Monday, January 26, 2015

Indie and Proud!

While I am not trying to be a best-selling author, and I am trying to focus more on my second novel, I am still a bit unsatisfied with my first novel, Out in the Garage, and feel that I need to make some changes to it, which might be a faux pas, but I don't really care.

Nowadays, I am guessing by the massive amount of money that goes into publishing books, authors, especially ones who are published by the big-time publishers, don't tend to make changes to books once they are published; however, that has not always been the case. Novels such as Ulysses and The Picture of Dorian Gray have both had changes made to them by the authors to improve them in some way. While I would not put myself in the same category as Joyce or Wilde, if they can get away with it then so can I.

Perhaps I have tried to focus on being business-minded in the past, but I am moving away from the idea of seeing my work as products to be sold and moving toward the perspective of seeing them as works of art. While some people out there might think that is bullshit, or whatever--just an excuse to write in a crappy or obscure way--I believe that current publishing standards tend to place style over substance and saleability over originality. Not that the people who are making big bucks on best-selling books don't deserve it, it's just that I don't believe that I will ever be among those people, so rather than continuing to try to fit that mold, I am going to go in my own direction.

That is why I am not getting my MFA. I won't disparage those that do have them, or those that are pursuing them--as I do know some great writers who have them--but I don't believe it is really necessary to have one to be a great writer. In fact, from what other great writers have told me, including some with MFAs, the real trick to is to study closely how your favorite writers do it and then apply what you learn to your own work. That is what I am doing instead. Reading a lot, and closely, and attempting to learn from what I read.

If I do get another degree, it will be a Ph.D. in literary theory, which is why I am working to finish my thesis (for those that don't know, I graduated by taking extra classes). However, I did take my thesis hours, and they are technically still in progress, and I feel like I owe it to myself to finish it--if for no other reason. Maybe I won't ever get a Ph.D., but I still want to be able to put my finished thesis on my resume. I also have some papers that I want to fix, polish, and try to get published in some peer-reviewed journals, as I believe I have some good ideas, and now, from teaching and grading, I am honing my editing and polishing skills. 

For now, I am hoping to find a full-time job, settle into that for a while, and see what happens. Maybe I will like it and never go back to school, but maybe in five or ten years, I will be ready for a more advanced degree. I don't know, but one advantage of working full time is having more of a clear-cut division between work and free time, so that when I am not at work, I am free to work on whatever I want, like my thesis or my fiction.

Anyways, I have been considering changing Out in the Garage for a while, and even had that second edition published for a while. That was my attempt to appease people. Now, I want to appease myself. I have considered other, vastly different, versions of the novel, but instead I have settled on making some small changes to the existing text to cut out some distractions and to make it flow a bit better. In fact, I have more or less already made the changes. There might be a few more coming, but what I changed was fairly straight-forward and did not require a lot time. Here is a list of what will be different in the new version (when it is released):
  • I cut out some unnecessary description from the first couple of pages as it was distracting and didn't really fit with the narration through the rest of the story
  • I cut out the flashbacks from the first two chapters, as they added what is, essentially, unnecessary background information that is more or less implied by the plot
  • I made some other small changes here and there that will probably be unnoticeable unless you do a side-by-side comparison
  • I divided the book into three parts instead of the two "sides": the sides things was too gimmicky and there is a natural division in what used to be Side B of the text, which, by making the division clear, it helps make the plot and time-frame clearer 
  • I am making some formatting changes to reflect higher professional standards, including putting only one space between sentences
That is pretty much it. I am toying with the idea of changing the cover, but we'll see if that happens or not. I am going to leave the description the same, as I am more or less happy with it and it does a pretty good job of catching people's attention and setting up the plot. This approach, to me, makes the most sense, since it won't change much for those who have already read it or are reading it, and they hopefully won't feel cheated; however, it will hopefully entice more people who check it out to buy it.

This way I can make myself happy and finally lay the project to rest, which is my goal by making these changes. Rather than let it continue to nag and bother me, I am going to make the effort to do something. Maybe this makes me a revisionist, or whatever, but I figure that, since I have already put like ten years into it, putting another few hours of work isn't going to make much more of a difference time-wise, and it will, in my opinion, make the book a bit more accessible without selling out my principles. After all, I am indie and proud!

A Defense of Sam Smith (by a Tom Petty Fan)

Admittedly, I am not a fan of Sam Smith--not that I dislike his music, it's just not my thing. Now that it has come to light that the popular British singer has to pay royalties to Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for the similarities between Smith's song, "Stay with Me" and Petty's song, "I Won't Back Down," it doesn't really set me against Smith, either.

(follow the link to hear a comparison between the two songs.)

Now, don't get me wrong, I am a Tom Petty fan, and as such, that is where my loyalties lie; however, it is entirely possible that Smith and his co-songwriters didn't know that they were plagiarizing the Petty/Lynne composition, and that it is an honest coincidence. After all, this was entirely settled out of court, and they readily acknowledged the similarities.

There are Only so Many Notes

As a songwriter myself (though not nearly as good or as successful as either party involved), I can surely relate to this situation. You want to think that what you are writing is your original idea--your lyrics, your melodies--but, with a limited number of notes, scales, and chords, there are only so many melodies out there to capture and call your own.

In fact, western music is structured around only 12 total notes, so there is bound to be some overlap--especially when only certain combinations of those 12 notes seem to really widely connect with people. According to this article, there are literally thousands of songs based off of four chord progressions.

Not to mention, with the inception of hip hop, sampling others' songs--that is, actually taking a snippet of someone's song and using it in your own--has become a tradition. While some purists are against this, many would argue that there is an art to it, and in fact, even though a song features a sample from another song, it doesn't make it any less musical. Just don't let P. Diddy (or whatever the Hell he goes by nowadays) sample any more Led Zeppelin songs.

Seriously though, if Diddy can get away with that, and sampling is generally considered okay, why vilify Smith for an honest coincidence?

He is (By Far) Not Alone

It's not like he pulled a Vanilla Ice.

As you are probably aware, Vanilla Ice's song, "Ice Ice Baby," contains a sample of the Queen and David Bowie song, "Under Pressure." However, he didn't get permission to use it, and in spite of Vanilla Ice's denial--at the time--he was still successfully sued by Queen, and has to pay royalties to the band for his obvious copying of their song.

And Vanilla Ice is by far not the first to be accused of plagiarism. In fact, some of the biggest rock stars of all time have also been accused of it.

For example, Led Zeppelin has been accused of plagiarizing the opening to "Stairway to Heaven" from the Spirit song, "Taurus." While the courts have yet to make a ruling on this case, one can listen to the songs and see where the comparison is justifiable.

While not discussed very much today, in 1976, George Harrison, a freakin' Beatle, was sued for the "subconscious plagiarism" of his song, "My Sweet Lord." He claims to have used the melody of an old, uncopyrighted Christian hymn, "Oh Happy Day"; however, as the courts ruled, there is a definite similarity to the Chiffons song, "He's so Fine"--written by Ronnie Mack.

Of course, they probably both have the same source material, but Ronnie Mack was the first to do it, which is why Harrison ran into trouble.

Wait Until the Dust Clears

Maybe due to his reaction, and the obviousness of the act, Vanilla Ice is the only one of those three examples whose reputation has really suffered long-term effects due to the plagiarism accusation.

While Led Zeppelin has long been accused of the act, only recently has it gone to court (see this NPR story on the case), and the band is still one of the most popular rock bands in the world, which is evidenced by the fact that, as recently as last year, it was rumored that the surviving band members were offered $800 million to tour (which Robert Plant, supposedly, rejected).

Harrison's case was widely publicized at the time, but his reputation hasn't really suffered, and I would argue that his song, "My Sweet Lord," has probably even eclipsed the Chiffons' song in lasting popularity.

So, before you go and judge Sam Smith--if that is your inclination--just remember that he is by far not alone.

(Note: while familiar both the Vanilla Ice and George Harrison examples, I did use the "Ice Ice Baby" and "My Sweet Lord" Wikipedia pages to verify my information and find specific names/dates.)