Posts Tagged ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

The Russian, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, has been oft-described as one of the first “psychological novelists”; followed up, some would say, by the 1890 publication of HUNGER by the starving, post-tubercular Norwegian, Knut Hamsun.
Tough books, coming from the toughest of experiences/life stories…nothing precious about Dostoyevsky or Hamsun.
They both seemed to set down the facts/details of a decade of suffering and survival in a first book: Dostoyevsky in HOUSE OF THE DEAD, Hamsun in HUNGER.
But, this done, they would tend to let the imagination and spirit soar in the following books…the facts and details of their histories still embedded there though, felt, sensed, like psychological rock strata, unyielding.

D. H. Lawrence, the English miner’s son, took on the “psychological” penetration of that rock strata next, delving deep, fusing the exploration with elements of impassioned drama and story which brought such a potent mix of public acclaim/disapprobation.
While, in Czechoslovakia, almost on the same timeline, Franz Kafka, son of a successful, hardened businessman (himself the son of a Jewish shochet/ritual slaughterer), was investigating the same existential meat of the mind, with glorious results.

There is no doubt that, behind the curtain there, at least to an extent, lay the joint influence on the European mind, of the founding fathers of modern psychology, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.
This influence was not confined to an intelligentsia, or any one social/economic class…the starving artist or miner’s son could be infected by it, just as surely as by the tuberculosis that also seemed to fell half of the writers in the first half of the 20th century.
These things, for good or ill, were just “in the air”…
The plan to supply universal education to all classes of British society, which George Bernard Shaw had opposed so vigorously, had gone ahead, and now the working class had been taught letters en masse, and who knew what beyond-the-pale literature some of them might end up reading…there were even libraries for them now…

As often happens though, following upon the opening of those doors in the first half of the 20th century, the second half of it saw a sinister closing of those same doors.
By the 1970s, the controversial Scottish psychiatrist, R. D. Laing, would insist that if Franz Kafka were to enter the 1960s Glasgow psychiatric system he would be instantly diagnosed, even if only on the basis of the texts he had written, as paranoid schizophrenic, and given the appropriate regimen of drugs and electric shock therapy to the brain popular in the day.
THE TRIAL and THE METAMORPHOSIS would no longer have been art/analogy for Kafka in 1960s Glasgow…through chemicals and electricity he would have experienced them for real.
Slightly earlier, in 1951, an inmate at Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in New Zealand, a post-drug and electro-convulsive therapy patient, diagnosed with schizophrenia, Janet Frame, had recently published her first book with Caxton Press, a short story collection entitled, THE LAGOON AND OTHER STORIES.
This did not stop the hospital scheduling her for a lobotomy, though, an operation to remove part of her brain surgically for “therapeutic” purposes.
But, as happenstance would have it, Janet Frame’s book won  the Hubert Church Memorial Award for fiction that month, one of New Zealand’s most prestigious literary prizes.
The hospital therefore had to cancel the lobotomy for public relations reasons, and they released her from Seacliff Lunatic Asylum only four short years later, from whence she left New Zealand for England, where a doctor at the Maudsley hospital in London told her that he believed she had been wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia and had never had the condition.

In 1962, Ken Kesey published ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, the result of his experiences working night shifts at the Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital in California (interestingly, he worked night shift there with Gordon Lish, who would later become Raymond Carver’s editor)…and, of course, in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST it is Randle P. McMurphy whose antics are finally sorted out by Nurse Ratched via lobotomy, as the chemically-coshed inmates look on.
Surely, for acid-fuelled Kesey, this was a case of “There But for the Grace of God Go I…”
A sensing in fiction of what societal dangers could lie in wait for the artist’s mind…if the artist didn’t watch out…

In 1974, Robert Pirsig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE was published.
Between 1961 to 1963, Pirsig had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and clinically depressed, receiving a great many electric shock treatments to his brain during those years, which he later wrote about in his book in great detail.
Finally, he decided the only way to escape the hospital was to behave as the staff wished him to behave, speak as the staff wished him to speak.
After several years of post-hospital recovery, Pirsig then wrote his book, about the psychiatric profession in part, and his own view of “insanity as the new heresy”, scientific logic having replaced centuries of religion in the collective mindset of modern man.
Pirsig believed that to challenge the mind-set of society was to risk being punished as a heretic, a modern disbeliever; assent to the societal norms or be punished by the burning/neutralising/neutering effects of the electricity…the new fire to which the heretic, out of touch with the logos and mythos of their times or peers, may be put legally in order to force their recantation.
(Interestingly, it is not quite true that ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE was rejected by 121 publishers, as Pirsig once noted in an Afterword to an edition of the book. Later, in an online interview, he gave more detail…a careful man, having learned not to waste time, he had written only the first few chapters of the book, early in the morning before his day job, in cafes, and had then sent this sample out to 122 publishers…out of these, four publishers replied, expressing interest in seeing the finished book…but only one editor kept in close contact with Pirsig throughout the four years it took to write the book, reading it and suggesting revision as the book progressed, and it was this editor who finally published the book, though he did not believe it would sell well, and certainly he never anticipated it becoming a 1974 bestseller.)
Recently, a friend left this link on my Facebook page:
A 3.09 recording of a talk by the philosopher, Alan Watts.
“What do you desire…what makes you itch? Let’s suppose…What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Let’s go through with it…what do you want to do? You do that, and forget the money. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a really miserable way. And, after all, if you do really like what you’re doing…it doesn’t matter what it is…you can eventually become a master of it…it’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it…and then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is…so don’t worry too much….somebody’s interested in everything…and anything you can be interested in, you’ll find others will…”
                                                    Alan Watts
A reminder then, for us all, that art has healed minds, and authors’ lives have been saved, or healed, or prolonged, or made joyous, by the writing of the books, time and again, not to mention how many untold readers’ lives have been enriched, healed, saved, and enlightened by those very same books.
The production of the books being an important act, in and of itself, and a delightful one. 

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I concluded my blog post last month
with this summary:
“My novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford, sold 239 copies in its first 8 weeks though, and by 24 February 2012 it had a surge of 80 sales over one weekend and reached number 13 in the Top 100 bestselling list of paid literary fiction ebooks on Amazon.
It also reached number 18 in the Top 100 bestselling list of all paid literary fiction on Amazon, including the paperbacks and hardbacks published by the major London publishers who had rejected The Survival of Thomas Ford (Ford went higher in the ranking than titles with recent tv or film exposure like The Woman in Black and The Slap; higher than Martin Amis and Maeve Binchy, or Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient; higher than Booker Prize winning novels like The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, or masterpieces like the great Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
The Survival of Thomas Ford also went to number 80 in the Top 100 Bestselling list of UK thrillers on Kindle.”
When I published that blog here on March 11, I was quite ready to accept that this might be as far as The Survival of Thomas Ford would ever go. After 22 years of trying to get a novel published, the means had been presented to me at last to do it, and I had now had my 10 weeks “in the sun”.
The blog I had intended to publish today was to be about some of my deepest influences, authors who never had a word of their work published in their lifetime, but whose books went on to great success with readers after their death.
I would have been expressing my gratitude that I had had the 10 weeks of “being in the sun”, when I knew that far better writers than myself had lived their whole lives without ever even having one day of this.
However…after March 11 sales continued to come in for The Survival of Thomas Ford, slowly and steadily…new reviews also popped up in the UK and USA…
I was faced with a choice between continuing on that honourable, venerable, slow and steady path of wisdom…gradually build up a quality readership over a couple of years…the wise way…
Or else, I knew there might be another option, the option of taking the book on a day-trip up to Castle Frankenstein, strapping it to the good doctor’s elevating table in the centre of the laboratory, and ordering his good man-servant Igor to pull on the chains and raise the poor book Heavenwards that lightning might strike with raging vigour directly into its gently beating heart!
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A violent choice, that second option, and I knew (or thought I knew) it came with a variety of risks.
This method for getting the electricity into the book’s heart is of course better known as:
It is said sometimes, perhaps with good reason, that this is:
a)     Not something you should do when the book is selling at its given price (however I had just changed my book’s price from 77p to £1.94 which felt almost like starting anew)
b)     Not something you should do when you have an Amazon page with very good ratings, as it has been observed that the free promotion can sometimes generate one-star reviews or even attract the dreaded Troll Fraternity (this is true, I’ve just had my first mildly abusive one-star reviews …on an Amazon UK page that previously only had 19 five-star reviews, and 2 four-star reviews)
Also, I had tried the Kindle Select Free Promotion once before, immediately after publishing The Survival of Thomas Ford on December 25 2011.
On that occasion, I let the book be taken free for 5 days and had 892 downloads.
I had heard that paid sales followed the free promotion period, so I had watched eagerly back in December to see how many copies of Ford would now sell at its initial price of £3.30 when the free promotion ended.
After 892 copies being downloaded free, all that momentum, I thought there would be lots of sales perhaps…
There were none.
It had not worked.
Still, I had done the free promo as soon as the book was published, and I had done it without telling a soul…perhaps not optimum conditions…
In early January then, having failed to get any electrical boost from KINDLE SELECT FREE PROMOTION, I had instead lowered my price to 77p and set out on a slow and steady “promotion” of the book on Facebook, Goodreads, Kindle UK Forum, Kindleboards, Mobileread.com…as well as Amazon’s Meet Our Authors forums…just letting readers know the book existed…it was the response to this by readers that got the book into the 3 Amazon bestseller lists, which in turn got me noticed in the local press, which in turn boosted ratings and sales higher. (That, and getting into some debates on The Guardian comments section, which instantly caused 7 new sales the first time I tried it).
So, things had gone well in the slow and steady, wise way…but 9 days ago I was feeling impulsive!
I had just raised the book’s price from 77p to £1.94 and sales had not stopped.
I was itching to give the KDP Select free promotion another try, to see if the book might catch lightning now a second time around, like it had failed to do back in December.
I didn’t want to give away 892 copies in 5 days again though.
This time I would do a 2 day free promotion. Give away a few less downloads…but still try to catch that lightning somehow…
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Since I was planning to do the giveaway with only about 18 hours left before it would be due to start, I quickly looked up Google and everythingauthor.com’s advice, and found there was still time to do some of what was recommended, which might help me get more exposure in the USA in particular:
“3. Send requests to following to get your free book listed. Do this a few days ahead of time to give the site owners time to post your book.
4. Add a Goodreads event and send it to all of your Goodreads friends.
On Your Free Days
1. Post on Facebook pages on your free day(s):
In some cases, following that advice meant filling in a free form on 2 April, which would lead to a site releasing data, not on that day, but on the first day that the book was actually free, in my case, 3 April; this was mostly on USA sites listed above, and one of my reasons for doing the promotion was to try to get more USA readers.
Then, on the morning of the first free day, 3 April, I posted on Goodreads UK and USA kindle forums; kuforum.co.uk; other Goodreads forums; facebook kindle/ebook pages;twitter (author karma); announcing that my book was free on 3 and 4 April. Also on Amazon UK and Amazon USA Meet the Author forums. I think people were helpful to the book on these forums, and reposted the info that the book was free in places where more readers would see, because by then I had been posting there for 3 months, and had some readers/support there already.
At the end of the 2 free promotion days I’d had:
13788 USA downloads; 3705 in UK; 10 in Germany; 6 in France; 1 in Spain; 3 in Italy
So by 5 April, 17500 approx free downloads had been taken in 2 days; as opposed to 892 free downloads in 5 days last December, before I had “promoted” the book (i.e.: Tried to non-aggressively find out where readers who might like my book were online, and then tried to let them know about my book in case they would like a look!)
I was happy at that figure of 17500. A lot more people now had Ford, the book that I had believed would never be published etc,  in their Kindle, or Kobo, or Ipad etc. Good enough for me.
What surprised me next though was that, in the 6 days since the free promotion ended on 5 April, over 600 downloads of The Survival of Thomas Ford have sold at £1.94, and it is still selling now.
One-third of these sales were on the USA Amazon site; two-thirds in the UK
38 “borrows” in the USA also.
This amounts to about £850 income from the book in 6 days.
In the UK the book went to rank 166 out of all paid ebooks on Amazon; Number 4 bestselling literary fiction ebook; Number 4 bestselling literary fiction book, including all paperbacks published by the publishers who had rejected The Survival of Thomas Ford (so Ford went higher in the Amazon bestseller rankings than We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, the book/film which has become my point of reference or pacing horse in these absurd Cheltenham races Ford is engaged in against London publishers’ books which have had tens of thousands of pounds spent on their production and marketing; or from another angle Ford went higher in the rankings than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, the book/film which has become my point of reference or pacing horse in these absurd Wacky Races of the Spirit which Ford is engaged in against New York publishers’ books which have had tens of thousands of dollars spent on their production and marketing!); and The Survival of Thomas Ford also became Number 19 bestselling UK thriller ebook.
In the USA, The Survival of Thomas Ford ranked as 1431 in all paid ebooks; number 70 bestselling literary fiction ebook; number 89 out of all American literary fiction books including, yes, the New York paperbacks.
But rankings, of course, are ephemeral, like lightning itself.
The reviews have interested me more. Up to this point I’d had good reviews on Amazon UK (19 five-star reviews; 2 four-star reviews); and something like 9 five-stars and 2 four-stars on Amazon USA.
This was to change!
My first 3-star review arrived, and my first one-star review, and then my second one-star review!
Now I knew I had arrived! The book was well and truly getting electrified somewhere up there in the stratosphere!
Electricity is a powerful and mysterious, potentially deadly force after all, not to be taken lightly.
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But it is all worth it when I consider that, without the free promotion raising the book’s profile a wee bit, this new review might never have popped up on Amazon.co.uk:
5.0 out of 5 stars Could even read it again., 8 April 2012
janet t
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Survival of Thomas Ford (Kindle Edition)
Bought this for my Kindle after reading such positive reviews and it was under £2 as well what a great buy! Grabs you right from the start no hanging about wondering if you will get on with this book it all flows along at a great pace. It stayed with me as well after I had finished it as it was so graphic would read it again as I had to finish it under the duvet with a torch so as not to wake up my other half.
Or this one that I found on Amazon USA:
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exciting read from page one to the very end, April 7, 2012
By Zelda Barnard “Zelda Barnard” (Ferndale, CA, USA) – See all my reviews (REAL NAME)
This review is from: The Survival of Thomas Ford (Kindle Edition)
I rate this a 10 for sure. I hung on every word and had a hard time getting anything done because I was in a hurry to get back to my book to find out what happens next. I am going to be looking for more work by this author. His characters are SO REAL they make your skin crawl at times. At other times you just feel their pain. Terrific and exciting story and very unique.
So, WE LIVE AND LEARN, as the wise folk used to say! 
This post was first published on Authors Electric, April 11 2012

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