, a right hand press sounds like a tool of some kind or an activity someone might include in an exercise routine. Considering how often I’ve set foot in gyms, I don’t think it fits me.
  71. WriteHand Press Available This was Dad’s variation on Mom’s idea. I like it, but it’s not my favorite from this list. Still, it’s in the “under consideration” pile.
  72. Jamin Man Publishing Available This one is a bit clever, but it still falls into the category of variations on my own name, and that defeats the purpose.
  73. Bald Truth Publishing Available I really like this one. My only concern is that I am hesitant about the word “Truth.” For one thing, I write fiction. For another, my fundamental philosophy of life is one of skeptical agnosticism. The Truth with a capital T isn’t something I can claim to know. Still, I’m considering this one.
  74. Monocle Gentleman Publishing Available …but, if you know how I feel about income inequality and my feelings about the 1%, you’d know this is as far from fitting me as possible.
  75. Full Court Press Taken  It’s a shame, because I love this one, and I’m a big basketball fan. There’s even a brief basketball scene in the novel (Jesus and Yahweh watch a Celtics vs. Lakers game together late in the book). Oh well.
  76. Death Star Publishing Taken And the site’s homepage goes out of its way to make it clear that it’s not a Star Wars reference for fear of a George Lucas lawsuit.
  77. B.P.N Publishing Available This wouldn’t have any meaning to people who don’t know Paige and Noah, and then it would fall under the Vanity Press category.
  78. Gorman Dew Publishing/Press Available I’m trying to wean myself off of Mountain Dew. Plus, the idea of dew coming off a Gorman sounds icky.
  79. Pelon Press Available I like this one because I speak Spanish and know “Pelon,” with the accent on the O, means “Baldy.” But the way the word is read by English-only speakers is painful.
  80. Menage Press Available “Menage Publishing” is taken, though. And both sound like companies that publish erotica.
  81. A-1 Publishing Taken It also sounds a bit arrogant.
  82. Panini Press Taken Funny, though.
  83. Precious Press Available I hope no one describes my novel sarcastically as “precious.”
  84. Publishing Press Taken Funny, but some would find it confusing.
  85. Panther Press Taken There are no panthers in the novel. This would have been good for anything printed by the creative writing club we’re starting at the high school next year, though. Bummer.
  86. The Force Publishing Available See previous references to George Lucas’ legal team.
  87. Book Publishing Taken And it’s so generic, people will wonder if I understand the point of naming a publishing company.
  88. Perfect Pubilshing Available The person who suggested this one did misspell it on purpose (“yes, that's the joke”). But I think people would have a hard time finding it online.
  89. Rocket Ship Press Available …and perfect for someone who wants to start a Sci-Fi imprint.
  90. Speculative Publishing Available The person who suggested it wrote, “I assume you will publish Sci-Fi” I hope to someday, but not this novel.
  91. Friday Night Publishing Taken It’s too bad because that’s when I do most of my writing, so it would be fitting.
  92. GB Publishing Taken Still has the “Vanity Press” problem.
  93. Been Jammin' Press Available This has the vanity publishing problem.
  94. Dew It Publishing Available Again, I’m trying to cut down on my Mt. Dew intake, and I don’t think they need my help in advertising.
  95. Jaminpaigepublishing (or Jamin Paige Publishing) Available At first glance, this might seem clever. It might also seem obscene.
  96. Central Publishing Taken Like Panther Press, this would have been good for the creative writing club. Bummer.
  97. Babel Press Taken This was Paige’s favorite. Apparently, it was somebody else’s favorite, too, and they got to it first.
  98. Mortal Press Taken This was one of my favorites. I thought it would fit the novel well, since it’s populated by the immortals of various systems of mythology but doesn’t have the vanity of “Immortal Press.” It’s available for $1,400. So, no.
  99. The Inspired Press Taken Someone was inspired to get this one first.
  100. Allegory Press Taken Bummer. My novel isn’t technically an allegory, but I thought that would be cool anyway.
  101. Cork In It Publishing (or Cork In It Press) Available I like this one because I occasionally smoke a pipe and my uncle taught me to put a piece of cork in the mouth to save unburned tobacco. It goes in the “Under Consideration” pile.
  102. Not A Pipe Press/Publishing Available This is a reference to one of my favorite works of art, and to the post-modern philosophical movement. It goes in the “Under Consideration” pile.
  103. Bench Press Taken It’s clever, but considering how little I work out, it doesn’t fit me.
  104. Ministry of Truth Publishing Available I like this one because I love 1984, but if people don’t get the reference, they’ll think I’m making the opposite claim I intend. Such is the nature of Orwellian language, I suppose.
  105. Slacker Publishing Available …but I’ve worked my ass of on this novel, and this publishing thing is turning out to be pretty labor intensive, too.
  106. Cock and Bull Press Taken I like the connection between Cock and Bull and fiction, but I don’t have the maturity to not giggle at the word “cock.”
  107. Penny Press Taken I liked this one, too.

So, here are the ones that are still in the running:

  1. Wisdom Tooth Publishing
  2. Nose Bacon Publishing
  3. Mortar & Pestilence Publishing
  4. Analogy Press/Publishing
  5. Figurative Press/Publishing
  6. There Their & They’re Publishing
  7. Write Hand Press
  8. Bald Truth Publishing
  9. Cork In It Publishing (or Cork In It Press)
  10. Not a Pipe Publishing

Now I just have to pull the trigger. I know that, no matter what I choose, 99% of the people who helped me will be disappointed that their suggesting wasn’t chosen. I hope they’ll forgive me and check out the novel anyway. I hope they also understand how grateful I am to them for their help. Obviously this is something I’ve given a lot of thought, and I couldn’t have done it without all their help.

After much consideration (too much, considering it’s probably only going to catch the eye of a few readers), I’ve decided to go with the last entry, Not A Pipe Publishing. For those of you who don’t know the reference, it refers to Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images. The painting perfectly captures the idea of simulacra, which is the heart of my aesthetic. As Jean Baudrillard wrote, “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” I believe that’s what fiction is, or at least what it strives to be: A lie which tells the truth. If Not a Pipe Publishing can do that, even once, even a little bit, then it’s a publishing company I’d be proud to own.

So I own the domain name, and here’s a crack at the logo:


Saturday, June 01, 2013

Poverty Beats his Children

The other day, a friend of mine voiced the opinion on Facebook that America is the ultimate land of opportunity, and that people who are in poverty are at fault for blaming others for their plight. It was, he argued, a question of perspective. If people are poor, he argued, they should take more responsibility for their circumstances. 

My friend isn’t a greedy or hurtful person. Though we haven’t seen each other in almost two decades, based on the pictures of his beautiful, happy family, he strikes me as somebody who has his priorities in order. But this statement got under my skin and has been itching. I’ve been scratching at this for a little over a week now, and I’m not quite sure how to express why this irritates me so much.

Should I begin on purely factual grounds? He states, without evidence, that the United States is one of the foremost countries which provides its people with the ability to raise themselves out of poverty.  “Unlike nearly any other country, you can start in poverty and move into the middle or upper income bracket within a few short years...definitely into a generation.” What he’s describing is something economists call "social mobility." It’s measurable. And he’s simply wrong.  At best, we rank 4th. When other factors are included, like unemployment, inflation, and respondents’ satisfaction to standard-of-living and employment opportunities, the U.S. comes in 18th. Of the 195 countries our government recognizes, that means we’re not even in the top 5%. That hardly sounds like “unlike nearly any other country” to me.

Or should I challenge his notion that income inequality is irrelevant? He claims that we don’t have “haves” and “have nots”, but “has” and “has more.”  This sounds like merely bit of optimistic semantics. It’s all in one’s perspective, he claims. But that’s wrong, too. The distance between the “have nots” and the “has mores” produces real world consequences. According to economists, it impedes growth in a number of ways. It doesn’t take a lot of economics training to imagine why this would be. People who are far down the economic ladder can’t demand higher salaries. Beggars don’t haggle. When they have lower salaries, they can’t buy as many goods. The ultra-wealthy still live very well, thank you, but they store their money in accounts rather than investing in businesses which sell goods to people on the bottom of the income spectrum because that’s a better investment. If you reduce the buying power of the poor, you reduce the selling opportunities for the rich. This leads to less sales, less employment, less of what economists call “churning”: money growing because it’s changing hands in exchange for real goods and services. Widening income inequality makes some people much richer, and creates the illusion of economic growth when the total GDP is divided to become the Per Capita GDP, but in truth the standard of living of the vast majority of people decreases. 

But this kind of sunny optimism is worse than just bad economics. In my friend’s defense of his position, he cites Christian scripture, pointing out that people have an obligation to use the talents they’ve been given to achieve success. He cites the parable in Matthew about the bags of gold entrusted to servants, Matthew 25:14-30. This is what an English teacher would call “bad reading.” The passage is clearly not about money, it’s about faith.  The master says, quite clearly, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” If the parable were about money, one would have to imagine that the “things” Jesus is teaching his disciples to take care of are quantities of money. This from a man who told people that they should take all they have and give it to the poor? This from a man who told people to give Caesar his coins back? This from a man who told people that wealth would make it more difficult to get into heaven? This from a man who told people not to store up their treasures on earth? This from a man who, at least according to scripture, was aware that his death was imminent and yet spent more time talking about concern for the poor than any other single topic during the limited time of his ministry? It’s certainly a convenient interpretation to use when one is trying to justify an investment strategy, but it cannot be justified by the text as a whole.

That’s not what bothers me, either, though. I’m not a Christian. If Christians want to pick apart their scripture to justify widening income inequality and callous disregard for the plight of the poor, that’s their business. They can write a new translation which actually includes the phrase “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps,” stick it into the Sermon on the Mount, and shove those words into Jesus’ mouth, and if that’s what they all decide they believe, who am I to argue? I could point out that it’s a very different interpretation of scripture than other Christians have had before, tantamount to a different religion, something earlier Christians would have called a heresy, but they could quite correctly retort that Christianity has changed a lot over the years. Some have learned to read around the misogyny. Most have learned to stop using scripture as a justification for racism and slavery. A growing number are even learning to get around the bigotry towards homosexuals that’s clearly in the text. So if they want to decide that all the commands to care for the poor, to suffer with those who suffer, and to recognize worldy wealth as a threat to their salvation are just cultural relics of a time gone by and scold the poor for having bad attitudes, it is absolutely within their 1st amendment rights to do so, and they can take that up with their god when they get to the end of the road. That’s no longer my business.


Except I have to live with these people. And not just this particularly venal and callous kind of Christian, but with a greedy and self-defeating kind of American. This kind of attitude has real-world policy implications which harm my country, my community, my family.

No, that’s not it, either. I can abide people I disagree with, even when their beliefs harm me and mine. I can live with people who deny evolution even though their beliefs hurt our country’s international reputation and our scientific competitiveness. I can live with people who have regressive beliefs about immigration even though their selective notions of law enforcement will split up families, hurt our own economy, and ultimately fail to do anything but align them with racists. I can live with people who deny the reality of global climate change even though their intransigence will have dramatic and disastrous effects on the economic, political, and even physical health of their fellow citizens. I can live with people I find to be wrong. Why? Because I am sure I’m wrong about some things, too, and I’m sure the ways I’m wrong will injure others. Of course, I don’t know how I’m wrong. As Wittgenstien pointed out, “If there were a verb meaning ‘to believe falsely,’ it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.” If I’m wrong about something, I can’t know it at the time. But I can assume I am wrong because I know I’ve been wrong before, and because I know that being wrong about some things has always appeared to be an essential characteristic of every other human being with whom I’ve come into contact, including those people who are far smarter and far wiser than I am. I try to surround myself with the kind of people who can tell me how I am wrong, and I’ll bet this post may motivate a few of them.  I may not know what god to believe in, but I do believe in people, complete with all their absurdity and outright folly. Sartre said “Hell is other people,” but I think other people are the point of existence. Without them, including all their multifaceted wrong-ness, life would be meaningless. An un-observed tree falling in a forest may or may not make a sound, but a man in a crowd who doesn’t care about any of the people around him makes no difference.

And that, ultimately, is why my friend’s point bothers me so much. It’s the callous disregard for others that I cannot abide. I cannot claim to be an expert on poverty from personal experience. As the Everclear song says, I’ve “never had the joy of a welfare Christmas.” I wish I could explain poverty as eloquently as Sherman Alexie does early in his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. (If you haven't read it, do so forthwith.) I just don't have the skill.  But, in my experience, that kind of personal history doesn’t always give people a whole lot of insight into the nature of poverty anyway. I know too many people who raised themselves out of poverty, sometimes terrible, tragic poverty, and their response has been to look back over their shoulders with contempt and say, “I did it. Why can’t they?” I’m starting to recognize that I understand poverty better than some people who experienced it more acutely because, though I might be exactly as middle class as my parents (American social mobility, right?), like them, I’ve chosen to work for people who haven’t escaped poverty. That’s taught me about more than the path out. It’s taught me about the people who are stuck inside.

I came across a great illustration of this today. There's a powerful if unsurprising relationship between effects of dyslexia and the wealth of the dyslexic. Dyslexic children born to wealthy families are identified earlier and are able to get more interventions. As one would expect, they are far more likely to overcome their disability. Now, we could say to a dyslexic, as my friend does, “If you're working has[sic] hard as you can and not getting anywhere....change what you're working at. You need a new perspective or a new path.” But, in this case, we’d be saying, “If you are working hard to learn to read and it’s difficult, you really should have started working hard with a specialist when you were much younger, and in order to do that, you should have been born richer. Choose that path.”

I think my friend doesn’t understand poverty (and again, he is in the company of my middle class friends who climbed out of it themselves). Poverty is an abusive father who beats his children. He stands in the foyer of his house, punching them and kicking them, and they cower in the corner, curled up into tight little balls, trying to protect themselves. Every day his blows rain down on them, but while he beats them, he tells them to get out of his house. Behind him, the door is open. For some, it’s open wide. They are gifted with intelligence, athletic ability, good looks, resilience, perhaps an indomitable will. For others, the door is open just a tiny crack, smaller even than their little bodies. Maybe they are not exceptionally smart or brave or beautiful. Maybe they are afraid to leave the house that at least protects them from the weather. For whatever reason, some of these children remain cowering in the corner, while others make a break for it, scrambling for the door. Some of these escaping children run and don’t look back. “I made it out. Why can’t they? It’s their fault.” Others stay inside all their lives. But here’s the greatest atrocity: We are standing out on the sidewalk, and we can always see into the door, at least a little. We can see Poverty beating down the poor. And, to my amazement, many of us say, “It is their fault. Why don’t they take responsibility for their circumstances? Look at the way their choices keep them inside the house of Poverty?” But we stay out on the sidewalk. I want to ask my friend and anyone else talking about taking personal responsibility for poverty: Who is supposed to take responsibility for where you stand while the poor suffer? Isn’t that up to you?