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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

GUEST POST: How Guitar Magazines Prepared Me for the Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Debate by Samuel Gately


Back in high school, I fell for guitars in a big way. My dad taught me the four chords to Runaround Sue, which I later realized was the full extent of his own expertise, on an old nylon string acoustic we had lying around. That might have been it, me pounding away on a pretty crappy guitar for a week or two before getting bored, but my older brother had also caught the bug at some point. He had gone as far as purchasing a barely-touched Yamaha electric. It was a Stratocaster ripoff. It was black. It looked vastly cooler on me when I finally figured out how to strap it on. A few tentative trips from my bedroom to look in the bathroom mirror was all it took to make this my latest obsession.

Music had always been a love of mine, again most thanks go to the older brother who raised me on a steady diet of metal and hard and alternative rock. But in retrospect the timing of my guitar obsession probably had a lot to do with my fading basketball hopes and dreams. I’d been a grade school star who barely made the lowest tier of high school ball and quickly recognized I was done. I’d spent hours every night practicing on our driveway hoop. That energy had to go somewhere. And it did, big time.

For the next several years, every extra cent I had went to amplifiers, distortion pedals, and concert tickets. Everywhere I went I had a guitar pick in my back pocket. I shoved instruments in the hands of my closest friends and, in the luckiest turn imaginable, one already played some mean drums. And had a basement! We became a proper garage/basement rock band, culminating in the release of a cassette tape creatively entitled Eight Songs. Please don’t look for it. It is not available anywhere aside from the darkest corners of our hard drives.

My high school years were 1993-1997 and the world of guitars and popular music alike were beset with an identity crisis. Nirvana’s Nevermind was released in ’91. I vividly remember my brother walking into our shared bedroom with great urgency and tossing in the CD, telling me “they’re saying this is going to change everything.” A ridiculous but true set up to what was coming, and weighty stuff for an eighth-grader. In no time at all, alternative rock was taking over radiowaves and the hearts and minds of America’s youth. Alice in Chains, Weezer, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and Soundgarden are just a few I’m not embarrassed to list today. I was fully on board, at one point going to the extreme of shaving my head like Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. Because, you know, I was unique.

So, the magazines. Part of my obsession was a subscription to Guitar World, which I read cover to cover every month. Usually I would pick up a copy of Guitar Player before the month was done, depending on who was on the cover or which songs they’d transcribed. They had interviews, songs, deep technical discussions about equipment, and so very many ads. I was deeply drawn to the Letters to the Editor section, which was ground zero for the alternative rock versus metal/hard rock debate. Great drama.

My world had been, to date, largely debate free. Our current obsession with national politics was at a lower simmer or at least of no interest to the high school students of the time. No one cared about my opinion on anything and that was mostly fine by me. I did what I was told, except when I didn’t, and just fought to be left alone with my guitar.

The notes of that raging guitar magazine debate were almost always the same, delivered via scathing letters. Alternative rock sucks. Kurt Cobain can barely play his guitar. Anyone could do that. On the other side: Metal is for boring wankers with no emotional depth. No one wants to see you run scales. If you could do it, do it. The magazine helpfully fanned the flames by providing cartoon renderings of guitarists drooling and peeing themselves or nerdishly pushing glasses up their noses to accompanying the flying insults.


I was fascinated by the depth of emotion on both sides, and the fact that they were so certain while being so diametrically opposed. I’m almost certain this same debate continues today in different forms, not that I really have interest in reentering it. And that disinterest is partly because I finally realized what it was all about.

It was probably my first real adult thought, which is why it has stuck with me ever since, when I finally understood what was being said between the lines. "My skillset is the best. Yours is dumb. Admit defeat. And, for the love of God, stop competing with me. I’m working on a dream here and you’re WRECKING IT!" The arguments managed to be rational while being totally irrational. They came from a place of self-interest and it was that origin rooted in self-interest and self-justification that defined them more than their content. It was possible for two sides to be both right and opposing. Heavy stuff to draw from a magazine about guitars, yes. I was also into pot during those years.

Writing is my latest obsession, having long been painfully disabused of my guitar dreams. I’m a latecomer to the game. The first thing I ever wrote was The Night of the Chalk. I gleefully ignored advice to not publish your first and Fantasy Book Critic was generous enough to name a semifinalist in the SPFBO (hell yeah). I’m now nearing completion of my fifth, all self-published. I’ve flirted with traditional publishing but largely abandoned the prospect after close to total radio silence on my initial round of queries.

The writing world is a startling one to enter. On the whole, I would deem it more friendly and inviting than the music world, which really has a strain of toxic masculinity running through at least its rock section. The writing world is just as focused on fleecing newcomers, but there’s a comradery and mutual respect at its core. Good stuff. Just don’t open up the traditional versus self-published debate. Then the fangs come out.

I am traditionally published. Therefore I am better at writing than you. Stop pretending you are a writer (and stop competing with me). Counterpoint: You are a sheep/dinosaur/sucker and are not making money. I have more direct control and marketing acumen and am winning this game. Take your accolades and stuff them (but introduce me to your agent).

It doesn’t matter who’s right. We live in a world where we all make the best decision for ourselves. The arguments are only of value when one considers his or her own path. As much as one side would love the other to fall over and admit defeat, it is a pointless exercise. But it is one that will continue as long as it makes us feel good to validate our own path and denigrate others. And that’s fine. I won’t wrap up with a call to action to end this debate and all hold hands or something. The debate is fine. I just hope everyone can recognize it for what it is and not lose any sleep over incurring the wrath and scorn of a significant portion of the highly-educated, verbose writing community, whatever path you chose. They mean well until they don’t. And then screw them. You’ve got to make up your own mind and do your own thing. Shave your head like Billy Corgan. Let’s all be unique.

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Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Night Of The Chalk

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Samuel Gately is a fantasy writer. His Spies of Dragon and Chalk series imagines a world where James Bond carries a sword and works for a dragon army.

NOTE: Dragon fantasy art courtesy of TacoSauceNinja.

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