December 11, 2014

In Which The Author Appreciates Why Amazon Might Sometimes Be Not So Bad, or, Why British People Can't Go Anywhere

Two months ago I wrapped up Conversations With Greatness, which for the last two years has been pretty much the only regular content on this blog. The plan was to start putting the time I'd been spending on CWG into actually writing on the blog more frequently, but this hasn't happened because my timing was terrible; in November I drove up to Edinburgh for my second festival of the year here, Edinburgh's Christmas, and since then I have pretty much not had time to do anything except Edinburgh's Christmas. (Also, eat sausages. Because I also haven't had time to buy food most days, except from the German market stalls on site.)

Another thing I haven't had time to do since Edinburgh's Christmas started is go to the bookstore, to do a favour for a friend back in London who wants to give a signed copy of my book to someone for a Christmas gift. (Side note: this is probably the best idea for a Christmas gift you will come across this year. It's certainly the best one I've ever heard in my life.) Since he's still in London and I'm in Edinburgh, it seemed like the easiest thing to do would be for me to buy one here to sign and send, and get reimbursed later. So today, two weeks after promising to do so, off I went to the Waterstones on Princes Street.

I picked this Waterstones specifically, because my book was listed as in stock on their website, so I figured I wouldn't have to awkwardly ask someone if they had my own book. (As an added element of shame, Alexander McCall Smith was just leaving when I got there, having spent the evening signing copies of his book that OTHER PEOPLE were buying.) But when I went searching for my book it was neither in the Scottish Fiction section where it has previously been shelved in this store (because I've checked, because I have a sad authorly existence), nor was it in the general fiction section. So there went my ingenious plan...
ME: This is embarrassing, but... I need to buy a copy of my own book, and I can't find it.

KINDLY SCOTTISH BOOKSTORE CLERK: Oh dear! What's your name?

ME [wondering what sort of tone adequately expresses "I don't expect you to know my name"]: Andrew Ladd.

KSBC: Okay... [taps at keyboard; frowns] What Ends, is it?

ME: That's the one.

KSBC: Is it... Scottish Fiction?

ME: Yes, but I checked there already and couldn't find it.

KSBC: Well, you should probably look upstairs in general fiction then. I expect it's been mis-shelved.

ME [knowing full well that it is not in general fiction, because I have already checked there too, but not wanting KSBC to feel unhelpful]: Oh, okay. Thank you.
I then went upstairs and pretended to check in general fiction again, considered asking another clerk but suddenly realised I didn't want to be the guy in the bookstore telling every employee I was an author, and finally returned downstairs to check the Scottish fiction section again, causing KSBC to cast a concerned glance in my direction from the till. After another few seconds exaggeratedly looking at the shelves for his benefit, I walked back over to him.
KSBC: Still no luck?

ME: No. Sorry.

KSBC [motioning to the clerk beside him]: Well, if you wait a second and ask my colleague, he'll probably be able to help. He's in charge of the Scottish Fiction section.

...a few moments pass...
GUY IN CHARGE OF SCOTTISH FICTION SECTION: So what was it you were looking for?

ME [now more self-conscious than ever about being the guy mentioning he's an author to every bookstore employee he sees]: It's, uh... What Ends. The book is called What Ends.

GICOSFS: Is there a question mark after that?

ME: No.

GICOSFS: Hmm. It says it's in stock. I know I've seen it. Weird.

ME [now regretting not telling him I'm the author in case KSBC has already mentioned it]: [nervous chuckle]

GICOSFS: Oh, hang on. It says it's in stock because it just came in this morning. I'll have to go get it from the back.
GICOSFS proceeded to disappear for what was probably five minutes but felt like fifteen. At one point I saw him leave the back room he had gone into and disappear into an elevator. I didn't even know this bookstore had an elevator. It was taking him so long I was really starting to regret not telling him I was the author, because if he thought I was just a normal customer this was probably no big deal, but if KSBC had mentioned it then GICOSFS was probably thinking, Jesus, who is this jackass who's sending me on a wild goose chase ten minutes before closing time to find him a copy of his own goddamn book, and won't even own up to it?

At last he reappeared clutching a copy of my book, and took me back to the till to pay. By this point I was kind of hoping that when I handed over my card he would notice my name and we could have a good laugh about it, so that I wouldn't leave with him still thinking I was jackass (or, worse, with me wondering if he thought I was a jackass)—but in the end he barely even looked at it. Then he gave me two extra stamps on my loyalty card, which he said was for "being so patient," and I was on my way.

Anyway, if you're reading, Guy In Charge Of Scottish Fiction Section at the Waterstones West End in Edinburgh: sorry if you thought I was a jackass. And thank you for being so helpful.

November 13, 2014

Burying the Hachette

From NYTimes.com: Amazon and Hachette Resolve Dispute
Amazon and Hachette announced Thursday that they had resolved their differences and signed a new multiyear contract, bringing an official end to a publishing dispute that blossomed into a major cultural and business brawl.
In an excruciating PR exercise that both companies realised was increasingly necessary, given how much money they were both losing and how petty it was starting to seem to even the most passionate observers on both sides, they expressed their satisfaction with the terms of their new agreement in breathtakingly vague, whitewashed pleasantries.
“This is great news for writers,” Michael Pietsch, Hachette’s chief executive, said in a statement. An Amazon executive, David Naggar, said Amazon was “pleased with this new agreement." [...] Neither Amazon nor Hachette would comment beyond their statements.
But the authors whose hackles were raised during the months-long negotiations are less sanguine.
“I’m relieved that Amazon and Hachette reached an agreement,” Mr. Preston [founder of Authors United, an organisation formed in response to the negotiations] said. But, he added: “If anyone thinks this is over, they are deluding themselves. Amazon covets market share the way Napoleon coveted territory.”
Mr Preston added. "I dunno, does that analogy seem forced? I feel like it seems forced. Time to kill some darlings!"
Authors United and the Authors Guild are in the midst of writing a lengthy letter to the Justice Department.
Of COURSE they are. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting.
AUTHOR 1: "Frankly, we are shocked and appalled that the government would stand by while an organisation like Amazon, whose business model alone seems sometimes to verge on antitrust, dismantles the publishing industry."

AUTHOR 2: Dismantles? Demolishes? Decimates.

AUTHOR 1: Decimates is a little melodramatic, don't you think?

AUTHOR 2: You can talk. You covet melodrama like Napoleon coveted territory.

AUTHOR 1: That analogy seems forced.

AUTHOR 2: YOU seem forced.

AUTHOR 1: I mean, why not go with Genghis Khan? Hitler? Napoleon feels awfully bland, really.

AUTHOR 3: I wrote a prologue to this preamble if someone wants to take a look!
N.B. I will still gladly accept a publishing deal with Hachette. Call me, Pietsch!

October 28, 2014

Correction of the Week

Seen on this HuffPo article about a man at Dallas airport who started trying to beat up another guy while yelling homophobic slurs:
Update: An earlier version of this story noted that Wonkette.com had reported actor Paul Rudd was part of the group that took down the homophobic bully. However, it apparently was not Rudd.
I have no idea whether the man being beaten up was actually gay, by the way. He also appears to first provoke the (drunk?) man by taking pictures of him with his phone. But the "reporting" here leaves a little to be desired, so it's hard to say. Probably because the newsgathering went like this:

HUFFPO CONTRIBUTOR: Okay, time to get to the bottom of what really happened he—OH MY GOD IS THAT PAUL RUDD? [*files report*]

Please bear with me as I (hopefully) ease back into blogging more regularly.

October 25, 2014

Epizztemology

Got the following through my letterbox last night:



They bill themselves as a "noodle and pizza house" so I guess the "noodle" part is as in, "you will have to use your noodle to figure out just what the heck we're talking about."

October 24, 2014

It's Hard to Keitel the Difference

Has anyone else noticed the striking resemblance between Academy Award–nominated actor Harvey Keitel, and the exiled first President of Lithuania Antanas Smetona?



Also, the Lithuanian Vikipedija entry on Smetona is suspiciously short compared to the English Wikipedia one.

Also also, the name of Smetona's prime minister was basically Lord Volemort.

October 21, 2014

Finished With Greatness

Several people have remarked to me over the past year that the overarching storyline in Conversations With Greatness since January or so—Karl Marx fading into obscurity—had a swan song–ish quality to it. And, indeed, those same people (and other regular readers) can't have failed to notice that the comic strip went quietly into the night two weeks ago. It was almost exactly ten years since the very first instalment appeared.

Back then, I was starting my second year of a sociology degree at McGill—my fourth year of university overall—and my friends found Conversations With Greatness cool in the overwhelmingly enthusiastic, you're-going-to-change-the-world way that only college students can really find things cool. (What happened to us, guys?) It was probably thanks to their encouragement that I kept it up, or in any event that I kept it up beyond, say, the first twenty or thirty strips, when it inevitably began to require more effort beyond the obvious jokes.

Then, a week or two shy of the two-year anniversary of the strip, I moved to London and took a job at an investment bank. This probably would have been a natural time to wind things down, between my first 9-to-5 and my new improv group and my capoeira classes. Certainly my new friends at the bank, while really lovely people, were not reading my web comic about the father of socialism. But the old Montreal crowd had a remarkably robust online presence back then, and I continued to blush at their enthusiasm, so I kept it chugging away.

Within a few more months I'd been accepted to grad school, so just a month or two shy of the three-year anniversary of the strip, I moved back to Boston and was plunged back into academe. Here I discovered that, shit, people in the program were Googling me, and when they found the comic some of them were wildly enthusiastic about it too, in the overwhelmingly dry and quietly admiring way that only grad students can really find things cool. (What happened to us, guys?) That was when I really revamped the CWG website, buying a URL for it, and coming up with a more professional way to present the strips, and opening the CafePress store for merchandise—which, seven years later, has still sold precisely nothing outside my immediate family.

By now I'd pretty much scraped down to the last of the sociology jokes (probably for the better), and on enrolling in my writing program I considered adding a famous dead author to the cast—Sartre or something—to keep things fresh, and also to give myself the same opportunity to vent homework frustrations that Marx et al. had given me back at McGill. In the end, though, I decided against it, because I wanted to keep the spirit of the strip intact; to keep indulging my nerdy social sciences side rather than letting the strip get taken over by whatever was forefront in my day-to-day life.

What's funny, though, looking back at the strips from grad school, is how much my day-to-day life took over anyway. This was the year of Obama's historic first campaign, so for two months I ran nothing but election jokes (featuring Canada as a recurring character). When there was a blizzard on my birthday, there was a blizzard in the strip. When my neighbour kept stealing my newspaper, someone stole Marx's newspaper. I even copied a pick-up line I used on the future Mrs Pundigrion, more or less verbatim. (I'm not going to link to that one.)

On the other hand, keeping up the strip also gave me a good reason to keep indulging my nerdy social science side, just as I'd hoped; when a new magazine piece or right-wing politician or book discussed Marx or Engels (or one of the other cast members), I read it. Proximately this was to find new material for the strip, but ultimately it was a way to stay connected to those happy years during my undergrad degree. (Not that I wasn't still happy, you understand. But nostalgia and all that.)

Anyway, it was only after I moved to New York, in the strip's eighth and ninth years, that I started to think seriously about winding things down. Partly I didn't want to drag it out long after it should have ended, à la the Simpsons. Partly ten years seemed like a nice round number. But mostly, to be honest, with another 9-to-5 and my book getting published, I really wanted to devote most of my spare time to writing.

On the other hand, I also didn't want to just end it; I wanted a satisfying denouement. (Blame the novelist in me.) That's how I landed on the fading-from-existence idea, because with 50 strips per year I could fade out Marx by 2% a week, and though at first that would be completely undetectable, by going back and looking at it later you'd be able to see the early signs of trouble—just like a good book.

And now, here we are, all finished. I'm not going to say that my life feels hugely different now, because, you know... Come on. It's a web comic that like thirty people read. (Except on the rare occasions when my dad forwards a particular one around his colleagues, usually because it's making fun of Steven Pinker. Then, maybe fifty people.) But looking back at the five hundred weeks of silly jokes—"The greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century acting like idiots," as one friend put it—I'm proud of the accomplishment. I still giggle at some of the older punchlines I'd forgotten writing. And somewhere, hopefully, a fresh-faced social science nerd is giggling too.

October 10, 2014