Author Archives: Edwin Wong

About Edwin Wong

I'm Doing Melpomene's Work by writing a book on how the art form of tragedy functions as a valuing mechanism. "The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected" is due for release 2019 and examines how heroes assign value to their human assets in their high stakes games. In 2015 I started the blog melpomeneswork.com to share the self-publishing experience with assiduous readers.

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age – McLeod

228 pages, Douglas & McIntyre, 2018

Well, I’ve joined a book club, would you believe it? Last December, the Spirit of Christmas inspired me, and I went through my contact list to reach out to long lost acquaintances. HT was on the list–we went to high school together–and, by a good stroke of fortune, still has the same phone number. She invited me to join her book club, so here I am! Mamaskatch is the second book I’ve read with the club (the first was Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See). The club has five members, and how it works is that each time we meet, a different member proposes three books. The other members vote, and we read and discuss the most popular book.

I’ve been gaining valuable self-awareness since joining the book club. What sort of awareness, you ask? Well, it seems that I like to read weird books. Or books that other people consider weird, as in “Don’t talk to that freak–look at what he’s reading!” How do I know this? Well, since I’ve been reading the book club books, everyone approaches me to make small talk. If I’m at the bus stop, they make small talk. If I’m in a restaurant, they make small talk. If I’m at the coffee shop, they make small talk. This has shocked me, since no one ever approaches me to make small talk if I’m reading books from my personal selections. Reading book club books has been a most enlightening experience.

Mamaskatch Book Blurb

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the aromas of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud of his heritage and to listen to the birds that would return to watch over and guide him at key junctures of his life.

However, in a spiral of events, Darrel’s mother turned wild and unstable, and their home life became chaotic. Darrel struggled to maintain his grades and pursue an interest in music while changing homes, witnessing violence, caring for his siblings and suffering abuse at the hands of his surrogate father. Meanwhile, his sibling’s gender transition provoked Darrel to deeply question his own identity and sexuality.

Beautifully written honest and thought-provoking, Mamaskatch–named for the Cree word used as a response to dreams shared–is ultimately an uplifting account of overcoming personal and societal obstacles. In spite of the traumas of Darrel’s childhood, deep and mysterious forces handed down by his mother helped him survive and thrive: her love and strength stayed with him to build the foundation of what would come to be a very fulfilling and adventurous life.

Author Blurb

Darrel J. McLeod is Cree from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. Before deciding to pursue writing, he was a chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations. He holds degrees in French literature and eduction from the University of British Columbia. He lives in Sooke, BC, and is working on a second memoir to follow Mamaskatch. In the spring of 2018, he was accepted into the Banff Writing Studio to advance his first work of fiction.

Mamaskatch

This book may be a tough read for some folks. The scope of abuse, shame, and neglect McLeod suffers from an early age is mind blowing. For folks who haven’t experienced this sort of life, it’s quite hard to imagine how seemingly everyone he encounters is some sort of predator.

The most profound part of the book for me is how McLeod looks at his own upbringing with a look of distance. There’s many opportunities for him to point fingers and distribute blame. But he resists. He describes his experiences from an almost objective, arm’s length perspective. He lets readers come to their own conclusions. For that I am grateful. For me, that is McLeod’s genius and gift as a writer. To have maintained an arm’s length separation from pain and trauma must have been difficult. To blame would have been all too easy. But that would have made for a much less satisfying read. Letting readers decide helps readers engage more deeply with his story, one for the ages.

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

Book Publicity – Reviews and Awards

This is a post for intrepid emerging writer MH, née Cross. So, you want fame, fortune, and glory? Does the applause of the world beckon? Go for it, your millennia awaits! On your way, here’s a few tips. It’s a long journey. Maybe you already know this. But did you also know the book business is a dog eat dog world? They say self-publishing has revolutionized publishing. A new Gutenberg. The AirBnB and Uber. Sure, you can trust the word on the street: things are changing. But now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has put a book into circulation (in 2015 alone, self-published authors purchased 727,000 ISBN numbers). The competition rises in lockstep with the new opportunities.

“No problem,” you say. “My book will be a gooder.” Well, I would expect nothing less! To be the best, however, is not good enough. You also need to announce to the world that your book exists and that it is better than sliced bread and bigger than the Beatles.

Writing the book only constitutes half the task. Marketing is the other half. Here’s an overview of my marketing efforts. You’re writing in another genre, but your marketing efforts will be equally as critical. Your genre is, if anything, more competitive.

Academic Journals, Literary Journals, and Magazines

Reviews help build up buzz. I’ve sent a review copy to these publications. With each review copy, I also attach a book info sheet and a cover letter. The cover letter is tailored to each publication. For example, in the cover letter to academic journals, I emphasize the conferences I’ve attended. But in the cover letter to magazines, I emphasize how lay readers will appreciate a new book on theatre.

The task of sending out review copies involves research. First, find out which magazines or journals might be interested in reviewing your book. Then write to them. Keep in mind that some publications receive thousands of books a year. It’s a competitive process. Fingers crossed on this one, because, as you can imagine, the costs quickly add up! Postage for each review copy costs $17.50 to the US, between $12-17 in Canada, and $22+ overseas. This, of course, doesn’t include the cost of the book itself. In small runs (150 copies), my price for the book is $16 (CDN). It helps to have a war chest built up for these expenses.

American Book Review (USA)

American Journal of Philology (USA)

American Literature (USA)

American Theatre Magazine (USA)

Arethusa (USA)

BC BookWorld (Canada)

BC Studies (Canada)

Broken Pencil Magazine (Canada)

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (USA)

Canadian Literature (Canada)

Capilano Review (Canada)

Cinema Journal (USA)

Canadian Theatre Review (Canada)

The Classical Journal (USA)

Comparative Drama (USA)

Criticism (USA)

Didaskalia (USA)

The Drama Review (USA)

Essays in Criticism (USA)

The Fiddlehead (Canada)

FreeFall Magazine (Canada)

Hamilton Review of Books (Canada)

Island Writer Magazine (Canada)

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (USA)

Journal of American Drama and Theatre (USA)

Journal of Contemporary Drama in English (Germany)

Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism (USA)

Journal of Hellenic Studies (UK)

Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (USA)

Journal of Popular Culture (USA)

Library Journal (USA)

Literary Review of Canada (Canada)

The Malahat Review (Canada)

Modern Drama (Canada)

Mouseion (Canada)

New England Theatre Journal (USA)

New Theatre Quarterly (UK)

New Letters Magazine (USA)

NJ: Drama Australia Journal (Australia)

Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film (USA)

Performance Research (UK)

Philosophy and Literature (USA)

Rain Taxi (USA)

Quill and Quire (Canada)

Southern Theatre Magazine (USA)

subTerrain Magazine (Canada)

Theater (USA)

Theatre History Studies (USA)

Theatre Journal (USA)

Theatre Research in Canada (Canada)

Theatre Research International (USA)

Theatre Survey (USA)

Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Valparaiso Poetry Review (USA)

Advertising

Paid advertising also helps get the word out. I always see people reading BC BookWorld on the ferries, so this was a no-brainer. Brown Alumni Magazine was a second choice because it’s good to support your alma mater. The Goodreads Giveaway is interesting: you pay Goodreads $119 (USD) for the privilege of giving away books to Goodreads members. Members, in turn, enter a lottery to win these number of books you’re giving away. When they enter, they put your book onto their reading shelf, which generates publicity. When the contest is over, you send out number of books (at your own expense, of course) to the winners. The winners then read your book and hopefully give you a Goodreads review, which generates more publicity.

The fortunate thing about sending complimentary books to the Goodreads winners is that no cover letter is required. This means I can use Amazon or Barnes & Noble to send out the copies. If you’re a Barnes & Noble or Amazon Prime member, the postage for sending out books is covered. I used Amazon and B&N to send the winning copies–since shipping is free, the cost is significantly less than if I were to package and post myself. Incidentally, I included 25 books in my Goodreads Giveaway. The Giveaway ran for a month, and 1100 Goodreads members signed up for a chance to win a book.

BC BookWorld

Brown Alumni Magazine Fact, Fiction & Verse Column

Goodreads Giveaway

Paid Reviews

Reviews help potential readers decide. On Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites, there’s two types of reviews: customer reviews and professional reviews. Both types are helpful for readers. Kirkus and IndieReader reviews fall under the professional category. They cost a pretty penny. And just because you pay doesn’t guarantee a good review!

The cool thing about the IndieReader and Kirkus review is that they distribute your review to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites as a professional review. There’s a lot of dialogue on whether paid reviews are worth it. I believe they are 100% necessary. After all, your book will be competing with books published by traditional presses. And books by traditional presses will definitely be professionally reviewed. If the competition does it, then you should do it too.

IndieReader

Kirkus

BlueInk

Foreword Clarion

NetGalley

NetGalley is the professional equivalent to Goodreads. By listing your book, a network of professional reviewers can request free review PDF or ePub review copies. You can either list directly on NetGalley or through a coop.

Xpresso Book Tours (NetGalley Coop)

Book Review Blogs

These are avid readers who blog about books they’ve read. You can find a directory of these book lovers broken down by genre and specialization online with Google searches and in print in The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages by David Wogahn.

bibliofreak.net

Bound 4 Escape

crandomblog.com

Donovan’s Literary Services

Empty Mirror Magazine

Impressions in Ink

January Gray Reviews

Library of Clean Reads

Livres et Biscuits

Musings from an Addicted Reader

My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews

The Serial Reader Blog

TicToc Book Reviews

Words and Peace

Competitions

Competitions are another source for publicity. Ideally, you would be able to enter your book into the competition before it gets printed. That way you can get your accolades incorporated onto the front or back cover. But this isn’t always the case.

It costs between $45-$150 (USD) to enter each competition. Some competitions charge more. Those were too rich for my blood. You get a personalized email from the folks at the IndieReader, Wishing Shelf, and Eric Hoffer Awards acknowledging your entry. That’s a nice touch.

I don’t know how many direct sales winning competitions will garner you. To me, the competition seems like another tool you can use to market your book. For example, if you win prize, you could note that in your blog, get it printed on the front or back cover of your book, or include this in the book’s description on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Here are the competitions I entered. Like everything else, the entry fees add up quickly! It helps if you’ve budgeted the proper funds to enter the competitions before your book goes to print. Keep in mind that, on top of the entry fee, you’ll need to post one or two (and in some cases four!) books to the competition.

Colarado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Awards

Eric Hoffer Book Award

Foreword Indies Book Awards

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards

Indie Book Awards

IndieReader Discovery Awards

International Rubery Book Award

MLA Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize

MLA Prize for Independent Scholars

National Indie Excellence Awards

Nautilus Book Awards

New Apple Book Awards for Excellence

Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews and Award Contest

Whistler Independent Book Awards

Wishing Shelf Book Awards

Writer’s Digest Book Awards

Media

It’s never too early to build up your social media. I created this blog devoted to the writing and publishing process over three years before the book came out. It’s hard to plan that far out, but you will succeed if you plan for success. If you tell the world that you’re a writer and your book is coming out soon, well, chances are you will succeed. I know it’s hard because we all harbour doubts. Practise psychological warfare with yourself to eradicate these doubts. You will succeed.

Reach out to local media. Give yourself an internet presence. Shop yourself to the local bookstores. If you’re able to get yourself into Bolen Books or Munro’s Books, great! Your book on the shelves is like a free advertisement. Even better, when readers take it off the shelf, it’s an advertisement that pays you!

Here’s a list of social media, media, and bookstores that proudly stock my book.

melpomeneswork.com (my blog where I talk about writing and publishing)

risktheatre.com (another blog where I promote my book, click here)

ABC BookWorld (a list of BC authors, click here)

BC BookLook (article, click here)

Amazon Authors Page (click here)

Goodreads Author Page (click here)

Bolen Books

Munro’s Books

Memberships

Join local and national writing clubs. The more you help others, the more you help yourself. The Victoria Writers’ Society publishes Island Writer Magazine. They review members’ books. This is a terrific source for local buzz. If you’re part of the Writers’ Union of Canada, you can put this on your resume or on your cover letter when you send out review copies to magazines and journals.

Finally, join a local book club. I did. The next book our book club will be reading is my book. I love it.

Victoria Writers’ Society

Writers’ Union of Canada

Local Book Clubs

Here you are, I hope you find one or two takeaways that will help you along the way. See you on the New York Times Bestseller list! Think big.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I do Melpomene’s work by going big, or going home.

The Risk Theatre Playwright Competition Wraps Up Year One

Thank You

Thank you to all the assiduous playwrights for supporting risk theatre. May your pencils stay sharp!

Thank you to our tireless competition manager Michael Armstrong. He is the Grand Central Station of risk theatre, tracking the entries and communicating with the entrants and the jurors.

Thank you to the Langham Court Theatre for hosting the competition. It has been a tremendous opportunity to work with Michelle Buck and Keith Digby.

Stats, stats, stats!

Here are the vital statistics since the competition began ten months ago on June 1, 2018. 181 plays have come in from 4 continents (North American, Europe, Oceania, and Asia) and 11 countries (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Greece, Brazil, New Zealand, and the Republic of Georgio). With entries from the birthplace of tragedy–Greece and Italy–the competition is now truly international. Here’s the country breakdowns:

USA 133 entrants

Canada 25 entrants

Great Britain 10 entrants

Australia 4 entrants

Ireland 2 entrants

New Zealand 2 entrants

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Brazil 1 entrant

Republic of Georgia 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 94 are from the east and 39 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (30 entrants), Chicago (6 entrants), and LA (9 entrants). London, with 9 entries, is a powerhouse. Kudos to playwrights in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand for finishing strong. And a shout out to New York playwrights who entered more plays than whole countries combined!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 126 men and 51 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! [Intrepid playwright HP has questioned this statistic. She’s kindly forwarded a list of early modern women playwrights. Once I review the list to see if there are more female tragedians, I will update. If anyone know of any, please let me know. So for now, an asterisk follows this paragraph.]

The risktheatre.com website is averaging 80 hits a day in March. Most hits in one day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. This month, the website will get over 2400 hits. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition has concluded on March 29, 2019. The judging process has begun. The assiduous playwrights who progress past the first round will be contacted by the middle of May. Winners will be announced mid-June. Stay tuned!

By popular demand the contest will run again next year. Yes, we are working on ways to make the competition bigger and better than ever. The theme for the 2020 competition will be: “More risk, more reward.” It will open next week. I’m looking forward to seeing all your plays in the next go around. Playwrights, keep writing! This competition is the beginning of something quite special and most unique. The lure of tragedy calls!

The most anticipated book this year has hit the bookstores. The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Bolen Books, and Munro’s Books. 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. Please, if you have a chance, rate the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Even a short comment can help other readers decide.

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

Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition – March 2019 Update

Stats, stats, stats!

Thank you assiduous playwrights for all your entries! Here are the vital statistics since the competition began over nine months ago on June 1, 2018. Ninety-seven 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 74 entrants

Canada 12 entrants

Australia 1 entrant

Great Britain 5 entrants

Ireland 2 entrants

Japan 1 entrant

Italy 1 entrant

Greece 1 entrant

Of the American entries, 52 are from the east and 22 are from the west. There is a concentration of dramatists in New York (fourteen entrants) and Chicago (five entrants) and LA (six entrants). Write away New York, Chicago, and LA! New York–what a powerhouse!

The breakdown between male and female entrants stands at 73 men and 24 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 39 hits a day in February. Most hits in a day was 196 back in June 2018 when the contest launched. That month also saw 2000+ hits. Though the month isn’t over, based on the numbers so far, March 2019 is on pace for 2034 views. So far, so good!

The inaugural competition will conclude on March 29, 2019. Three weeks left! Wow, what a rush this has been! On March 29, 2019, the judging process will begin immediately and winners will be announced May 31, 2019. Entries received after March 29, 2019 will be entered into the 2020 competition. By popular demand the contest will run again next year. Yes, we are working on ways to make it bigger and better than ever!

My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has hit the bookshelves! Let your friends know they can get copies 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. Please, if you have a chance, rate the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. Even a short comment can help other readers decide if this is the book for them.

Complimentary copies of the book 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 earlier you entered your play, the sooner you’ll get your copy. The distribution process is expected to finish in June, 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.

Freddie Mercury as Nietzsche’s Overman

Who is, really, Nietzsche’s Overman? What do we know about his Overman, der sogennanter Übermensch? The first clue is the preposition ‘over’. The preposition may carry a sense of overlooking or passing over. The verb übersehen carries this connotation, as in “Sie hat mich auf der Party übersehen (She had ignored me at the party).” But this is not the sense in which Nietzsche uses it. He uses it more in the sense of ‘overcome’. The Overman ‘overcomes’. But what does he overcome? He overcomes man; he is ‘over’ man. Here a most interesting question arises: what does it mean to be over man?

To be over man, one does something that is hard for man to do. So then the question becomes: what is the hardest thing for a man to do? It turns out that the hardest thing is the eternal recurrence. Nietzsche calls the eternal recurrence the ‘greatest weight’ in section 341 of The Gay Science where he encapsulates the idea in the parable of the lonely demon:

The greatest weight.–What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence–even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

The point of the parable of the lonely demon is, of course, that few can withstand one life, let alone the eternal recurrence of endless lives. For evidence, look around at how quickly despair sets in. In just a few decades, many tire of being alive. To handle the greatest weight, an Overman became necessary. Man was not up to the task.

Nietzsche’s Overman is greedy. He is someone insatiate of life, someone who eats up existence. He is yes saying and life affirming. Pain and joy are children’s toys from the perspective of eternity. The Overman is the one who says: ‘I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now’. Who else can the Overman be if not Freddie Mercury?

Freddie Mercury has the life affirming spirit. He will have the pain and the joy and the small and the great. He has the force of life, which is the will to power. Only the Overman has the gall to say, ‘I want it all’ and qualify his want by saying, ‘It ain’t much I’m asking, if you want the truth’. The nerve! Remember, the song came out in 1989, right after his AIDS diagnosis. But instead of despair, he is living it all and giving it all. He will not be crushed. It is in this sense the Overman is over man. He asks for no quarter, nor gives quarter. The universe deals him a death sentence, but he still desires to have it all, to have it again and again, time without number, such is his hunger for life. The Overman is the personification of appetite for existence. And that is why Freddie Mercury is Nietzsche’s Overman.

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

Goodreads Giveaway – The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy

Want a copy of one of 2019’s most anticipated books? Goodreads–the ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ of the book world–is giving away 25 copies of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected in an exciting giveaway. The contest runs from March 1 to March 31. If you win, not only do you get the book, you also get to leave a short review (it can range from a few sentences to many paragraphs) on the Goodreads site. It’s a win-win: you get a copy of the best book in the world and you also get to help spread the good word! In only the second day of the lottery, 237 readers have entered the free draw. Click here to go directly to the giveaway. Good luck assiduous readers!

Here’s the giveaway blurb from the Goodreads site:

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

Why are tragedies—difficult works of drama full of strife and sorrow—eternally endearing to the human heart? For over two millennia, this question has haunted inquiring minds from Aristotle to Hegel and Nietzsche. The question is so vital that theorists of tragedy, in answering the question, have often changed our understanding of civilization itself.

In “The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected,” classicist Edwin Wong presents a profoundly original theory of drama which speaks to modern audiences living in an increasingly volatile world. He argues that each dramatic act in tragedy is also a gambling act: heroes, by placing delirious all-in bets, trigger devastating low-probability, high-consequence outcomes. Such a theatre forces audiences to confront a most timely question—what happens when the perfect bet goes wrong?

Not only is risk theatre a theory of drama, it is also the centrepiece of an exciting new international playwright competition. Wong has teamed up with the Langham Court Theatre—one of Canada’s oldest and most respected theatres—to inaugurate the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the largest competition in the world for the writing of tragedy (see risktheatre.com).

Edwin Wong is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre.

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

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

*****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.