How I Sold My First 10,000 Books

It’s been a crazy year and a half for one Amira K. Makansi. Since I began my journey as an author and a publisher in July of 2013, my co-authors and I have released two books and a novella, all set in the world of Okaria, a futuristic post-apocalyptic civilization. In early April we announced that we’d officially sold over 10,000 books, which is pretty. fucking. radical, especially for a few authors who had never been professionally published before we began. 

Now, I generally dislike people who get to something of a place of authority and then feel compelled to get up on their soapbox and tell everyone exactly how they got there and why theirs is the only possible path to success, and why if you want to be like them you ought to do exactly as they did, and blah blah blah. I’m not going to do that. But seeing how as there are a lot of authors out there who would probably like to hit that milestone and haven’t, I’m going to share with you five things I did that I think were instrumental to MY ability to hit this goal. Mine personally. Not anyone else’s. I’m sure buttloads of other, vastly more successful authors out there have their own tips, their own paths, and it’s best to follow along with as many people as possible in order to find YOUR OWN path to success. Don’t just listen to me. I might not even be right.

Here are five things my co-authors and I did that helped us sell our first 10,000 books.

1. Write a good book. 

Notice I don’t say “write a great book”. This is because writing a great book, a groundbreaking, earth-shattering, life-changing novel, isn’t really necessary for selling books. What is necessary for book sales is writing a pretty good book. If you’re not getting the majority 4 and 5 star reviews, or your beta readers aren’t saying “I loved it!” “Awesome!” or “Really interesting!” you need to go back to the drawing board. But you don’t have to hear “This book changed my life,” or “I cried at the end,” or “This is the best book I’ve ever read,” in order to feel confident proceeding to the point of sale.

2. Make friends, and be very, very good to them.

When I was first starting out, I joined Twitter, started keeping this blog, and went to a writer’s conference near where I lived. These few things were absolutely essential to my success, because they were networking opportunities. Through these steps I met the people who are the bedrock of my writing network, who I can always count on to help spread the word, and who are every bit as determined and talented – maybe more – than I am. The key is that this isn’t a one-way street. I re-tweet and share their blog posts, tweet out news about upcoming publications of theirs, beta-read manuscripts and short stories for them, and have liked their Facebook pages and posts so I know how they’re doing both as writers and friends. I care about these friends, not just as assets but as human beings. Networking is absolutely critical as a writer, and in order to network effectively, you have to give, give, give your help, support, and empathy. You will build your core of friends and allies this way.

3. Give away free copies – and loads of them – in exchange for reviews.

As a debut author, no one really knows if your books are going to be any good. They could be utter shit. So it’s very difficult to convince people to read what you’ve written if they’re not already familiar with your writing. When we were leading up to the launch of The Sowing, I contacted as many people as I could on Twitter, people who seemed like they were as passionate about writing and reading as I was, and I offered to give them all free copies of the book in exchange for an honest review when the book was released. A lot of people obliged. Some didn’t. Even after the book was released, I kept offering, giving, asking, and probably 80% of people I offered accepted, and went on to write a review for us. We did book tours, which coordinate with readers and book bloggers to arrange review drives in exchange for yet more free copies. And this got us a bunch of pretty decent reviews. Not all of them were good – some were terrible – but the important thing is quantity. And this leads me to #3….

4. BookBub. 

BookBub is perhaps the single most powerful marketing tool in your toolbox as an author, whether traditionally published, hybrid, or indie. BookBub is really for readers more than for authors – it’s a subscription service where you can sign up to receive free or discounted books in genres of your choosing. The reason BookBub is so important for authors is because they have MILLIONS of subscribers. Because of this, though BookBub is extremely selective about who they choose to feature. You need to have a good number of good reviews, a good-looking package, and correct genre-targeting in order to be accepted. But when you do get accepted, the results are enormous. In December of 2013 The Sowing was accepted for its first BookBub feature. Prior to that we’d been selling maybe one or two books a day, but with BookBub we sold over 500 books in a single day and gained momentum that never really slowed down. Even long after our feature, in January/February/March of 2014, we were still selling between 5-10 copies per day, an exponential difference over what we had been doing before. BookBub is a game changer. Period. End of story.

5. Write more good books. 

Ever heard of an author who was a one-hit wonder? No? Me either. That’s because they don’t exist. Writers, unlike musicians or maybe even actors, can’t just hit one home run to solidify their fame. If you wrote a book – even if it was a really fucking awesome book – and then sat back and waited for the $$ to roll in, you have made a terrible mistake. Stop waiting, start writing. We sold 5,000 copies, mostly of The Sowing, after a year of release. And maybe we could have gotten to 10,000, too, but it would have taken about twice as long as it did if we hadn’t published The Reaping and The Prelude. And we’ve got The Harvest on the way. All of our books play off of each other, and they all support each other. If you want one book to sell more, write another. Always have something in the works. Always have a new idea in your back pocket. Always be creating.

So that’s what I’ve got. My tips and tricks leading up to the big 10,000 mark. Questions? Concerns? Want to call me out on my bullshit? Leave a note in the comments, and I’ll get back to you!

In The Language Of Dreams: Why Genre Fiction Deserves To Be Considered Great Literature

Pretension exists everywhere, but sometimes I think nowhere more than in literature.

How many of us read The Grapes of Wrath in high school? How about The Great Gatsby? Or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter? But, let’s be real: who ever assigned The Lord Of The Rings to a high school curriculum? Or what about Dune, Frank Herbert’s intergalactic political saga? Or even Stranger In A Strange Land, Heinlein’s science fiction classic set closer to home, right here on Earth?

Have a quick look through Wikipedia’ s Great Books page. Not only does it give a brief “sample list” of great books, it also offers a bit of exposition about the concept of great books and why they ought to be considered great. “Constituting or best expressing the foundations of Western culture,” is one given criterion, which certainly is a noble aim; “the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues” is another, similarly lofty, criterion.

Melk_-_Abbey_-_Library

Yet a comprehensive search through the list – I read every title on the Wikipedia page – reveals that I can count on one hand, indeed on three fingers, the number of books that could be considered science fiction, fantasy, or ‘genre’ fiction in some other way. That’s including Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Dracula, Frankenstein, Brave New World, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and many other equally insightful and intelligent works are excluded from the list.

Of course, you could argue, the list doesn’t really cover anything beyond World War II, either, and a lot of genre fiction has grown up in the post-war boom. But what about the treatment genre fiction writers are given in book review publications? The most serious of them, the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books (they all seem to have something in common, don’t they…) rarely, if ever, review science fiction or fantasy, and only touch on historical fiction when it ‘crosses thresholds,’ such as with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall or Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. When these books are given space in the hallowed pages of these publications, they’re spoken of as being ‘elevated’ above your usual genre fiction, such as with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

Why are you so afraid, Mr. Ishiguro, that your novel, which contains giants, knights, and a magical fog, will be considered fantasy? Why is this such a stigma to be avoided? Fantasy is a hobble, it seems, for authors who want to be taken seriously, who want their works to be treated with the dignity they deserve. Fantasy can create prejudices, apparently, because it just isn’t quite good enough to be considered great.

(Never mind that calling a literary work ‘magical realism’ instead of fantasy will immediately get you literary brownie points and elevate you out of the ranks of ‘mere fantasy’.)

Poor Mr. Ishiguro. Over the last few weeks he has been lampooned and skewered on all sides for this fear, when really he’s just representative of the broader pretension against genre fiction carried by nearly all the conventional ‘gatekeepers’ in the world of literature.

So we must ask ourselves why. Why is literary fiction, set in the real world, or just slightly afield, considered superior to ‘mere’ science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction? My theory is that because genre fiction sets itself apart from the real world, those literary gatekeepers assume that the intention of the novel is to provide cheap thrills, magic spells, smoke and mirrors, rather than a hard-hitting search for truth in human nature.

This is a fallacy.

The best fiction, whether science fiction, literary, fantasy, or historical, is nothing more than a search for what motivates us as humans, and how and why we do the things we do. The Lord of the Rings is a study in what motivates people to fight against all odds to overcome great evil, and how we can resist or fall into temptation along the way. Dracula is less about the centuries-old vampire than the way fear of the unknown and the grotesque manifests within us. Dune is a magnificent analysis of culture clash, the politics of oppression and revolution, and the way individual relationship play out on a geopolitical scale. Harry Potter teaches us more about how to be a good, kind, compassionate human being, than it does how to defeat evil lords with incomprehensible powers.

What does it matter that these stories have new worlds, magical weapons, or vicious monsters in them? Do the spells and spaceships and demons somehow stand in the way or obscure the path forward? Do these frills somehow make them less serious in their attempts, and if so, why? Isn’t life also at times funny, at times bleak, and at times full of unnatural beauty, mysterious caves, and bright fireworks? How are these books less noble in their attempts to find truth than the esteemed ‘great books’ revered by the literary gatekeepers in New York?

The truth is, they’re not. It’s only the turned-up nose, the pretensions of those at the top, the snobbery of the intellectual elite, that separates these genres and keeps them out of the hallowed ranks of ‘great books’. It’s long past time we acknowledged that the superiority is in our minds, not in the nature of the genre ‘distinctions’ we falsely ascribe.

“There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.” – George R. R. Martin

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I have read four books of Neil Gaiman’s to date: Coraline, Sandman: The Dream Hunters, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, and now, American Gods. It is strange to say that I have read four of his books because I don’t necessarily feel as though I’m the biggest fan of his work, or as though I have even begun to scrape the surface of the things he has contributed to the world of storytelling. His bibliography is impressive – a quick perusal of his website reveals that he has written over thirty books, and at least as many comics, not to mention countless speeches, articles, narrated audiobooks, and more. Having read four of his books somehow means I’ve only read a small percentage of what he’s published, and yet somehow I’ve read more books by him than I have most of my favorite authors. American Gods

All of his books have come to me accidentally – that is to say, fortuitously. Coraline happened to be hanging out in the back of a car I bummed a ride in one year in college. The Ocean At The End Of The Lane was gifted to me on an airplane by a woman who had just finished it. Sandman was my sister’s, and it looked interesting sitting on her bookshelf, so I picked it up and read it cover to cover in thirty minutes.

American Gods was also accidental, though perhaps more deliberate. My sister had just bought it from an used bookstore when I finished the last book I was reading and was on the hunt for something different. “Here,” she said. “I just bought this. It’s supposed to be a little strange. Maybe you’ll like it.”

It was a little strange. To say the least.

American Gods is, like all of Gaiman’s writing, a story of breathtaking creativity. The ideas that spring from this man’s head seem to me like Athena springing fully-formed from Zeus’ skull – powerful, bizarre, and incredibly compelling. The book takes the basic concept that things that humans worship come alive, and are real, and are created and feed “on belief, on prayers, on love,” (287) and runs with it, to the point where everything humans have ever worshiped becomes deified, from the old pagan gods like Athena and Zeus to Odin and Loki, to the Judeo-Christian gods like Jesus and the angels, to modern gods like the internet, television, and money. Gaiman examines every different kind of worship, and narrates countless little anecdotes about deities, small and large, and their interactions with humans in America.

The protagonist, Shadow, has just been released from three years in prison when he is informed that his wife has died in a car crash. Empty inside, hollowed out, Shadow boards a plane back home and sits next to a man who identifies only as Mr. Wednesday, and who knows far more about Shadow than he should, or could, as a mere mortal. After the funeral, he recruits Shadow into his service, and informs him that there’s a war on. A war between gods, the old and the new, the old ones dying, starving, unable to survive in this land of crumbling religions and dissipating faith, while the young ones, the gods of technology and modern conveniences, get fat and happy and begin to challenge the authority of the old. Wednesday claims to represent the old guard, and is trying to rally his troops for one last stand in the fight against modernity, and he needs Shadow’s help to win. Thus begins a strange adventure across America, through dying towns and thriving cities, through cornfields, diners, motels, funeral homes, and roadside attractions that seem to have become places of worship for bastard demigods.

The most interesting premise in the book is that “America is a bad land for gods.” Gaiman’s anecdotal (human) characters come from all over the world, bringing their demons and their gods to worship, but quickly forgetting them thereafter. Worship doesn’t last long here, and the old religions, whether pagan, Judeo-Christian, fall by the wayside, to be replaced by gods of railroads, of the internet, of roadside attractions. This cultural observation, of the difference between America and the rest of the world, is one of the most fascinating themes running through the story.

“‘Look,’ said Whiskey Jack. ‘This is not a good country for gods. My people figured that out early on. […] My people figured that maybe there’s something at the back of it all, a creator, a great spirit, and so we say thank you to it, because it’s always good to say thank you. But we never built churches. We never needed to. The land was the church. The land was the religion. The land was older than the people who walked on it. […] And we were the children of the land, just like the porcupine and the skunk and the blue jay.'” (513)

Emotionally, American Gods, like most of Gaiman’s other stories, doesn’t seem to quite hit home for me. Unlike other fantasy novels, even ones that crossover into the real world like The Golden Compass or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files,  the world is too realistic, to critical, too unbeautiful, to be inspiring, and the characters, although energetic and intelligent, are hard to connect with on a deeper level. Rarely do we see the characters’ inner lives, except that of Shadow, and Shadow is too foreign to himself to make a meaningful connection to an even-more-distant reader. I always feel, in Gaiman’s writing, as though the story, the magic, the worldbuilding, is of primary importance, while the emotional impact thereof is held at arms’ length. The same is true here.

There are, however, moments of deep truth. Moments where he cuts through the fantastical to reveal something real. Here is one of my favorite passages from the book, and there are a few others like it, scattered throughout, that rise to the same heights:

“No man, proclaimed Donne, is an island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, ‘made into an island’) from the tragedies of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life.” (322)

That said, though, the book is almost dizzying in its inventiveness. Gaiman draws from mythology in almost as much breadth and depth as Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, and the gods and demons that make appearances are far-flung and disparate. Their translations into modern human incarnations is equally fascinating. The way these gods represent themselves to Americans whose pagan faith is long dead is brutally devoid of any real spirituality – after all, religious worship, in the sense of sacrifices, libations, and rituals, is an anathema to most Americans – and this makes it all the more interesting. Gaiman takes religion and strips it bare, while at the same time cutting to the quick of why we remain, to this day, fascinated by the stories and mythologies from around the world.

A recommended read, but don’t expect any of “the feels” along the way.

Page numbers taken from: Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. Print.

Blind Like Water: A Poem

IMG_2006

Tonight, I will sleep in the garden
Buried under rocks and sand
A man will come with a rake every now and then
To carve lines into my body
And he will say
“The flowers are sweet today.”

At night when the lights are quiet
The moon like a sea shell washed ashore by a tide of stars
I will creep out, blossoming, coaxed by succulent breezes and
You.

Your hair coarse like sand and skin softened by years of salt and nibbling fish
Your hands made of black ink from the octopus
Your sea-glass eyes, blind like water
Where I see myself and you see
Nothing.

In the gunmetal morning, with fog for breath and city walls for hands
You will bury me again
Under the rocks and sand
And the man will come back with his rake and wonder
At the new lines
And he will say
“The flowers are sweet today.”

A Day For Dreaming

Horray! Today is BOOKBUB DAY! This means that my debut novel, THE SOWING, is temporarily discounted to $0.99. DID YOU HEAR THAT? YOU CAN BUY AN ENTIRE BOOK FOR NINETY-NINE CENTS! Does anyone else find this a little bit crazy? Crazy awesome, amirite?! After all, once upon a time, books were the possessions of the elite, the wealthy, the aristocracy, and even they didn’t have very many of them. And before that, often the only people who had books were monks, because only monks could read, because no one else really needed to read – they were too busy slaying infidels and rescuing (read: harassing) damsels in distress to bother with books. And before THAT, people vastly preferred to listen to speeches, hear oral histories, or keep records on tablets or walls, because paper was so expensive, and hard to preserve, and happens to be quite flammable. And before THAT, we recorded all of our thoughts on the walls of caves, and didn’t even have letters or alphabets or pictures with which to write things down….

When you look at the history of reading in the grand scheme of things (as I like to do, because I am a super-nerd), it’s pretty fucking rad that you can buy a book for literally under a buck. You can buy a book for less than the price of a cup of coffee to go along with it. It’s actually a quarter the cup of a latte from any quality coffee house. In fact, the amount of coffee it may take you to power through this book could be as much as ten times the price of the book. And if you throw a few egg sandwiches or smoothies or lemon bars or cookies in there because sitting at a cafe and reading is even more delightful with some food in hand, well….

Am I rambling again? I think I’m rambling again. I always get distracted when thinking about lemon bars.

My larger point in all of this is that I am astonishingly lucky to be living in a time when writing, recording, and passing on our thoughts is so easy. I am lucky I don’t have to write my books out longhand, like Austen or Voltaire or Dickens. I am lucky that if I lose my work, odds are good there will be an auto-save of the document somewhere either on my computer or in the cloud. I am lucky that it is so easy for me to share my writing with friends, family, readers. I am really lucky that I am a writer today, and not fifty years, a century, a millennium ago. I am really fucking lucky.

DSC_0037
This is me, looking into my future, hoping there’s a professional writer out there somewhere.

Readers, too, are fortunate, especially in this day and age of the indie revolution. Now that agents/publishers no longer control the sanctified gates of quality, and readers can determine for themselves what is worth reading and what isn’t, the floodgates have been opened, and everyone has a chance to find a book that they will fall in love with. Not to mention that competition between all these authors has dropped the average price of a book through the floor. When you can buy a book for $0.99 and keep hundreds, possibly thousands, of books in a virtual library called a Kindle or a Nook, why shouldn’t you jump at the chance to read as much as you possibly can? Why not open yourself to as many stories, as many worlds, as possible? Why live one life when you could live thousands?

We are living in a golden age of storytelling, ladies and gentlemen. Anyone who tells you otherwise can go fuck themselves.

And so, I have something of a favor to ask. If you’ve enjoyed my blog or my poems, I would be deeply humbled if you would take this opportunity to pick up a copy of THE SOWING. I co-wrote it with my mom and my sister, and people seem to like it. A lot of people have even said nice things about it. If you’re on the fence, well, that’s what Amazon reviews are for – give them a read-through, and see if it looks like it might be up your alley. (And if you have read it, and wouldn’t mind saying some things about it, I’d be equally delighted to hear your thoughts.)

The Resistance Has Begun.

Remy Alexander wants vengeance. When she and her friends discover a clue that could help reveal the truth behind the massacre that claimed her sister’s life, she may finally get her chance.

Valerian Orlean wants answers. Why the girl he was in love with disappeared three years ago. Why she joined the Resistance – a covert organization sworn to destroy everything he believes in. When he is appointed to lead a government program whose mission is to hunt and destroy the Resistance, he may finally find his answers – and Remy.

In a world where the powerful kill to keep their secrets, and the food you eat can change who you are, Remy and Vale are set on a collision course that could bring everyone together – or tear everything apart.

In this science-fiction dystopia, the mother-daughter writing team of Kristina, Amira, and Elena Makansi immerse readers in the post-apocalyptic world of the Okarian Sector, where romance, friendship, adventure, and betrayal will decide the fate of a budding nation.

Writing is a dream for me. I am damnably lucky to be able to do it on a daily basis, and I hope to one day be lucky enough to devote my life to it. Today is another little step along that path. Today is a day to keep the faith. Today is a day for dreaming.

And for ninety-nine pennies, it’s the cheapest dream money can buy.

Note: This is the first time in a long time, and will be the last time for some time, that I will attempt to sell you anything, especially anything I’ve written. Thanks for reading, y’all. Peace.

In Which I Attempt To Shoot Fashion Photography

One of my hobbies, for those of you who don’t know, is photography. Every now and then I get a chance to take advantage of this love and bum a dSLR camera from my sister to take photos. Recently, I decided I wanted to experiment with some fashion and portrait photography. As it was my first foray into any such thing, I wanted to be sure I was working with someone I was comfortable with. So what better model to use than my utterly gorgeous younger sister, Elena? In California, almost every day is sunny and warm (though we pray for rain on a regular basis), so we picked a weekend and went for it. These photos are our favorites, edited for light and color only. About half of them are her edits; the others are mine.

Renaissance

The sky is bright today

The sky is bright today

Pitter-patter, says the rain, beating on my thigh

My hands are alive

The water falls in myriad ways

A fern swallows me

The sky is bright today

The Revelation

This poem is meant to accompany this photo, which is a visual representation of an epiphany of sorts I had while traveling in Hawaii. The photo, taken at the exact site and the exact moment of this experience, is in fact the sight that inspired the revelation. In Zen Buddhist literature, which I have begun exploring, there is a tradition of writing a verse to describe the moment of these moments of enlightenment, and so I decided to write one myself, and share the accompanying image. 

I Am Fire

Great granitic catacombs, hollowed out by flame

rust inside my soul.

Magma cracks through the crust of my earth, smoking.

Metal, molten, seethes at my core;

the history of my formation, tumultuous,

written in every layer

of my skin.

Black ash spouts from my mouth,

volcanic, I erupt, bursting, spitting, lashing,

lava tongues and rocky clattering teeth,

beating against the earth, fuming at the sky.

The landscape changes.

Chill, the air. Grey, the sun. Black, the earth.

And I retreat, cooling, hardening, growing stronger: a new layer of history forming on my earth.

Still I simmer, calamitous, cavernous,

waiting to ignite.

This poem was, hilariously enough, inspired by the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which, by the way, if you haven’t watched it, get on that shit, right the fuck now. I watched Avatar with my sister and identified very strongly with the Firebending people, who are fiery at heart and draw strength from their anger. This poem came out of a desire to personify and characterize the fierce anger and desire for justice that defines my personality. But I don’t think this is unique to me. Not everyone experiences anger, strength, and resilience this way, but for me and likely many others, fire is one of the best metaphors to relate to all of my emotions, including love, forgiveness, happiness, sadness, confusion, and yes, anger. 

This poem isn’t the best it could be, but it was the best raw translation of my emotions into something textual, something readable, at the moment. I hope to make it better one day. Until then, this is it. 

 

What To Drink With What You Read

So, fellow readers, you’ve just added twelve books to your Kindle queue and bought three used books at your local indie bookseller. If you’re anything like me, by this point you’re starting to experience chest constriction, loss of vision and muscle control, and a powerful desire to curl up under your bedsheets and never make a decision ever again. If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed by how many unread books are on your bookshelf, and the ever-diminishing number of days left to you in this life to read them all. If you’re anything like me, one hand is already unconsciously reaching out for that half-empty bottle of whiskey on the counter.

IMG_2093

But thanks to years of experience self-medicating reading anxiety with booze, you, dear reader, don’t have to wallow in the straits of indecision – whether picking your poison or picking your prose. Here’s a quick and by no means comprehensive list of book-and-booze pairings that will get you through the worst moments of bitter regret over the unflinching reality that, really, you’re probably never going to read War And Peace.

1. Suspense Novels // Petite Sirah 

Picked up Stephen King’s newest novel (or the last baker’s dozen)? Sat down with one of the new Gillian Flynn stories? Made it your personal mission to read every single Jack Reacher novel in existence? Time to pour yourself something as dark and deadly as your reading material. Nothing says suspense like inky black wine, as thick as blood and as dangerous as the gun pointed at your hero’s heart. A glass might get you through a few pages; a full bottle will get you through the sick plot twist at the end that makes you want to punch a baby (and maybe the author, too).

2. 20th Century Classics // Whiskey Cocktails

If you’re reading anything Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Vonnegut, Kerouac, Heller, Woolf, Eliot, Salinger, or any other such authors, you goddamn better have an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan in hand. Gin cocktails, such as a martini, negroni, or gin and tonic, will do in a pinch, but really, only the smokiness of whiskey can adequately pair with the maddening intensity of these classic authors. Nothing suits the Great War and Post-War literary period like the rich and supple flavor of a well-made Manhattan.

3. Science Fiction // IPA

I’m not sure why, but science fiction just always makes me think India Pale Ale. Maybe it’s because, once upon a time, India Pale Ales were a kind of science fiction. In the early days of British colonialism in India, the Brits started making beer in India, where it was vastly cheaper to produce. The only problem was how to transport it back to England before it spoiled in the heat of summer and the length of transport. The solution? Hops. A natural preservative, the English realized that by adding hops to their brews, they were able to withstand the long trip in barrel across the seas back home. Not to mention that the British were exploring a whole new world, much in the way science fiction heroes explore strange new worlds of literary creation. The bitterness and acidity of an IPA will keep you on your toes, just like the new worlds, fancy technology, and twists and turns of your average science fiction novel. Keep your eyes fresh and eager with a bottle or several of your local microbrew’s IPA while reading some sci-fi, and beat the shit out of those aliens while you’re at it.

(PSA: Colonialism sucks. No amount of good beer can change that, as much as we’d all like to think otherwise.)

4. Romance // Sparkling Rose 

Nothing says romantic like the color pink, and nothing says seduction like a glass of bubbly. Get your Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or Rebecca on with a crisp, dry, sprightly glass of sparkling rose, which is one of the most underrated wines in America. Living in the lap of luxury? Go Champagne, all the way, baby.  On a budget? The Spanish are making some fantastic rose cava (which basically just means ‘sparkling’ in Spanish, although my translation is far from literal), which is so delectable it will practically force your star-crossed lovers to blow kisses at each other.

5. (Contemporary) Literary Fiction // German Riesling 

Getting cozy with Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace? Diving into Alex Shakar’s Luminarium or Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow? You need something as ephemeral, strange, and strong in flavor as these powerful (and, quite often, weird) works of fiction. An excellent bottle of kabinett or spatlese will have notes of sweetness, and, hopefully, the pungent flavor of petrol that is both foreign and intoxicating in good Riesling. Pretentious wine to match up to your pretentious literary habits (not to mention that it’s German, and what literary snob doesn’t love German?), Riesling is the perfect escort through the demented world of modern literary fiction.

6. Poetry // Argentine Malbec 

For generations, the French had a monopoly on the romance of language. Then Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda swept the French off their feet and redefined Spanish literature and poetry, and in doing so, the global literary scene. (There were a lot of other badass Spanish dudes involved too, but I don’t know them because I don’t speak Spanish.) The same thing happened with Malbec. The French though they had that shit under control. Then some priests started growing it in Argentina, and turned it into some pretty bitchin’ wine that was totally different from the way the French had been doing it. And then Borges threw a glass of Malbec in Jean-Paul Sartre’s face, and that’s how World War II got started. Just kidding. That didn’t even remotely happen. What DID happen, though, is that Malbec was finally given its day in the spotlight: as a svelte, lush, high-intensity wine that can seduce even the most un-poetic of drinkers. This pairing isn’t restricted to Spanish poetry, by the way. Feel free to drink your Malbec with everything from Apollinaire to Whitman to Frost to Gibran. It’s all good.

Perfect pairing: Cuvelier Los Andes’ Coleccion Malbec with Jorge Luis Borges poetry collection entitled Dreamtigers. 

Got enough to get you started? Good. Go get your boozy booking on using these fantastic pairing suggestions, and tell me how they work out for you. Want more “What To Drink With What You Read” ideas? Drop me a note in the comments and maybe with enough positive encouragement I’ll pull myself away from the bottle of wine for long enough to write another post.

 

 

Writing As Devotional

writing“A professional writer is just an amateur who didn’t quit.”

I quit writing this year.

Not on purpose. It was definitely not on purpose. Unlike my friend J. Edward Paul, who gives up writing every other day and is only lured back to it by the fact that his stories are simply bursting out of his skull, I quit quite by accident and it took me a while to realize I was no longer a writer. In fact, I kept calling myself a writer long after I had ceased to be one, and it’s only been recently that I’ve faced up to the fact that I am no longer a writer.

My sister told me yesterday that, despite the fact that she’s very good at art, enjoys making art, and has studied art for many years, she does not currently consider herself an artist. “An artist is someone who makes art on a regular basis,” she said. By this definition, she argued, she is not an artist.

So, too, is a writer someone who writes on a regular basis.

I am not a writer.

I was, a few months ago. I wrote quite regularly. Every day, even. I couldn’t imagine myself not writing. I wrote some mornings before work. I always wrote after work. I wrote blog posts, I wrote short stories, I wrote poems, I edited my TBR-novel (it’s since been released), I wrote in my journal, I wrote letters.

Then I stopped.

In my defense, a lot of things got in the way. My workload at the winery doubled. I met someone new. My sister and I moved in together, and started a life together, which included much more cooking, gym visits, housecleaning, and grocery shopping than I had ever previously done. The holidays happened. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, my birthday. Between all of these things, I have had an immensely fulfilling few months and I am not in the least bit upset about the way any of this has turned out.

But during that whole time, I’ve written nothing more than a few introspective journal entries and a chapter or two of a novel draft. I stopped writing. Therefore, I am not a writer.

This, of course, is a short-term problem. I can become a writer again quite easily, as you might imagine. Just by writing this blog article, I’m taking a positive step back towards the ability to call myself a writer.

Because, you see, much in the same way as prayer, meditation, sports, art, or academic study, writing is a devotional act. You cannot be a writer unless you write. You cannot be an artist unless you make art. You cannot be a basketball player unless you play basketball. It just doesn’t make sense. Writing, like any craft, like an pursuit of excellence, requires devotion. You must do it regularly. You must do it with passion. You must do it with the same fervor you eat, breathe, and experience the world around you.

If you want to be a writer, whether amateur, freelance, professional, ghost, or National Book Award prize winner, follow these simple steps to success:

Write.

That’s all.