Dear Readers, A brief update for you Monday inbox, with a few pieces of good news to welcome the harvest: 1) Back in July I was longlisted for the Crook's Corner Book Prize in Chapel Hill, NC. Crook's Corner is a staple of Southern cuisine in North Carolina (Chez Moi, the fictional restaurant in Slim and The Beast, was inspired by the spot), and it is an honor to be among the candidates for the debut novelist prize. Lee Smith, a literary legend down south, will choose the short list in the coming weeks. Regardless of whether I'm selected (it's a long shot, indeed), I'm honored to be considered and wanted to share it with you all:
2) I have finished the manuscript for my third novel, which is a historical fiction based in a Polish ghetto (Lodz) during the Nazi occupation. I spent my academic career (BA + MA) studying ethics during the Nazi era and the psychology of genocide, and this novel serves as a culmination of those studies. It will take some time before I move towards publishing, but after three years of writing, I am confident I have something now.
3) I have been accepted to the Vermont Studio Center artist residency program in Johnson, Vermont for February, 2016. Quite frankly, I didn't expect to get in. It's a huge honor. I will spend one month living with fifty international artists (visual artists as well as writers) and during this time, I hope to begin my fourth novel. I don't know where it will lead me, but I have an idea where to start ... as Andre Gide says, "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." NB: For all of you artists out there, you should DEFINITELY apply to these types of programs. You never know which reviewer may take a liking to your work--if I can make it, so can you. Multiple rejection letters only increase your odds (that might be flawed logic/a cognitive bias, but I'm running with it. DON'T TRY AND STOP ME). Finally, Slim and The Beast is still selling a few copies per week, which is more than I expected. I'm lucky to have jumped on-board the Inkshares train when I did, and that comes with a HUGE thanks to the 232 original backers-- Stars of the Year, you know who you are--for being the main reason for any of this. You believed in me when Inkshares didn't have any previously published novels or well-known writers, and that makes you especially awesome.
In a society that glorifies self-aggrandisement, various gimmicks and constant social media presence, how is it possible to remain authentic?
I've been struggling with this question a lot, as you probably noticed in my last update. If you're interested in an essay-version of the schizophrenic nature of being a "self-made" author, here is the Medium piece, "A Portrait of the Author as a Young Person."
It has been a while since my last update. Here's the reason why. The following is a fantastic variation on an exam question found in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest
(Raw link to the article: https://medium.com/just-words/the-eye-of-sauron-d454ed83377a
Since I returned from the Slim and The Beast book tour six months ago, I've felt stuck in this type of double-bind. On the one hand, as an author I want the recognition. I want to sell books. I know in order to do this I must Tweet; I must Facebook; I must Instagram and hand out business cards. In short, I must commodify myself--it isn't just the novel I'm peddling, but capital Me, The Author.On the other hand, I hate this. It is everything I despise. The paradox of writing, of spending so many hours in my imagination, is that what I'm truly doing is escaping myself, escaping the very notion of being heard by others. For a few hours each day (if I'm lucky), I can forget about Me, The Author. I can forget about the rat race; book sales; online reviews; career goals. I can lose myself in a world that doesn't care about Samuel, The Author ... all that matters when I'm writing is the world I hope to discover. This obsession with being seen and being followed and being liked in the digital world seems to be in direct opposition to what it truly means to be a good person, not to mention a good writer. The loudest people on Twitter always have the most followers. The more likes you get on Instagram (which requires tapping your thumb twice), the cooler your product. I have a feeling we are addicted to this need for validation, with social media only being the latest, most egregious enabler of narcissism. But the trouble with being someone who dreams of making a living through writing is twofold: 1) In order to write well, to write something authentic and human, I must forget about my ego and about proving myself to others; BUT 2) In order to be seen (i.e. to be bought), I have to sell myself as Me, The Author, as soon as I've stopped writing. Once the book is "finished," it's no longer about spending time confronting myself, my fears, my problems, but turning that confrontation into a product. Something about this turns my stomach. What's worse, it makes me feel like a farce.So how do I remain authentic while also trying to attract attention? Is it even possible to remain true to what really matters (a life of deference and humility, not celebrity and pomp) while simultaneously trying to get re-Tweeted and liked and obtain more followers? (The word "followers," by the way, makes me think of some selfie-inspired cult following). I have met quite a few pretentious people recently who care more about being seen than being heard--more about the make-up than the art--but they are also successful and well-off. So what does that mean? Is it possible to market myself as an author, rendering myself as some kind of product, without sacrificing the very essence of what it means to be a writer? It is a double-bind and it's exhausting, but it does help to talk about it. My fellow Inkshares author, Yann Rousselot, and I have been discussing it quite a lot with my twin brother, Aaron, who has been on a music tour in Paris the past 1.5 months. He is an incredible musician and is also (not coincidentally) the most humble, least pretentious human being I know. So in a world that necessitates being seen and being liked, being followed and being admired, being swiped left or right, how do we "get out there" without hashtagging ourselves into oblivion? What does it mean to be a successful yet genuine artist while maintaining so many social media accounts? While reloading the page in case we have a new follower? How do we talk about ourselves as artists without turning our very essence into a consumable product? These are questions I've been struggling with, and they're probably worthy of a future novel(s). It's also why I haven't been pushing Slim and The Beast the past few months.
All this to say I've been thinking about (and avoiding) the
double-bind as much as possible since March, thoroughly happy to lose the "Me, Author" mentality by escaping into the third novel. It's also been helpful to re-read David Foster Wallace and his thoughts on this very infectious human desire to be seen and wanted: “Something happens in your late twenties where you realize that how
other people regard you does not have enough calories in it, to keep you
from blowing your brains out.” It's an extreme statement, but I don't think he's wrong. There aren't any calories in red Facebook flags or Instagram hearts. So here's to caring less about what others think about me, and more about what's important: the next novel. Note: this is a work in progress and it comes in the middle of the book (divided into three sections). The scene involves a brutal SS officer, which means this section is offensive and is rated R. http://www.samuelbarrantes.com/excerpt-novel-in-progress/
Hey Folks, Just a quick reminder for all of you in Paris (and those who want an excuse to spend an exorbitant amount of money to fly to Baguette Land for the night) that the next reading is TOMORROW, APRIL 9 AT 7PM at the glorious SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY, Kilometer Zero, Paris.
It is a major honor to speak at my favorite bookstore in the world ... yet another example of how far you guys have brought Slim and The Beast. I'll be speaking/reading/sipping a glass of wine with Yann Rousselot, a great friend and fellow Inkshares writer. His Dawn of the Algorithm is a beautiful poetry collection complete with illustrations from around the world, including work from my girlfriend and twin brother. NB: Speaking of Aaron, he is currently in an international music competition (Toyota is sponsoring it) and has a chance to be flown to New Zealand to spread his musical love. He needs virtual credits (no real money is spent), so if you are a fan of his music,"voting" takes about 15 seconds and could very well change his life. (In case that hyperlink didn't work, here's the original source: http://feelingthestreet.com/profile/aaron-lopez-barrantes)
As of today, I’ve sold 1,108 books. There are 11 first edition copies left. There are just two things I wanted to mention before the second edition is air-dropped into the hands of rabid, screaming fans:
Book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads
I’ll be the first to admit: I’m not good at this. Reviewing books online is not something I’m accustomed to. BUT, for better or for worse, it makes a HUGE difference going forward. And since I created a Goodreads account, I’ve actually found that it’s a pretty awesome website (think of it as a digital library that evolves with you, reminds you of what you like, and provides great recommendations). The truth of the matter is: the more reviews I receive, the more readers I get. It’s that simple. So if you’ve read the book and have a few minutes to jump on Goodreads or swing over to Amazon to tell the world (and me) what you think, it really does make a huge difference (even if you just give me “stars”). Just as every backer counted towards the 232 who originally funded me, every review now counts in getting me to “the next step.” (Note: please be honest if you do review it … hearing actual opinions is the only way for me to improve as a writer).
(Secret double note: my twin brother, Aaron, and I are envisioning an artistic adventure, a twin tour extravaganza—a TWOUR if you will. Combining his blues/folk singer/songwriting skills, vocal harmonies, Slim and The Beast and my harmonicas, we’re hoping to travel around the U.S. and spread the brotherly love. But for this to happen, we need to gain more of a following. So pop on some tunes and write that Goodreads review—it’s a major help for the next step).
Inkshares Credit System
You may have noticed Inkshares’ new “credit system.” At its most basic level, you are being rewarded for funding a “best-seller” (we’ve sold over 1,000 copies, and that’s awesome). This is kind of like a “buy one get one free” system, except better: Inkshares is reinvesting book sales in readers. As far as I know, that’s unprecedented. So jump on your Inkshares account and bask in the glory of believing in humanity. Browse the website to see what tickles your toes ... I suggest you check out Yann Rousselot’s poetry collection, Dawn of the Algorithm, which includes beautiful, unique illustrations from around the world (Aaron was an illustrator, as was my girlfriend). Yann is one of my Parisian writers in arms. We met at a book swap. Call it romantic.
One year ago (almost to the
day), I began the Inkshares journey. Today, March 6, 2015, I received an email
with this:After two trips to the US in a
four-week span, a weekend in Spain complete with a Slim and The Beast cake (thanks Adriana!), and plenty of general life things to keep
me busy in between, I’m back at home and can settle into the next novel. The
book tour was special. I’ll try to put into words what exactly that means.
How Humanity (Not a Book Tour) Changed My Life
Maybe the best way to describe
it is “like one of those daydreams”: you’re not fully asleep; you can still hear
silverware clinking; you can see what’s around you and you know what it’s supposed to mean, but all you can do is
stay asleep and keep dreaming.
“You know, you’re really lucky to be here,” a lady with a
badge told me with an air of incredulity. “This is the American Booksellers
Association…the Winter Institute…you should be excited! This is it!”
This was it, indeed. That’s
what everyone kept telling me.
One hundred Slim and The Beasts were stacked to my
left. Next to me sat a woman who’d written a book about multi-tasking and its
dangers. The massive, carpeted room was filled with dozens of tables: those lining
the walls for the authors, the center tables for food and drink.
During such fanciful affairs,
I’m more used to serving hors d’oeuvres than being referred to as “sir”—I have
catered just as long as I’ve written novels, all seven years worth. To calm the
nerves, I talked to the bartender for a while about IPA beer (he said its hoppiness—what
I call bad-tastiness—is due to mouldy cargo holds in creaky ships). I gave him the
Wi-Fi password (apparently he wasn’t allowed to have it) and returned to my
“author table” to begin greeting booksellers from across the country.
This was the seminal moment. I
was a published man with a public image. I picked up a pen, ready to sign. It
exploded in my hand immediately. And then hundreds of booksellers flooded
through the doors, trying to get their hands on the next big thing. Whoever was
at the table next to me had a long, slithering line of signature-seekers. T.C.
Boyle was out there somewhere. According to the brochure, this certainly felt
I never had a line, but many people came up to me and almost invariably asked about the ink stain. “You know
you have ink all over your hand.” “What can I say … I’m new at this.” Stripped
of prestige, slightly tipsy, I met and spoke to dozens of kind booksellers for
the next two hours. I made some great connections there, but these connections
were necessarily fleeting: at an event like this, it’s all about eye contact
and the handshake. And so this is what I remember most about the ABA Winter
Institute—not so much the book signing or mention of potential screenplays, but
the kind bus driver with a jolly face who now has a copy of Slim and The Beast; a beautiful dinner
with Ingram Distribution representatives, one of whom announced her retirement over
tapas and beer; and discussing feminism and race relations with a Floridian
bookseller in a bumbling shuttle bus. I woke up at 6am to drive from Asheville,
NC down to Chapel Hill, the hometown of Slim and The Beast. I saw the sun rise in
the Appalachians. The Winter Institute was indeed a memorable experience.
Although the ABA event was the
“highest profile” of them all, McNally Jackson Books in New York City was
equally exciting. I felt at ease reading and discussing the book in front of friends
and their acquaintances, and was helped by some fantastic questions from a
red-dressed lady in the audience. But what I remember most is the importance of
community: I drank wine with family friends from the French village where
I was born; with my twin brother and my mom; with my girlfriend from Paris;
with my best friends from childhood; with a great friend from Seattle who was
at the inception of Slim and The Beast;
with virtually all of my college friends … the list goes on and on. The event
at Molasses Books in Brooklyn also felt more like an apartment party than a
“book event,” which is how it is supposed to be.
I don't feel like the book
tour was about me, really. It was about an idea that began three years ago. It
was about all of you, the backers, and about a celebration of community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found
Inkshares when I did, and still have trouble believing I am a “published author,”
which probably has to do with the distinct feeling that I haven't done anything
special. People write and publish books all the time. Hundreds of thousands of
writers, many more talented than me, will never see the published page. If I
have done anything special, it’s about the way I went about publishing, and
therein lies the paradox: the entire point of Inkshares is that it's at least
as much about community as it is about me. To that extent, I feel like all of you should be front and center. I
can take the role of representative, maybe; but the thought that it was MY
party, MY book tour, seems to miss the point entirely. “In an ideal world we’d
all be sitting in a circle,” I should’ve said at my events. And maybe that's my
hippy free love background talking, but I really do mean it: the notion that I
should be elevated because I’m now published is ignorant at best, and flat-out
wrong at worst. If I’m here, writing this backer update, it has to do with the
backers, not “me.” There’s nothing special about writing a book, but there is
in finding the book’s community.
For too long, in my opinion,
writers have been revered for the wrong reasons. When considering the writer as
something almost mythical, it seems the harder to interview, the harder to
read, the harder to analyze, the larger the myth. In short, the less connected
the writer is with her community, the more renowned she becomes. There is a bizarre
dance that occurs between writer and reader, in which the writer (and the
writer’s ego) seeks to put herself higher than the rest, while the reader (and
his desire to create the “writer myth”) pushes the writer away. But great
writing isn’t about genius and deference, but patience and humility. More than
anything else, it’s about humanity and the book’s community. So if the
Inkshares model has proven (and continues to prove) anything, it’s that “having
what it takes” isn’t about some misplaced sense of accomplishment or belonging
to a “higher plane,” but about having faith in humanity, which in turn had
faith in me. Belief in the goodness of people can also become one of its main
causes; so if this entire experience has taught me anything, it is a firm
belief in daring to dream.
A while ago I wrote a piece,
“How Humanity (Not a Literary Agent) Changed My Life.” After reaching the1000
books mark, I can only change the title and reiterate the same feeling. Since I
can now speak from “book-tour experience,” I know that the book tour isn’t
“it,” at least not in the narrow sense of book sales and fame. I have a foot in
the door, which is more than anything I could have imagined, but “it” isn’t
about 1000 books or a 2nd print edition; “it” is about talking to my
editor about my next novel; eating a breakfast burrito in a roadside diner with
my fantastic colleague, Thad Woodman, and my Parisian girlfriend; sitting in a
Lower East Side apartment talking about Batman, psychedelics and heart surgery;
and drinking with a published, well-reviewed Columbia MFA candidate who
struggles to find an audience, just like me. My life has changed for the
better, but it has also remained the same: I have a few more Twitter followers,
a few more dollars in my bank account, and more than a few beautiful memories
that will remain with me; but I still live in my 15m2 apartment, I still do
part-time work I’m not necessarily proud of, I’m working on a new, totally
different novel, and I still struggle to write every day.
This is “it.” This is how it’s supposed to be. One
year later, after crowdfunding, editing, choosing the book cover, learning
about marketing, book sales and book tours and editing a 2nd
edition, I’m back at square one, and couldn’t be happier. Whatever the future
holds, Slim and The Beast has been a
success, and that's only because you believed in me.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
I’m not a British statesman and this isn’t 1942, but I couldn’t help go for the Churchill reference. Here is a journal entry from one year ago, when I was more or less unemployed (I had no teaching hours that month) and was looking at the prospect of a multi-year process to publish Slim and The Beast:
The present is most assuredly an opportunity and that’s exactly how I view 2014: an opportunity. Even not working for a month — do I view it as financial stress, or creative/existential opportunity? How I spend this month will dictate how I spend this year, I think; because how I spend each day dictates how I spend my life. That takes some time to realize, but I’m getting there and liking it. If you don’t read every day, when do you read? If you don’t write every day, when do you write? Etc. I’m approaching the beginning of the third novel, and I can’t wait. Except that I can wait, and that’s important. I’ll know when it’s time, truly, to begin.
I’m tempted to cite the age-old trope that hard work pays off; that I knew I could do it; that I never had any doubt I would publish a novel; but the truth is everything that has happened this past year is a mixture of luck, hope, and humanism. I’ve always been optimistic about writing to the extent that I know I’ll keep writing, but nothing could have prepared me for all that has happened in 2014. 232 is a number I will remember for the rest of my life. Whatever happens with the novel—whether it disappears in a dusty attic or is a marginal success—what matters is that it’s out there. And yet “it” hasn’t even started yet; this is the end of the beginning. On February 3 the “business” side of things will commence: there will be signings and discussions, interviews and reviews. But all that really matters is interested readers. I don’t expect all of you to love or even like the novel. All in can say is I’m honored it’s on your bookshelf. But if any of you have already gotten through the novel and want to chat about it—what you liked/didn’t like, whatever you’re thinking—please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’d love to continue the conversation.
Maybe the most humbling experience about this whole process is that the book is now out of my hands; that this part of my life, Slim and The Beast, strangely feels in the past even though “it’s” just beginning.
The first draft took three months and was written in the spring of 2012. Three years and countless drafts later, an imperfect but complete work is ready to escape me. The feelings I had, the themes I was pursuing, all of the edits and “you are a failure, what are you doing?”s were necessary for me to better understand myself and this experience (i.e. life). But now I can move on to the next chapter, and that's exciting.
Now for the sentimental part: I want to especially thank a few people for being there for me: my twin brother Aaron and my brothercousin Mark, for being the best brothers I could ever imagine and the deep inspiration for Slim and The Beast all along; my Paris buddies, Yann Rousselot, Alex Miles (now in Chicago), Matthew Mowatt and Ian Jagel (now in Seattle) for inspiring Boys’ Nights and for being there to support me from the beginning; my NC brothers (you all know who you are) for the childhood we shared; the Vermont Boys, who’ve been there since I reached maturity; my girlfriend, Lucile, who has and continues to push me and believe in me; my godfather, Johannes, who has always been a beacon in Paris; and of course my mom and dad, who believed in me from the real beginning, who told me to pursue love and gave me the chance to dream; and of course to all of you, the 232 Stars of The Year. Without you … well who knows? I don’t dabble in counter-factual history.
I am well into the third novel but remain hesitant to share anything substantial. The project is also at the end of the beginning, and I am excited to see where the characters take me. There will be tens of thousands of words to shed, but for now I’m still imagining and creating. I have written about a third of it so far, with dozens of other pages that I need to piece and puzzle together. (By the end of 2015, I hope to have a manuscript ready, but I’m also an optimist, so we’ll see).
Before I finish, I wanted to give you a brief idea of what’s been happening with Slim and The Beast since we last spoke. I’ve sold 788 total books (109 of those post-funding stage). The book tour will be from February 2-17, and I will visit New York City and North Carolina (event locations below). There are already reviews here, under “What the Critics Are Saying.” Perhaps more importantly, there are reader reviews here on Goodreads. If any of you are willing, every review helps. Whether it’s on Goodreads, Amazon, or otherwise, reader reviews are just as important as anything the critics have to say (and Goodreads is actually a pretty fantastic side for readers in my opinion).
Finally, just this week, I saw this photo of Slim and The Beast at my favorite bookstore in the world, Shakespeare & Company in Paris.
There’s no way I can properly thank you for making my dream a reality, but I am hoping to make that poster soon (Mark, we gotta talk) so I can have all of your names on my wall.
If I can give you a hug, that’d be ideal; so check out the events below, and if you can make it to any of them, it’d be an honor to see you there and perhaps even sign your copy.
Welp, that about does it, methinks. The end of the beginning. Next time we chat, I’ll have fantastical tales about book tour experiences. Who knows what the future holds, but the present is an opportunity; and I'm eternally grateful that you all gave it to me.
EVENTS IN THE OVERSIZED APPLE
Molasses Books (Brooklyn—Bushwick), Tuesday, February 3, 8pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/1553263644959876/
McNally Jackson Books (Manhattan), Sunday, February 8, 6pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/762734913774433/
EVENTS DOWN NORTH CACKALACK WAY
The Winter Institute (American Booksellers Association) (Asheville), February 9-11, http://www.bookweb.org/wi2015#
The Regulator Bookshop (Durham), Thursday, February 12, 7pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/896272117073135/
FlyLeaf Books (Chapel Hill), Monday, February 16, 7pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/432413866914000/