F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
When I learned that Gatsby was turning 90 today, I immediately texted my publisher and said, “Let’s make the Kindle version of TRORP free.” No other event has prompted me to give my book away for free. I haven’t trolled any other anniversaries or events or people (though I’m still considering a lawsuit as publicity stunt against Dos Equis’, Most Interesting Man…After all, no one is more interesting than Rey Pescador, but I digress).
So what spurred my generosity? Why am I trolling The Great Gatsby (hereafter Gatsby not to be confused with the character Gatsby)?
I’d like to say it’s because I am fighting overpriced ebooks. I’d like to say it’s because Gatsby a couple of years ago we sold Gatsby at a school book fair and the list price was 15 USD. It pissed me off that my low-income students had to shell out that much money for a book that should be public domain and is so short it costs like .08 USD to print.
I could say it’s because I love Gatsby. I teach Gatsby to several classes every year. Some parts I read out loud every year. I like doing this. One such section is in chapter six where, our buddy, Gatsby is first born from “the platonic conception of himself.” Fitzgerald describes this lovable (but ultimately creepy, right?) dreamer as in “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.” Honestly, meretricious wasn’t in my working vocabulary the first time around. So here is the definition.
The archaic definition as Gatsby as prostitute is interesting. This less-than-precise definition of Gatsby selling out for Daisy works. The other definition is better; though I think both work for the topic of the day: book marketing.
A few days after my first novel was published last summer, I sat in this tacky cabana in July heat in some exurban midwest waterpark mentally exploring the emotional desert of literary postpartum and emotional vulnerability. I knew that a few people were reading my book. PEOPLE WERE READING MY BOOK— my book that I spent years on, my book that was everything I believed and loved filtered into the fantastic tall tales of a beautiful Latino literary superstar. It was my best attempt to show the beauty of the world. It was for sale. It was a terrible feeling.
What made it worse was that I had to market it. I don’t mind marketing things. But the idea of spending my days online trying to convince someone to buy my novel that had no real reviews and a no name publisher made me realize that I might be another one of the millions of “Indie” authors in the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.
Part of my goal with Rey Pescador’s story was to criticize academia and literary fiction while criticizing celebrity culture. It’s a sometimes harsh satire of America, but by writing and publishing this satire, I became a part of the industry that I criticized. I didn’t become part of the MFA generated literary fiction world that disappointed me from refusing to fly high enough. But I was now part of an industry that didn’t even attempt to, as Pound says, “make it new.” I became an Indie Author. I am an Indie Author.
We, indie writers, are all Gatsbys, and I don’t mean that in the sense that we are dreamers pursuing some idealistic version of the world where readers read and writers write and there is a book for everyone to read and love and a book for everyone to write. Honestly, I’ve always been too much of a lit snob for any of that stuff. What I’m saying is that we are Gatsby because we are also selling homemade intoxicants intended to make easy cash and help people escape the shitty reality of their lives.
At a literary festival last month, I was on a panel on speculative fiction. Almost every other person said they wrote and read to escape reality. I’m as guilty as the next person of wanting to escape reality—more guilty if you consider my Netflix history. I binge watch bad TV. I escape. I ignore my daughters and wife whenever a computer is around. Twitter and Facebook are there.
Is there a time to use reading as an escape? Maybe. It’s not my form of escape. Mine is TV. But escape is not something I find very virtuous. Escape, if not inherently a vice, can become one–in America it has certainly become an addiction.
Escape is easy in America. What’s hard and important and worthwhile is engagement. My novel, The Resurrection of Rey Pescador, is about this idea. Like Gatsby the titular character is larger-than-life and a product of his imagination. Also, like Gatsby the narrator is a passive observer. Both Gatsby and Rey escape the reality they thought they controlled and their narrators are left determining what is meaningful in life.
It’s a book about the virtues of engagement and the folly of escape. It’s a book about the danger of distraction and entertainment. It’s a book about the beauty of the mundane. But here is the problem I am facing: How do I market that type of book without selling myself, without becoming what I criticize? How do I spend hours on social media promoting a book that is about its dangers? How do I do that without becoming meretricious?
My solution is this– this article right here. My solution is to write about it in a blog post. After all, blog posts solve all problems. I wanted it to be a grand essay on the meaning of art and beauty and marketing, but it’s a blog post that I had little time to write; it’s meretricious, I suppose.
By doing this, I will make my free giveaway a holier-than-thou argument about Gatsby being too expensive and about how the 5,459 published free books ahead of me on Amazon’s free list are cheap. Yeah, that’s how I can do it. But isn’t describing Indie publishing as meretricious make me the second definition of meretricious? Aren’t I selling myself even more than Rey did during the chapter “We Also Sell Mattresses?” (READ MY BOOK TO GET THE REFERENCE!)
I think I am. I think I have.
But if this plan doesn’t work, it’s no matter. I’ll just join the crowd. I’ll grow my list of followers longer. I’ll tweet on, with prose against the current, borne back sanctimoniously down a screen.
Oh, yeah…the book is free here.