Monthly Archives: February 2019

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

The Price One Pays to be a Writer

Even wonder how much it costs indie authors to self-publish their books? Well, you’ve come to the right place! My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has just hit the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In this book, I address a fundamental question: what makes tales of woe such as MacbethOedipus the King, and Death of a Salesman so appealing? It’s a most enduring question that’s fascinated thinkers from Aristotle to Hegel and Nietzsche. My argument breaks from the classic interpretations and offers a contemporary interpretation by arguing that tragedy fascinates because each dramatic act is also a gambling act. Heroes make risk run riot by placing delirious, all-in bets. By going all-in, they trigger unexpected and catastrophic events. Tragedy mesmerizes us because it dramatizes the price heroes pay. But of course, in this blog, we’re not talking about the price heroes pay, but the price indie writers pay to see their self-published masterpieces see the light of day.

Well, the first cost self-published writers pay is the opportunity cost lost in doing the next best thing they could have been doing, were they not writing a book. Of course, “Child’s play,” you say, “the book’s the thing.” Well, very good. It had better be the thing, because, for 95% of writers, writing a book will be 100% harder than they thought. “But what about the dollars and cents cost?”, you ask. Here’s a breakdown. These are 2018 prices in Canadian dollars.

Editors and Proofreaders $6100

$6100, are you kidding me? No, I am not. Here’s the perennial question that comes up all over the place: do I need an editor or proofreader or can I save a few bucks doing it myself? As a rule, the more experienced the author, the more they count on the expertise of professional editors and proofreaders to help guide the text to the finish line. It is generally the amateur writers who eschew the use of these worthy professionals. And it shows in the finished product.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy went through two structural / copy edits and one round of proofreading. The first structural / copy editor charged $1500. He marked up the text and removed many colloquialisms. He also had the nerve to tell me which parts of the book were getting repetitive or annoying. In hindsight, I sort of knew which parts of the book were weak, but without an expert calling me out, I wouldn’t have sunk the considerable energy that was required to make revisions. Thanks to my first editor, the manuscript became more robust.

My second structural / copy editor brought to light a few factual errors. It’s amazing how many little mistakes can persist in a text. She also added subheadings throughout the book. The idea of subheadings would never have occurred to me. She also moved paragraphs around into different chapters. The changes were substantial. In hindsight, she made the book much more readable and was worth every cent of the $3600 she charged. The subheadings were an invaluable addition

Finally, I had a proofreader go through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb. The cost was $1000 and worth it all, and more. He dug out the deeply embedded errors that defied all my best efforts to root out. For example, in one passage, I mentioned a foreign term in the plural. But I translated it into a singular English noun. Proofreaders have x-ray eyes. If you want your text to go far, hire the best editors and proofreaders that you can. Extra rounds help as well. Could my book have used further editing? Probably. But at some point, you have to let it go out into the world to fend for itself. Don’t be like the composer Anton Bruckner, who edited his symphonies without end to the point where many of his edits were questionable.

Friesen Press (typesetting, book / cover layout / distribution) $1889.05

After your Microsoft Word manuscript has been edited, the next step is to get it typeset. Printers work with LaTeX and Adobe InDesign files, not PDF or Word files. The typesetter converts you Word file into a format such as InDesign that the presses use. You can hire a typesetter and then a printer of your choice or you can give your script to one of the many one stop shops such as Friesen Press. Starting at $1999, these self-publishing companies will typeset your manuscript, design a front and back cover, assign ISBN numbers, and distribute your book. The distribution is worth it in itself. Your book will become available on Amazon (with ‘Look Inside!’ submission), Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, the FriesenPress Online Bookstore, and Google Books. My book came out February 4, 2019, and it was available for sale immediately on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the FriesenPress Bookstore. Chapters Indigo hasn’t listed it yet so I’ve written to them. To self-publish my book, I went with the ‘Launch Path‘ package at Friesen Press. After a 10% discount, the total came to $1889.05.

From when I paid for the ‘Launch Path’ package at Friesen to when the book was available for sale was a six month journey. Capable publishing specialists at Friesen helped me along the way. I highly recommend Friesen Press to all aspiring indie writers. They provide a valuable service.

Extras at Friesen Press (cover image, indexing, revision round, proof copy) $2027.05

While the ‘Launch Path’ package at Friesen includes cover design, there was a specific image I wanted to use. In the game of poker, there is a hand called the ‘Dead Man’s Hand.’ A pair of black aces on eights, it is a visual representation of the unexpected, or, of a low-probability, high-consequence event (e.g. a low-probability of drawing the combination, but, once drawn, it has high-consequence because it signifies death). They charged two hours of design time to come up with the image: $144.90. The Dead Man’s Hand is a very memorable image. Money well-spent. Of course, well-spent money adds up quickly!

As a non-fiction title, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy required an index. This wasn’t included in the ‘Launch Path’ package but was available as an add-on at $1535.63. I priced out indexing services from independent indexers and found the quote from Friesen Press to be very competitive. One reason for Friesen’s competitive prices is that many of their hires are fresh out of university. Though they do business internationally, their office happens to be in downtown Victoria. I’ve been there a few times to sit down with the publishing specialists, and noticed that the office is populated by recent grads. I think Friesen tends to hire students coming out of creative writing programs at the University of Victoria. These grads, in turn, use Friesen Press as a launch pad for their own bright careers.

The ‘Launch Path’ package comes with one revision round. This means that, after the text is typeset, you have one opportunity to review the manuscript to make sure all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s dotted. After I signed off on the first revision round, I noticed that there were still several errors. That necessitated the purchase of a second revision round at $208.95. After the second revision round, more errors cropped up, but they were kindly able to amend these free of charge. For example, the indexer noticed some footnote entries were inconsistent. There probably still are a couple of errors in the text here and there. I plan to do a thorough read once I get my own physical copy (I still don’t have a copy myself!). These errors can be corrected in the second edition. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s truly mind-boggling how resistant these tiny errors are to editing. Like weeds in a garden.

Finally, Friesen sold me a physical softcover proof at $137.57. The ‘Launch Path’ package includes only digital proofs (their more expensive packages include physical proofs, however). $137.57 was not a very good deal, but I had wanted to donate a copy to the Greater Victoria Public Library for their 2018 Emerging Local Authors Collection, and the deadline was January 25, 2019. The GVPL graciously extended the deadline to end of February, and the only way to get them a copy was to fast-track a proof copy. I got the proof copy to them in time, and The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy will be on the library shelves come this May. It’s exciting to have a volume available at the library. I’ve got a journal article at 300+ academic libraries all over the world, but this will be the first time I’ll have a book in the library anywhere in the world.

Book Bulk Order (150 Copies) $2245.87

What’s a book without copies on hand? Friesen Press quoted me $2245.87 for a bulk order of 150 softcovers. That’s with a 20% discount for the first order. It works out to be $14.97 for a copy and includes shipping. I’ll send some of these copies out to reviewers locally. If I’m giving away complimentary copies, it makes more sense, believe it or not, to distribute copies through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For complimentary copies in the US, if I use Barnes & Noble, shipping is free if you join their member’s club at $20 a year. So, for $14.99 (list price USD), I can distribute complimentary copies. It would cost me $14.97 (price of book in CAD) and $18 (shipping through Canada Post) to deliver to the States. That works out to be $32.97 CAD or roughly $25 USD. That’s $10 USD more than going with Barnes & Noble. It’s the same with sending complimentary copies in Canada. Going through amazon.ca, the cost works out to $25 CAD to ship in Canada. For me to go through Canada Post, it would cost in excess of $30 CAD. And I would also have to package the book, run down to the post office, wait in line…

By the way, if you go through Friesen Press, you can set the prices on your soft and hardcover books. And Friesen will also collect your royalties for you (distributed every quarter). It is a well-thought out system. I purposely set the price of the book low to encourage sales. The price is set $1.00 above the cost for the print-on-demand or POD press to produce the book. Amazon or Barnes & Noble earn $0.25 per book and I earn $0.75. 100% of my earnings go towards funding the theatre competition.

Publicity $500 and Counting

There’s a lot of ways this self-publishing cottage industry makes money from aspiring indie authors. One way is by selling paid reviews. Kirkus, BlueInk, Foreword Clarion, City Book Review, and others offer this service, which ranges from $200-$600. There are also a few places that offer free reviews such as Book Life and Midwest Book Reviews. I decided to go with a Kirkus review to start. For $375 USD = $500 CAD (after a $50 online coupon), they provide a 250 word review which links to the book’s Amazon or Barnes & Noble page as a professional review. I’ll post the review whether it’s positive or negative (you are given the option to hide the review if it’s negative). To me, it’ll be really interesting to read about what people think about the book. I’ll probably purchase a few more reviews in the future.

The other promotion I’m thinking of is offered by GoodReads. For $119 USD = $160 CAD, you can give away so many copies of your books in a lottery. You pay the price to ship the book to the GoodReads members. In return, they read your book and are encouraged to leave a review on the GoodReads site. This sort of grassroots approach appeals to me, as your reviewers are folks who are interested in the book. But it could get expensive quickly, as you’re paying $119 to essentially give away and ship your book.

So, you want to write and self-publish as book? That’ll be $12,761.97 please! If you have something to write, I would hope that it is fairly important! For me, I guess that is the sticker price of doing Melpomene’s work.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

 

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition – February 2019 Update

Stats, stats, stats!

Thank you assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the competition began over eight months ago on June 1, 2018. Seventy-one plays have come in from four continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and eight countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, and Greece). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdown:

USA 55 entrants

Canada 8 entrants

Australia 1 entrant

England 3 entrants

Ireland 1 entrant

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 38 are from the east and 17 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (nine entrants) and Chicago (five entrants) and LA (four entrants). Write away New York, Chicago, and LA!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 50 men and 21 women. While the balance may seem to tilt towards male writers, in a historical context, the numbers are quite progressive: prior to the twentieth century, I only know of one tragedy written by a woman. That play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry, written by Elizabeth Cary in 1613. The times, they are a changing!

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 29 hits a day in January. Most hits in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. February 2019 is on pace for 900 views. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition will conclude on March 29, 2019. One-and-a-half months left! Wow, what a rush this has been!

My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has hit the bookshelves! Get yourself a copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble! All proceeds from the book go back into funding the competition. Read all about the book release here. Excerpts from the book are available from Google Books.

Complimentary copies have started going out to the hardworking playwrights who have sent in their scripts. Complimentary copies will be distributed on a FIFO or first-in, first-out basis: the first playwrights who submitted plays will receive priority copies. The distribution process is expected to take three months, after which time everyone will have a keepsake from the competition. Keep up the good work and thanks for contributing to the success of this one of a kind competition. The book isn’t necessary for the competition: the judges will be scoring plays based on the parameters found in the ‘Guidelines’ section of the risktheatre.com website.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.

Book Release – The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Cover

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Cover

This post has been thirteen years in the writing. It was during the winter of 2006 that I came up with the idea of the dramatic art form of tragedy as a theatre of risk. On February 4, 2019, the softcover proof of my book: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected arrived on my doorstep. After unwrapping the book, I had to sit down on the couch. Overwhelmed. I spent some time looking at it and flipping the pages. They did a good job at Friesen Press with the jacket design. Austere, plain, and authoritative. It’s a handsome book. The 8.5″x5.5″ form factor brings the book to 368 pages. Perfect thickness. 8.5″x5.5″ feels good to hold in the hand. The ink smells fresh. The cover has a grainy waxy texture to it. The pages are cream. Light deflects better off cream than white pages. Easier on the eyes.

After what felt like a long time sitting on the couch just looking at the book and turning it over in my hands, I started reading parts. Randomly. A couple of pages here and a couple of pages there. Though I knew the words inside and out, I noticed how differently it felt to read them in a book rather than on a printout or on the screen of a laptop computer. The words read well. What I noticed reading the book was that it felt like I was reading a book rather than reading my own words. I say this because, while I was editing the manuscript on the laptop or a printout, it would always feel like I was reading my own words. The book makes the writing seem more distant. And I guess it is more distant now: the book is out there who knows where in the world. May it encounter happy readers and friendly critics.

Book Blurb

WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT, BIRNAM WOOD COMES TO DUNSINANE HILL

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy presents a profoundly original theory of drama that speaks to modern audiences living in an increasingly volatile world driven by artificial intelligence, gene editing, globalization, and mutual assured destruction ideologies. Tragedy, according to risk theatre, puts us face to face with the unexpected implications of our actions by simulating the profound impact of highly improbable events.

In this book, classicist Edwin Wong shows how tragedy imitates reality: heroes, by taking inordinate risks, trigger devastating low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Such a theatre forces audiences to ask themselves a most timely question–what happens when the perfect bet goes wrong?

Not only does Wong reinterpret classic tragedies from Aeschylus to O’Neill through the risk theatre lens, he also invites dramatists to create tomorrow’s theatre. As the world becomes increasingly unpredictable, the most compelling dramas will be high-stakes tragedies that dramatize the unintended consequences of today’s risk takers who are taking us past the point of no return.

Author Blurb

Edwin Wong founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition with Langham Court Theatre to align tragedy with the modern fascination with uncertainty and chance. It is the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy (visit risktheatre.com for details). He is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated on ancient theatre. His other research interests include epic poetry, where he has published a solution to the contradiction between Homeric fate and free will by drawing attention to the peculiar mechanics of chess endgames. He lives in Victoria, BC and blogs at melpomeneswork.com.

Emerging Local Authors Collection

The Greater Victoria Public Library, or GVPL for short, hosts an emerging local authors collection. It’s a great community resource for writers and readers alike. The softcover proof that came in last week has been deposited with the GVPL for inclusion in their emerging local authors collection this year. The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy will hit the shelves at the GVPL in May 2019.

Preview the Book at Google Books!

Preview the book for free by clicking this link.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, Bolen Books, and Munro’s Books!

Friesen Press includes distribution in their publishing packages. This in itself was the one reason why I went with Friesen over a typesetter and a printer: Friesen partners with Lightning Source, a print-on-demand company, and the book distributor Ingram to make titles available on online booksellers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, and the FriesenPress Online Bookstore. Originally I had even toyed with learning how to typeset myself on LaTeX typesetting system: that’s what the author of Early Retirement Extreme did when he published his book. But Friesen’s help with distribution was too good to pass up.

Friesen can also make titles accessible to physical bookstores. To do so, authors must purchase book return insurance at $699 a year and opt for a 55/45 trade discount. That means, for every dollar the book sells for above the production and distribution costs, the wholesaler gets 55% and the author gets 45%. If the book costs $20 to produce and distribute and the book sells for $21, the wholesaler gets 55 cents and the author 45 cents. If the author goes for online sales only, the ‘short discount’ of 25/75 is used, and there is no need to buy the book return insurance. With the short discount, the author keeps more. If it costs $20 to produce and distribute the book and the book sells for $21, the wholesaler gets 25 cents and the author gets 75 cents.

For this rollout I went with the 25/75 short discount to make the title available online. It’ll take a few years for the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition to take off. When it does, it’ll make more sense at that time to get the title into brick-and-mortar bookstores. The $699 book return insurance at this stage of the game can be better used to support the competition.

Here’s where assiduous readers can get a hold of their very own copy of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. All proceeds from the book go back into the playwright competition. Please tell your theatre friends and colleagues about this new and exciting dramatic manifesto! Please leave feedback at Goodreads, Amazon, or B&N. Even a few words can help other readers make a choice.

Munro’s Books

Softcover $19.95 available at their downtown Victoria branch on 1108 Government Street in Victoria, BC

Bolen Books

Softcover $19.95, available at their fantastic bookstore on 1644 Hillside Avenue in Victoria, BC

Amazon.com

Softcover $14.99, Hardcover $23.99, shipping in US $5.99 (orders over $25 qualify for free shipping)

Follow me on my Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/edwinwong

Amazon.ca

Softcover $19.94, Hardcover $31.91, shipping in Canada $4.98 (orders over $35 qualify for free shipping)

Barnes & Noble

Softcover $14.99, Hardcover $23.99, shipping in US $4.99 (orders over $35 qualify for free shipping)

Friesen Press Online Bookstore

Softcover $18.49, Hardcover $27.99, shipping in Canada $14.49

Chapters Indigo

Softcover $22.50, Hardcover $33.50, shipping in Canada $7.08

Reviews of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

“The author’s passion for his subject comes across in nearly every statement . . . An ambitious, though-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.”—Kirkus Reviews

*****THE RISK THEATRE MODEL IS A COMPELLING REINVENTION OF DRAMATIC STORYTELLING Edwin Wong has reinvigorated the ancient art of tragedy through his compelling Risk Theatre lens. Bravo! At heart, the book is a call to action for dramatists in our modern era to reinvent tragedy to address our brave new world of mesmerizing cacophony and unfathomable consequences. This is a fascinating read for anyone–but a “must read” for modern storytellers.

Roger Walker – Amazon

*****I have just finished reading Edwin Wong’s ‘The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy’ and, although I was initially skeptical of his bold claim of an original theory of tragic drama, I was intrigued at the prospect of reading about this classicist’s main belief. As I turned the pages his theory grew on me and I found myself both convinced and gripped by this new perspective on tragedy. His low- probability, high-consequence outcome theory does indeed resonate with the risk takers of today and I thoroughly recommend this scholarly work to anyone interested in both theatrical and real life tragedy based on risk. As the author himself writes, ‘A working model of tragedy that is both original and rooted in tradition.’

A remarkable book in every way. A must for every serious dramatist to read, ponder over and act upon.

David Duncan – Goodreads

*****IF YOU EVER PLAN TO WRITE, READ OR ACT IN A TRAGEDY THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU! The author writes that “after two and a half millennia, tragedy is still a term in search of a definition.” He interestingly describes how each age creates its own model. The ancients “assigned the unexpected outcome to the will of the gods” while the Elizabethans established “the first great age of tragedy in the era of probability”. Mr. Wong provides a model for our highly technological time where “the possibility of doing great good or evil has increased” where “the unexpected always prevails”. He makes a very convincing case that the study of tragedy enhances our understanding of life and its value. As did I, readers of this highly stimulating book will undoubtedly ask themselves what they would be willing to wager in their lives and for what. As an actor who has performed in tragedies, and a playwright who has attempted to write one, I know that this is a book to which I will often refer.
PS: Be sure to read the footnotes which are chock full of good stuff from Wild Bill Hickok anecdotes to the link between tragedy and goats! Tragedy will rise again!!

Alan Thurston – Barnes & Noble

*****INNOVATIVE, ENGAGING, & VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING! Wong’s insightful and excellently-sourced treatise on “risk theatre” reframes our understanding of tragedy in terms of how hero’s (often flawed) analysis of risks and rewards prompts them to make decisions that set actions in motion leading to their tragic outcomes. He organizes information so effectively, providing relevant examples from classical and modern drama. You are never bogged down in the philosophy- rather, you are encouraged to expand how this new framework will inspire NEW content. Wong is hopeful in his desire to push the bounds of what modern tragedy will look like, and readers of this text and playwrights inspired by it are better for it!

Emily McClain – Amazon

****Anyone who has taken a story writing or screenplay class in America has likely come across The Hero With a Thousand Faces at some point. If not the exact book itself, then another author has often either borrowed quotes or elements of Campbell’s classic hero’s journey. Some teachers consider it inseparable to modern cinema and media; it’s just about everywhere.

But if Campbell’s ideas cause resistance—which is becoming a trend nowadays, in my personal experience at least—Wong’s smooth model may be a wiser introduction. Campbell’s form may get learners lost in the message, the process, and the terminology for understanding a work. Wong’s methodology encourages a focused structure for a character’s thought processes throughout the story. It’s through establishing their personal risks and the consequences of their actions that there can be a real momentum. For me, and I’m sure others, that is the best-if-felt heart. Makes a story beat and dance with life.

Sure, Wong arranges his processes for the tragedy genre in mind, so there are certain constraints that may not apply. Like a fateful mishap tripping the heroes’ supposed victory and leading to a death may not be appropriate for a children’s book. But I believe most of Wong’s proposed techniques can be used for anything that has a story. I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to write or needs a refresher on character building, not just in the theater world too. Useful framing device if you’re feeling stuck.

The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy is a nimble read. If I were to criticize the writing, it’s close to a dry textbook with cohesive examples. Depending on the type of reader you are, that might mean a fascinating analysis or a snore fest. Several popular Shakespearean examples too, so that might not be up your alley to reread if you’ve already read so much of Shakespeare.

For me though, I enjoyed the overall experience and I learned something. If I lived in LA, I’d be up to seeing it in person too. Maybe someday, eh?

I received the book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

Cavak – Goodreads

*****VERY INTERESTING READ Interesting review of risk as related to everyday life.

Gordjohn – Amazon

*****AN IMPORTANT WORK ON A FASCINATING TOPIC I loved this book! The author is a fan of my favorite playwright, Eugene O’Neill, and even quotes one of my favorite passages from LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, where James O’Neill laments sacrificing his career for money, and wonders what is was he wanted.
The book itself is an entertaining and insightful reimagining of a model for modern tragedy – Risk Theater – into today’s world of technology and global risk. I think this is an interesting premise, as the modern tragic heroes are not kings but hedge fund managers and tech moguls, playing games of chance that risk the lives of people around the world.
The author has a deep knowledge of the classics which he utilizes to build a guidebook for how playwrights can use the concepts of existential gambles, unexpected events, and “the price you pay.” I particularly liked his theory or counter monetization, a welcome answer to a society that too often worships money at the expense of deeper values, and how that relates to a modern way of looking at tragedy.
The Risk Theater Model of Tragedy offers a fresh perspective not only of the classical theater but more importantly how we can restructure the old paradigms in a way that speaks to modern audiences. It’s an important work, and will hopefully inspire playwrights everywhere to reimagine classical themes in a dynamic and exciting ways.

Mike – Amazon

*****A POWERFUL TOOL FOR WRITERS As an emerging playwright challenged to write high stakes drama that often has tragic consequences, I am grateful to Edwin Wong for his book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. It gives me a powerful tool and template to write modern tragedy. It belongs on every playwright’s desk.

Marc Littman, playwright – Amazon

*****Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Stunning! I had to re-read the “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy” by Edwin Wong. It was too good. It is a delight to recreate the possible scenarios exposed by the author in a very original thematic treatment of theater that invites further discussion and analysis. It is also a compendium of high academic and cogent discourse, a complete high level ‘theory’ on how to model and perform stage plays. He couples it with almost a ‘how-to’ reference guide on how to produce compelling theater by presenting the reader with an exhaustive analysis and classification of different facets of prior stage productions, from the Greek classics to modern times’ productions. The book is chock’full of insights and intriguing revelations. Edwin draws a narrative comparing and contrasting different elements of risk and relates these to modern audiences. The author’s vast breadth of knowledge, drawing upon his years of experience as a theatre critic and forward thinker in the performing arts world has crafted together a robust tome with incredible completeness and complexity – which should be on every aspiring playwright’s desk. I can anticipate a wave of theater academics referencing this book in their class syllabus.

Conchita – Amazon

*****If you haven’t read a scholarly book in a while and you feel that your brains are getting rusty, I recommend THE RISK MODEL of TRAGEDY. It manages to be highbrow but lucid, free of the cant of so much modern critical theory. The theatrical genre of tragedy was deemed to be needed along with comedy in ancient Greece, Elizabethan England, and should be re-invented in the USA today, if we truly want to be great. What are we afraid of?

Daniel Curzon – Barnes & Noble

“A fascinating exploration advocating for the resurgence of the classical art of tragedy in these tumultuous times . . . A nearly bulletproof argument for tragedy’s rebirth under the name of Risk Theatre.”—Editor, Friesen Press

Until next time I’m Edwin Wong, and I will continue to do Melpomene’s work.

The Nibelungenlied – Anonymous (trans. A. T. Hatto)

404 pages, Penguin, 1969

Book Blurb

‘No warrior will ever do a darker deed’

Written by an unknown author in the twelfth century, this powerful story of murder and revenge reaches back to the earliest epochs of German antiquity, transforming centuries-old versions of the tale into a poetic masterpiece. Siegfried, a great prince of the Netherlands, wins the hand of the beautiful princess Kriemhild of Burgundy, by aiding her brother Gunther in his struggle to possess a powerful Icelandic Queen. But the two women quarrel, and Siegfried is ultimately destroyed by those he trusts most. Comparable in scope to the Iliad, this skilfully crafted work is one of the greatest of epic poems–the principal version of the heroic legends used by Richard Wagner in The Ring.

Author Blurb

The ‘Last Poet’ (the one who put together the earlier lays into the current epic) is anonymous, so little to say here. There is a short chapter “The Status of the Poet” which speculates on who this ‘Last Poet’ was. The conclusion is that:

The safest guess is, then, that the strange genius who wrote the Nibelungenlied was a semi-clerical poet by profession, technically of the order of vagi or wayfarers, though probably sedentary for most of his life.

There you have it!

The Nibelungenlied

With words like ‘fillet’, ‘wimple’, and ‘bohort’, the Nibelungenlied is a vocabulary enhancing extravaganza. Excellent for Scrabble players out there everywhere! By the way, a fillet is a band worn by unmarried women around the head, a wimple is a cloth headdress worn by married women (still worn by nuns today), and a bohort is a jousting tournament with dulled lances.

In the Nibelungenlied, castles resound with the thunderous and joyous sounds of clashing lances and shields. The men busy themselves in feasts. The women busy themselves in making fancy, gem studded clothing. Men and women are also somewhat sequestered from one another, so they look forward to special occasions when they can intermingle (e.g. when dignitaries come into town) and do the things that men and women do.

In addition to feasting, the men can often be found planning expeditions to neighbouring kingdoms. When planning an expedition, their primary concern appears to be to arrive well-dressed. To be GQ ready, they enlist the women to manufacture gem and ruby studded clothing. Clothing seems to be very important in this era. When Kriemhild bribes the messengers, for example, she offers them, of all things, splendid clothes:

‘Now do exactly as I ask’, she said to the two messengers, ‘Tell them my message at home and you will earn a great reward. If you do this, I shall make you very rich and give you splendid clothes.

And then when they do go on expeditions, there’s always some noble margrave (a sort of count) who can take in a thousand men on no notice:

‘But this is out of the question’ replied Dancwart. ‘Where would you find all the food, bread, and wine which you would need tonight for so many warriors?’

‘No more of that if you please!’ answered Rüdiger when he heard it. ‘My dear lords, do not refuse me. I could feed you for a fortnight together with all your following, since King Etzel has never laid me under any contribution.

What Was Twelfth Century Life Actually Like?

There’s a homeless shelter called ‘Our Place’. From the sound of the sirens and the look of the folks outside, it’s anything but ‘Our Place’. There’s a senior centre called ‘We Care’. From the news reports of all the senior abuse, it’s crossed my mind that ‘We Care’ really means ‘We don’t care’. There’s a law firm called ‘Integrity Law’. Why would they call themselves ‘Integrity Law’ unless they wanted to draw attention away from dealings that lack integrity? There’s company called ‘Coast Environmental’. Sounds nice, no?–the combination of ‘coast’ and ‘environmental’ conjures up images of dolphins and porpoises. Of course they deal with sewage.

How does these examples help us reconstruct twelfth century life? Like ‘Our Place’, a lot of the descriptions in the Nibelungenlied appear to be wishful thinking. The gifts of gold and precious stones that hosts would heap into shields and dispense to guests is a sign that gold and precious stones were lacking. That kings never tax vassals is a sign that vassals were weighed down by the burden of heavy contributions. That knights would wear and ruin their best clothes in bohorts is not a sign of prodigious consumption but that clothes were in short supply. That margraves would stock excess food in their strongholds–enough to feed wandering armies for weeks–is not a sign of well-stocked pantries, but rather a sign that malnutrition and starvation were endemic.

The twelfth century must have been a chaotic era rife with uncertainty and change for the worse. The one redeeming feature is the fantasyland of the Nibelungenlied where food and drink are plentiful, kings do not need to tax retainers, rich veins yield up gold and silver to all comers, and clothing is so readily available that you wear your best shirt when you enter the jousting tournament.

The Nibelungenlied as Tragedy

Since this is a German epic, it seems fitting that the one truly tragic episode goes together with Hegel’s German interpretation of tragedy like bread and butter. The one truly tragic episode?–that would be that of the Margrave Rüdiger, lord of Pöchlarn. When King Etzel sent him to woo Kriemhild, Rüdiger swears an oath to Kriemhild that he would “make amends to her for any wrong that should befall her.” This is Rüdiger’s first mistake, as a powerful knight, Hagen, had wronged Kriemhild by killing her husband Siegfried when Siegfried knelt down by the river to drink. His second mistake occurs years later, when, after Kriemhild and Etzel have married, he escorts the Burgundians into Hungary. Although she herself is a Burgundian, the Burgundians have done Kriemhild a great harm, because their greatest knight Hagen sunk the spear into Siegfried’s heart and their weak king, Gunther, allowed it to happen. When Rüdiger escorts the Burgundians into Hungary, he guarantees them safe passage as their host. This is his second mistake, as when Kriemhild revenges the murder of Siegfried, she will call upon the hapless Rüdiger to slay his Burgundian guests.

No, what did Hegel say about tragedy? Hegel defined tragedy as a collision of moral forces, both of which are grounded in the just and right. And that is exactly what happens with Rüdiger when he realizes he cannot fulfil both his oath to Kriemhild and his obligations to the Burgundians as their host:

[Kriemhild speaking] ‘What have we done to deserve that you should add to my sufferings and the King’s?’ she asked with tears in her eyes. ‘Now you have told us all along, noble Rüdiger that you would hazard your position and your life for us, and I have heard many warriors acclaim you as far and away the best. And so, illustrious knight, I remind you of the aid you swore to bear me when you urged me to marry Etzel, saying you would serve me till one or the other of us died.–Poor woman, I was never in such need of that aid as now’.

‘There is no denying it, noble lady, that I swore to risk my life and position for you: but that I would lose my soul I never swore!–Remember it was I who brough those highborn kings [i.e. the Burgundians] to the festival here’.

‘Think, Rüdiger, of your great debt of loyalty and constancy’, she said, ‘and of the oaths, too, by which you swore you would always avenge my wrongs and any harm that befell me’.

‘I have never refused you anything’, answered the Margrave. And now mighty Etzel began to entreat him, and both he and his queen knelt before their liegeman. The noble Margrave stood there in despair. ‘Alas’, cried that most faithful knight from the depths of his anguish, ‘that I have lived to know this, Godforsaken man that I am! I must sacrifice all the esteem, the integrity, and breeding that by the grace of God were mine! Ah, God in Heaven, that death does not avert this from me! Whichever course I leave in order to follow the other, I shall have acted basely and infamously–and if I refrain from both, they will all upbraid me! May He that summoned me to life afford me counsel!’

This is textbook Hegelian tragedy: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And, as a German critic, Hegel would have been well-acquainted with the Nibelungenlied, the German epic. Is it a wonder then, that the national character of the Germans, with their fascination of oaths at cross-purposes, would have led to a Hegel’s formulation of tragedy?

And is a wonder then, that, having grown up with works that emphasize risk and the unexpected such as Sartre’s The Wall, Tevis’ The Hustler, and Jessup’s The Cincinnati Kid, I would come up with a particularly American formulation of tragedy as a gambling act? But then again, I am Canadian. Who would have thought that it would take a Canadian to come up with an American interpretation of theatre? The unexpected is truly all around us!

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.