Monday, November 15, 2010


Last Saturday, I made my debut at one of my favorite Chicago shows, The Paper Machete. The Paper Machete was created by and is hosted by Christopher Piatt who describes it as "a free, weekly 'live magazine' covering pop culture, current events and American manners. Part spoken-word show, part vaudeville revue, The Paper Machete features comedians, journalists, storytellers and musical guests performing in the back room of north side bar. It’s a salon in a saloon." Chris asked me to do something about something from the news. On Thursday night, we settled on me addressing Amazon being pressured to remove an eBook about how a pedophile can practice their "craft" and not to get caught. My angle is was my own experience in self-publishing.

Here's what I wrote and performed. It started with me carrying a copy of my book up to the microphone.

This is a book I wrote. Sort of. In 2009, I wrote a comedy sketch a day for a year. This is all of them in one place. I didn’t write them to have a book, but they ended up in there. Not published by Simon and Schuster or Samuel French or some University Press. Published by me. And I hope that by the time I am done here, you are disgusted by it. Assuming you aren’t already.

November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Last year, the official NaNoWriMo website had 165,000 participants registered. 30,000 of them completed the goal of cranking out a 50,000 word novel from scratch. It’s like the marathon for out-of-shape would-be writers. If this year’s number of participants has increased like it has every other year, that means come December 1st, there could potentially be 40,000 new novels completed and published. Not from any big publishing house. Not placed in some fancy display at Borders. 40,000 new novels unleashed into the wild, available on-line as downloadable eBooks. We live in an age where anyone with a blog can be considered a published author, anyone with a webcam can be a filmmaker or porn star or both. We live in an age where anyone can create a piece of work and put it on the Internet for potential millions to see and then write about it on their own blogs. And most of what’s being generated out there is just crap.

Millions of people upload YouTube videos every day. Millions of bloggers post content every day, mostly recounts of vacations and videos of cats. I am guilty of both. The number of podcasts available for free just through iTunes is staggering. Musicians are using their laptops for recording studios and posting their work on-line. Although, in the music industry, it’s not called self-publishing, it’s called self-releasing. Which sounds more appropriate and makes me giggle.

In theater, it’s not unusual for a show to cancel if the number of people in the cast outnumbers the people in the audience. As a society, we’re getting close to having to cancel our show. There are more artists than audience. People complain about not being able to draw an audience to their show. That’s because the audience is busy elsewhere doing their own shows. In Chicago, you can see improv seven nights a week in a few different locations. Is there that much of a demand for it? No. No one is clamoring to see Uncle Billy’s Fun Sack do a montage at 11pm on a Sunday in the back of a dive bar. There are that many shows because there are that many people wanting and willing to do that show. Self-produced. The theater world’s version of self-published.

The problem with so much content being created and “published” is that there’s no filter. There’s no one sitting behind a desk going, “Ew. No. Not that one.” For many of us, that’s good news. A lot of good, interesting artists get a chance to be seen or heard. But when the floodgates are open, a lot of flotsam gets a chance, too. On October 28th, Amazon allowed Philip R. Greaves II, or in today’s vernacular, Phillip R. Greaves .2, to upload a new eBook. An experienced “published” author, he already has two other eBooks.

The other books on Amazon that Greaves wrote have nothing to do with sexual molestation. One is called
A Government of Service to All – “A discripeion of the political realities that influence us all.” And there’s my all time favorite, The Grand Delusion or What’s God Got To Do With It? Described as “An examination of man and his many notions of "God" with an aim toward disproving the existence of any universal intelengence of omnipotent creator. “ That’s right. He misspelled “intelligence.” The only thing being molested in these books is spelling. Or, as Greaves would write, “spieling.” Self-publishing is not only an assault on our morals and principles, it’s an assault on the English language.
((Note: I tried to link to these this morning, and it looks like Amazon has taken everything by Greaves off their website.))

His latest non-seller, a self-help book. The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct. It offers advice to pedophiles afraid of becoming the center of retaliation and includes first-person descriptions of such encounters, purportedly written from a child's point of view.

The book triggered outrage on Twitter – our newest form of quick self-published shouts at the world. A chorus of comment leavers on the book’s Amazon page called for them to pull the book. Which they did do. Three weeks after it was made available. Not because of any principles, because of the bad press they were getting and the threat of a boycott. Look, I’m not defending pedophilia or a pedophile. I’m all for whatever floats your boat as long as it does no harm to anyone and, if another boat’s involved, it’s there because it wants to be there, is of legal boating age and you’re not a Somali pirate. Amazon initially refused to take the book down based on freedom of speech. Hard to argue against because then we start talking about where to draw lines.

Many critics claimed Amazon endorsed pedophilia just because they carried the book. They have many other books about pedophilia, fiction and non-fiction. From text books to Lolita. This one, however, tells people how to get away with it, which many people feel, goes too far. Easy to understand, but based on that logic, there’s more stuff for Amazon to take down. They also carry the Dexter books and DVDs, and I’m pretty sure they don’t endorse serial killing. Now, you might make the case that one is non-fiction and offers actual advice on how to get away with breaking the law. Except Dexter does exactly that. It’s a code of conduct for serial killers who don’t want to get caught.

They also carry other books that are literally instructional manuals on how to commit crimes. The Anarchist’s Cookbook, The Marijuana Growers Handbook and Decision Points by George W. Bush.

A more frightening book on Amazon that I found is Improvised Munitions Black Book, Vol. 1. Volume 1! There’s more to come. It gets rave customer reviews, mostly folks from Northern Ireland. “if you want a good book about explosives, rockets, chemical mixtures, how to build devices, and how to acquire ingredients, this book is for you.” That’s a direct quote. No protests in the comments section from anyone. A little more frightening is the accredited author. Self-published by the US Government. On the Amazon webpage there’s a section of “customers who bought this also bought…” which leads you to Uncle Sam’s other book, the U.S. Marine Corps Sniper Training Manual, just in case that DIY bomb didn’t go off.

Before the Pedophilia for Dummies book hit the headlines, its author claimed it had sold precisely one copy. After the media picked up the story, it had moved enough units to make the Amazon’s Top 100 list. Top 100 out of hundreds of thousands of books. Quite an accomplishment for a self-published eBook by an unknown author who rejects the oppression of spellcheck. I seriously doubt the books, were scooped up exclusively by pedophiles. That’s the double-edged sword of offensive material. One has to read it to be able to intelligently comment on it. Oh, not the people protesting. We all know the loudest protesters are the ones who didn’t read the book or see the movie. Sadly, for them, the digital age has taken its toll on book burnings. Used to be able to gather a bunch of copies up and set them on fire to demonstrate your disgust. Can’t throw a bunch of eBooks in a pile and hit delete.

Self-publishing is intoxicating. After I wrote a comedy sketch a day for a year, they were all produced last June. We had 26 directors putting up 26 shows with 176 actors over eleven nights at the Strawdog. I wanted to give the directors something special to say thank you for their hard work. I went to, a self-publishing site. Although, lulu calls it “open publishing,” I guess because “it’s complicated” publishing didn’t sound very inviting. There, I uploaded the scenes into this book. With the click of a mouse, I became a published author. You can find the book on-line. Even at Amazon.

When I brought hard copies in to give to directors, other people asked me about buying one for themselves. Dollar signs shot off in my head like green and gold fireworks. I dreamt of being able to retire and just lie in a bed of royalties from book sales. That, of course, hasn’t happened. Instead of a bed, maybe a nice throw pillow of royalties. Not a big audience of readers for a telephone book sized tome of scripted sketch comedy by some guy.

I’m fine with that. It was meant as a souvenir of the event. Nothing more. But it would be nice to hit the Amazon Top 100 at least once, even for a moment. I mean, if a pedophile - who spells “perversity” with two “c”s - can do it… I just need to convince everyone there’s a reason to protest it. This thing (I hold up 365 Sketches) is vile and offensive.

Let me read some of the scene titles to you…

“Unicorns – Let’s Fuck Them Without Permission”

“Give The Elderly Aids”

“Anything Can Be A Urinal, Especially On A Train or At A Buffet”

“Lynching’s Aren’t Fun, Not Without Bungee Cords”

“Cancer is God’s Way of Saying Die, Already!”

Riled up, yet? It’s available on-line and in book form. A really big, easy to burn book. You can build a bonfire that will last for days. It’s also on sale at The Book Cellar. I think we should all march up there after. Everyone throw in a few bucks, I’m good for two dollars, and we buy a copy and set it on fire. Afterward, we can also have some wine and a sandwich. I love that place.

.2, my fellow published author, was interviewed by The Smoking Gun, and insisted his book doesn't advocate for adults to harm children. "The best advice I can give a pedophile,” he says, “is accept that masturbation is your best friend.”

...which brings me back to the topic of self-publication.