In this, our final episode, Todd, Paul and I bring it sort of full circle as we take a look at the latest re-imagining of Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe, and discuss Lawrence Osborne’s novel Only To Sleep. So, join us for one last ride into the dark underbelly . . .
Jut and FYI.
The final episode of Bad Business, The Outrider Podcast’s foray in crime and noir fiction will land tomorrow, Jan 15.
And thanks to the hard work of my producer, Heather, it sounds excellent. This means she now qualifies as a wizard.
Look for it in you podcast feed tomorrow.
And then, get ready for another live show around the end of the month.
Ok, so, I’m not a sound engineer and despite recording three separate tracks for episode six none of them are great. Heather is working away at them, so, please be patient.
After some self-education, I won’t be making the same mistakes and hopefully I’ll be making my producer’s life a little easier in the future.
Ep six will be out soon.
Followed by a new live show at the end of the month.
WTF? 2019 already?
Writing & Submitting:
From the outside there’s not much progress on the writing and submitting front. There is a lot of churn on the page however.
The literary manifesto is moving through revisions. A friend with a little more time and money is attempting to start up a literary journal, and we’ve been talking about serializing the manifesto there. So, that’s meant reshaping the revision process to make them fit that format.
At one point while writing things for the new fiction project, I’d cranked out something like 40,000 words just in exploration—short scenes, or bits of dialogue, internal monologues, descriptions of places or events—nothing in order and nothing connected. Most of it written in journals. I can’t remember when I finally started piecing it all together into a narrative, but it feels like i’ve been doing it for the last year or so (with some big pauses as I did a revision (again) to both The Palace of Winds and Far Nineteen). I now have somewhere over 40,000 words of a connected story, with only about 10 to 15% of that coming from the exploration text.
A friend who wants to be a writer seemed confused when I told her that I didn’t think writing was “fun” and that I didn’t do it for “fun.” It’s an urge, a compulsion, a practice for me in the way that religion is for some, or tai chi. Another friend, one who isn’t and doesn’t want to be a writer, wondered why I spent so much time talking about and thinking about how I was structuring the story instead of just telling the story. The comment made me realize that, for a lot of people, a writer talking about how a story is put together is a bit like watching processed food being made: you probably don’t want to see chickens turned into sludge and then formed chicken nuggets. You just want to eat the chicken nuggets. But for me, the process of generating a manuscript is extremely interesting—it might even be fair to say that it’s fun. In the course of my writing life over the last twenty-two years (!!!!!), I’ve written five novels—published one—and begun serious work on a sixth. I define serious work as exceeding 30,000 word barrier, which is roughly 100 pages or so (a piece is considered a “novel” at roughly 60,000 words, less than that is generally considered a novella). I have a few other projects that are sitting somewhere under the 30,000 word range and would love to get to them, but being a writer with a day job is an exercise in that old cliche “burning the candle at both ends” which is exhausting since I live alone with two cats who refuse to pick up after themselves . . . anyway . . . the point is, not every story should be told in the same way as every other story. Sometimes, the tension, the plot, the meaning of something is best revealed by juxtaposition rather than a linear sequence. Sometimes, what appears to be a simple boring story if it were told in a linear fashion (Old Joe walks across the room with the help of a cane) can become monumentally dramatic ONLY when placed in the wider context of life, but how do you present that wider context in a compact space?
In other words, what is “fun” for me is giving myself a challenge and seeing if I can pull it off. We miss so much of the human spirit if we think our triumphs, failures, heartbreaks, or losses, only happen on a grand scale or with world shaking consequences. That erases the human condition in a way. An old man walks across the room with the help of a cane . . . and for him it’s a triumph. Why? How did he get there? What happened to him before that moment? And how do you fit the life story that makes that small effort monumental to that old man into just 60,000 words? That’s why, for me, every story has to be told differently, which demands a different structure and, even, a different way of discovering the story.
The last episode of Bad Business is on the way, hopefully second week of January. Be on the look out. Another Outrider Live will be released sometime around the end of January.
I’m working on getting some additional live shows scheduled and recorded, so those will be landing occasionally through out 2019. Later this month I’ll begin recording another short, seven part series with my friend Jenn Bukowski where we’ll discuss her essay series on Problematic Badass Female Tropes. There’s no release date on those. Again, I’ll be recording all the episodes in advance, and then releasing is a quick burst.
The Bad Business series is good, but logistically it was a mess. It took us something like seven months to record all the episodes, there were technical problems (all my fault), and that put us behind the proverbial eight ball when it came time to the release schedule. So, please, give a big huge massive thank you to my producer, Heather Eden for her hard work. I’ve learned some good podcasting lessons and won’t make certain mistakes again.
The current reading list:
King: A Street Story by John Berger
The Anti-Christ Handbook: The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind Vols. 1 & 2 by Fred Clark
The New Male Sexuality: The Truth about Men, Sex, and Pleasure by Bernie Zilbergeld
In The Cemetery of the Orange Trees by Jeff Talarigo
The Evening Road and In The House in The Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt.
A Dance to The Music of Time: 1st Movement by Anthony Powell
The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, and Civilization by Martin Puchner.
Honestly, the one that’s really the most fun to read right now is Fred Clark’s Anti-Christ Handbook. Clark writes The Slacktivist blog on Patheos and has, for over a decade now, been doing the “Left Behind Fridays” where he breaks down a section of one of the books in the Left Behind series and explains why it is both theologically wrong and artistically bad. He is ruthless and funny at the same time. I used to read the LB Fridays, but then faded away. When I saw he’d finally collected the essays from his Slacktivist blog about the first LB book and released them as an e-book on Amazon, I allowed myself to break my anti-Amazon stance and grab a copy.
Every time I get to this section, I lament the fact that my music discovery efforts are flagging. Again, I blame the lack of a decent independent radio station, but the truth is I’ve not adopted the habits needed to consistently search places like YouTube, or music podcasts, to find new music I like. Yes, the local “alt-rock” station owned by Clear Channel is better than not having an Alt-Rock station, but fuck me I don’t like hearing the same set of songs over and over every time I put on the radio. I didn’t have any kind of opinion of bands like 21 Pilots or Hozier when I first heard their songs . . . I was indifferent until Clear Channel started playing their songs once an hour. I got in my car on four separate occasions one day, drove to work, then drove home from work (8hr gap), drove to a pub to meet friends for dinner (2 hr gap between home and trip to pub), then drove home after dinner (hour and half gap from arriving at pub and leaving pub) – – and I heard that Hozier song “Take Me To Church” each fucking time. I will never buy an album by that artist now because hearing that song is rage inducing.
I feel like I’m missing out on cool new music.
The night before writing this, I went to see Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. That was, I think, the best Spider-man movie so far. I never kept up with the comics after about the age of 12, but I kind of wish I had. Of course, I’m of the age where my first experience of Spider-man outside of the comics was the 1978-79 TV show The Amazing Spider-man.
Of those, I was most surprised by Tag, which I’d expected to be a bit like The Hangover, but it turned out to be quite a touching look at enduring, long term male friendships – especially since it was based on a real-life group of friends who’ve been playing tag since they were kids (here’s the original WSJ article that inspired the movie and a recent Bustle article with video).
1) This year needs to be better than last year.
2) I don’t really have many close male friends and that bothers me.
3) My father would be 72 this month. His youngest son, my half brother, will be, i believe, 18 on March 15. I don’t know him. His mother hates me (and I don’t particularly care for her) and she didn’t want me to be in touch with him. Such is life. He lives in Buffalo, NY. Maybe someday, now that he’ll be 18, he’ll reach out. Our father would have liked that. He wanted my sister and me to have a relationship with him, but after our father died, our brother’s mother didn’t want us around him.
4) My new year started off with a rejection letter. I don’t even remember which manuscript it was for.
In this episode Todd, Paul, and I discuss the somewhat lighter side of the genre with a look at Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon.
Episode 5 of Bad Business will be a bit tardy Tuesday. But never fear it’ll be with us soon.
1) I’ve been working on a long essay for the last few weeks (I mentioned it in the First Saturday Report). I’m watching it slowly progress to 20,000 words. Guess I have a lot to say about literature. Well, it is a manifesto after all.
2) Episode 4 of Bad Business is out. We flap our gums about James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. We don’t like Ellroy and he might like it that way—not that he knows who the fuck we are.
3) I had a dream about my father last night. It’s been happening a lot lately, and I think it’s a pattern of forgetting. After he died, I had dreams about finding him alive in strange places, or about him showing up alive and no one acting like anything was wrong, and the dreams were about me struggling with that incongruity. Now, the dreams have changed. There’s no surprise at finding him alive in my dreams, there’s no attempt to reconcile his apparent resurrection. In the dream last night, he simply came to visit. We got Chinese food and sat on the floor in my apartment and watched TV. We didn’t talk. It was a good visit.
In Episode 4, Todd, Paul, and I are back in the same room to discuss James Ellroy’s American Tabloid and Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man No. 89. It’s time for a little dark mayhem and some critical snark.
Writing & Submitting:
Work progresses. Lately I’ve been focusing on an extended revision of an essay . . . a manifesto? . . . that I’ve been working on, it seems, for as long as I’ve been in Wichita. It’s popped up in various formats over the years, but I keep expanding and trimming. After the discussions of writers and social engagement that I had with Stephen McClurg after the 2016 election, and some random, more recent discussions with literary acquaintances online about literary movements in the 21st century and the effects that current market forces might have on such a thing developing.
Still making slow progress on The Poisoned Moon. Still looking through lists of agents and editors I might send Far Nineteen to, and still wondering if The Palace of Winds should simply be put in the deep dark “nice try” folder.
There was a recent article in the Authors Guild newsletter about how paper makers are causing a shortage and price spike in the high quality paper that publishers buy for their books because paper maker are able to make more money now producing cheap, disposable paper packaging. The book paper shortage is having an effect on publisher’s timetables for publication and it’s affecting their decisions on what gets published. The Article didn’t say so directly, but it basically translates to this: publishers are going to decide to publish only those books that will, they believe make the most money since it will now cost more to print the books. That means the overall quality of what’s on the shelves will actually decline because higher sales correlate to more middle brow books from already popular writers (and popular does not always, and maybe never, means great literature – don’t believe me? take a look at the annual bestsellers lists going back a century. I bet you’ve never heard of most of those books).
Episode 4 of the Bad Business series will be out Tuesday, December 4th. Just two more episodes to go. I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Might still do the book to movie series.
We’ll be recording a second Outrider Live show on December 8th, and get that out soon. Maybe I’ll just do the live shows for awhile until something grabs my attention.
Lately, I’ve been reading a few random things in bits and pieces, fits and starts. I’ve started, for maybe the third time, Anthony Powell’s A Dance to The Music of Time, John Berger’s King: A Street Story, Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book, and Martin Puchner’s The Written World. I’ve been carrying around in my satchel, but haven’t started Jeff Talarigo’s In The Cemetery of the Orange Trees. I also plan to start reading the 58 page memo that Orson Welles wrote to Universal studio executives after they took control of his film Touch of Evil and recut it. I figure it’ll be an interesting look at how directors think, but also creative lesson in artistic vision.
What’s gotten the most attention, however, has been volumes 1 & 2 of Fred Clark’s The Anti-Christ Handbook : The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind. They’re only available on Kindle (sigh), but they’re worth a read. They started out as blog posts on Clark’s The Slacktivist website, and they are a delight, especially for someone like me. Clark does, at least at first, an almost page-by-page breakdown of what is wrong with the first book in the Left Behind series, both theologically and structurally with the books. Reading Mr. Clark’s dismantling is at times funny and shocking. It’s like a primer for understanding the current Evangelical mind and why, even though these collected posts were mostly written before the Obama presidency, explain why the far right has embraced and forgiven Donald Trump.
So, if you’re baffled by how evangelicals can believe Trump is an instrument of God, give The Anti-Christ Hanbook a read.
A busy month for watching stuff. Wrapped up my Marvel binge on Netflix by knocking out Iron Fist and Daredevil. Watched a nifty two-part documentary called The Evolution of Us, which featured an old undergrad acquaintance from my K-State Days, Professor John Hawks, talking about human evolution. Sat some friends down to watch Flash Gordon, which they’d never seen (kids these days).
Finally got my hands on the Blu-Ray of Orson Welles Touch of Evil that was re-edited by Walter Murch according to the 58 page memo that Welles sent to Universal after screening their sloppy edit of the film. Watched it the other night with a friend. It’s a damn good film, even if it is hard to believe Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop. Janet Leigh is excellent, of course.
Also watched the latest season of The Last Kingdom.
Not much new on this front. My channels for new music seem to be shrinking.
There’s nothing really eating at me right now, except maybe my day job.
I’m waiting to see what Mueller pulls out of his hat next.
I need a bigger place for the cats to roam, but there’s not much in my rental price range and with my student loan debt crashing my debt to income ratio, I can’t buy.
After overcoming achilles tendonitis earlier this year, I’ve been able to run some-what consistently and have been getting a better handle on my diet. Now I’m down to a consistent 189 lbs. Changing habits is a challenge, especially eating and exercise habits, and it can’t be done overnight if you want it to stick. When I found out I had high cholesterol (eight years ago now?) I really disliked the idea of simply taking a statin the rest of my life, but I hadn’t exercised since I was 16, smoked for most of the time between 16 and 37, and ate whatever the hell I wanted. At 40, I was a wreck and weighed close to 230 lbs. I could have done something drastic, but it probably wouldn’t have stuck, or I wouldn’t have kept to it. All these years later, I’ve rejiggered my eating habits, created a baseline cardio routine, and given myself a shot at permanent change. Nine more pounds and I’ll be at my target weight and able to maintain it. Maybe I’ll finally sign up to run a 5K in 2019.
A friend of mine, despite my gentle attempts to steer her in a direction not fraught with poverty and disappointment, has decided she wants to be a writer of fiction. About the time she made this decision, Jonathan Franzen published his piece on rules for writers. An odd collection of fancifully stated obviousness (the reader is your friend, you see more sitting still) and curmudgeonly snark (no one with an internet connection is doing good writing), it’s actually not very helpful at all. Franzen, who is not a writer with a day job (#writerwithadayjob), I think, seems a bit detached from reality—especially when he has to research middle class life to write a novel about the middle class and still can’t help but be disdainful of the people he writes about.
So, to help my friend plant her ass in a chair and do the hard work she seems to want to do (what the fuck is wrong with people?), here are my “rules” for writers.
1) Accept that your first draft will always be shit. Whether you plot out your story in advance or discover it as you go, the first draft will be shit. That’s why it’s best to get it out of your system as soon as you can and get to revising it. You can’t revise blank pages, and there’s no point in revising perfect (and you are never going to be perfect), so get comfortable with writing shit (or get comfortable not writing and be happy doing something else).
2) Since the first draft will be shit, you have to treat the writing of it as you would a bowel movement: do it regularly. Whether you’re a clock-puncher who sits down at the writing desk every day, or not, discover and establish a ritual or system that works for you and stick to it. The only requirement is that your system allows you to produce words on the page consistently, at a steady clip, predictably. Don’t compare the level of your output to others, all that matters is output. If there are no words on the page, you have nothing to revise and nothing to submit. If you aren’t writing, you’re not a writer. I’ve been punching the clock every morning for 21 years now and have missed only about 30 days that entire time and have written 5 complete manuscripts (sold one, but we aren’t talking the business side yet).
3) Writer’s block is bullshit. Those who believe in it, who worry about it arriving and never leaving, will have it and bemoan it, try to make others think it’s real, and wallow in it, expecting sympathy. Nothing getting on the page for the epic novel you’ve been pressuring yourself to write? So what? Try a short story or a poem. That not working? Try an essay. Try journaling. Do your favorite writing exercise (mine’s “I remember . . .”*), whatever . . . put words of some kind on a page, any page. I’ve found that when the words aren’t coming easily it’s because my subconscious is working a problem. If I’m patient with myself and simply keep the words—any words—flowing from my brain to my hands to the keyboard or pen and onto a page it all sorts itself out.
4) (optional if you want to publish). Learn the business of writing and publishing. Learn how to submit a manuscript. Learn how to work with an editor (and how to take constructive criticism). Learn how contracts work, and the difference between an advance (spent that fast) and the mythical royalty (I’ve never seen one because I’ve not earned back my advance against royalties). Learn how the Terms of Service apply to self-publishing platforms. Learn about copyrights and permissions. Learn about how the availability and price of book paper affects a publisher’s decision on what and when to publish. Learn about how bookstores work and how book distribution works. Learn all of that stuff so you can make an informed decision when it comes time to choose how you want to present your work to an audience. Traditional publishing? Self-publishing? Some hybrid of the two? Cool.
Some people think I have a low opinion of self-publishing, and I have to admit that, to an extent, I do. Here’s why—most of the people who end up talking to me about it seem to have a desperate need to justify themselves. I think they wanted to get a big, rich contract (which are like unicorns) but after a few rejections stormed off in a kind of Dunning-Kruger inspired fit of rage and have been angry ever since. Also, as a former indie bookseller, I helped manage a consignment program at the store where I worked, and 90% or more of the books in that program were self-published. The writers of those books did no marketing or self-promotion, and were never seen in the store before they dropped off their books, and weren’t seen in the store again until their contract expired and we called them about picking up their unsold books. They then got pissed off at us for not doing all the promotion and marketing they were neglecting to do and which traditional publishers and the more savvy self-published writers were doing for their books.
That being said, self-publishing does work for some people, and some people are good at it, and good writers are choosing to self-publish every day because of the shrinking acceptance rate at traditional publishing houses. But, self-publishing isn’t right for everyone, and traditional publishing isn’t right for everyone. By learning the business you can navigate that decision more wisely . . . and maybe even be successful at it**.
4.1) Make friends with your local indie bookstore, if you have one. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and who you’ll meet. The blurbs on my first novel where provided by writers I met while working at Watermark Books.
5) Read. This one should be obvious, but I’ll put it here anyway. It’s the last rule, but perhaps the most important. There’s nothing worse than a poet who doesn’t read poetry. Nothing worse than a writer who doesn’t read. More importantly, you should learn how to read critically. Read so that you know how to spot formula, cliche, melodrama (purple prose), but also so you know how to analyze a well written metaphor, a graceful, moving image, and so on. Reading, and especially reading critically, is the best way to learn the craft, even if you went out and got an MFA in creative writing.
*Rules for “I remember . . .” Start with the phrase, I remember, write for 5 minutes and don’t let your pen stop. If you feel like you’re getting stuck, start over with “I remember.” It doesn’t matter what you put down, a list, even a long string of nothing but I remember I remember I remember is all good. Eventually your brain will get sick of it and spit out something else. That’s it. Find your own favorite writing exercise. Repeat as needed.
**Writers Digest, Writers Market, Poets & Writers – these publication among many, many others will help you learn the ins and outs of being a professional writer and choosing an appropriate publishing path.