Manifest: A Computer and a Story (GUEST POST)

Will Entrekin is an author and publisher who I've known for about a year now. I consider him a both a friend and ally in the publishing world, which is why I signed on with his publishing company, Exciting Press, in April of 2012. Will and I spoke on the phone recently and much of our conversation was dominated by talk of writing and publishing. Since you couldn't be there, I asked Will if he'd write a guest post for me; and, like the mensch that he is, he delivered in spades. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you...

Manifest: A Computer and a Story

By Will Entrekin

Back when I first started writing, two decades ago now, books and publishing were simple. There was really only one path for authors to take if they hoped that their work might actually find readers: agents to editors at publishers to buyers for bookstores to shelves to readers. It was a process that had developed over decades, and arguably reached its culmination with the heyday of Barnes & Noble in the 80s. Ironically, around the time I began to write.

Back then, it was pretty much the only way. “Pretty much” because there was one other option, one other way to make a book. It wasn’t really much of one: an author could enlist publishing services. Sometimes reputable, mostly not, there was little more involved than printing, often resulting in multiple cases of books moldering in their own authors’ garages and basements, mainly because bookstore buyers never purchased those book for their shelves, one reason among many those sorts of services earned not-so-good reputations.

Twenty years later, that’s no longer the case. Thank goodness.

It took a long time for that system to take hold, but in less than five years, a new one not only emerged but nearly singlehandedly dominated the old system.

I’m speaking, of course, of Kindle.

Kindle didn’t exist when I realized I needed to go to grad school to become a better writer, and because it didn’t, Amazon wasn’t part of our discussion when we studied the literary marketplace and how publishing worked. The first Kindle was announced the year I graduated, but wasn’t perfected for another two generations. Now, it’s almost two years perfected, and it’s the single largest reason authors are now able to not only subsist, but thrive.

It’s also the reason I was able to find Martin’s work, though not the reason I’m happiest to work with him, which is: Martin’s a great fucking writer.

I discovered Martin through his manifestowhich is something that anyone who hopes to succeed in this great time of writing and reading flux requires. It’s about vision and articulation, drive and direction, all in one go. Manifesto is a cool word, as it includes “manifest.” We writers manifest. We make reality. We are the tellers of tales, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Mainly because of Kindle, but also because of tablets and the Internet and digital distribution, authors’ options are no longer binary. We no longer need agents and bookstore buyers, nor printing presses and garages. All we need is a computer and a story, but knowing what to do with what we’ve got requires some savvy, some willingness to take things on ourselves. Which is why it helps to work with others.

Late last year, I founded Exciting Press. As a publisher, however, we aim to be less middleman than partner. Frictionless. Good authors generally have vision, and all I’ve wanted is to help authors manifest that vision.

I knew Martin had vision when I read Inside the Outside. There’s a sense of vision in the novel, a sense the author knows what he’s doing, word by word, page by page. From exciting opening to inevitable conclusion. Great novels convey some sense that their authors know far more about those novels’ worlds than are contained by its pages. There’s a sense of bigness about them, a sense that the story of that novel is one among many occurring in that world. A sense of other stories.

Like “Footsteps.”

Set in the same storyverse as Inside the Outside, "Footsteps" shares a character in common, but moreso, it shares the same vision. It serves less to extend the story than it does to simply give readers a slightly wider glimpse of the world.

As authors, I’m not sure we can hope to accomplish much more.

Besides, of course, reaching more readers.

That’s always a hope, and I think one of the greatest reasons to work together. It’s something I hope for from Exciting Press, that we authors can work together to build influence, reputation, and readership, that a publishing company can be more than simply the sum of its authors and books.

My vision for Exciting Press might be summed up by two popular aphorisms: “You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep” and “You will know me by my work.”

I’m happy to have Martin’s vision coincide with my own going forward, producing quality books and stories, and hoping all the while they find and excite readers who enjoy them.

The Evolution of "Footsteps"

In April of 2012, I signed a deal with Exciting Press to publish six short stories.

And on June 18, 2012, "Footsteps," the first of those stories was published. The story follows Rusty Hankover, a young man who hates his abusive father and loves rich women's feet in equal measures. When Rusty's dad comes up missing, his tabloid-loving mom is convinced he's become the latest victim of the Back Alley Cannibal. A chance encounter with a woman and her daughter will ultimately reveal the dark, grisly truth.

Many of my readers will recognize the theme of cannibalism in "Footsteps," as it plays a central role in my debut novel Inside the Outside. I first became fascinated with writing cannibal literature in 2001, while I was studying English at California State University, San Bernardino. I was taking a humanities course called Interoperation and Values, which, among other things, illuminated the world of corporate farming. I was struck by the abuse animals are made to endure in such farms and, having discovered this emotional chord, decided I wanted to articulate it in a story. I quickly realized, however, that (unless your George Orwell) writing about farm animals wasn’t a particularly dynamic idea.

During that same quarter CSUSB, I was also taking a creative writing class. The professor assigned us a sci-fi story to read about about aliens enslaving humans; upon reading it, she explained that the story was an allegory. This was the first time I could remember being introduced to the idea of an allegory, which Wikipedia defines as a literary device that "communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation." I loved this and decided I could use it to articulate the emotional chord I'd felt about farm animals by writing an allegorical story about people eating people.

I began brainstorming a short story idea about a cannibal farm. The more I developed it the bigger it got until, eventually, it became too big for my still-developing skill set. Before I gave up on the short story, I'd come up with a homeless mother and daughter, both of whom were cannibals. The mother killed people in order to feed herself and her daughter; the daughter didn't know there was anything strange about eating people, because it's all she knew. They weren't the main characters in my cannibal farm story, but they were the ones who stuck with me the longest. I didn't know what to do with them, but I knew that, eventually, I'd revisit that mother and daughter again.

A few years later, during a trip to Las Vegas, I was sitting in the dressing room of Rampage, while my girlfriend tried on clothes. As I sat there, it occurred to me that nobody knew who I was there with; for all they knew, I was just sitting in there by myself staring at feet beneath the dressing room doors.

Amused by this idea, I decided to write a short story about a guy who hangs out in women's dressing rooms under the pretense that he's waiting for his wife or girlfriend, but really he's just being a voyeur. I found that while I liked the premise, there wasn't enough there to turn it into a compelling story. So, like a mad scientist, I decided to combine the idea of the voyeuristic foot fetishist with the idea about the cannibal mother and daughter to see what that story would look like.

And that's how "Footsteps" was born.

Not long after I wrote it in 2005, "Footsteps" was published in The Pacific Review. It was the last short story I wrote, before concentrating my efforts on becoming a novelist. To my mind, it's always been the stepping stone that led to Inside the Outside, so I'm thrilled that fans of my novel can now see where my fascination with cannibal literature began.