Well, hello there!

I have moved the blog and all related to it officially here to WordPress, and am happy to have done so. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my publications and all information about them a little more coherent using this medium.

I suppose it’d be best if I started this off with some good news:

My Bookish Ways gives The Troupe a glowing review, saying:

Haunting, terrifying, and achingly beautiful, The Troupe is a book to be savored, and it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Very highly recommended.

We Love This Book says:

This is one of those fantasy books that wears its genre origins lightly.  You have a very engaging and accurate-seeming look at variety theatre of the time, into which comes folk tale, elementals, bad creatures and a lot more, in such a way the general reader couldn’t really object.  And for the fantasy fan Bennett drops in everything very satisfactorily, with a gothic-tinged, low-key American style of legend.

I am just fine with the general reader not having anything to object to.

And Niall Alexander does a great job shilling for my first two books, Mr. Shivers and The Company Man, and though he didn’t quite like the first half of The Troupe, at the start of the second half…

What follows is an exhilarating story about family, and friendship… about love, legacy and inheritance. An odd, off-beat narrative that is down-to-earth and utterly unearthly all at once.  The Troupe is easily Robert Jackson Bennett’s most intimate and accessible novel so far.

So, good things!

Anyone speak German

Because I have no idea what Klebrina is saying here, but it seems to be kind.

She gave it four stars, and this part right here sounds pretty good to me!

Der Autor ist jedoch so talentiert und ideenreich, dass ich auf viele weitere Bücher von ihm gespannt bin.

See? SEE? I’m talentiert AND ideenreich. (Idea rich?) That oughta show YOU, DAD.

Okay, so.

Well. This has been interesting.

In the past three weeks The Company Man hit the shelves, I attended the 2011 World Horror Convention here in Austin, and, in what has probably been the biggest and most pleasant surprise, I found out MR. SHIVERS has been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award.

So it’s all been quite the trip. I’m quite tired but very pleased and contented with everything. The conference went swimmingly, and I managed to sign and give away nearly every remaining copy of MR. SHIVERS I had. In addition – and I should note that I wasn’t there to hear this – I am told that on the “Horror Without Stephen King” panel, my name was tossed out in answer to the question, “Who do you think the next Stephen King is?” Which is all very stunning.

I had a great time, but now I think I need to be off to bed.

I guess it’s sort of like a type of mushroom, really…

Got a call yesterday from my parents. They’d been at an HEB, which for all of you outside of Texas and Louisiana is the local dominant chain of supermarkets, and they’d purchased something they never expected to find there. It may not surprise you to hear that said thing was Mr. Shivers, but it certainly surprised me.

This was very pleasant news. I’d no idea that HEB was carrying it. As of now I’m unable to personally confirm that the book is indeed there, however. But if it is, who knows what other store could be stocking Mr. Shivers? It seems to be popping up everywhere.

———-

Moved a lot of plants around in the backyard yesterday. We are novice gardeners, and as such, we did not exactly use foresight in building the beds. It’s not that good of an idea to allow a knockout rose, a big and vigorous plant that needs a lot of sun, to grow directly next to a vitex, an enormous shrub that will eventually hover over the majority of the bed sort of like the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion. The vitex will eventually provide a lot of much-needed shade… for which the rose has no use at all. So I did a bit of shuffling. My back is terribly sore, but I’m mostly pleased.

One of the things about living in Central Texas is that, if you’re gardening, you need to pick very hardy plants that can weather a variety of climates. Because it will be blisteringly hot and bone-dry for weeks at a time, until the clouds converge on you like a bunch of thugs rolling a drunk, and it will rain and rain and rain until everything’s flooded. And then in the winter it will freeze and possibly ice or snow. So, you will need plants that can go without water, and also plants that will not die from too much water, and also plants that can tolerate winter.

As you can guess, this is very difficult, and we are still figuring it out.

A place I never expected to be

Yesterday I accompanied the Darling Wife on one of her (many, many) charity endeavors. She takes an elderly gentleman to Walmart to shop for his groceries, and it’s a testament to her unfailing moral compass that she smiled serenely and nodded through his rather salty (read: wildly inappropriate) jokes and comments while also suffering crippling prenatal nausea. The fact that she does this every two weeks is totally amazing to me. She is Best Thing.

I was there mostly to be a pack mule, as it’s very difficult to haul the gentleman’s groceries up the five floors of his government-supplied housing to his apartment. However, I did have a minor, selfish, ulterior motive in accompanying the DW to Walmart, and I was able to act on it when we got in the very long line to check out.

I meandered over to the book section and glanced over the titles there. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, since I’d heard about this, but hearing about something is very different from realizing it is true. I didn’t see anything in the fantasy section, nor in the “new arrivals” section. But when I went over to the thrillers section, chock-full of Janet Evanovich, Clive Cussler, and James Patterson, I found this:

(You will see it in the very middle, with the big red symbol on the front.)

This is something I had known was coming, a little. The fact that it was coming at all was very unexpected, however.

Now, as you can guess, very few novels appear in supermarket bookshelves. They are almost always highly commercial novels, the kind of books whose numbers require powerful calculators and big, expansive spreadsheets. They are sports car novels. Corvette novels. Porsche novels. Novels that appear on many lists, often in the top spot.

And now, sitting next to them, is my ugly little duckling.

I don’t know what kind of car it is. The metaphor utterly fails when it gets to Mr. Shivers.

When I wrote Mr. Shivers, I did not think it commercial in any way. It was a weird, audaciously dark novel with a magical realist/fantastical/horror/whatever-the-reviewer-wants-to-call-it-that-day plot and some very slight literary aspirations. These sorts of things hardly make a blip on anyone’s radar. If they are lucky, they’re admired by a few, and then retreat into the shadows. If they are not lucky, then they are instantaneously forgotten.

When Orbit showed interest in the book, and later began to publicize it with the sort of confidence one gives to sure-fire-hits, I was very grateful, but also confused and doubtful. “Really?” I would say when I heard their predictions for the novel’s performance. I suppose it now needs to be said that I am, regrettably, a constant Doubting Thomas. Each day I am surprised that the sun has come up, and then again when it manages to navigate its way back down.

So, needless to say, the book section at Walmart was not a place I ever expected to find Mr. Shivers. I even took the front copy and flipped through it in disbelief.

Some of you are probably wondering why it is there. Is Mr. Shivers a huge, mammoth, James-Cameron-style blockbuster hit? I’ll be honest with you, and say that no, it is not. I don’t have any definite sales yet (those take ages to produce), but I’ve heard that it’s selling well for a debut. But “well for a debut” does not exactly mean offshore-Caribbean-account-type sales. Not nearly the sort of sales that the novels below and above and to either side of Mr. Shivers in the picture above rack up. And really, if those sales had indeed been netted, don’t you think I would have told you about it? Probably in all caps, with far too many exclamation points?

So if Mr. Shivers is not an unstoppable juggernaut of a smash hit, why is it there? From what I can understand, the reason is simply that someone at Walmart liked it. As always in the publishing industry, sometimes that’s all it takes. If someone likes a story enough, they may do some very unusual things for it. Sometimes they agent it. Sometimes they publish it. Sometimes they get all their friends to read it. And sometimes they stock it next to all the other international bestsellers like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Now, a second question – does merely stocking Mr. Shivers at Walmart guarantee its success? Is this the touch of Midas himself that we’re witnessing? To use some colloquial phrasing, has daddy done made it rain for the fledgling Bennett household?

The answer is a resounding no, no, a thousand times no. Nothing, nothing, nothing is guaranteed in the publishing industry. There is no Midas touch, no sure-fire guarantee, no Lehman-Brothers-style return on our investment. The book still needs a lot of fan support, word of mouth (this would be where you come in, dear reader, as well as myself), and a hell of a lot of luck for it to be an undeniable hit.

But this development is very nice. It is a Good Thing. And it will help.

So what will happen? What does this really mean, overall? I don’t know. I’m not yet sure if this will mean anything, in the long run. As always, the writer’s position is far more distant and detached than anyone would care to admit.

So I’ll put my ear to the ground from time to time and to try and catch any distant rumblings, and I’ll report them here as best I can. And for now I’ll ruminate on how very odd this whole trip has been so far, and how many odd places it has taken us, and wonder where it might be taking us next.

Win Mr. Shivers in Paperback

In celebration of Mr. Shivers being released in paperback this month, Orbit has a fun little contest set up where you can make your own hoboglyph, send it in, and receive a paperback copy of Mr. Shivers. (I believe this contest may be UK-only, however.) They have a list of glyphs used in the book put up right now (though I am not sure what a “neighbourhood” is; I believe it is a breed of dog over there) but it shouldn’t be hard to adapt them to modern society. Sounds like fun!

Some will notice the lack of bloggeration going on up in here at the moment. This is because I’ve recently been editing the vaudeville book, and have been pretty much mixed up in that 100%. I multitask poorly.

Publishing is an odd business. I keep thinking of science fiction stories where a character is shot into space at near-light speed, and the faster he accelerates the more the things back home fade. Publishing, in a way, is the exact opposite. You keep doing more and more things, but rather than fading behind you after several years they just keep happily continuing on. In this example, I wrote Mr. Shivers about four or five years ago, and in a very real way it’s still my primary endeavor, even though I’ve written two big projects since. Time, for writers, has a way of slowing down as their lives speed up.

Armadillocon was an extraordinary amount of fun. I’m a brand new writer, so I didn’t expect anyone to know me at all, so I was very surprised to find people had read it or, more commonly, had heard many good things about it. Even so, I didn’t expect anyone to have any to sign, and in that I was right – the only person who had a copy was the gentleman from the convention who’d invited me. So I brought all the paperback copies of Mr. Shivers I’d gotten from Orbit and just started passing the suckers out. I put up a big sign that said FREE BOOKS and people lined up to take them or get them signed right away (though some were suspicious about it, thinking I was somehow tricking them).

Signings for new writers are often an invitation to brutality. So are public readings. I’m not sure how many people do them today at all, since so few people ever come. I was asked by friends and family when Shivers came out if I’d do one over at Book People, a popular indie Austin seller, but by all accounts it’s extremely difficult to get one going if you don’t have some kind of a strong following. And if you don’t, you wind up sitting in an empty shop, making painful smiles at people who walk by very quickly, and do not make eye contact.

Done… but not really

Last night I finished editing the first-run pages of The Company Man. Now I’ll be sending them back to Orbit, and later down the line we’ll be seeing bound galleys, and so on and so forth.

One of the things that made the largest impression on me is how different of a book it is than Mr. Shivers. This was something I hadn’t really noticed when I was still in the trenches with it, so to speak. The style and voice are both completely different, and it tries to do very different things as well. That may be what pleases me most about it.

I am tempted to assume that the cause of this difference is that Mr. Shivers is a book I wrote when I was 22, whereas for The Company Man, much of the rewrites (which were extensive) were only done this past winter. I have been writing, critiquing, and editing pretty much constantly since Shivers’s publication, and I now have enough distance on it that I can see where things have changed.

Is it a better book than Mr. Shivers? I’ll go ahead and say yes, I think it might be. I won’t say that it’s because I wrote Mr. Shivers when I was a dumb kid and I was still figuring this all out. The reason behind this is that it’s perfectly obvious that I am still very much a dumb kid who is figuring this all out. And I’m happy to admit it, too. Trying to understand what I’m doing and experimenting is part of the fun. I think it was Gene Wolfe who once said to Neil Gaiman that he’s never felt he’s gotten the hang of this “novel writing thing,” and no one ever really does. It’s difficult every time. I think if it starts to feel like it isn’t, and you can just sort of put one together without thinking about it, then that would take a lot of the fun away.

I think I might have been more aware of what I could and couldn’t do in The Company Man. And, as I read it over the past weeks, I think a fair bit of it may have worked out rather well.

INTERESTING EDITING ANECDOTE: When I edit or write, I become extremely distracted, almost to the point that I walk into walls and things.

On Sunday, I tried to make a pot of coffee on my stove-top cappuccino maker. After doing some more work, I returned to find the coffee looked much more like water than coffee. I wondered if it was broken, so I let it cool and then opened it up and immediately realized I’d put no grounds in. Damn.

I corrected this and then set it back down on the stove. I left to do more work, then walked back after about ten minutes or so, but I didn’t hear the pot bubbling over. I entered the kitchen to find one range bright red hot – but this was not the range I’d put the coffee on. I’d started the wrong range.

So, I grabbed the coffee pot, not realizing that the metal handle had been hovering over a red hot range for about ten minutes, and promptly burned one finger.

Sometimes writing is the easy part. It’s the side-effects that are going to kill me. Or burn down the house.