With some effort, dolphin-human love story regains its lost “Premium” status

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla., USA – “The role of the self-published author is not an easy one,” Malcolm J. Brenner said, sliding onto a dingy leather couch that might have once been white.  “In addition to successfully writing one’s magnum opus, one must also bring it forth into the real world, where it will grow up to compete in a ruthlessly Darwinian struggle for readers and reviewers.”

Brenner sipped iced tea – his habitual summer drink, with the occasional hard cider thrown in for historic, recreational and religious reasons – and relaxed. He had the furrowed brow of a man who has a lot on his mind, and no wonder. He recently finished re-formatting a 113,000-word Microsoft Word file for the ebook version of his most famous, or infamous work, the 2010 autobiographical novel Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover.

“It’s basically a re-telling of a torrid love affair I had with a female bottlenose dolphin in the summer of 1970,” Brenner explained.  “I just changed the names and a few details so that living people on whom the characters are based couldn’t sue me.  Even though I’m publishing it as a novel, it’s much closer to Tom Wolfe-style ‘new journalism’ than it is to fiction.”

Author Malcolm J. Brenner at home.
Malcolm J. Brenner in his trailer in Punta Gorda, Fla.

An admitted procrastinator since childhood, Brenner said that Smashwords, which publishes and distributes the ebook edition of Wet Goddess, alerted him last November that changes to their Premium Catalogue distribution system might require revising the file, which he first uploaded in 2011.  “I wasn’t clear on the details of what exactly the problem was, but apparently the old file no longer satisfied the new requirements, or so they said,” he said.

The Smashwords Premium Catalog puts the book into the hands of all the large ebook distributors, including iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, OverDrive, Tolino, Gardners, Odilo, Baker & Taylor Axis 360 and more.  “I’m interested in sharing my experiences with dolphins as widely as possible,” Brenner said.  “They are non-human people, so it behooved me to take care of this update issue sooner or later.”

After receiving warning emails for several months, Brenner finally pulled up his socks and tackled the problem himself.  This versatility, he said, demonstrates the technical virtuosity required of successful self-published authors in the 21st Century.

“If you’re an aspiring author and you’re lucky enough to land an agent or a publisher these days, you can thank a higher power,” Brenner scoffed.  “I knew a controversial book like Wet Goddess would be a hard sell even for a successful author.  I made a few stabs at finding a publisher without success, and an agent took me on for a while.

“She wined and dined me once at a book fair in Tampa, then, with no explanation, stopped communicating.  Months went by with no word.  It was only when I threatened to sue her to recover my manuscript that I learned from an irate family member she was still recovering from a near-fatal car crash months before.

“In publishing, like anywhere else, sometimes shit just happens,” Brenner concluded, with a hint of resignation.  After more rejections, he responded by abandoning the idea of conventional publishing and taking on all the tasks himself.  “It required me to become a jack-of-all trades, but the fact that I don’t get along well with many people actually makes that a good way to work,” Brenner admitted.  “If I work for myself, I may have an asshole for a boss, but at least he understands me.”

Brenner pre-sold copies of Wet Goddess to family and friends to raise funds for the initial press run of 50 copies.  A sympathetic friend contributed necklaces made from fossilized sharks’ teeth as premiums for advance sales.  The worst problems came from trying to get the manuscript proofread before it went to print.

“Don’t get me started,” Brenner fumed.  “I hired a so-called proofreader from a local community college, but she could only proof in academic style!  Book manuscripts require what’s known as Chicago style, and besides, Wet Goddess has a lot of colloquial dialogue in it,” he recalled.  “Every time a redneck character used the word “ain’t,” she flagged it – more than 300 times in the manuscript!  You’d think that if she was professional she’d have called me up and asked me what my intention was, but no.”

As a result of this and other unforeseen difficulties that cost him the original author’s proof copy of his debut novel, the first press run of Wet Goddess shipped with about 250 typos in it, including one whole, and rather crucial, paragraph repeated, Brenner admitted.

“It appears very close to the, uh, shall we say ‘climax’ of the novel, and it was very embarrassing to find it,” he explained.  “I hope I’ve got it stuck back in the right place now.”

For a cover, Brenner was able to rely on the talents of his daughter, Thea Boodhoo, an advertising industry professional and college-trained artist.  “I was going to use a B&W photo of a dolphin that a friend in New Mexico colorized many years ago,” he said, “but Thea thought she could do better, and when I saw her finished work I knew she was right.  I only made a couple of very minor Photoshop changes to the file she handed me to make the title stand out more and add the subtitle.”

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A friend who owned a small desktop publishing business referred Brenner to Royal Palm Press, a nearby print-on-demand company, for production services.  “I had no idea what the local reaction to the book would be, so I had a chat with Tom Lewis, the press’s owner at the time, to make sure he wasn’t blindsided,” Brenner said.  “Tom said ‘As long as it’s between consenting adults, that’s fine with me,’ and that was that.”  Brenner also served as his own layout artist, an experience he described as “a mad blur of on-the-job training.”

With book in hand, Brenner ventured onto the soggy ground of marketing.  “Here, I got terrifically lucky,” he said.  “I didn’t have the money to hire a public relations firm to distribute a press release, but I found one that had a reverse-charge policy. The media outlets who received the press releases paid for the service, not me, so my initial publicity was free!”

Upon its release in January 2010, the novel received intense press coverage due to its taboo-shredding themes of interspecies sex, zoophilic love and a dolphin character smart enough to out-think a human.  “For a while it was frantic, but very gratifying,” Brenner recalled.  “I was doing several interviews a week, sometimes two a day.  A few of the interviewers were skeptical or harsh about what they thought might have been going on, but the majority were genuinely curious to know what happened, and to learn more about dolphins.”

Since then, the book has enjoyed sales surges whenever some news gatherer gets curious and wants to know about his experience, Brenner said.  One came in 2011, when a New Zealand TV producer, David Farrier, released a videotaped interview with Brenner he’d recorded the year before.  Others don’t conjure such pleasant memories.  Brenner felt humiliated by shock-jock Howard Stern’s 2015 obsession with his zoophilia, and a 2011 interview with Bubba the Love Sponge cost him a gig with a local slick when its advertisers threatened to withdraw unless the magazine dropped him.

Brenner’s most recent foray into the murky waters of self-promotion was somewhat less melodramatic.  “When I finally got around to looking at the Smashwords file, it said there was a problem with one of the book’s photos, but I couldn’t find it with a self-diagnostic program they offer,” Brenner said.  “So I took a chance and asked Smashwords’ customer service, citing the warning notices they sent me.”

He quickly received a courteous reply from a guy named Kevin, explaining that the problem was probably due to the use of colons in his chapter titles and sub-sections.  “I was glad it was so easily resolved,” Brenner said, “until I downloaded the file onto my computer to make the corrections and realized what a mess it was.”

In the interim between uploading the file in 2011 and downloading it in 2018, Microsoft had changed Word and given it a new file extension, .docx instead of the original .doc.  “That one little ‘x,’ unfortunately, made a hell of a lot of difference,” Brenner said.  “When I had to add a couple of pages to the print manuscript of Wet Goddess, converting the book from the old to the new file format inserted blank spaces more or less at random between paragraphs.  I had to start at the beginning and re-do the whole layout, including throwing in a couple of new photos to fill some yawning blanks.”

The problems with the ebook file were similar.  There, many words were unnecessarily hyphenated, and photos had to be re-aligned to make sure they didn’t obscure the text.  Brenner said the process took him about two weeks, including a couple of days off when he wasn’t feeling well, but he’s glad he did it.

“I don’t have the money to pay somebody else anyway,” he complained, “so I might as well do it myself, because being retired I do have a fair amount of time.  Besides, whenever I master a task like this, I improve my overall word-processing skills, which helps me find work in the freelance job market.”

In the eight years Wet Goddess has been in print, it has sold about 1,500 copies in 18 countries, mostly in the English-speaking world, due to Brenner’s unflagging self-promotion efforts.  When a fan in Russia contacted him  three years ago to inform Brenner he’d undertaken an unauthorized translation, the author responded by granting him permission to publish it there!  “It hasn’t taken off yet, because the translator, Anton River, lives in a very conservative northern city,” Brenner said.  “He’s planning to move to a better climate soon, and I hope he’ll renew his efforts to promote the book when he does.”

In addition to Wet Goddess, Brenner has written and self-published two other books.

orgone-box

Growing Up in the Orgone Box, published in 2014, is an unflinching memoir of his torture and sexual molestation at the hands of Dr. Albert Duvall, an “orgone energy” therapist and close associate of the late Dr. Wilhelm Reich, and the dysfunctional family structure that allowed this to happen.

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His 2016 novel Mel-Khyor: An Interstellar Affair is a more light-hearted romp through the mythology and culture of the UFO scene, told from the point of view of a young woman determined to live up to her family’s expectations of her, no matter what it costs her personally.  “There is, again, inter-species sex, but since the other species is bipedal, mostly humanoid and obviously sapient, nobody should blow a 50 amp fuse over it,” Brenner said.  “After all, ‘Star Trek,’ Edgar Rice Burroughs and countless other science-fiction writers have only been doing it for about 100 years.”

Sales on these two books have been nowhere near those of Wet Goddess, Brenner said, and he’s had difficulty getting them any kind of publicity or reviews.  “That’s because, while they’re both sexually radical books, they’re not as radical as a man and a dolphin making love,” he said.  “Somehow, that just blows people’s minds.”

Having just turned 67, Brenner hopes to see his work more widely appreciated before he dies.  Asked if he thought his writing would endure beyond his lifespan, he waxed philosophical.

“My daughter might take it on, but she’s not planning to have children, so who knows what will happen over the course of time?  We only know of the Greek poet Sappho’s beautiful writing because it was used to wrap fish,” he noted.

“Let us remember that from the point of view of a book, which may endure for millennia if it’s an epic, humans are fleeting things who read it at some point in their limited lifespans, devoting to it some portion of their precious time,” Brenner said, drawing on an eerie theme reminiscent of the ambiguous Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.  “For this reason, books, especially long-lived books like Epic of Gilgamesh, Tao De Ching and Cattle Raid of Ulster, are grateful for the time their readers spend with them.  The books try to compensate the readers through a symbiotic relationship that informs you with a novel set of ideas, or supports your need for entertainment that doesn’t require batteries, WiFi or 3D glasses.

“I think that we humans, as a species, have a lot to learn from our dolphin cousins,” Brenner concluded.  “As for my writings, they will survive if people find value in them.”

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Author gets free publicity from SNL!

dolphins_045PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Writer Malcolm J. Brenner got a pleasant surprise on a recent Monday morning when he read a web site that plugged Wet Goddess, his epic human-dolphin love story. The story was picked up by Brenner’s routine Google Alerts search.

On November 13, The Inquisitor published a review of an edgy Saturday Night Live skit featuring Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant as a pair of female scientists trying to train a dolphin to communicate. When the dolphin hits adolescence, they find the only way to keep him on task is to masturbate him. Host Tiffany Haddish plays a colleague who finds the whole thing nasty. The skit manages to be funny, cheesy and satirical at the same time.

It’s based on the actual relationship between a kindergarten teacher, Margaret Howe Lovatt, and Peter, a male bottlenose dolphin kept in a unique living arrangement at the Communications Research Institute on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the early 1960’s. Lilly described the unusual situation, which was intended to teach Peter how to speak English, in his 1967 book The Mind of the Dolphin.

During six weeks of living with Peter in a flooded room day in and day out, Lovatt found him demanding she masturbate him before their lessons would continue. Eager to continue the research, and unable to rationalize any objections to Peter’s advances, Howe complied. Lilly used parts of her notes in his book.

The Inquisitor also referenced a 2014 article in The Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper, which interviewed Brenner about his dolphin experience by phone. That article, in turn, linked to an earlier story about Lovatt and Peter.

Asked whether the exposure had any effect on sales of his novel, Brenner said “I’m not sure, but I sold four copies over the weekend, which is unusual. The first sale came in from the next time zone west of me at about 11:30 p.m. my time, so I don’t know whether SNL would have been on there. But I’ll take any publicity I can get!  Thanks, guys, the check is in the mail!”

Brenner recently had to completely re-do the layout for his dolphin novel before having the next order printed.  “I’ve written two other books since Wet Goddess was published in 2010, and I wanted to add a couple of pages at the end of the book to let readers know about my other work, which is equally radical.

“Because Microsoft had changed its Word document creation software between 2010 and now, the original .doc file had paragraph spacing errors when I opened it in an up-to-date version that uses the .docx filename. I ended up having to completely reformat the book, adding two new photos to take up some blank space,” Brenner continued.

Ever the perfectionist, Brenner had no sooner gotten the books back from the printer than he found another minor typo in them. “That’s the beauty of short-run printing,” he explained. “You may not be able to afford an editor or a proofreader, but any goofs you make can be corrected in the next print run.”

Wet Goddess has sold about 1,400 copies in 18 countries and been translated into Russian, Brenner said. His other books are 2014’s Growing Up in the Orgone Box: Secrets of a Reichian Childhood, a memoir, and a 2016 science fiction novel, Mel-Khyor: An Interstellar Affair.

 

“Mel-Khyor” gets first pro review

Writing in The Florida Weekly, book reviewer Phil Jason has given Malcolm J. Brenner’s new novel Mel-Khyor: An Interstellar Affair a big thumbs-up.

“Mr. Brenner creates an interstellar relationship that is at once eerie, intellectually stimulating, humorous and romantic,” Jason wrote in the January 19-25 issue. “His eye for real and imagined detail draws us into his largely improbable scenes.”

Those improbable scenes revolve mostly around Susie Louise McGonagle, a woman trying to find her way through three relationships: her 1980’s marriage to an abusive first husband, her 1990’s marriage to an investigative reporter, and the haunting memories of a provocative alien encounter that preceded them both.

The fireworks start when Susie accidentally lets that encounter slip her lips to her reporter husband, who then becomes consumed with trying to prove whether her recollections are real or not. Weaving in and out of Susie’s story are the escapades of a team of government agents sent to find the elusive alien and his crashed, self-aware spaceship.

“Getting a review in The Weekly is a big deal,” Brenner said. “I’ve been writing and publishing my own books since 2010, and this is my first professional review.  I’m delighted that Mr. Jason liked Mel-Khyor and had so many good things to say about it.”

Mel-Khyor is available from Amazon as a trade paperback. Brenner hopes to have an audio book out soon, read by himself.

 

 

“Dexter” author interviews Brenner for new TV show by Critical Content producers

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(L to R, Jeff Lindsay, Matt Duff, Jeff Parker (producers) and Malcolm J. Brenner.

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Visitors to this city’s Ponce de Leon Park might have gotten an earful while they were wandering the mangrove boardwalks today. They might have heard Jeff Lindsay, the author of the bestselling “Dexter” series of suspense novels, interviewing Malcolm J. Brenner, who wrote and published his own novel, “Wet Goddess,” based on his 1971 love affair with a female dolphin.

Filming the conversation were camera operator Jeff Parker and director Matt Duff, both with Luau Studios, a small Los Angeles-based production company working on a reality TV show about strange and unusual people from Florida, the state Brenner and Lindsay both call home.

Co-producers Parker and Duff hope to sell the idea for the series to Critical Content, a new production company that has produced such hits as “Ice Lake Rebels,” “Late Night Chef Fight,” “Sex with Sunny Megatron” and “Catfish: The TV Show.”

Later, they were in Cape Coral, Lindsay’s home town, trying to film the man who danced on top of a police car last year, making Brenner one of only three subjects in the Luau Studios’ demo reel for this project.  Duff couldn’t say when the reality show might get the green light, but he hoped it would be soon.

Brenner was also filmed by British TV personality Tim Shaw in June for a similar production from TV4, but hasn’t heard any word on it yet.

 

 

“Dolphin Lover” now on YouTube

Dolphin-Lover-This-Man-PosterThe award-winning 2015 short documentary film “Dolphin Lover,” chronicling Malcolm J. Brenner’s 1971 love affair with a dolphin named Dolly, is now available on YouTube, the film’s producer said Thursday.

Joey Daoud announced the distribution arrangement on Facebook.  In honor of National Dolphin Day, interested viewers can see the film for free Thursday, April 14 at Coffee and Celluloid’s web site.

“April 14th is recognized around the country as National Dolphin Day, a time to celebrate the beloved and brilliant marine mammals,” Daoud said.  “In honor of this occasion, ‘Dolphin Lover,’ the controversial award-winning short documentary on the incredible true story of Malcolm J. Brenner and his summer-long love affair with Dolly the dolphin will be released free to audiences everywhere via YouTube.”

Co-Directed by Daoud and Kareem Tabsch, “Dolphin Lover” premiered at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, where it won Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Short Film.  It went on to play a multitude of festivals around the world, garnering critical acclaim and awards, including the top prize for Documentary Short Film at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film’s controversial subject entered the popular zeitgeist and led to significant media attention, from Howard Stern to Rush Limbaugh, @midnight with Chris Hardwick on Comedy Central, Watch What Happens Live on Bravo, and on media outlets like Vice, New York Post, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and countless others.

Set in 1971 on the Southwest coast of Florida, “Dolphin Lover” tells the incredible true story of Malcolm J. Brenner, a college student who lands his first professional gig as a freelancer photographing the marine animals at Floridaland, a tourist trap disguised as a roadside amusement park. The experience would launch Malcolm’s career as a photographer and introduce him to his one true love while changing his life forever. The assignment sent Brenner on a year-long romantic and sexual love affair with Dolly, a captive bottlenose dolphin. Brenner chronicled his relationship in a novel, Wet Goddess, which served as inspiration for the short film. The film features an in-depth interview with Brenner as well as archival footage and animation to tell of Brenner’s unique experience.

“Since we made the film we’ve been getting countless requests asking us where to see it, we thought there was no better way to share the film with the world than to release it on National Dolphin Day as a gift to dolphin lovers everywhere” Daoud said. The film is currently available for purchase or rental via iTunes but will be released free online via YouTube.

“Audiences at film festivals have really championed the film at every screening we’ve had, so we’re really eager for the film to be seen by a wider audience and hear what they think. One thing’s for certain, you won’t be able to stop talking about this story,” added Tabsch.

Viewers can watch the film starting on April 14th for free at dolphinlovermovie.com.

 

 

“Dolphin Lover” to play L.A. Film Festival

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The short film “Dolphin Lover,” about Malcolm J. Brenner’s relationship with Dolly the dolphin, will play at the prestigious 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival.  Screening time is 8:45 p.m. on Monday, June 15 at the Regal Cinemas Live as part of the Shorts Program 1.  For information about future screenings, please return to this web site.

Sarasota unRavel.us Interview

Short interview with Malcolm J. Brenner by Kat Dow of unRavel.us, a web site of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper.  Being where Brenner lived during the time, the early 1970’s, Sarasota is “ground zero” for the “Wet Goddess” story.  “Dolphin Lover” screened twice at the recent 2015 Sarasota Film Festival.  The film makes use of archival footage of Floridaland, the small theme park with a dolphin show in Nokomis which provided the setting for the book.  The location is today occupied by a housing development.