Sunday, 17 March 2013

FALLING OUT


Self-publishing ain't as easy as it looks. I have the utmost respect for anyone who takes it on themselves to create a book from scratch. And 3/11: The Fallout took that challenge and added another. Its author, Patrick Fox, disappeared.

I'm assured he is still alive and well, though you wouldn't know it from the book. The hinting in the foreword made me think he had committed suicide, and from the plea for him to get in touch in the afterword, it was clear the editors had a problem.

Trouble is, so do the readers.

The book is a collection of tweets, blog posts and musings of the author from the time of the Tohoku earthquake to a year after, when he disappeared. Although presented as a mystery, perhaps the only one in the book to pull you through the disjointed posts, the absence of the author made me wonder about the motives for publishing his words. I'm sure they are admirable ones, I hasten to add, in that there is a sense that the book is a kind of memorial to Fox and a past time in which he played a starring role. That's a worthy motivation for friends and family, but I wonder if it is enough to make a compelling book. I suspect it is not, on its own, unless the person is of extraordinary insight. Also, now that the editors know Fox is alive, shouldn't they update the readers on his whereabouts? Otherwise his absence comes across as contrived.

As it stands, the book is something of a mess. There is meat here, but it needs a lot of gristle removing to make it palatable. The author does go on a bit. And then there are references to earlier blog posts. Is this a book or a blog? It can't be both. And 368 pages is at least 168 too many. Editors must be ruthless in the pursuit of helping the reader. If this means treading on the writer's toes, tread away. Good writers will understand.

A more fundamental problem than the lack of editing is that although the author went through the earthquake in Tokyo, he had no direct experience of Fukushima or the tsunami, or has spent any time in any disaster zone, unless I missed it. So, frankly, his thoughts about it all are second-hand, informed by the media, not personal experience, and as such are interesting up to a point, but not the stuff of historical record that can resist the editor's scalpel. I would pay to read the 368-page experiences and thoughts of a genuine survivor of the tsunami. A fellow ex-pat in a dead-end job in Tokyo, unhappy with what he sees on TV, is a harder sell.

A Fallout editor assures me the folks behind it plan to edit it further and update the print on demand book. I hope they do, because there's some good stuff buried within.

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