Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Ryan George Kittleman

Everyone wants to be a writer. But what happens to your authorly confidence when you've worked as a bookseller and watched passively as all of those advance readers from hopeful novelists never make it onto the store's bookshelves?

Debut indie author Ryan George Kittleman dishes on just that. Will his novel The Great Peace rise above the hundreds of others and find its place in the showroom window?


 Call me crazy, but bookselling is a good gig, right? Okay, sure, the pay stinks, but who among us feels otherwise? When I arrived in California with only a fat suitcase and slim savings account, pecuniary gain of any kind was a top priority; after all, the Golden State is not for the faint of wallet. Since I considered myself something of a bookstore-whore, and possessed nearly three-quarters of an economics degree, experience installing security tags at the University of Maine library (I lasted three days), hopelessly pale skin, and acute nearsightedness, it seemed inevitable that I would call upon my local bookstore to save me from penury. Despite my lack of bona fides, I conjured that great spirit so prevalent in the Bay Area, telling myself: it's not who you are, but who you want to be, and I wanna sell books, dagnabbit.

Somehow I landed the job, despite a rambling interview that came off like a macaronic mishmash of Dylan lyrics, misquoted Shakespeare, and insecure self-promotion. My boss was a mellow Texan with shoulder-length gray hair, worn proudly, as if in defiance of time and taste. As someone who still believes in the romantic idea of author-as-rockstar, I relished my boss's tales of partying with Hunter Thompson in Mexico City, '70s style, and swapping dirty jokes with Leonard Cohen. It seemed like a bygone era, memorialized in the books that surrounded me, but reduced to little more than a naive fantasy. What has become of the rockstar author? I wondered. Where have they gone?

The answer, I presumed, lie in the machinations of publishing. Each day, boxes of advance readers were delivered to the store from expectant publishers- big, small, and miniscule. As I padded my library, thank you very much, I began to notice how few, if any, of these freebies ever made it onto our shelves. Not unlike a record collector sifting through crates at a flea market, I found a peaceful commingling of gems, also-rans, and throwaways. Among the sheer volume of it all, there it was: a profile of the industry. A few make it, most don't.

As a guy who has played his fair share of crappy gigs, I found the comparison to music striking. I saw the author-as-bar band, the author-as-hotel crooner, grinding it out, honing their craft, hoping for a big break. A Morrissey lyric came to mind: “when it fails to recoup, well, maybe you just haven't earned it yet, baby.” All the while, the freebies kept rolling in. 

I eventually left the store to continue my education, in the hope of someday becoming a responsible adult, or at least an adult with responsibilities. In some ways I succeeded, I suppose, but it wasn't until my first novel was slated for release that these anachronistic feelings resurfaced. Geez Ryan, I asked myself, why on earth did you write a book, much less send it off into this choppy stream of commerce, knowing full well it's likely to be submerged, unnoticed and unremembered, among countless others, by better-known writers from bigger publishers, who are all vying for what little attention and shelf space an indie can afford? Hmmm, well...

I suppose it comes down to an article of faith. Despite the odds and evidence to the contrary, I still believe in the author-as-rockstar trope, even if it only means playing your heart out to five people in Schenectady or El Paso, or whatever the literary equivalent to that is. I also still abide by the notion that it's not who you are, but who you want to be, and although many years have passed, the calling remains the same: I wanna sell books, dagnabbit. Call me crazy, but it's a pretty good gig, regardless of what side of it you're on. 

About Ryan:

San Francisco-based arts attorney Ryan George Kittleman is the founder of Colony Pictura, a law firm representing filmmakers, artists, musicians, designers, authors and other creative minds.

Since the age of 14, Ryan has been a musician and songwriter, first cutting his teeth in a number of bands in the New York punk scene. He mellowed into a solo artist playing folk-tinged psych-pop and began recording alternately under the names The Three Potato 4 and Spent Waves. The SF Critic raved his 2009 “Album Savant” was “a successfully airy and listenable record.”

The New Yorker left his hometown of Albany for college in Maine, and eventually landed in the San Francisco Bay Area as an indie bookseller at Books Inc. in Mountain View. The Great Peace is Ryan’s newest way of delving further into the arts. His novel releases May 1, 2012, from ExplodingBooks, an imprint of Timbre & Yarn. You can follow him on Twitter (@RyanKittleman) and Facebook (RyanGeorgeKittleman)

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