Tuesday

Kindle Author Interview: Robert Cettl

Robert Cettl, author of Film Talk, discusses his books, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Film Talk?

ROBERT CETTL: Film Talk is a genre by genre, chapter by chapter tour through a century of film dialogue, compiling the most “quotable quotes” from the movies into a reader-friendly anthology. A print publisher initially contacted me to write a movie trivia and quote book, though he later went under as a result of the recent economic recession. After initial discussion, this became two projects—the “trivia” I wrote up as a collection of behind the scenes anecdotes from the movies: back stories, unusual incidents, amusing tales. They weren’t exactly trivia in the sense they weren’t trivial details: they had a point and were informative and entertaining. This became Film Tales. It had 12 or so chapter, each on a separate genre—action, western, romance, classics, cult, erotica, etc. Film Talk was the quote book component of the publisher arrangement—same chapter / genre structure as Film Tales but devoted to movie dialogue. When the publisher folded, ebooks in Australia were just starting up and I looked to Kindle.

Film Talk was fun to research: watching movies and seeing which lines were memorable, trawling film sites to see what movie dialogue fans often quoted—I was surprised by the results. There’s naturally some eternals, the “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn” from Gone With the Wind. Classic lovers have their own likes; “I’m a Stranger here myself” from the western Johnny Guitar appeals to existentialists on social networking sites where it is even a Twitter username; “What we got here is failure to communicate” from Cool Hand Luke—a classic anti-establishment film with the great Paul Newman—has been sampled for a rap song, as has “Me So Horny” and “Me Luv You Long Time” from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (where would the 2 Live Crew be without Kubrick I wonder); and, of course, Pacino as Scarface: “Say hello to my little friend.”

Movie fans, buffs, collectors, fanatics, aficionados very often have a reservoir of film quotes stored in the recesses of their memory. Not that everyone is like the Star Trek fan who punctuates each utterance with a quote from Captain Kirk, or, for that matter, the bilingual film scholar who quotes from Godard or Truffaut films, but isolated lines from favourite characters or scene highlights remain in the memory, floating back into consciousness at opportune moments. Film Talk was written both for the casual film fan who likes movies and movie dialogue and wants a concise anthology of the best lines of dialogue and for the established buff who seeks to augment their reservoir. The films chosen for inclusion / dialogue extraction are all on DVD, increasingly on Blu-Ray and the book was designed as a kind of compendium to complement the home viewing experience. Every genre of film is included, from Hollywood classics to exploitation though I must admit the most chuckles came when compiling the section on erotica.

DAVID WISEHART: What other titles have you published on Kindle?

ROBERT CETTL: I’ve now published quite a few works on Kindle. Film Tales and Film Talk of course. Plus a third book using the same chaptered genre by genre structure: Film Tags—an anthology of movie taglines. That was intriguing to research: some think the line “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away” (Star Wars of course) was a line of dialogue and should have been in Film Talk but it’s the tagline. The funniest research involved the movie Cockfighter, about the illegal bloodsport practiced then in the Southern US States. At a committee meeting to determine the tagline, nothing could be found until after a lengthy and unfruitful session, someone jokingly suggested the following: “He came into town with his cock in hand and what he did with it was illegal in 49 states.” In the end, they decided against this, but popular folklore prefers to remember this tagline as the official one, but it’s never actually been used. Tales, Talk, and Tags comprise a loose trilogy—they can be read and enjoyed independently of course but the chapter and genre structure recurs in each. Film Tags is perhaps the most obscure of these and the most film buff oriented.

Also available is Australian Film Tales. That is a country-specific variation on Film Tales, covering a century of Australian cinema, told through the behind-the-scenes, backstory anecdote. The structure is different here: no longer genre but by theme, related to trends and developments specific to Aussie cinema. Researching that one was tough—there are few books on Aussie film from which to draw upon and journals are hard to find. Luckily, in early 2010 I was awarded a SAR Research Fellowship at Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive to chronicle representations of disability in Australian film. It took a lot of time, but in off-hours I scoured their library to find more back-story material and completed enough research to release a good-sized ebook on Kindle. It’s a specialty, niche book perhaps, even within the film non-fiction genre, but there is much that is entertaining to read about in the behind the scenes experience. Mel Gibson, for instance, is a huge star now in America, but in Australia he was something of a lout. Mad Max made his name in the USA, but he was cast almost by accident. One night he had gotten into a drunken brawl and fist-fight and the next morning accompanied a friend to the casting call for Mad Max. The casting director was not impressed by Gibson’s friend but felt Gibson’s bruised, brawl-ravaged face was photogenic, took pictures and so Gibson got his breakthrough role.

Sensational Movie Monologues is a successor to Film Talk. Film Talk was soundbyte oriented, taking one-liners and brief bits of dialogue that memories can easily recall (contemporary memory spans being what they are) but many impactful scenes in films, I found, were lengthy speeches. The dramatic monologue is a theatrical device which was considered unsuitable for film as a motion picture medium, but filmmakers have responded to this challenge in intriguing ways. For this Kindle book, I took 50 of the screen’s most powerful monologues (or those with an intriguing genesis—such as John Milius sole contribution to Jaws or the studio-imposed censorship on the speech that initially ended Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) and transcribed the monologue, adding contextual information about the movie, the character delivering the monologue and how the monologue was written / filmed. Feedback on this one has, intriguingly enough, been that is has been of interest to actors as a source for speeches to rehearse and practice on as well as film buffs.

Though all of these works were written for film fans of all kinds and are generally accessible, much of my work in print is of a scholarly nature and for Academic publishers—I’m trained in post-graduate film analysis (post-modernist deconstruction, psycho-analytic semiotics, etc). My last post-grad degree was in Information Studies, qualifying me for membership in ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) and the issue of library ethics interests me greatly, especially as it pertains to pornography. Australia, where I presently live (although I went to University in the USA through an International Scholarship many years ago) is the most censorial democracy in the Western world and pornography is rigidly censored and controlled. This has enormous implications for libraries as information centres. I’ve thus written two short-ish ebooks on this theme which I’ve put on Kindle even though Kindle is not an accepted place for scholarly works—I thought I’d see what the reception would be like. One, taken from my thesis, Objectionable Material, examines the ethical history of the debate surrounding pornography and censorship in the library (US and Australia) and the other, Integrity of Aberration, examines the implications of government imposed censorship of adult material upon copyright law, and specifically whether the circumvention of “moral rights” is in violation of Australia’s international copyright obligations. I’m currently working on a retrospective of Aussie film censorship and from this research culled a short ebook for Kindle, Lolita vs. God’s Law. This one specifically chronicles the debate surrounding the Christian political pressure to ban the Adrian Lyne version of the Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita, a case-study of the instance which signalled Australia’s regression into a heavily censorial bureaucracy.

I’ve also released some short experimental erotic-horror fiction on Kindle under a pseudonym. But this work is very bleak and disturbing to some and is wholly unlike my film writing—it’s my dark side to so speak: a dark, Gothic, violent anthology of pathological moral relativism and sexual fantasy from serial killer’s to surrealism. It was written to see what the imagination could be capable following the death of faith, the absence of religious “truth” and a reckoning with the depravity post-Marquis De Sade that humanity is capable of. Though literary irony written as comedy, it is intense in its wretchedness at times (a heavy trip, man) and definitely for adults only.

DAVID WISEHART: What is the ebook market like in Australia?

ROBERT CETTL: There is little to no ebook market in Australia at present: its just beginning. Kindle is in many places unheard of, and overall unavailable here except the PC download version. Indeed, Amazon Kindle was blocked to authors outside of the USA until several months ago when they opened Kindle to foreign publishers / authors. Only a very few Australian authors have sought out the Kindle market—that’s one reason I put out Australian Film Tales in a Kindle version, to establish some internationalism. Ebook readers have only been on general sale for some 4 months. One year ago even the major book chains did not know what an e-reader was. The ebook revolution in the USA went almost unremarked on in Australia, where ebooks are a mere 5% of the total book market. However, that is increasingly exponentially—ebooks are beginning to be a talking point here, sales are increasing and more people are looking to the new market. It has proven no end of distress, however, for the protectionist policies of Australia’s Federal government seeking to preserve the Australian print book (or “tree-book”) market. The Australian Society of Authors is currently in the process of issuing official contract and royalty guidelines for authors seeking electronic publication or contracted to ebook version of their work—the main talking point here is, of course, royalty %.

Because of the lack of ebook development until now, the self-publishing scene in Australia has centered on POD. Vanity presses and such-like, which the Australian Society of Authors consider fraudulent enterprises, charge anywhere from $1500 to $3500 for low print runs and the same prices are offered to authors to publish their ebooks. The attraction of these packages to authors and self-publishers in Australia is the ebook distribution network they get access to, but of course there is absolutely no guarantee that their ebooks will sell, certainly not in Australia, just that they have access to a network of ebook stores. There remains a well-ingrained prejudice in Australia against self-publishers—POD and self-published ebooks are not considered valid or legitimate publications (especially if they have no ISBN#) and general advice to authors approaching a major publisher to publish their works is that if you’ve self-published, don’t mention it on your resume as you will be discounted. In the US meanwhile, success in a self-published e-venture can often lead to contracts from established publishers—or at least this possibility is accepted as a valid likelihood. The stigma of self-publishing clouds the ebook market in Australia—what exists is primarily from established, larger publishers, making it difficult for self-publishers and smaller, independent publishers, to break through specifically into Australia. The few self-published authors thus have flocked to the USA following the de-regulation of Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

ROBERT CETTL: Adult, mature, educated, literate and cine-literate, atheist, secular humanist, morally relativist, ironic sense of humour. Male, female or transgender, say 18-55. For the Kindle material I try writing less for an “ideal” reader than for a range of readers attracted to the film non-fiction genre as a whole.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

ROBERT CETTL: I began writing for print publication, under contract to one of the USA’a largest and most reputable publishers of scholarly film non-fiction, McFarland. My first book for them—a genre study of Serial Killer Cinema—was followed by the collapse of a marriage, after which I threw myself into writing. Film non-fiction primarily, though I was contracted to write a weekly film column for a leading self-help e-zine which resulted in invitations to press screenings of premiere movies in Australia. My experience as a DVD reviewer led to the formulation of a film review based website, Wider Screenings, now used to augment the Kindle film ebooks with free writing and intellectual content online. Though practically penniless following a divorce, I eked out a living on government grants, the last enabling me to go to the National Film & Sound Archive and finally get together enough work to develop the presence and profile I now have on Kindle. I still balance self-published work with contractual work for print publishers: thus, I am proficient in working to deadline, word limit, and within genre.

So my journey as a writer was entirely as a freelance author, building enough credits for reputable publishers here to join the Australian Society of Authors and begin to explore the self-published route in tandem with contractual obligations. I’ve also segued into digital publishing following completion of my second degree: I contract other authors in many genres, layout their works in PDF and publish in ebook form, also making Kindle versions. Though I primarily write film non-fiction, I’ve dabbled in poetry and short fiction of an erotic nature, some of which has created controversy in my home state. I’m gradually releasing this material on Kindle now also, but under a pseudonym: it’s experimental fiction and so far removed from film non-fiction that I thought to distance the two endeavours and one of the nice things about Kindle is the ability to facilitate this.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

ROBERT CETTL: For film non-fiction: watch the movie(s), take notes, read book and journal accounts on cast, crew and related films for historical perspective, then write piece. I’m from a tertiary background, so my writing process retains that standard process of thorough viewing and bibliographical research before writing. All done on computer: have just purchased voice recognition software and will be able to write faster now. First draft, modifications as necessary in second run through and then a final proof, polish to catch any errors. For scholarly work under contract, final stage is often preparing an index from the galleys / proofs returned by publisher: that’s a print technique though and one irrelevant to the Kindle process.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

ROBERT CETTL: I primarily only read film non-fiction as that is the peer group I am published within. Here, there are critics or authors whom I respect—Danny Peary, David Thompson—but I generally tend to value an individual book over a specific author. That’s one of the differences perhaps between writing non-fiction and fiction: for non-fiction, the argument and facts / information is / are more important than the personality of the author. I am inspired by authors, critics and filmmakers that combine their talents to make a distinctive mark on film criticism, film analysis and film culture. But, historically, Peary (again), David Stratton (here in Australia, an influential critic and anti-censorship advocate), Paulene Kael, Gerald Pratley, Andrew Sarris, James Monaco, Christian Metz have all done works which have inspired me.

In terms of fiction / poetry, on the rare occasions I read it since studying it at university—I’m inspired by the beat authors, particularly William S. Burroughs. Sixties counter-culture drug psychedelia is an influence—Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, John Lillie and even such as RD Laing. Naturally their antecedents in Aldous Huxley and William Blake. Authors with a reputation as pornographers ironically enough have some inspiration—James Joyce, Henry Miller, Anais Nin. Poppy Z. Brite’s short fiction is admirable neo-Gothic literature and proved as inspirational as the Marquis De Sade in my venture into short fiction and poetry, much of which has the same “trippy” sensibility of the counter-culture. Also pulp fiction—the moral man in an immoral world scenario of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and the hardboiled school—James M. Cain through to Mickey Spillane. For leisurely reading, I’m often inspired by trash and pulp fiction. But, as mentioned at the outset, I primarily these days read film non-fiction and the occasional biography / autobiography of a filmmaker (director not actor).

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

ROBERT CETTL: None. There are books on specific subjects or about directors that I wish I would also have written about but I can’t say there is one book by another writer that I would like to lay claim to. I would like to do my own versions, perhaps, of books by others (a Biographical Dictionary of Film, for instance) but as I value the individualism of an author, I would not seek to usurp the work of another in the sense of making their words mine. My style as an author is my own (though influenced by others) and I would not want to claim the manner of another, though would bring my own style to a subject, genre or piece that already exists or was written by someone else.

DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?

ROBERT CETTL: Browse images related to book subject matter and/or title. Choose one which appeals / is suitable. Pay license for the final image(s) in reasonable quality from an image bank. Modify in Photoshop if necessary to add effect. Import into InDesign and add text, carefully selecting fonts with a sense of aesthetics in the final layout. Attribute copyright and licensing of cover image in final ebook. One ebook I published outside of Kindle for a local author—experimental avant-garde art requiring a specific layout not suitable for Kindle conversion—featured original artwork, but I usually source covers through image banks and pay to license their use.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

ROBERT CETTL: As the books have recently been put up, I’ve only begun the marketing and promotion though in many ways I consider this the most important aspect of the publishing process: generating interest and exposure. I am very active in social networking—primarily Twitter, where I have some 35,000 followers now, but also Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and an IMDb profile as a underground filmmaker (one feature film)—and am developing greater interaction on Goodreads. As I’m fluent in publishing standard design software InDesign I also develop interactive, hyperlinked catalogues of both my own self-published works and works I publish through my imprint Transgressor for other authors. These I host on Scribd. I’m also fluent on Dreamweaver and am in the process of developing web pages and websites for these ebooks, thugh, again, have just begun this means of promotion. I have also just begun the process of seeking out reviewers and providing review copies. Due to the costs involved I have yet to look specifically into advertising, though Facebook promotion and such as MyLikes (for Twitter) have attractions and I may go with them in the near future. So, primary means of promotion at least initially is through social networking sites.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

ROBERT CETTL: Kindle has the largest share and penetration at present within the ebook market. It’s a pioneering device, enormously popular, favoured by the most talented self-publishers as well as the most inexperienced novelists and has made publishing available and affordable to all writers. Although it is limited in terms of multi-media, Kindle is both a lucrative and highly respected medium. Within ebooks, Kindle is a major name and it has revolutionized self-publishing. Respected, larger publishers also have Kindle versions competing against self-publishers. Kindle seems to have made a level playing field possible and changed the face of digital publishing, so not to publish on Kindle seems a peculiar decision unless the work itself is of a multi-media or graphics / layout nature which makes it unsuitable for Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

ROBERT CETTL: Do some research, get some feedback, examine author sites and look at the reaction they’ve had and the means they use to generate interest. Examine such issues as file types (.doc, html, PDF, ePUB, mobipocket) and verify what your uploaded work will look like on the Kindle. That’s at a simple practical, cosmetic level. Be aware of the issues involved in pricing (there are many lower priced works and competition is fierce) and evaluate the distinctiveness or specific appeal of your work in pricing. And: simply uploading it to Kindle isn’t enough—marketing and promotion is essential to publicize your book and its availability so look into social networking, social media and advertising (determine if you are willing to spend money and time promoting the work). Also: unless you are a sure-fire editor and are absolutely certain your work is proofed for grammar and spelling, let alone structural issues, consider a manuscript assessment or editorial service. Part of the reason many established authors do not consider self-publishing of equal standing or legitimacy to traditional publishing is the lack of quality control or minimum proficiency standards for self-published writers. Just because the price may be cheap does not mean such things can be overlooked: a bad review on such minor and readily fixable points can have ramifications easily avoided at writing / editorial / layout stages.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Cettl is a freelance author and digital publisher. A full member of the Australian Society of Authors and an associate of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) , he has BA (Hons) in film study from the Flinders University of South Australia, which included an international scholarship to the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale, USA, and a GRAD DIP (Information Studies) from UNISA. Currently studying TESOL, his print books have been published by McFarland & Co. Inc in the USA and Inkstone Press in Australia. In 2010 he was a SAR Research Fellow at Australia’s National Film & Sound Archive and has completed his first feature film, currently in the collection at the NFSA. He turned to Kindle in late 2010.

Visit his personal website and film website, and follow him on twitter.

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