Kilgore Trout on CreateSpace
In the midst of arranging Feebles for print, I stumbled upon an author and “book designer” engaged in launching a community for self-published, independent writers. I'm not going to specify names because I have no interest in shitting on his company, nor “what it stands for.” I don't want to shit for you at all, actually, just note a few still-underrealized realities about the sheer ludicrousness of the word business as it stands. Let's say you've got some manuscripts you've been sitting on for a few years, and you're introduced to the concept of self-publishing by an evermore earnestly-curious man on the radio named Audie one day. He and his interviewee (the owner of a self-publishing service) seem to say, curiously, that because an author's profit-per-unit can potentially be “four to five times more” than if he/she is published traditionally, self-publishing has now shed completely its aura of desperate amateurism.
But – whoa, Nelly – writing to sell books, and writing books have perhaps never been further apart. And gee – you certainly didn't write to sell; selling hadn't occurred to you at all for a very long time, but from just one search, you find Our Friend, back from his own experiences as an author and editor, qualified and insistent that you can make money selling creative works of fiction.
And Jesus Christ… All that said, I must admit to you that I've just finished Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, and was unable to commence this “review” without wondering aloud for you how Kilgore Trout – perhaps Kurt's favorite creation – would feel about this Friend's business.
It was actually my Aunt Ayn who taught me to write, so Vonegutt was a mediocre Ray William Johnson-associated YouTube band until after high school, when “lots of people” started telling me to “read Vonnegut, man,” even though I cannot recall any specific events or recommenders. For whatever reason, though, I'd bought a copy immediately after a friend mentioned it, recently, and found him (in this particular work, at least) to be awfully sane for my taste, yet particularly resonant. Though written to make me think it was all a big one-draft ramble, Kurt's a bit too curt for it to be believed, I think. Auntie Rand would've double-taken his beratement of “in nonsense is strength” if she'd made it that far. I hope she did, because I found the image of her taking in his occasional hand doodles to be very amusing.
Dwayne Hoover is awfully absent – and therefore, a very versatile storytelling device, though not in a lazy sense. We're repeatedly notified about an imminent convergence. Eventually, it's explained that the endgame involves Dwayne exploding into a violent revengeful tantrum against all the lifelong enemies of his subconscious. Including “people with brown skin.” Can I just bring up Ayn Rand again? I hope it's okay.
Kilgore Trout is the most dangerous villain I've ever experienced. He has little to lose, and – like Vonnegut, it would seem – finds his observatory position in the world to be immensely amusing. His last amusement, even. Remember Ellsworth M. Toohey, the corrupter? I think they would've gotten along, funny enough.
Yes, and Hoover would be Peter Keating, the corrupted. I'm reaching, yeah, but when do I not? Their immediate difference is the lack of malicious intent in Trout, of course. He is an aimless science fiction writer, who gives Dwayne a volume simply to shut him up. Neither villain is believable, per se, but both were written to be personifications of ideals; vehicles of metaphor.
I think Rand could've quite easily become Vonnegut, were she to stick around much longer, but perhaps I believe so only because I've experienced a quantifiable transition from her sort of thinking (vaguely) to his (perhaps less vaguely.) An incorruptible commitment to absolute was Ayn's most potent conviction. Growing up as a white cis male, I was aching for a method of simplifying the world which I knew more and more to be infinitely complex. Inevitably, with age, I think a limitless appetite for the complexity must form, lest one spend the rest of his/her life fighting the singular truth in a miserable fortress of seclusion and amphetamine abuse.
The key to Breakfast of Champions' genius is its utter lack of angst. Aside from his brief definition of a being – “an unwavering band of light” – Kurt had little interest in writing a manifesto, yet his perspective in his curious commentary manifests a much more profound critique of American society than Rand ever could've from her hole.
As such, I think it's wisest to leave a rudimentary whole measurement of a writer to Aunt Ayn, but perhaps a particularly relevant spectrum in this case is clarity of sight. Rigid idealism has its place in literature, no doubt, but it's an awfully boring one without a writer's feet on the ground.
How does this all relate to self-publication? Well, Our Friend, it turns out, offers preset novel “templates” to members of his writing community, into which one can “plug in” characters, setting, and basic plot elements to a degree of his/her choosing. And his YouTube channel is stuffed with all sorts of tutorials on formatting and – more disturbingly – how to create sellable cover art with Photoshop. Naturally, it includes instruction on stock and rights-free images.
Though I've yet to read one, it doesn't take much imagination to comprehend the inevitable product. From Our Friend's vlogs, I can suppose a heavy focus on the adolescent market. What makes the whole concept noteworthy in my mind is the why? I'd like to think that I have a fairly-realistic grasp on the potentialities of writing for profit, and am obligated to wonder why one would “compromise” his/her “creative integrity” by publishing literature to sell, of all things.
As I understand it, the methodical approach to authorship being encouraged is applicable to literally any other field, creative or not. It's curious and impressive, frankly, as their sales potential seems to be vastly superior to anything I'll ever bother to publish, but I must weigh in because of one quantifiable detriment: saturation.
Someone is spending their money on these works – probably for their kids. I'm not a parent, but I'd be tremendously ashamed to discover that a book I'd given as a gift to anyone had been manufactured in this manner. Not just in the sense that most light literature is manufactured – written in hearty observance of academic rules of storytelling – but literally mass-produced with a goddamned intellectual stencil.
Without sounding like I'm complaining... My singular self-published poetry collection is probably of significantly less whole-value to the majority of readers, but I can't help but think the effort put into its hand-drawn cover art and meticulously-arranged typography would make it a more comfortable investment, if anything else.
This brings us to a distinctly-academic mainstay which I have always taken issue with: “consider your audience.” I first encountered this proverb in the context of a composition studies course, mind you, where its consideration in the essay medium makes unequivocally good sense. If we agree that an essay is defined by an uncompromising commitment to its effectiveness in making an argument, audience awareness is essential. If you were asked to decide on one primary purpose of writing in general, though, would it not be identical?
Why didn't Kurt Vonnegut or Ayn Rand simply write essays? Well, the latter wrote many, but their sales have always been all but invisible compared to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. (Both of which resemble essays more than fiction, at times, but I'll spare you that conversation.) Did they consider their audience? Certainly not in the way my first Google result articulates it:
Ensure that your documents meet the needs and expectations of your readers.”
Ooo boy. To me, that translates a little too easily into “write what your readers want to read.” And maaaan... If there's anything that experience and Donald Draper have taught me, it's that people have no idea what they want, especially from art. And that's a reasonable mentality, isn't it? Perhaps even an exhaltable one. I know that predictable stories are my number one turnoff, personally. If I expected to exist for an eternity, I'd absolutely indulge every single creative work I could find, but I do not, and that realization (as I stated in my last Freq Check,) has propelled an underlying preference in all of my consumption decisions: what I have not (before) seen.
Obviously, then – if you take my word for it – Our Friend's endeavors are in direct ideological opposition to my own, which would make him my arch nemesis, if 21st-century industry were a bit more theatrical. But – like most heroic protagonists – I'd be much more interested in “turning” him than censoring him, were we ever to engage. In fact, I'd probably end up defending his and/or his constituents' right to sell their trash if CreateSpace or other self-publishing services called it into question.
Overwhelming content volume can be entertaining; Drywall was my own foray into that uniquely contemporary experiment. It's the sheer ease of publication, though, that makes “good” literature more precious than ever. Admittedly, a glance at Amazon's current top ten bestsellers list indicates that I am undoubtedly out of touch as far as the market is concerned. I know that my mother and sisters have mysteriously reverted back to print from the Kindles which they used for a few years, and that audiobooks make me supremely uncomfortable. I also know that reading a book – whenever I bring myself to shut out everything else – is an unrivaled vehicle of cognitive serenity.
A significant mission for Extratone lies in an upcoming reactionary movement to culture's “circus stage” (by way of the Internet.) We determined the event's inevitability on Drycast, a year ago, and have made occasional efforts to posit more thoroughly on The New. It must involve a reduction in content consumption, fundamentally, which will constrict because of an increasing demand for more explicit purpose in all media. We are not to be the alternative, necessarily, but the intermediary arbiter of the enabling discussion, hopefully with the outcome of increased awareness. What is and is not relevant? Why am I consuming this?
As the end of Breakfast of Champions draws abruptly closer, Vonnegut mentions his schizophrenia, which is – as you probably know – fundamentally characterized by loss of the ability to determine what is and is not real, and primarily treated with antipsychotics. Interestingly enough, extremely high doses of amphetamines (which Ayn Rand did use heavily, by the way. I wasn't making that up) can actually induce psychosis, which could crudely be described as cognitive noise. I could've missed the intended function of their works, but for me, they illuminate a distinct relationship between the abstracts of truth and relevance which, for the moment, seems particularly necessary.
Two opposing reflections of Americana; both helpful in preparation for its future.
May we never lose ourselves in the noise.