Those of you who haven’t heard from me in some time, listen up. I’m alive and well, living in New York City. Working, writing, working, writing and publishing, in iterative loops.
It’s good to see you. You look good. Pull up a chair. Come see the show.
When I started my quest in self-publishing at the end of 2012, I did so as an experiment. Did you know that? No, of course you didn’t. That’s because I haven’t written about that story until now. Of course, there are those in the industry who do know. After all, among writers, editors and publishers, people know that I chose the independent route to publish my books.
The idea to self publish arose from a conversation I had at the time with my friend and colleague Jacqui Cheng. We set out to write some short pieces of fiction (tipping our hats to Mary Shelley and her writing contemporaries). And over the course of 2012 and part of 2013, I wrote and published a book.
It was a weird book, and it wasn’t meant to be a novel. Instead, I designed it as interlocking short stories. That didn't turn out as I expected. When I finished, I had a novel, and not a handful of stories. It was a filthy book, and a transgressive one. It blended eroticism with a narrative about transformation and the occult, and though I felt passionate about the project, the honest truth is that I didn’t think anyone would really want to read it. I called that book How to Kill a Superhero. That was the first book that I self published, and the one that kicked everything off.
Looking back, I definitely can see that I didn’t believe in the book’s viability in late 2012, when I was writing it. Yet, I had the urge to experiment with self publishing using tools from Amazon, Apple, Smashwords. And I went for it. I used every bit of knowledge I had from working in newspaper and web publishing, and I asked many questions about what I didn’t know about book publishing. I hired an editor. I had the book copy edited. I hired a designer, and I bought a URL. In the course of about 9 months, I had a paperback that looked nothing like a typical erotica or fantasy book. Its cover was a throwback to classic James Bond novel covers from the 60s, though the content of the book was intense enough to make everyone blush. I used a pen name at the time, as a way to explore ideas about identity and superhero themes, but very soon, I regretted having done so. Why? Because people started reading the book, and they started talking about the book. It caught on with a certain subset of gay men who had grown up with superhero stories but didn’t see their desires and identities expressed in fiction.
That book opened doors for me. As readers came across the novel, people came knocking at my door. I was invited to podcasts, leather conferences, author signings. The momentum created by Pablo Greene’s book about an occult book and the nurse who absorbed its powers led me to write a second book in the series, called World Without Daylight.
And all through this time, I still didn’t really believe in myself. Yes, that’s what I am telling you. I lacked so much confidence. Despite making sales, generating revenue and talking to my readers about a book they loved, I still didn’t have the confidence in myself to let the world see what I had done. None of it felt “real” enough, successful enough. So I kept my Pablo Greene identity secret.
I don’t recommend shrinking away from the world during moments of doubt. I don’t recommend shrinking away from who I am. Not at all.
By the time the second superhero book published in early 2014, it was apparent to me that this was going to be a tetralogy. I knew I could publish a professionally edited and designed book and e-book using my own name, and something told me to push, to make it a reality, to use the powerful tool of creation in my mind and make my debut novel under my regular name a reality. I would not wait for an agent to come and rescue me and validate me (because I had tried the agent route for years).
In 2014 I launched my debut novel 13 Secret Cities as a serial, in a similar vein to John Scalzi’s 2013 serial, Old Man’s War. Writing that book almost killed me. I wrote each of the four parts in real time, getting each section edited and produced and launched every 2-3 months, all the while working my regular job. I went through various cover concepts with two designers, and I ran into major issues in the Amazon store, but each serial piece released starting in early summer all the way through winter of 2014, and in December, a paperback edition collecting them into a single novel also launched.
I tried my best to promote this new novel, but the schedule for its release almost killed me. And then, 2015 started, and I felt so scattered, so utterly exhausted from releasing two books in one year, that I basically forgot to promote my books. I was burnt out, and my health started to diminish as a result. I started losing sleep, and nerve pain in my limbs started to affect my daily life. This condition of mind and body, which some people call sciatica, but which health experts refer to as PPD (or psychophysiologic disorder), almost destroyed my everyday life. Dealing with pain on a daily basis became a full time job, and I am still dealing with pain currently. The response in the body is real, but attacking the source, which in my case comes from life stress, is a bitch. And it all stems from emotions like fear. As I battled each day just to get out the door of my house and go to work, I was afraid, more afraid than I had ever been before. It was as if I had wandered into the woods and could no longer find my way home.
Well that was then. That was a time when I couldn’t reconcile both halves of my publishing career. I write novels as Cesar Torres and as Pablo Greene, and I have been too careful in the past in curating those two images as separate people. Each one of those writers is one and the same.
And you know it. I know it.
At New York Comic Con October 8-11, I will be there promoting both book series: 13 Secret Cities AND How to Kill a Superhero. The superhero books that I write as Pablo Greene are explicit, filthy, and they combine elements of violence, BDSM, religion and sex, and I don’t give a fuck who they offend. They are as much a part of my imagined worlds as the universe I created in 13 Secret Cities. They have things to say about the human condition and the nature of the universe as much as anything else I have ever written in my fiction. I have wanted to show the world that those superhero books have a place alongside my other published books, 12 Burning Wheels and 13 Secret Cities.
Those main characters from each series, Clara Montes and Roland, deserve equal respect and readership.
And so, when I attend NY Comic Con, I put on a superhero costume, because that’s a habit I started as Pablo Greene. It was something that came naturally to me the first time I attended an event as the author.
And I haven’t stopped. Fuck tweed jackets, fuck sensible reading glasses, and fuck all the conventions of what an author is “supposed to do.” I put on a superhero’s tights, and I sign books, I talk to readers, and I have a great time.
My life as Managing Editor at The Wirecutter is a busy one. My hours are long, and I love that job. But it doesn’t leave a lot of free time to promote my books. And so, the events that I choose are very strategically chosen. That’s why NY Comic Con is something I attend every year. I don’t have to travel far, and I get to meet readers in a way that allows me to get the best results as an independent publisher and author.
I don’t even have a booth as an exhibitor at Comic Con. Did you know that? Yeah, it’s true. The people I meet, the readers I talk to — those interactions help my books get read by readers. I also use my experience as a journalist, to talk to other people about their books, and the ideas they care about. This year I will be doing several daily interviews on both my Cesar Torres and my Pablo Greene YouTube channels, to show once again that books are alive, and that geek and book culture have a lot to offer the overall global culture.
I will do all of this while dressed as a superhero. Like I ALWAYS do.
I am not after fame or the NYT bestsellers list. What I am after is my existing readership. There are people who love 13SC, and there are people who love How to Kill a Superhero. So far, they have been mutually exclusive audiences. But not anymore. In just a few years I have gone farther in self publishing than what many traditionally published authors will ever do.
And there’s more to come. Transformation Fetish, book 3 in the How to Kill a Superhero series, will publish this Fall, and the sequel to 13 Secret Cities is on its heels. That book is slated to arrive in late 2016. This, my friends, is a dream life. It’s more than I could have ever imagined when I was just a boy using his father’s Olivetti typewriter in Little Village in Chicago in 1987.
So join me. If you love or you hate my books, please tell people about it. The word of mouth is what makes indie books grow and flourish. But don’t be surprised when I show up at city near you hauling a box of books dressed like Superman or Venom, talking about cosmic horror, mirrors and the craft of writing.
If you’re attending NY Comic Con in person, let’s hang out. If you won’t be there, watch my YouTube videos. They will not be boring.
It will be a good meeting of my mind with yours. We’ll have a laugh. And you’ll see the real me.