Publishing Hell and a Padded Cell

Oh my gosh, it’s so great to see you! It’s been a long time. I’m writing this from my chicly decorated padded cell at the VanLandingham State Hospital. It’s beautiful here– peaceful and quiet, and we get to wear these swell canvas jackets. They’ve even untied my sleeves a couple of times since I’ve arrived. The food’s not great, and they refuse to entrust me with forks, but I’ve been needing to drop a few pounds anyway. Before they bring me my white paper cup of pretty little pills, I thought I’d give you a little update on what’s been happening in the Land of Moonbeam.

I had a birthday recently, and it was fantastic. My husband, Amadeus, bought me a huge set of acrylic paints, which means I no longer have to step on the old tubes I had to get some color onto a canvas. We went to dinner and hung out and it was all very soft and sweet. I love that man with every cell in my shell, and since there are something like 100 trillion cells in the human body, you can sort of get a picture of the depth of my feeling for him.

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It seems that during my toughest times, magical things start to occur. I’m probably being a little cryptic here, but I want to thank my beautiful blog friends for the little miracles that you make happen in my life. Thank you for every time you push the PayPal button, which always seems to happen at the most fortuitous times. Thanks for every blog award you bestow upon me. Thank you for the gifts that appear in my mailbox, and for the beautiful words that appear in my inbox. These things mean so much in my life, and I can’t tell you how they brighten my world. You folks are the keenest people on the planet.

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We just commemorated our first anniversary. It took us by surprise– this year has zinged by, which we figure is a good thing. How horrible it would have been if we’d turned to each other and asked, “Gosh- it’s only been a year? It feels like thirty,” though in a lot of ways it seems as though we’ve always been together.

We celebrated by going for a hike near the Buffalo River. There are few sights quite so beautiful as the Ozark Mountains in the fall. I’m not kidding, if you ever get a chance, swing by. The drive was as fabulous as the hike, so gorgeously breathtaking that it made me cry. The roads around here twist and climb and curve and bend; the trees are glowing with fire and glitter, their leaves splashed with a thousand shades of yellow, orange, green and red. You drive up a steep road, and it feels as though you’re about to plow into a gorgeous oil painting. Walking the trails around here fills my heart to the bursting point. There are no troubles in the woods. We have no bills or worries or family matters to tend to. There’s no technology pulling at us, no political nastiness, no war or sadness. Methuselah old trees and ancient boulders remind me of what’s real and important– nature is the quiet foundation of a sometimes troubling world, and it’s this foundation that heals and soothes us. I told Amadeus that it was like we were filling our souls’ fuel tanks, and he agreed. I can’t think of a better way that we could have celebrated our first year as man and wife.

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So, you may be wondering: with all of this happy-happy joy-joy going on, how did I end up at VanLandingham? Well, it’s like this. A few months ago, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. I wrote a little book of light verse, and was excited at the prospect of learning to convert it into an e-book. It sounds like a simple undertaking, but let me tell you something– I could have grown trees, chainsawed them down, ground them into pulp, made my own paper, squeezed ten million berries to make ink, painstakingly applied calligraphy to every page, spun my own thread and hand-bound eight thousand copies and it would have taken less time. I read tutorials, watched YouTube videos, visited forums, studied manuals and formatted and reformatted that little tome about twenty-five times. I finally got it onto Smashwords, which is a site that supposedly distributes written works to all the Important Places, and makes them available to view on Kindles and Nooks and iPhones and laptops. The trick is to publish it in such a way that it’s readable on any device. Days and weeks passed. My hair turned white, my eyes sunk into their sockets, but I finally got it done.

“Yay!! I finally got it done!” I told Amadeus, only to find that I’d screwed something up and had to start again.

“Yay!! I finally got it done!” I told Amadeus, only to find that (although it had made it into the Premium Catalog) it wasn’t being distributed anywhere at all.

“Yay!! I finally got it done!” I told Amadeus, who was no longer listening to a damned thing I had to say on the subject.

But finally, I did do it. I finished the project. I formatted the hell out of that little sucker, and it looks better than a lot of e-books out there. But was that good enough for me? Noooo….I decided to do an audio version. Because, you know, not everyone owns a Kindle or an iPhone or an Android. Sure, they live in caves and drive horses and buggies, but I wanted to make this accessible even to Amish people and those whose technological advances ended with the Sony Walkman. Besides, I have friends who are audio book fanatics, and I wanted to ensure that I could push my stupid little book of rhymes on them.

If I could ever offer an aspiring author one helpful little piece of advice, it would be this: get rich. Get rich so that you never, ever have to deal with any of this yourself. Hire people to format your book. Schedule time at a recording studio and hire Quincy Jones to engineer your work. Get in touch with Meryl Streep and offer her big bucks to narrate your story, even it’s just a retelling of The Three Bears. Step away from the computer.

I’ve worked on the audio portion of this project for five six seven weeks now. At first, it seemed like such a simple thing. Amadeus has a twelve-track recorder, and a big upright bass. We recorded some spiffy intro and outro music, and I narrated the book. But there was a glitch in getting the damned thing from the recorder to the computer. I finally got my son to do it for me, but the output was too low– you couldn’t hear a word of the audio, it was so muffled. When it became clear that it couldn’t be repaired, we had to re-record the entire thing. I discovered Audacity, an editing site, and went about learning how to use it, which was like going to medical school to learn to apply a Band-Aid. Audacity required one type of formatting; the site I was uploading to required another. I had to install yet another program to reformat it. While all of this was going on, I became more and more aware of the flaws in the recording; I worked on adjusting the sound quality, and getting rid of some bumps and thumps and clicks. Worst of all, I began to hear the sound of my own breathing in the mic (although I’d turned away between poems). I sounded like my Great-Aunt Ida, the one with the drinking problem and the four pack a day cigarette habit, whom I just invented here for illustrative purposes. I listened to that ridiculous little book so many times that at one point, I considered snipping my vocal chords, just so I’d never have to hear to the sound of my own voice again. Little by little, I began to lose the tiny smattering of sanity that I’d retained after my unfortunate childhood and misspent youth.

One night, after another 10 hours of fruitless attempts at getting this thing done, I told Amadeus, “I think we need to re-record my audio book again.” He looked at me as though he might rip out my vocal cords himself, so I quickly dropped the subject. I just kept struggling through–I put the audio book on one site, only to find that it wasn’t going to work there. I tried to place it on another site, only to discover that they’d only accept audio versions of books that were on Amazon. For some reason, my book hadn’t appeared there yet, so I had to go back to the e-book itself, reformat it specifically for Kindle and hope that Amazon would take it. They did. I excitedly went to upload my recording, then learned that the way we recorded the audio book wouldn’t work for the new site after all. It had to be divvied up into tracks. It had to be perfect. I asked for advice from musician friends, but all of their suggestions involved buying editing programs that cost about eleventy kajillion dollars, which just isn’t feasible for us.

Finally, I swallowed my pride, shed my dignity and invited myself to a friend’s man cave. He lives out in the sticks, and has a recording studio down in his basement. I’d been sick for two weeks with some sort of stress-induced bronchial/ walking pneumonia/ near-death thing, but I didn’t care– I just wanted to get this thing DONE. Amadeus brought his bass, recorded his bits, and he and our friend shot the breeze for four point five hours while I hacked and sneezed my way through the narration (I think I introduce myself on it as “Boodbeab BQueeb”). Finally, it was DONE! FINISHED! PERFECT! It sounded clean and semi-professional, and at 3:00 a.m. we had it in the can (well, on the flash drive), and headed home. I hugged my new producer five times before we left, and Amadeus ten more before we fell into bed, exhausted at the end of our horrific ordeal.

I woke up several hours later, chugged some coffee and listened to the final version. I would love to tell you how beautiful it sounded, with its lovely bass solos and the lilting, satin tones of my voice. Sadly, the whole thing sounded as though I’d slowly fallen into a deep well, or an echo chamber from hell. It was horrible. In our host’s sleepy state, he’d mixed it wrong, and sent us home with an audio so un-listenable that only dogs and maybe my mom could tolerate it. I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed, and then Amadeus made a few phone calls.

And here I am, at VanLandingham’s. Did I tell you how peaceful it is here? And about the spoons?