Monday, October 29, 2012

Figuring out Youtube

I think I have a handle on how to use youtube.

I have a sense at least.

Job number one was finding someone to help me out. It turns out that David Falkinburg, my friend and former student and one of the many people Sunny Frazier calls "the wonder boys," has a genius for film making. He put this teaser together and he's putting together the trailer for my book coming out in January. I cannot believe how good a trailer he's come up with. I'm floored really. Don't worry, I paid him for his efforts, and I think he could get a business going. This is just something he put together without me asking. The actual trailer is a work of genius.

The good thing is that youtube can be an incredible tool for anyone who wants to use it well. After a while, videos take on a life of their own and people you've never contacted or met begin to watch it and it spreads.

The difficulty is getting that first group of people to watch it. Here's what I think is my best method.

1. Promoting myself like crazy on facebook. I have hundreds of friends, and I hope they're willing to resend my images and get the word out so people can see my videos.

2. Gaining friends and followers on youtube itself. As I understand it, that's about the same method of gaining twitter followers and facebook friends. I have an account, and I'm willing to use it!

3. Getting the help of my legions of friends and students. I do have a lot of good friends, and I'm grateful to all of them. If I can get them to repost the video and get their friends to repost the video, then that will be something.

The thing is that I think youtube is probably the best tool for getting our names out there and getting people interested in our books. I'm a personable enough guy, but there's no way I can reach people on Trinidad. However, I bet there are people sitting behind a computer screen in Trinidad looking for something interesting online.

So here are two questions for my semi-weekly blog.

1. Would you please repost my teaser trailer on your twitter and facebook accounts?

2. What am I missing about youtube? What else should I be doing to promote myself on that medium?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Backing Out Into Traffic

My good friend, John Buckley, joined an MFA program in Michigan just as his first two books published. Here, he talks about the strange world of promotion while entering a new world. We miss you here in LA, John, but we love your success out there!

Today, he's guest blogging on my site. (By the way, contact me if you're interested in guest blogging about marketing).

Backing Out Into Traffic

I did it in reverse. I got my books published and then I went back to school. I thought seemingly going backwards meant I would have it all worked out.

I did look. And then I looked again. On paper, I would have plenty of time. One seminar Monday evening, one workshop Wednesday afternoon. Six hours a week, fewer hours in a classroom than when teaching four sections as an adjunct professor. Other than six hours, I would sleep, eat, write, cash stipend checks, and, most importantly, have plenty of time to promote my two forthcoming books, my solo collection, Sky Sandwiches (Anaphora Literary Press), and my collaboration with Martin Ott, Poets’ Guide to America (Brooklyn Arts Press). I’d be able to offer my chapbooks from Propaganda Press, Breach Birth and Leading an Aquamarine Shoat by Its Tail, as bonuses for anyone buying a full-length collection at the many, many readings I would arrange throughout the Upper Midwest.

And then I arrived in Ann Arbor.

What did I overlook? The MFA program director and my workshop professor both urged me to build ties with my fellow classmates, what I’ve now learned to call my cohort, the other writers with which I’ll apparently be grouped in perpetuity. That sounded good enough. Leaving Southern California had meant leaving behind the foundation of fans and fellows I had slowly constructed over the past year, and I needed someone in this new city to buy my books. But before I can even think of relying on my MFA community to invest in my creative output with dollars as well as workshop comments, I’ve had to start paying a new set of dues to this new union of minds and talents. That has meant spending Thursday afternoons drinking coffee and mingling in the Hopwood Room, Thursday evenings at readings for the Zell Visiting Writers Series, Friday evenings at Mark Webster Readings for second-year students, and Saturday evenings at J. Edgar Edwards Readings for first-year students like me. That has meant trying to build relationships with colleagues almost twenty years younger. That has meant tackling my usual social anxiety in a whole ‘nother context. But if I want to survive on Literature Island without getting voted off, I have to have a semi-successful social game.

What else did I overlook? Taking classes seriously takes serious time. I need to read a novel a week for my seminar. I need to read at least a poetry collection a week for my workshop. I need to develop more consistent, disciplined writing habits than I’ve had in the past. And if I’m going to have anything to offer of merit in class discussions and informal conversations, I need to spend my free time acquainting myself with the work of as many other famous, renowned, celebrated, previously-unknown-to-me writers as possible. Did you know Southern California’s not the only part of the world that has ever produced poets? It’s true. And if I’m going to sound less like a fraud than I feel that I am in my heart, if I’m going to justify my inclusion in one of the country’s best MFA programs, I need to read. There go Sunday, Tuesday, and every morning.

And money. Money, money, money. I expected to take out over twenty grand a year in student loans. I like student loans. You can defer paying them back until you graduate. You can deduct their interest from your taxes. I was going to take out so much in student loans, until the Powers That Be took another look at my financial profile and cancelled ninety percent of what they had previously offered. Apparently, I’m not allowed to take out more loans than my academics cost. And when the generous University of Michigan gives me a full tuition waiver and a modest but considerable stipend, it considers me to require very little else. So much for the massive road trips I had planned.

OK, so I’m very lucky. I got a free ride to a great program, and some extra money to boot. I get to be closer to my family. I get to watch trees change color again. Worse Mexican food; better Middle Eastern food. But suffice it to say that playing the MFA game is less conducive to launching a wide-ranging marketing blitz than I initially expected. Someday, I’ll have made my bones at the University of Michigan. Someday, I’ll have even better work collected and published, work that my Ann Arbor cronies rally behind, work that I can afford to push nationwide. For now, I look forward to AWP and to returning to Southern California for well-hyped guest appearances here and there. For now, I’m learning to love the new hustle, hoping my books in the box in the corner don’t grow stale.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Scandalous True Biopic of a Writer

I have a big problem with writers’ biopics. I haven’t seen many that I like. The problem is that the working life of a writer is fascinating inside the mind of the writer, and the greatest portion of what happens in the writer’s life is internal.

But you can’t film that, so to make the film dramatic, filmmakers find ways to show why writers are flawed. Of course, they’re flawed. Everyone is flawed. If we were to choose the worst moments of everyone’s life, everyone would look like a villain.

Tom and Viv is a good example. T. S. Eliot is lambasted for institutionalizing his wife. Institutionalization was almost certainly the wrong thing to do for her. However, the argument of the movie is that because Eliot was a poetic genius, he should have had the preternatural knowledge that the best psychologists of his day did not have, and he should have used our modern understanding of psychology to cure her. On his own. Against her doctor’s advice. Because he wrote “The Wasteland.”

A damn unsatisfying movie if you ask me, but what is a filmmaker to do. Who we are as writers happens on the inside. Everything else is just extra.

100 years from now, what kind of film would they make of me? I’d certainly come off as a gregarious, messy man-child, and that’s in great part true. But the truth is that I’ve always felt that the real me exists some place way down deep beyond the jokes. The real me is someone who likes nothing more than to contemplate life and put those thoughts on paper. I wonder how any of us would come off.

By the way, I loved Midnight in Paris. It was by far the best movie of last year. Do you have any writers’ movies that you like?

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Little Inspiration

I'll be back with vlogs as soon as I can, but for today, a little meditation on inspiration.

I feel most myself when traveling. I'm excited, energetic, creative. I often need travel for inspiration. We all have our tricks, and mine is to get out.

This is especially true for my two favorite characters, Robert Mann and Harrison. Robert Mann has to travel the world finding interesting ways to kill people. Harrison works for the foresty service and travels through California's natural places. He's the protagonist for my forthcoming collection, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods. I have a rule for Harrison. Each story has to have magic.

There is plenty of magic in nature, but you can't write about nature straight. I can't anyway. Not any more than I can write about love or death or happiness straight. The magic happens when the worlds of nature and man collide. So I went looking for that this weekend and ran into it again and again.

I found it in San Simeon when my wife shouted for me to stop. Off on the side of the road were zebra grazing with cattle as though they belonged on the California coast.

These are all that remain of William Randolph Hearst's private zoos, the legacy of a man's vanity. They've been let out to roam the hill and mingle with Hearst's other herds. It's magic to see zebra running around even if they aren't natural. Watching them though, I realized that they're not natural, but they feel American, just as mustangs brought from the old world feel America, just as Russian Thistles -- which we call tumbleweeds-- do too.

We drove out to the Carrizo Plain after that and watched the tarantulas playing in the grass. They're all over if you watch out for them, and they're alien and beautiful. They look so deadly, but they're harmless enough out here especially if you give them room.

Harrison's magic won't happen though until they come into our world. A tarantula in the grass is beautiful. A tarantula walking across the road has the potential for inspiration.

Ann and I were amped up after that and decided to go off to Sequoia National Park, which for my money is more beautiful than Yosemite. It's mid-October now and people are gone. Campgrounds lie empty.

There's something about a place people have abandoned. That's why we all flock to Stonehenge. It's eerie and strange, and the ghost of the people seem to be around you. It why the Greeks did all they did to create culture.

Greek culture is a result of their reaction to ruins. The Greek had a civilization in Mycenae and Tiryns. Something happened, we're not sure what, but they abandoned their great buildings built from massive stone blocks, and they entered a dark age. At some point, the Greeks looked around and saw what they lost. They were inspired by the great buildings standing empty, and they decided to rebuild. The culture we know as ancient and classical Greece was built -- and it was built as the overwhelming emotional reaction to a place that had been abandoned by people.

In the empty campground, you can hear all the summer-time noises still. It's strange to walk through the separate campsites with their tables. Here and there, people have carved their names into tabletops -- tribute to the fact that they existed and that they were bored too. What could be so magical as seeing the forest already taking back the campground. And if you know where to walk, you can find a grove of roses nearby that someone years and years ago planted and abandoned. They grow wild now, taking over the top of a hill.

It was a long day of inspiration, but how better to spend 16 hours? What about you? When you need inspiration, what are your best techniques?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Should I Vlog?



David Falkinberg -- Director, editor, artistic genius
Michelle Dougherty -- Axe murderer
Jeffrey Graesley -- Axe murderer
Elder Zamora -- Bob Dylanesque INXSesque card holder
Daniel Cuesta -- Lettuce Eater
Scott Creley -- Pop up dude
Ann Brantingham -- Feet
Archie the Dog Brantingham -- Thing John steps over right at the beginning of the video
John Brantingham -- Johnny Danger

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Alternative Promotion

My theory is that everything we do promotes everything else. My teaching sells books. My poetry sells mystery. My mystery sells poetry and on and on.

I had a really interesting week. Daniel Cuesta, one of my former students and current friends, has been making broadsides for my poetry, which I now sell to help support one of my other projects, The San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival (, check it out!). He made a broadside of one of my poems, "In the Imperial War Museum, February 2, 1991" a while ago. It's a sonnet poem about when my wife and I started dating.

I'm really luck to have such a talented artist doing this for me. Now Daniel has done a print for another poem. This one is about driving in L.A. and the importance of swearing while you're doing it, "The Art of Merging."

If you're wondering, this poem is NOT autobiographical. Although I do swear on the freeway. All rational people do.

I'll be selling these to help fund the festival as well, but it's not a completely selfless act by me and I hope not for Daniel either. As we sell this work and promote it, that's a moment to talk about my suspense novel (Mann of War coming out in January from Oak Tree Press). 

I've been doing all sorts of things like this to promote the book. The new idea, a business card that says "Murder is easy" on one side and gives the details of the book on the other. If I leave these around everywhere with the "Murder is easy" slogan facing up, I think people will look at the book information on the other side.

So what do you think? What are your best alternative marketing tools for your books?

By the way, thank you Daniel, I've never been so honored!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Posse Posts

A very quick post today. Speaking of small-press marketing, if you want a good site, check out Sunny Frazier's Posse Posts on her website. She scours the internet for the best advice. Read her suspense books too. I love them and my students do too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On the Radio

One of the first things that was alluring about the woman who would become my wife was that she had been a DJ on college radio. I met her when I was twenty and out on my own for the first time in my life. I was living in central London, meeting all sorts of interesting people at the time, but she was the most interesting.

(This is Ann today. The shorter one is my dog, Archie.)

Photo: John is a part of art.
(This is me today.)

Like me, she was an ex-patriot who was out for culture. She was an artist and seemed to have an endless knowledge of literature, painting and sculpture. Most excitingly, she'd been a DJ on college radio back in her USC days and had interviewed musical legends such as Marc Almond (of Soft Cell) and Mike Score (of Flock of Seagulls).

And she'd been on the freaking radio!

There was a cache to being on the radio, and there still is.

In my quest to sell my small press books, I've been lucky enough to get an interview with Krista Kedrick on A Novel Idea live at 2pm on Sunday October 7th.

It's a necessary and important part of the promotion process, and I need to do more of it. How else can you reach out and give your readers the feeling of who you are? How else can you reach so many people?

Well, actually there are other ways, but this is the freaking radio -- the home of Edward R. Murrow, Enrico Caruso, Cole Porter, and David Lee Roth. This is where authors go when they grow up.

 (From Diamond Dave's Wikipedia page)

So the pressures on, but I'm not nervous about it. I'm just excited. I've actually been on the radio a couple of times, but never like this, never indulging in the narcissistic pleasures of a single author interview for a half hour.

The game plan for the radio from now on: I'm going to target as many shows as possible and try to spread the word. Maybe next year, when things lighten up a bit, I'll think about pitching my own show. I've emailed a company about that. I could leave blogging forever and talk to people.

The only problem with both of these plans is that when I hear my voice, it kills the delusion I have that I have a rich baritone that's reminds people of James Earl Jones in an advertisement for molasses.

Anyway, please tune in and ask questions or make comments. It should be fun.

Here's a question to all my blog readers. Do you think it would make sense for me to drop the blog and do an internet radio show instead?