Minister Faust Enters the Kindle World with "The Alchemists of Kush"
As the publishing landscape continues to change due to the emergence of e-books, more and more professional writers are taking advantage of the new opportunities—including visionary writer Minister Faust, whose prior books The Coyote Kings of the Space-Aged Bachelor Pad and From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain were published by Del Rey. Faust is taking charge of his own future by taking on the release of his major new novel The Alchemists of Kush himself, debuting on Kindle this week.
The Alchemists of Kush is the story of two Sudanese "lost boys." Both lost fathers to civil war and mothers along the path of escape. Both boys were hunted and fell into violence to survive. Both came under the guardianship of mystic madmen who promised to transform them. One lives in Edmonton in the present-day. The other lived 7,000 years ago in the Savage Lands of the Lower Nile. In praising The Alchemists of Kush, Ishmael Reed called it “possibly the first hip hop epic.”
I caught up with Minister Faust recently to talk about the novel and his experience entering the Kindle world...
Amazon.com: Can you tell readers a little about your career path as a writer with your first two novels, both published by Del Rey?
Minister Faust: Del Rey did a terrific job pushing my first novel, The Coyote Kings. I think that the Herculean task of getting my first novel noticed was mostly the genius of Colleen Lindsay who’s since gone indie herself. I got reviews across the U.S. including in the NYT Review of Books and other major venues. I was also gratified by the response: an outpouring of praise for each book. Coyote Kings ended up on five top-ten lists and was shortlisted for three awards; Doctor Brain was the Philip K. Dick Award runner-up and the Kindred Award winner.
Amazon.com: What did you learn on the career-side of things during this period?
Minister Faust: On the creation side, I saw again that without sufficient time, I can’t produce work as quickly as people are ready to buy it. There’s a word for a writer who can produce writing around the clock, 365 days a year, while having a wife and children: divorced. Since for me, family is a priority, I’ve had to delay new writing. Ultimately the most important thing I learned is that nobody will ever devote as much attention or passion to my career as I will.
Amazon.com: For your new novel, as a successful writer with a big publisher, you opted instead to enter the world of self-published e-books. You also took back the e-book rights for the first two novels. Can you give us a sense of your reasoning and the context for these decisions?
Minister Faust: I wanted the maximum impact for my books, with maximum amount of creative fulfillment. There are millions of books in stores, forming a vast paper fog. My books were invisible against the fog, and the only way for me gain visibility was to rise above that fog on my own power.
The difference between self-published and indie is that the former is anyone who just wants a physical copy of a book he’s written, and will put in minimal effort with minimal comprehension of book design, cover art, content editing, proofreading, distribution, or promotion. An indie writer wants not just control over those things, but probably wants to learn how to execute as many of them as possible and as well as possible. Using a combination of e-publication and print-on-demand, I can deliver to vast numbers of people, so long as they find out about my books in the first place. Amazon Kindle and other distribution sites tilt the balance in favour of readers. Meanwhile, using the tools and skills I do have under my control, I can promote my book, and on my estore and Amazon’s and the others, I have unlimited shelf-space with my covers always facing out, and unlimited shelf-life. I can also set the prices myself.
So what do I get for going indie? Artistic and business self-determination and the chance to earn a living for writing my own fiction.
Amazon.com: Give me the Hollywood elevator pitch for your new novel.
Minister Faust: Two Sudanese “lost boys” find Ben Kenobis while fighting to become men. One lives in the inner city today. The other is Horus, son of Osiris.
Amazon.com: Now let’s pretend we’re having a long conversation in a bar or lounge. Can you tell me more about the novel and its structure?
To me, structure is very important, and it’s one of the first major artistic determinations I make. After I committed to a concept, I split the story into three parts: “The Book of the Golden Falcon,” a scripture written like an English translation of ancient poetry; “The Book of Then,” which functioned like a revisionist version of that scripture, intentionally stylised to feel modern in its emotion and language, because I can’t stand thee/thou/milord/forsooth stuff; and“The Book of Now,” the main story, in which Sudanese and Somali youth of Kush, E-Town, join a mystical group called the Alchemists to struggle and fight and build while memorising the suras of “The Book of the Golden Falcon” to help them titrate their experience and metamorphosise their world.
Amazon.com: What was the spark for writing the novel?
Minister Faust: Two things primarily. In the late 1980s I began reading the work of the Senegalese Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop, whose book The African Origin of Civilisation: Myth or Reality?, sought to restore Egypt to its correct place in the pantheon of African civilisations following an imperialist re-write. Prior to imperialism, Europeans had always seen Egypt (Kemet) as African.
The second major inspiration was the Nation of Gods and Earths, a mystical community also called the Five Percenters. Having grown out of and away from the Nation of Islam, they were a fascinating culture that like many new American religions (and I hasten to add that, like Freemasons, they’d be horrified to be described as a religion) including the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists, had both a dramatic history and a fascinating cosmology. The former contained heroes and villains, repression and hope, tragedy and transformation; the latter contained stunning descriptions of the history of the universe and humanity, and how, as with the Gnostics...one must liberate oneself from a world of lies...
Amazon.com: The child soldier sections set in the past are startlingly phantasmagorical and yet visceral. How do you perceive your own style, and the relationship between style and content?
Minister Faust: I love language and wordplay; I’ve grown ever-more committed to the idea that language should never get in the way of conveying the story. The English art critic Walter Pater argued that “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,” by which I suppose he meant, “Artists should try their best to fuse the message with its message.” Writers work with words, and when we’re off our game, we make words leap out at readers, which in the video game industry is called “losing immersion.” So I’ve tried to avoid literary flourishes that cause readers to become conscious of the experience of reading. It’s the same with special effects in movies; when you say to yourself “What a great effect!”, the effect has stopped working.
Amazon.com: How personal is this novel to you? And is there any hidden autobiographical element in it?
Minister Faust: I was largely drawing from research I was conducting on the E-Town Somali community, and about the experiences of Sudanese refugees in camps across North and East Africa and in North America. I was stunned and humbled to see how much some people have suffered just to survive. I need to remember their experiences the next time I grumble to myself that my check-out line is too slow...and remember their example the next time I vote, spend, donate, or work in justice organisations.
Amazon.com: Getting back to the e-book side of things, and the idea of self-publishing, you’ve created several PR artifacts to promote the release of the novel. Did you enjoy creating them and what challenges did you face?
Minister Faust: I love making stuff! So far I’ve a dramatic teaser, an author-interview trailer, and four wallpapers. I also have, yep, four more videos coming, which include readings and dramatisations. There are already shirts, mugs and more on my Zazzle store, Faustian Bargains.
Amazon.com: I know you sought opinions on various related topics on facebook, from your facebook friends. How useful was that process in helping tailor and sculpt your approach?
Minister Faust: It’s not about submitting to everyone else, because doing so would result in the kind of middle-of-the-road blandness that I loathe in entertainment. It is, on the other hand, about gathering insights on likely reactions. An artistic risk may be worth if it even if you could lose 10% of your target audience. But if 60 percent of your target audience says “yuck,” it’s time to rethink it, or concede you’re going for a niche within a niche. Usually it’s only tie-in elements about which I seek crowd feedback; for literary content and style, I stick with a trusted group of beta-readers who are author, editor and artist friends.
Amazon.com: You’ve expended a great deal of energy to get to this point. What are your expectations for the next few months? And what constitutes success for you with regard to this project?
Minister Faust: My artistic hopes are that readers out there will react like so many of my advance readers did: that they’ll be entertained and moved, and conclude that I’m writing books unlike any others they’ve read (in a good way!). I also want to complete the tie-in soundtrack album featuring some of E-Town’s top musicians and my own hip hop, poetry and soundscapes, an album called The Alchemists of E-Town.
I should point out that if my book hits the Kindle Top 100 on June 15, I’ll be donating $500 to the South Sudan Development Foundation to help ship university textbooks and university-level literature to the Dr. John Garang Memorial University of South Sudan, a new university so underfunded that its dormitory is literally a field full of tents, and its library is empty.