What do a thief, wizards, a platypus, ghosts, soft drink salesmen, God, the devil, and a spaceman all have in common? Together they will make you laugh, think, sleep better, open your mind, spark your imagination, and quite possibly improve your complexion* as Joe Mahoney brings them all vividly to life in this humorous and thoughtful collection of seven tales of the fantastic.
Writers just love it when fans of their work create works of art based on that work. I’m no exception. One of my fans created clay versions of two of my main characters in A Time and a Place. To the left there you’ll see a good likeness of Jacques the Necronian.
And below, yes, there he is, the one and only Barnabus Jehosophys Wildebear! (As an aside, I’ll mention I didn’t choose the name Jehosophys randomly… it has to do with the whole Akasha subplot. I like little bits that resonate.) Not sure what happened to Wildebear’s left eyebrow… must have fallen off. That sort of thing will happen when you’re gallivanting around the universe. And I do believe that is Sebastian on his left wrist.
Now, I should point out that the “fan” in question here is actually my daughter Keira. And the truth is I’m MUCH more a fan of hers (and her sister Erin, who also creates much fine art) than the other way around.
Warning: spoiler alert if you haven’t already read A Time and a Place and plan to…
This past Thursday I had the honour of attending the Harbord House Science Fiction Book Club as their guest author. They’d selected my debut novel A Time and a Place as their book selection of the month. Or more precisely, member Dana Silnicki had selected it.
It’s my understanding that at about forty members the Harbord House SF Book Club is one of (if not the) largest SF book clubs in the nation. I’m still flabbergasted that they chose my book; doubly so that they asked me to attend so that they could discuss the book with me.
This was the second time I’d been invited to discuss A Time and a Place at a book club. The first time was quite a pleasant experience so I was quite looking forward to this one. I felt like I’d made a bit of a mistake at the first book club, though. I’d been so excited to talk about my book, and there had been so many questions, that once primed I had difficulty NOT talking about it. Afterward I felt like I’d talked too much. I definitely didn’t want to make the same mistake this time.
My friend Fergus and his partner Donna happen to be members of the club. They graciously allowed me to crash at their place that night, so we attended together. As we stood talking in the early moments, Fergus happened to mention that he belonged to another book club. I forget what he called it exactly, but it was something like “The Horribly Awful” or “Embarrassingly Bad” science fiction book club. Briefly, I wondered if perhaps I’d misunderstood and had actually been invited to that one. Fergus assured me that wasn’t the case.
We sat upstairs at Harbord House, a lovely environment in which to drink, dine, and discuss books (the club advertises itself as “a drinking club with a book problem”). Dana introduced my book and me and invited me to say a few words. Because she had stood while talking, I did as well and thanked everyone for the invitation and murmured some other inanities. The group started asking questions. Protocol was such that you were only allowed to speak if you held the ceremonial conch shell. Someone passed it to me and I did my best to answer the questions. Unsure whether to remain standing or sit down, I remained standing for the first couple of answers until someone kindly suggested that I could sit down if I wanted to. Sheepishly, I sat down, wondering if anyone was starting to clue in that I may resemble in more ways than one the slightly bewildered protagonist of A Time and a Place.
Speaking of which, much initial discussion centred around the now familiar question of Wildebear’s like-ability (or lack thereof). Some in the group seemed to like his down-to-earth nature while others just wanted to give him a smack. I confessed that I did not know that I had written an anti-hero, someone potentially unlikable. I was just trying to make him real. I listened as Fergus described Wildebear as “bewildered” and saw the light go on in his eyes as he made the connection between the name Barnabus Wildebear and the word bewildered. I had to confess (for the second time) that it was not deliberate (the group advised me to take credit anyway, but I cannot tell a lie). I suppose it’s possible that my subconscious had something to do with it… yeah, let’s go with that. 🙂
The question of the immutability of time came up. That is, the notion that in the universe of the book you cannot change the past. Twice now it’s been suggested to me (online and in person) that in A Time and a Place I create a universe in which neither Wildebear nor anyone else can change the past only to negate that concept later in the book. I tell you now that is not the case. I think the misunderstanding may arise from the number of times Wildebear visits the past. But each time he does so he changes nothing. He is incapable of changing anything because the past (in the book, at least) is immutable. I humbly suggest that if the reader thinks otherwise, they are misunderstanding the events in the book (I fully accept responsibility for perhaps not making this sufficiently clear in the book itself).
That being said, it was clear to me that the book club members had not only read the book but read it carefully. What a treat for any author, particularly one just starting out, like me. It makes all the effort of having written the novel so worthwhile. If only I could go back in time and tell the version of myself that was writing A Time and a Place that one day I would enjoy a night surrounded by people who had read my book and were there for the express purpose of discussing it. I suspect I would make that version of myself tear up.
Heartfelt thanks to Dana for selecting my book, and for the members of the Harbord House Science Fiction Book Club for their warm welcome and friendly camaraderie.
People often ask me how the writing’s going. I interpret the question pretty broadly. As in, how’s the new writing going? Fairly well, thanks.
And: how’s my first novel doing?
There’s no short answer to that question. At least, no
short accurate answer.
A Time and a Place has been available just over two years now. I usually tell people that I’m not quite in Stephen King territory yet but it’s going reasonably well, and that my excellent publisher tells me that the book has paid for itself, which I hope leaves the impression that it’s achieved some measure of success.
Whether the book truly can be considered successful depends on who you’re asking, I think. I suspect that any big-time publisher might condemn the book as a complete and utter failure. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code sold eighty million copies. Compared to that, A Time and a Place has not exactly taken the world by storm.
The aforementioned big-time publisher might—I say might—concede that the critical reception for A Time and a Place (professional and otherwise) has been reasonably favourable, but they would probably also feel compelled to point out the rather small sample size.
Some novelists, I suspect, might suggest that merely completing and publishing a novel constitutes success because doing so is goddamned hard. While I accept that, most novelists would also admit that that’s not enough. Almost all of us (if we’re being honest with ourselves) would admit that we define real success as massive book sales and wide critical acclaim. On those scores, A Time and a Place can not exactly be considered an unmitigated success.
Still, to be fair (especially to those who helped me with the book), it’s probably performing perfectly fine considering it’s a first novel by an unknown author published by an independent press. I assume all responsibility for any lack of greater success. And I am well aware that the freakish success of an author like Dan Brown is pretty much a complete fluke.
But I’ll let you be the judge. Here are the facts. Let’s start with sales.
of my most recent Royalty statement, for the first quarter of this year, covering
up to March 31st 2019, A Time and a Place has sold a total of 454
those, my publisher sold 333 print editions, 98 e-books, 1 e-library edition,
and 22 audio books.
Of the 333 physical copies my publisher sold, I sold 134
of those myself after purchasing them from my publisher (at a discount). I gave
away 13 books as gifts, another 2 were kinda gifts (I thought the people would
pay but they never did), and 1 copy was stolen after a reading at a library (she
picked it up off the table when I was across the room. I didn’t confront her. I
dunno, maybe she thought it was free). I
have another 18 copies sitting in my basement to have available for readings
and book fairs and so on.
I earn 50% of net on any e-books sold, 10% on print (possibly more if I sell them myself, depending how much I charge), 50% on e-library copies, and 50% on audio books. A Time and a Place has earned me a total of $5989.68 since July 2017 when it first came out. Factor in the cost of purchasing books at a discount from the publisher to resell, all the marketing and promotion I do to supplement what my publisher does, along with treating myself to attending one writer’s convention per year, and I’m not exactly getting rich. Actually, technically I’m in the red, if I’m honest about how much I’ve spent on writing related activities since I began all this.
So yeah, I don’t think I could call A Time and a Place a huge success financially so far.
It’s fared better on the critical front. Reviews have been mostly positive.
On Goodreads, it has been rated 42 times, accompanied by 23 reviews. It currently averages 4.35 out of 5, consisting of twenty-four 5 star reviews, thirteen 4 star reviews, four 3 star reviews, one 2 star review and one 1 star review. It’s been added to 100 bookshelves, including 45 To-Read shelves.
23 of those 45 ratings have been accompanied by reviews. The reviews range from positive: “Mahoney writes with a practised wit,” “I loved this mesmerising audiobook with its non stop action and adventure,” and “A brilliant, often hilarious, thoughtful and amazing read,” to not so positive: “The second half of the book got a bit muddled for me.” “I think that the author was a bit too ambitious,” and “…one of the least likeable protagonists I’ve read in some time.”
On Amazon.ca it has been reviewed four times. All of those have been 5 star reviews.
On Amazon.com it has been reviewed twelve times (one 3 star review, two 4 star reviews, and nine 5 star reviews).
On Amazon.co.uk, it has been reviewed two times (both 5 star reviews)
On Library Thing it has garnered six reviews (two 5 star, two 4 star, one 3 star and one 2 star, averaging 3.57 stars).
There are a few other reviews out there as well, mostly positive, a couple less so, on blogs and Audible. Some are replicated on Goodreads.
Out of the approximately eighty people who have rated the
book, I personally know, am related to, or have met (at least once) around
twenty. The rest are complete strangers to me. Personally knowing or having met
those who have rated the book has been no guarantee of a positive review; three
acquaintances have given A Time and a Place three star reviews.
A Time and a Place has also been reviewed professionally by Publishers Weekly, who gave it a largely positive review when it first came out employing such words as “skillfully,” “entertaining,” and “great” to describe the writing, but the reviewer also discouraged me from getting too fat a head by suggesting that “occasional segments… distract or feel a little overdone.”
The book is currently being carried in seventeen libraries around the world according to WorldCat, in libraries ranging from Austin, Texas to Madison, Wisconsin to Rangiora, New Zealand, and at least three Canadian libraries that I know of, possibly more (despite having only sold one e-library edition; most libraries appear to have purchased print editions).
Does any of this matter? Of course! Otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it. 🙂 Also, I just thought some folks, especially fellow writers just starting out, might find it interesting.
Does it REALLY matter?
Of course not.
But it sure is a great way to procrastinate.
One final thought. Here’s a great Ted Talk from Albert-László Barabási on how to increase your chances of success in any field, writing included.