Category Archives: Writing
My next book, The Hack, should be coming out in late spring or early summer.
I’ll be posting more info as that time gets closer, but I’m sort of short right now, so all I have time to do is point people over to the fundraising campaign for that publication, which is now active. You can pre-purchase the book or get in on a bunch of other perks at http://www.indiegogo.com/TheHack. I highly recommend the “Truth or Dare,” perk.
The print edition of Secrets & Lies has been out for a while now. But because of a doozy of a file error, I wasn’t able to get it converted to an e-book until very recently.
But I’m happy to report that it is now available for Kindle as an e-book, and that several of the stories are available as singles. You can find all of that via my author page at Amazon.
Next up will be a version for the Apple Store, hopefully with embedded audio versions of the book and a copy of the film adaptation of The Dog House, the first story from the book. No hard timeline on that though.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a musical. It combines a lot of different things I do in a way I’ve never done before, and I felt it would be a good challenge.
After the success of my play Veronica Livingstone I Presume in spring, the company that put it on, Homegrown Theater, asked me to write a short script for a Halloween-themed puppet show the company would be putting on in October. Since it had to be a puppet show, it seemed as good an opportunity as any to write a musical. And since it had to be puppet-themed, I decided to find something Halloweeny and then just attach the words musical to it, kind of like the creators of South Park did with Cannibal: The Musical. But since it was both a puppet show and a musical, I wanted to go way over the top with it and make it as absurd and explicit as possible.
I settled on Ritual Murder: The Musical. The script and lyrics are about 2/3 done so far and so I started working on the music with the help of my friend Steven Palin of Bridgeport. This is a iPhone demo of the opening of the show that we made for the company to see what we were working on. It has the first song, which is sort of a medley of two characters songs and introduces the action of the show for the first scene.
As for what happens next, you’ll just have to show up to find out. The show will go for three days at Red Room in Boise around Halloween.
I’m currently “working” on the audio version of my book, Secrets & Lies, which will include a full reading of the text along with a score I’m composing. Being a fairly busy guy, it’s going slower than I’d hoped for, especially since my closet sound booth is still picking up more traffic noise than I’d prefer.
But as part of the upcoming Everything for Everyone Tour, I wanted to have a few tracks done to push the upcoming audio book. They’ll be packaged along with the Godcrotch EP on CDs.
Here is a sample I just uploaded to YouTube.
Just saw a new reader review of my book posted on Amazon, and though Secrets and Lies has gotten nothing but 5-star rankings, I wanted to share because this may be the best review yet.
A lot of times something that is “independent” can be seen as garbage. An unsigned band, a low budget movie….after all, if this book was that great, why wouldn’t it have a major publisher behind it?
Josh Gross blows this line of thinking out of the water with “Secrets and Lies.” A culmination of short stories that bounce between hipster cliches and broken dreams; this collection runs from one emotional extremity to the next, with no regard for reader comfort. And it’s this dangerous style of writing that turns the “corporate book publishing machine” off…..this book at times is an uncomfortable and unstable read. And that’s what makes it amazing.
After all, this is not a set of stories that end with a happy ending. This is not a children’s book where the villains are served their just desserts. These are not fables where the hero gets the girl and we learn a lesson. These stories showcase the heartbreak of life and young adulthood – and are deeply personal snapshots of a generation struggling to define themselves.
Let’s all thank Josh for creating a stimulating and honest work; as we already have a culture drowning in mindless fluff and escapism.
All I can say is wow. Maybe it is not a very writerly response, but still, wow. I continue to be grateful for the kind things people have said about my work and for the opportunity to create work that can inspire that sort of reaction. And you know, wow.
I decided to post a sample story from my book, Secrets & Lies, on the blog today. I did that for two reasons. The first is that today is Valentine’s Day, and this story has do with the fallout from just such a day. And the other is that though I initially feared this story might not age well because of its elements of political satire, Congress seems to become more and more of a farce by the day, thereby making this story almost more, instead of less relatable.
The Rise and Fall of the Wally Johnson Act
House resolution 417, popularly known as the Wally Johnson Act, passed in a specially called late night joint session of congress.
Sponsoring senator, Rick Stanford, told the gathered masses that the best way to honor the young man whose death had touched so many, was to take steps to see that the tragic events of February 14th, would never-ever-ever, be repeated.
Due to the general silliness of the proposal, making it illegal to break someone’s heart, all elected officials present believed themselves to be the only ones who had voted for it, discovering afterwards that it had in fact passed unanimously. No one wanted to be seen as supportive of heartbreak, especially not the kind that drove 22-year-old Wally Johnson to throw himself from his 15th floor apartment window, landing on a sidewalk café table where a divorce support group was having its weekly meeting, a meeting which was being filmed for a feature story on a popular TV news Magazine program, and which captured every grisly detail of the tragedy on film.
Not in an election year anyhow.
A national furor erupted within hours when it was discovered almost no one in congress had read the bill. Some believed it to be a non-binding statement that United States of America stood against heartbreak. Some believed it to be TORT reform, bringing heartbreak under the umbrella definition of emotional damages one could sue for. And some believed it to be a form of criminal assault. However, whatever those who voted for it had believed it to be, they had all voted for it for the purposes of appearance, and as such, no one was willing to be the first to retract their support for it lest they would be accused of waffling, of being a flip-flopper, or even of having philandering or playboy sympathies.
Instead, they claimed that on review, it didn’t go far enough, and pushed for stricter regulations, a war on heartbreak .
Stanford himself said the bill was only the first phase of a bold new direction for the ountry, one free of misery and cruelty—both of which were harmful to the economy.
Broad new powers were awarded law enforcement officials to monitor all of the usual suspects and a special new federal prison nicknamed the honeymoon suite was constructed.
Within weeks, quarterback was the most dreaded position on high school football squads and church groups began protesting the opening of romantic comedy films as vile propaganda, nothing more than attempts to poison the minds of vulnerable children by the Hollywood elite.
No one was more vocal in their support than the Catholic Church, as the Wally Johnson act caused divorce rates to drop sharply. No matter how much they hated each other, couples were wary to risk the jail time.
It quickly became a dark age for daytime TV as tabloid talk show hosts were convicted of conspiracy and racketeering by the score. But conversely, it became a golden age for pop music, as record companies were now willing to sign more talented but less attractive acts. A memo to A&R reps, later acquired and published by the BBC, insisted on a minimum weight of 220 pounds for potential new artists to ensure they wouldn’t have to seek political asylum in France like so many boy bands had already been forced to do.
However, after a few months it became clear that the blue and red states of America were no in way united, that they were in fact cleanly split on the issue, with those who supported the heart’s irrational freedom in all it’s glory and horror labeled as home-wreckers and sociopaths, and those who believed in respecting other’s feelings slandered as brainwashed Orwellian minions. Public school teachers, already under fire for their incitement of childhood crushes, were now subject to rigorous review panels as to whether or not their lesson plans were biased on the issue of heartbreak. Shakespeare’s sonnets were dropped from curricula nationwide and the percentage of class-time devoted to math increased by thirty percent.
The national discussion expanded when several prominent social conservatives wrote op-ed pieces insisting that the bill was tantamount to special rights for perverts, as it exempted homosexuals, who weren’t actually capable of loving one another. Gay rights groups responded that they were every bit as capable of bitter, drawn-out, devastating separations as hetero couples, and cited statistics from a recent study in the Netherlands. A peaceful mass-breakup was scheduled in San Francisco, but turned violent after the governor sent in the National Guard.
Sandra Jackson, Wally’s mother, rejected the legislation perpetrated in her son’s name outright, and staged a sit-in, camping out on Rick Stanford’s lawn, vowing not to leave until America was once again “free to love em’ and leave em’.” Her crusade was not widely supported and an attempt was made on her life by an assassin later found to have late sixties flower child ties.
A coalition of out of work therapists and chocolate manufacturers marched on Washington, demanding compensation. Or revolution. Whichever came first. They brought mini-workout trampolines, branding themselves re-bounders. Rick Stanford laughed off their protest, calling them “buggy whip manufacturers,” in a televised interview, and insisting that profiting off the misery of others was fundamentally anti-American.
The talking heads on TV debated misery-profiteering point back and forth for days, the liberals insisting that capitalism was nothing more than creating the illusion of misery in conjunction with the belief that your product can abate it, and the conservatives insisting that life is inherently miserable and that capitalism is in fact the solution. The greens tried to say that both life and capitalism could be what you made of them, but no one listened to them. The dialogue had become a din, a rhetorical slush so thick, so garbled, that none of the viewers had understood a word of it, only the emotional charge it was infused with.
However, the zeitgeist all came to a stunned and silent halt when Rick Stanford was eventually caught having an affair with a male intern, for his wife, Mary, told the media that devastated as she may be, she was declining to press charges. All she wanted was to move on.
She was quickly drafted into running for her husband’s now-vacant senate seat—he had fled to Syria, as it lacked a formal extradition treaty with the US—and ran on a platform of pain equaling growth. Pop art posters and t-shirts featuring her image and the word pain were everywhere. Now armed with an icon, a totem, opposition to the new national climate grew swiftly, and Mary Stanford was elected in a landslide.
In her first act as an elected official, Mary sponsored a bill revoking the Wally Johnson act, which passed unanimously, allowing Americans to once again gaily wreck each other’s lives on a whim, looking back at the recent years as dark confusing interlude in which they let their compassion run wild, distorting reality and opening the door to tyranny, a door that was now thankfully closed.
A while back, I read an article in The Millions about why you shouldn’t self publish your book. Being too busy with the details of self publishing my new book, Secrets and Lies, I didn’t have time to respond. But now that it’s out, I wanted to offer some counter thoughts and to address some the glaring problems I saw in the article, so that maybe you’ll decide this is the year you will finally self publish.
Let’s start with some big picture stuff.
1. Big Publishing Houses Probably Won’t Publish You
Publishers are bleeding money and that means they’re looking for books that will sell themselves. The truth is that often has less to do with the book than it does with the author. The best way to sell books is to be on TV, meaning the best way to be an author is to be a TV personality. Chances are, you are not a TV personality. And while you certainly could devote your time to becoming one, that’s time spent not writing books.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a piece of an email I got from literary agent Michael Murphy of the Max Lit Agency on the subject.
Our whole business is based upon opinions. Somebody thought it was a good idea to pay Joe the Plumber $250,000 to write his memoir about a life he made up and in which no one gave a rat’s ass two weeks after he became an instant and totally forgettable celebrity. As a Publisher, I turned down Who Moved My Cheese? and I still think it’s a crappy book and those 15 million people who bought it are going to be deeply disappointed.
But wait, you can just go through an agent you say. Well, if you’d like to spend months of your life writing cover letters and waiting for responses, be my guest. Here’s some I’ve received.
I’ve sold books with fewer words (one of them is in the sig line below) but I’ve also dropped anvils from Acme on my head and I’m not doing that again either.
Three cheers for professionalism. But what else would you expect from Miss Snark, the literary Simon Cowell. Instead, let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Dear Mr. Gross:
Thank you for sending the most interesting query letter I’ve read today. Sorry it’s not a match, but I’m grateful for the laugh.Best wishes,Tina Wexler
I enjoyed reading the sample from Madness of Method. I especially appreciated the attention to detail and your imaginative mind- I don’t think I’ll ever forget a disco hot dog stand.
If you can’t interest an agent with the most interesting letter they’ve received all day, or imaginative details they will never forget, then what can you interest them with?
Perhaps this amalgamation of standard replies gives you the answer. “For whatever reasons, this book didn’t curl my toes and I don’t want to take on a project I don’t identify with personally.”
Well good luck finding that soulmate of an agent. And at an average wait time for a response of three to six months to query all of them, your book should hit stands approximately half past never.
What big publishing houses want are authors who are already known. Agents also want a book that sells itself, so they don’t have to do the work, but they’re willing to settle for what they’re convinced will be a prize-winning work of art.
The belief in rags to riches, that you will be plucked from obscurity and taken to the heights of stardom, is called the Horatio Alger myth. And let me tell you, you ain’t no Horatio Alger. If you’re reading this, you’re not famous enough for big houses to care, and let’s be honest, your book is probably not the next great novel that will define a generation. But I’m willing to bet it’s a pretty good read that will entertain your demographic audience, and might even earn some repeat business or an independent film adaptation. But only if you get it out there.
How to do that without publishers or agents? Self-publish my pretties.
2. Small Publishers May Be Even Less Help
So right about now, you’re probably smirking to yourself and thinking something like this: “Yup. Big publishing houses are dinosaurs and agents are dicks. But what you fail to understand is that I’m an artist, and I wouldn’t want a big press anyhow. Not when there’s so many fantastic small presses out there who will understand my special genius.”
That’s certainly the tach Edan Lepucki took in a section of that article in The Millions, called “I’d Prefer a Small Press to a Vanity Press.”
A year ago, I published my novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me with a tiny press called Flatmancrooked, and I consider it the highlight of my career so far. Not only did I get to work with a sharp and talented editor, Deena Drewis, and have my book designed by the press’s risk-taking founder Elijah Jenkins, I also had so much fun participating in the press’s LAUNCH program, where the limited first-edition went on pre-order for just a week. My book sold out in three days, and getting that first paycheck was exhilarating. My tiny book got me on a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a few awesome readings, and it even found its way to two different editors at larger houses. It became my literary calling card. When readers received my book in the mail, it was signed and numbered by me. It also came with a condom.
Sounds great, right? But wait for it, wait for it, wait for it…
Flatmancrooked, sadly, closed its doors earlier this year.
And there you go. First off, if they can even keep the doors open, small presses generally lack the resources to really get your book out there from a marketing perspective. They may not even have a distribution network any better than what you can assemble yourself. Heck, they may just put it on Amazon the same as you could on your own. You will end up doing just as much work as if you put it out yourself, and for a smaller cut. And, to get a book to a small press, you will likely have to penetrate a wall of pretension and nepotism comparable to the Gates of Mordor. But you will get to be really cool for being on that independent press, which one could make the argument is a fantastic way of appealing to one’s vanity.
Don’t believe me? Well friend, my novel The Madness of Method was picked for publication by a small press. How did that happen? The press was started by my friend during his masters in publishing program. I donated the novel as text he could for his design final. Afterwards, he decided he liked the book enough to press it. That was nearly two years ago and the book has yet to come out. There you have it, nepotism and lack of getting shit done, the small press at its finest.
In the time since I was sent a contract and a check for $100, I took a Word document for a different manuscript and took it all the way to being a published book that is selling quite nicely online and in select stores.
Want to be like me? Self-publish. Remember, no one calls DIY punk rock vanity music. And soon, it won’t be called vanity publishing, or even independent publishing, anymore either. It will just be publishing.
3: Do you really want to wait until the publishing industry sorts itself out to publish?
These problems I bring up are not the end, but the turbulence may last awhile. And until it’s sorted out, the penny-counters in publishing aren’t going to be taking a lot of chances. Do you really want to wait until then to publish? It could potentially be decades. Dunno about you, but I’m not that patient. Especially not when a piece of writing is timely.
So again I say, self-publish.
4. The Real Money is in Film, So Give a Filmmaker a Book Instead of a Three-Ring Binder Full of Scribbles
Very few books are bestsellers. That’s just the math of the situation. So don’t count on retiring from the sales of your book. The real money is in film adaptations anyhow, something you probably think you need a publishing house for.
Thanks to the wave of technology that is empowering independent publishing, independent film adaptations are more achievable than ever. All you have to do is get your book into the hands of a filmmaker. I did it.
As part of the fundraising campaign to press my book, I sold the film rights to The Dog House, one of the stories in it, to a very talented filmmaker who took a shining to my project. That film will be shot in spring and come out shortly after, serving to even further promote my book and boost my sales.
However, had I not had a legit book to take these steps with, it probably wouldn’t have happened.
So what do I say to that? Self-publish.
And now some direct responses…
Lepucki says not to self-publish because A. she writes literary fiction (genre fiction does much better in the e-reader market), B. she values the publishing community, C. she doesn’t want to be Amazon’s bitch, and D. she’s busy writing.
A: As Lepucki points out in her own article, e-reader sales and e-book sales are up. More e-readers were shipped this holiday season than ever before. Early adopters are by stereotype the sort predisposed to sci-fi and fantasy. But with the introduction of the Kindle Fire, we’re reaching the tipping point. Soon the markets will balance and literary fiction will be burning up the e-book charts.
But, I would also point out that self-publishing isn’t limited to e-books. Upload your book to a Print on Demand service, order a few hundred and take it on tour, just like any other author would.
B: Fuck the Gatekeepers. I believe in expertise, especially in art. And to become one of the editors or literary agents that make up the publishing community, one typically has some. But that doesn’t mean editors or buyers are remotely in touch. Those on the top rarely are. And while you’re free to beat your head against the wall trying to get them to pay attention, the best way to get their attention is in the sales charts. If a book is already selling, then you don’t have to feel pathetic trying sell them on it.
C: Unless you’re deluded enough to think that the waves of book store closures bode well for brick and mortar, you already are “Amazon’s bitch.” Like it or not, the future of retail is online and it is the largest online retailer, especially for books. Not being on Amazon may make you feel pretty righteous, but it isn’t going to do wonders for your sales.
Plus, if you don’t want to be Amazon’s bitch, then don’t. Upload your book to a different Print on Demand service like Book Baby, or set up a download through your own website. Record it as an audio book and sell it via iTunes. Or just hire a printer to press it for you and do things old school.
D: On this, I agree completely with Lepucki. You should be busy writing. But you should be busy writing your book, not endless stacks of cover letters. So write a book, send the manuscript to a designer you hire, and then start writing another while they’re putting it together. Then keep working on that book while a copy editor has the document. Finally, hire someone to do PR for you and keep writing your new book while you’re out on the road promoting the one you just self-published.
Or stay home endlessly writing generic cover letters as your book remains unpublished. Your choice. I think by now you you know what I choose.
Look, I’m not against publishing houses. If one of them came along and offered me a deal, I’d probably take it. And I’ll admit there are reasons not to self-publish. A few of them are even legitimate. But most of them are elitist bullshit predicated on the idea that you couldn’t possibly do it on your own without mucking things up. And that’s just wrong. Workshop the shit out your book until is perfect. Then hire a professional designer and editor—they’re happy to work freelance. Hire a fantastic artist to do the cover. Those are the same things a publishing house would do. If you take yourself seriously, and hold your book to the same standard that a publishing house would, then there is no reason your book can’t come out just as good as it would with a traditional imprint. And the most important part of that is that your book will come out. The same may not be said if you insist on going through the traditional publishing process.
The reader reviews rolling in over at Amazon are continuing to be kind to me. Five stars across the board. That’s better than Moby Dick. It’s got an average of four. But, it’s also SUPER-BORING.
Anyhooters, check out some of what’s been said below…
This collection is an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed a lot, cried a little, then laughed myself to tears. The book is addictive, so pick up a copy and carve out some time, because you won’t be able to put it down.
I have a process when I read books. Simple first come first serve.
Short of reading maybe a page here or there, I stick to it. When I picked up Secrets & Lies, I immediately caved and read the first story. Feeling guilty, I returned to the book who had dutifully waited it’s turn. Not unlike the sensation that I’ve left the stove on, S&L itched at my brain, breaking my routine one day at a time.
It won of course.
Not only did it win, it may have ruined other books for me. I keep picking out stories and re-reading them. I fear my process will never recover.
It was completely worth it.
I’ve read versions of many of these shorts before and yet I found myself completely sucked in to each and every story, even upon my 2nd or 3rd read. It’s a fantastically well written and varied collection from a new author and I can’t wait to read what comes next.
When my copy of secrets and lies arrived, I had to wrestle it from my wife’s hands. She saw the cover and wanted first crack at the stories. We compromised and ever since then I get one chapter at a time, and then it’s her turn to read it. At first I was a bit irritated by this, but then I realized we had something new to talk about. Thanks Josh Gross, you have brought my wife and I closer than before!
For a long time I’ve been going on and on about this film I wrote called The Lost Van Gogh. For some of my friends, I think it’s reached the point of being like that guy in middle school who totally made out with this hot girl with enormous boobs, but who you can’t ask to verify because she moved to Alaska then died. But you know, she’s totally not made up.
But after a number of screenings at international film festivals all over the country, it’s going to show in my turf where all the disbelievers will have a chance to get shown what for.
The Lost Van Gogh is getting its public premiere on January, 26 in Portland at the NW Film Center as part of the NW Film Center’s “Movers and Makers” screening, a collection of innovative shorts from the talented staff.
The screening starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $6-$9 and are available here.
By day, a large part of my job is to be professional critic. Not everyone approves of what I have to say, which they make abundantly clear in their web comments. I think that part of it is that they think it’s me dishing it out and never having to take it, which isn’t true. I love “taking it.” I am of the opinion that something is discussed because it’s worth discussing, so even when criticism is negative, it grants legitimacy.
That’s why now that my book is getting into the hands of readers, Read the rest of this entry