Thursday, April 05, 2007

My Back Pages

Bob Dylan released a song named My Back Pages on his Another Side album back in '64. Many of us have become familiar with the memorable refrain, "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now." I thought I would offer a little personal anecdote about my early compositions, how they matured along with me, and the relevance of it all to the POD phenomenon we participate in today.

I just pulled out my LP copy of Another Side of Bob Dylan to verify the exact title of the tune I wanted to reference. Slipped inside the shrink wrap on the front cover is a pencil drawing of the Bob I always liked best, the one posed on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. I showed it to my wife and made a comment about how she did not know that I used to be an artist. It wasn't long after 1964 that I ceased making pencil drawings of Dylan and Donald Duck (another favorite) and began writing in a spiral notebook. I traded in my pencil for a ballpoint pen because I hate the way pencil lead smears on your hand, and I rarely planned to erase or change anything I wrote, anyway. I still don't erase or change much of my compositions, preferring instead to have a certain mood come over me in which the words just flow like The Blues Brothers on a mission from God. I have never been prolific, and I never shall be. My compositions derive from special, brief bursts of lighthearted energy. I have no interest whatsoever in writing fiction or developing plots and characters. I just want to tell readers my stories in a manner that closely resembles the writing I most enjoy reading.

When I first began writing, I thought my compositions were truly magical. I thought that surely they must appeal to anyone with enough intelligence to become interested in my style. I was writing in a very special style that was truly unique to me. Who wouldn't enjoy reading my work? I was humorous, entertaining, joyful, and imaginative. I was all the things on paper that I never was in real life. I was so much older then. I knew it all. I was so certain that I did. I knew that one day my work would be published and I would become the acclaimed author that I had always thought I deserved to be.

All I had to do was wait for iUniverse to be founded so I would never have to deplete my bank account and use up all my precious garage space just to be self-published. There has been nothing mentioned up to this point in my story that could not be explained by a dump-truck-load of naivete. The problem is that it would take another forty years of maturity on my part to clearly perceive how naive I really was.

I completed my first book in about 1972. It was never published. It was unpublishable. It was so obtuse in nature that you had to be me to even understand it. It was a very bad book. The concept was brilliant. Remember, I said that, not some reader. The material deserved to see the light of day, but the actual product didn't. Even I knew it. I knew it so well that I did not even release the story to iU as my first book. This story was so special to me that I knew I wanted to practice first, so I released my second composition to a small audience as a series of articles and stories that dribbled into the public consciousness over a period of ten years. Even then, I knew I would one day re-edit the whole project into one cohesive book. As soon as I discovered iUniverse, I began that process. Close to a year later, Plastic Ozone Daydream was released on 12/30/00. My second book was written, edited, and released about sixteen months after Daydream, but its content was far more straightforward in a strictly nonfiction sense. The short version is that Ker-Splash arrived from the shallow water of my brain, but Daydream was a great white shark of imagination! If you happen to be into classic Corvettes, I promise you that Daydream will take you so far into deep space you will wave at Spock as you pass The Enterprise!

This brings us to my third book, The Last Horizon. On Amazon Horizon appears to have been whipped out in five months after Ker-Splash. The truth is more like thirty years! I always knew that one day I would take the time to completely rewrite and re-edit that first terrible book. It was a story I just had to tell. Since the late Sixties, I have been living my life in a pattern I discovered that has enriched my ability to understand modern American social behavior. I discovered what would become my own personal theory of personality. Of course I became a psychology major in college, and of course I enjoyed my psych and sociology courses far more than any other of my classes. Why not? I had formed my own theory of personality long before I took the course, Theories of Personality. I was home. This is who I was meant to be!

Believe it or not, the point of this post is not to hawk my books or tell you my life story. The point is to show you how naive we as authors can all be concerning our own work. Yes, I still think highly of my own books, and yes, I feel as if I have composed my books with a level of quality that even I would enjoy reading. Have I spent a little time editing my books? The second one didn't get a whole lot of time, but it didn't really need it, either. The others deserved the time and they got it. Why do I support iUniverse with my own wallet, as well as through the reviews on this blog? As a corporate, publishing partner, the company does its part. The corporate officers may not care grasshopper spit if an author's book sells well or not, and they certainly do not care why a particular iU book sells or not. They do, however, produce a quality product. As the computer nerds of old use to say, garbage in, garbage out, and that about says it all as far as iU books are concerned. If you give them a carefully edited and proofread manuscript, they will print you a professional-looking book. If you want the cover to be something other than a variation of some other iU book's cover, you have to give them the raw material. If you don't, you will probably see the same photo that has been used on your book's cover also on someone else's cover. You have to give a lot of your personal time and energy to the project or the computer nerds' refrain will apply to your book.

I think Bob was trying to say that he had recently matured at a time after he had thought he already knew all there was to know. That's exactly the way I felt when I began to edit The Corvette Chronicles into Plastic Ozone Daydream. I felt that way again when it was time to totally rewrite The Witch-Mortal Seeking into The Last Horizon, leaving a stinky title in the wastebasket along with the incoherent composition style. You know, I still cannot get through more than a little of Tarantula. I still have my copy from The Sixties. It's probably the only book more than two years old on my entire shelf that is still unread! Do you know why? It was just a contractual obligation that Bob got himself into at a time when both his brain and his marketability were both as hot as a lit stick of dynamite, but he really didn't have the free time to properly complete the project. Bob was totally allergic to punctuation when he wrote Tarantula! That incoherent wad of nonsense still outsells all of my books put together, even after forty years. The moral of this story is: Unless your name is Robert Zimmerman, you better write, rewrite, edit, and proofread the grasshopper's knees out of that iUniverse book you plan to show to the public. Otherwise, you're just embarrassing yourself.

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