First Saturday Report: March 2018

The submissions pace has slowed down a bit, honestly, because I feel like I’m running out of agents who appear to represent the kind of fiction I write. I also can’t tell if the dismal response rate is because I’m doing something wrong in my query letters, or if my one book was just a fluke. Moving on to submitting to publishers now for The Palace of Winds. Still sending Far Nineteen out to agents.

Working on a new project. It’s been knocking about in my head for a few years and it finally started to really take shape after reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell.

Right now, my reading is completely consumed by James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’m pretty sure reading it is the literary/English Major’s equivalent of a snipe hunt. Or I’m stupid. Maybe I’m stupid.

Speaking of Ulysses, I’m not reading it for fun (maybe I should be?). I’m reading it for the podcast along with my grad school friend, Delia. We hope to have it finished and to start releasing episodes around Bloomsday, June 16,2018.

On a lark one night when I should have been reading Ulysses, I watched Barefoot in the Park, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Then I watched Our Souls At Night, with Robert and Jane. Although Barefoot is a classic, and based on a Neil Simon play, the movie is, well a bit of froth. Thoroughly enjoyable, funny, and classic froth, but froth nonetheless. Souls, based on the Kent Haruf novel (which I’ve not read, but may add to the list), was wonderful. I’m glad that places like Netflix are making space for small, quiet, mature, low-budget movies that, if we relied on Hollywood’s blockbuster system alone, would never get made.

I was going to complain about how much I hate Dropbox, and was so disappointed at having to use it if I wanted to sync up Scrivener projects between my devices (a MacBook Pro and iPad mini). Dropbox is a memory hog, and even though I don’t use a lot of memory intensive apps, it still seemed to suck up everything and slow down my system. I don’t want to store the project fully in the cloud, all I want to do is to be able to copy the project I’m working on in my MacBook to a cloud service and then open the app on my iPad and viola, the new version is there. I don’t mind working from the cloud drive on my iPad, since space is limited there (my MacBook has 1TB of disk space, the iPad only 32GB). There are workarounds, but they all involve downloading the project to the iPad, which takes up space, then opening it in the app which then forces the app to create a duplicate file in the cloud service. Sigh. So I switched from Scrivener to Storyist, but I don’t like Storyist as much as I do Scrivener. I wish Scrivener would tweak its software so that I could use one of Derpbox’s competitors, like

The devil kitten (Ursula) is starting to calm down. I think we’re coming to an understanding. Mostly, I think she’s beginning to realize that being petted is enjoyable – and I’m starting to get a better grip on the fact that all she really wants is to play and be near me. Silly girl-cat. Dawn, the older cat, is also coming to terms with the situation, and is always happy when I plop down on the couch long enough for her to take a nap on my lap. It’s thoroughly charming that they meet me at the door when I come home from work every day.

I’m 46, and I’ve started getting emotional lately. It’s strange. A moving story on a podcast, an emotionally powerful movie, a documentary about injustice – and suddenly I’m getting choked up, little tears coming out. Is this “man-o-pause?” I do need to increase my exercise routine, which should be easier with the arrival of spring, but seriously, I think I need a work-out buddy. Going to the Y by myself and squeezing in between all the younger, fitter people there makes me uncomfortable. Plus I’m not really looking to bulk up, or turn myself into a lumpy stack of muscle. I just need to lose about 15 pounds (as of this morning I weighed 197 lbs. – that after being about 192 lbs. about a month ago and hovering at about 189 -190 in early December). Winter, depression, and anxiety… and next thing I know I’m stuffing shitty food in my face. I know, 197 lbs, that’s not bad – but it is. I’m not worried about my weight because I’m “fat.” I’ve got a paunch is all, but it generally translates into a cholesterol level over 250, which is, supposedly, not good. When I weighed nearly 230 lbs., my cholesterol was over 300. Getting below 200 lbs shaved a little more than 100 points off my cholesterol. If I can get my weight down to 180 lbs, then I might get that cholesterol level below 200 and get my doctor off my back about having to take a goddamn statin. The hard part is sticking to the routine through holiday shit, podcast projects, writing, errands and chores, illness, injury, day job, and maintaining social connections with friends – which, if you didn’t know, is something that 40-something men start to lose if they’re not married. And strong social connections are one of the key markers to living a healthy life. Actually having friends, and maintaining close personal relationships is just as good for you as eating right and exercise. So, yeah, I need a work-out buddy, a running partner, a gym spotter.

Who’s with me?



Bonus Episode: Caitlin Hamilton Summie

Caitlin Hamilton Summie is the author the short story collection To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts from Fomite Press ( You can also keep up with Caitlin at her website ( or if you think you might need a book publicist, try 

First Saturday Report: February 2018

Well, so far this year I’m not doing too bad.

During January I didn’t write much new material. The bulk of it went into an essay I may not do anything with. It was a thought experiment on the Aziz Ansari incident, and the two camps that most people seem to have divided themselves into, while me and Dan Savage seem to be in a middle camp. Who knows, maybe it’ll see the light of day on the blog sometime.

Hell, if I don’t give away my writing and thoughts on the blog, no one would see that I’m writing anything.

I’ve been slowly and methodically plugging away at sending out query letters to agents. I’m kind of at the end of my emotional rope with this. I’ve been at it since sometime in July of 2017, and I’ve had only one agent request the full manuscript, and none of the rejection letters I’ve received have given me any clue at all as to why no one is interested in it except that it’s “not right for their list.” One or two agents have said something positive about my talent and credentials, but they didn’t want to take on the book, or me – and that – that right there – is perhaps the most disheartening rejection of all. I can’t decide if being told that an agent thinks I’m talented, but won’t represent me is worse than the no-reply rejection, which seems to be the new form rejection.

Then, in the weekly email from Poets and Writers for Jan 25th, there was the Agent Advice column that also appears in the Jan/Feb issue of Poets & Writers. This one featured Annie Hwang from Folio Lit (I was rejected by a different Folio agent). Some of her responses lead me to believe that I’d almost be better off as a first timer again, especially after reading her response to a writer from New Jersey about how agents will check an author’s Nielsen BookScan numbers. Ms. Hwang said she only checks them after deciding she wants to work with a writer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t agents who will decided if they want to work with a writer based on Bookscan numbers. Mine are awful, I’m sure, and nearly ten years old.

It’s time to move on to small presses. And no. I’m not self-publishing.

I either miscounted, or I went on a submission spree in January.

67 total submissions made (8 were to small presses, the rest to agents – some were made before July 2017)
57 rejections
10 still out, including 1 request for the full manuscript.

That, I think, is the most accurate account.

I finally got around to reading Ben Lerner’s 2011 novel Leaving the Atocha Station. I’m ambivalent about it. It’s well written, but despite Lerner’s skill and his previous history as a poet, it’s still a first novel semi-autobiographical bildungsroman about a poet from Topeka, KS who goes on an academic fellowship to Spain and witnesses the aftermath of the March 11, 2004 Atocha Station bombing in Madrid. Adam Gordon is not too terribly far removed from Mr. Lerner himself. Gordon and Mr. Lerner have a lot in common, including a lot of upper middle class white privilege, which I find to be a bit on the sci-fi spectrum of relatability. I even recognized a lot of the nascent ideas that would later appear in Lerner’s chapbook The Hatred of Poetry, which having read, made me finally decided to give his novel a try. I had known before hand that this novel was semi-autobiographical, but maybe after absorbing all of the hype around him over the years I expected more from it.

The review excerpts serving as blurbs and that are speckled all over the book’s cover, touting its brilliance and wit, didn’t help, especially since they seem to all be over-praising the book, and Lerner – as if they’d never read anything like it before. Please. I liked the book, but it wasn’t mind blowing, or life changing, or even “unlike any novel reading experience I’ve had for a long time” – to quote Maureen Corrigan’s rather handjob-y excerpt from her review. I Think of it as The Sun Also Rises (aimless American in Spain minus the wounded war veteran) meets a Fawlty Towers plot trope, with drugs replacing alcohol, and the main character’s “I hate poetry and it’s fake, but I’m really good at it” internal monologue replacing the bull fighting obsession. Also, I really need to be conscious of my tendency to automatically think the opposite of whatever Jonathan Franzen thinks, which is not to say that Franzen’s quote from his Guardian review is accurate, just that my bad reaction to the first pages of Franzen’s The Corrections has created a kind of knee-jerk “go fuck yourself” immune reaction to everything he says about – well – anything.

The problem is, I want to like Lerner and his book. We’re both from Kansas, after all. I found a lot of what he said in The Hatred of Poetry to be spot on, so I’m interested in what else he has to say . . . but . . . yeah, there’s some class antagonism going on here. Lerner is the son of noted psychologist Harriet Lerner (most famous for her book The Dance of Anger), because of that, he has had far more opportunity than I have (which is a significant amount since we’re both white dudes), went to Brown University for a BA and MFA. Won some major prizes early, and regularly, got a Fulbright to travel to Spain, kept winning prizes, and a MacArthur Genius grant. Typical stuff for someone who, well, was born thirty or forty yards ahead of everyone else. Then, he got invited to be in a documentary about one of my literary heroes, John Berger (here’s an excellent piece from 1999 about Berger, too), which, to be honest, made me a bit jealous. Lerner’s just one of those people who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people and getting jerked off by the fawning It-crowd of self-appointed literary tastemakers. I can’t tell if my “ho-hum, what’s the big deal?” reaction to his book is more of a response to the book itself or their praise of the book.

I’ve begun reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. Finally. The endeavor is being recorded for The Outrider Podcast, and I’m being joined by my friend, Delia Tramontina. We were in the MFA program at Naropa University together. So far, we’ve recorded the first episode where we talked about Joyce, the book’s history, and why we haven’t read it yet, even though you’d think that two MFAs would have read it before they got into their forties. I’ve resisted it for years because I’m a contrarian who will refuse to do something if someone who has rubbed me the wrong way for other reasons tells me I should do or try something. It’s probably why I’ve never seen Gone With The Wind. It was why I resisted the Harry Potter books for years until I was working in a indie bookstore.

Sat down with a friend and watched Strangers on a Train for the first time. I never realized it had such an intersection of literary and filmmaking trivia. The screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Robert Walker, who was on the tail end of his downward spiral after his divorce from Jennifer Jones. Strangers was Walker’s penultimate film. He would die while making his last film, My Son John in 1952.

I’ve been adding a lot of classics to my movie watching queue due to an infatuation with the podcast You Must Remember This. So, along with my plan to get more books read this year and clean off one of my many to-be-read shelves, I’m going to bust through some classic movies. Maybe I’ll plan some movie nights. On an afternoon off, I ended up watching The Godfather and The Godfather Part II instead of reading Joyce.

The Podcast will be on a minor hiatus again, but not because I’m not recording. In February, I’ll release another author conversation episode, this one with Caitlin Hamilton Summie, who has a her first collection of short stories out called To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts. It’ll be out about the 10th of February or so. In the mean time, I’ll be recording the conversations with Delia for the Ulysses project, and beginning another 5 or 6 part series on crime and noir fiction. While Stephen is plowing through the spring semester with his students we’ll be plotting the next topic to discuss. We’ll also be adjusting the format and recording frequency to try to tighten up and perfect our ramblings.

I’d love to find someone to do the audio editing work for me because I’m kind of slow at it, but . . . I doubt I have the resources to hire someone. So, I’ll plug along.


I had delusions of fame when I was a young writer, and I probably made some bad choices based on an overblown estimation of my own talent. The thing is, as I get older, I find myself wrestling with the realization that, well, I’m in that segment of people who has been abandoned by history and circumstance. As society rightly and correctly begins to resist elevating any and every white man regardless of his talent or merit, and especially as late-stage capitalism squeezes and restricts the avenues for artistic expression, limiting the possibility of generating a livelihood from art to those who come from already privileged backgrounds, or those who can pander to the widest audience, there will be writers like me who will simply vanish from the literary landscape – and a loss you don’t know has happened is no loss at all.

I don’t have the talent to extricate myself from the day-to-day demands of a corporate job, and I wasn’t lucky enough to land an academic job, so I’m kind of stuck, and I don’t know what else to do with myself. I write stories that no one seems to want, but I can’t stop writing and still be a human being that other human beings would want to spend time with. Then, in a kind of sad ironic Catch-22 situation, the frustration of writing and meeting nothing but rejection slowly leaches away any optimism and replaces it with bitterness and despair that, well, pushes people away. I should learn to embrace my corporate overlords and do my consumerist duty to fatten their bank accounts in return for just enough compensation to stay dry when it rains, warm when it snows, and able to eat just enough stay alive so I can plug into my cubicle when needed by the boss.

Capitalism. Greed. Wealth addiction. There is a small fraction of people who want to live like the kings of old feudalism, to be the new royalty of the world, and then there are the millions of people who go along with these would-be rulers of the world because they’ve been made to believe that they themselves are only temporarily embarrassed millionaires who, if only the “enemy” or the “other” (immigrants, lazy brown people, jews, and commies, etc.) weren’t stealing from them, they’d be fancy people, too. Or maybe they haven’t been made to believe anything and they see who’s really stealing from them but are choosing instead to ally themselves with the thief-kings under the ridiculous assumption or theory that by making friends with the devil, the devil won’t turn on them and instead will reward them for their proffered aid. They could use some time studying the parable of the scorpion and the frog (or turtle), which was derived from Aesop’s fable of the Farmer and the Viper. When the thief-kings have squeezed all they can out of the poor, they’ll start on their loyal servants until they’re used up, too.

Episode 5 Volume 2

The final episode for this season on resistance and community. Sometimes, to keep your wits sharp, you should edit someone else’s work.


2018: First Saturday Report

        Most people I know are in agreement that 2016 and 2017 were not very good years. Shit years, in fact. 2018 looks to be just as turbulent with a greedy, fragile ego-ed, cheeto skinned dictator in charge of the world’s largest military, a bunch of venal, craven, greedy fucks running congress, Russians still meddling in our media and elections, playing stupid, uninformed people off of each other, and Robert Mueller taking is damn sweet time.

        I need to renew memberships or donate to the ACLU, the NAACP, NOW, and a few local campaigns. We here in Kansas almost kept Ron Estes out of congress, but the Kobach fix was still too powerful. At the same time that I have hope, I’m also fearful that we, as a country, haven’t completely reached the bottom yet.

        But this isn’t a post about politics. This is me trying to return to a good habit I had in 2015 with the hope of keeping my creative wheels greased, and my fingers on the keyboard instead of knitted idly under my chin.

        First Saturday Catch-up is now the First Saturday report.

        So, what the hell have I been up to besides some long winded social posts and a few new podcast episodes? Let’s find out.

        Since 2015, I’ve wrapped up work on a novel called The Palace of Winds, which is both a loose retelling of Jason and the Golden Fleece and a mythological imagining of my paternal grandfather’s life during the Great Depression. My grandfather died in 1992 while I was still an undergrad. We’d never really talked or got to know each other, and he was never much of a storyteller, at least to me. So, it was quite a surprise to me at his funeral to hear that he’d been a road kid during the Depression and hopped freight trains across the country, that spent time living in Los Angeles where he worked for a boxing promoter, then lived in Montana where he herded sheep, and finally sold WearEver cookware door-to-door in Philadelphia. Then, when my father died in 2010, I realized that my half-brother, who was only 10 years old at the time, would never know our father the way I did, and would know even less than I did about our grandfather.

        No family should be without a story to tell, or a sense of where and from whom they descended. My dad’s side of the family has been notoriously devoid of that kind of history, and that sense of origin. By comparison, my mother’s family can trace their lineage back to a specific farm in Lower Saxony. So, not being much of a genealogist and more of a “mythologist,” I decided that since anyone can, really, trace the facts, I needed to write the myth of my father’s family as I would have wanted to see it growing up, and to do it as honestly and fairly as I could. This way, even if I never have children of my own, at least my half brother, whose mother made it quite clear she didn’t want me anywhere near her son (because I’m “sick” or something i.e. non-Christian), will have some kind of paternal family story.

        I’ve also finished another novel called Far Nineteen. In it, I’m trying to wrestle with the idea of race and white privilege. The fictional city at the center of the novel was inspired by Tulsa, Oklahoma and the 1921 riot there that wiped out the prosperous Greenwood district. I also threw in a version of the Plymouth Belvedere that Tulsa buried with a time capsule in 1957. I created the fictional city so that I could reduce the amount of historical research I had to do, and be able to fiddle with the timeline and put my characters in the middle of it all and not have to address actual historical figures and sequences. I also needed to have one character be a witness to most of the central events in the story.

        Since finishing Far Nineteen over the summer of 2017, I’ve been cautiously and slowly sending out queries for these books to agents. No luck to speak of. I’m tempted to go in and do some more revisions.

        Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with two potential projects. One project is about a pair of men, one a widower, who have nothing in common but the widower’s dead wife. The other project is a follow-up to the Palace of Winds and is, loosely, about my late father.

        After reading an old short story at a literary Christmas party, and reading Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s excellent new collection To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, I’ve decided to wander back into short fiction to see what I can do. It’s been years since I tried any short fiction, so we’ll see how it goes. For the last decade or so, I’ve been focusing on writing long works because, in some way, it seemed logical. With a full time job, the podcast, and life in general (reading, laundry, seeing friends occasionally), I felt that my writing time would best be spent on novels. Maybe it was a mistake. It’s been so long since The Evolution of Shadows as published I’m kind of back where I was in the years before it ever happened. I even have two finished manuscripts. This time, though, I think both are pretty good and since they can’t (or maybe they can?) both be published at the same time, it might not be a bad idea to turn my hand back to short fiction while I try to get The Palace of Winds and Far Nineteen sold.

        I’ve gotten 48 rejections for The Palace of Winds so far. I have not included any submissions sent since the end of November, nor the submissions for Far Nineteen, which has only been sent out 3 times to agents and once to a contest (not selected). One agent requested the full manuscript for The Palace of Winds, but I’ve not heard back from that agent yet. I’ll count it as a reject at the end of January. When the rejections for The Palace of Winds reaches 50, I’ll stop sending it to agents and start a focused assault on small presses – even though TPOW has already been rejected by 8 publishers.

So, the score so far:

The Palace of Winds: 56 rejections, 1 request, 2 still out.
Far Nineteen: 1 rejection, 3 still out.


        I’ve begun to lose interest in the comic book/superhero TV shows. I suspect I lack whatever gene would allow me to enjoy extended serializations like comic books and soap operas. It’s probably why I never really got into comic books themselves that much. I guess, to me, at some point, a superhero would get his or her personal shit together and when the next new villain shows up, despite that new villain’s never before seen powers or skills the hero wouldn’t be caught so flatfooted and dumbfounded. And can we please fuck-off with all the goddamned alternate reality and time travel plots?

        Sadly, when western civilization dies, comic book superheroes will probably be seen by some future archeologist in the same way we see the Greek myths and heroes.

        It seems I’m desperately in need of some grown-up visual entertainment and storytelling that is compact and precise. To that end, I’m looking forward to seeing The Shape of Water when it finally comes to my town. As I’m writing this, it’s listed as showing, but there are no showtimes.

        Until then, I suppose I’ll have to rely on my iTunes movie collection. I’ve got a couple of Shohei Imamura movies I’ve not yet watched: A Man Vanishes and Vengeance is Mine. There’s also the Marilyn Monroe movie Clash by Night, and the 1977 movie Sorcerer.

        In the coming weeks I’m going to see if I can hunt down a blu-ray or DVD of the 1998 Walter Murch re-edit of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. The version advertised on iTunes turned out to be the sloppy, studio fucked-with 1958 theatrical release.

        Just before posting this, I watched the 2015 adaptation of The Little Prince on Netflix. In addition to being exquisitely animated, I feel like it’s incredibly and beautifully subversive. It was very emotional to watch for several reasons. First, its gentle understanding of the way adults forget childhood and the cruel monotony of adult life was brutal, and second, what truly shattered me was knowing how much joy this movie would have brought to my friend Jaime if she were alive to see it. The Little Prince was one of her favorite stories and this film would have pleased her in every way possible.

        And I am tired and I am sad, and the businessman is winning.

I have big reading plans for this year. My reading has been off-pace for a long while now, despite the continuous stream of book purchases. At first, it started with a string of novels I bought and then lost interest in, and that seemed to grow into a habit of reading a bit more non-fiction. And then a cheeto ascended to the White House and so sometimes I give in to my baser urges and just watch Netflix.

        There are three shelves of double stacked, unread novels alone, and another two shelves of non-fiction I’ve not read. Basically, I could take one of my five shelf bookcases and fill it with unread books, two deep. That’s how little reading I’ve succeeded in finishing the last few years. I won’t be able to read them all in a year, but I’m going to try clearing at least one shelf. Of course, the book buying won’t stop. Micheal Ondaatje has a new novel coming out in 2018, and I’m sure one or two of my writer acquaintances will have a book come out.

        My reading in the last months of 2017 included Duncan B. Barlow’s creepy metaphysical neo-noir The City Awake. It’s an excellent book all around, but it might especially be of interest if you’re a fan of noir or crime fiction and tired of the genre’s more formulaic writers. Duncan was recently a guest on the The Outrider Podcast, and you can hear more about The City, Awake, its origins, and Duncan there. Then, go buy the book.

        Another book I recently finished was Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s lovely and stark collection of stories To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts. There is a lot of what I like in this collection: broken hearts, death, memory, failure . . . all those things that make us far more human, and humane, than any success that might happen to us. The lack of broad, paying venues for short fiction these days, and the homogenization of the publishing world in general, often squeezes out the finely crafted, graceful stories that remind us how significant and elegant the short story form is, in favor of the shocking, the experimental, the gimmicky, or the grotesque. It’s hard to keep up with the remaining university journals, especially being on a tight, struggling writer with a day job type of budget, so I’m doubly pleased by Caitlin’s collection as evidence that not all short stories that get published in small journals and then collected into books started out as comic listicles.

        On the non-fiction side, the most recent book I finished was Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth by Joseph Campbell. It’s a collection of previously unpublished essays and lectures, on Arthurian legends, plus his master’s thesis on the Dolorous Stroke. I sometimes get the feeling that the literary community, and the various folklore, mythology, and theological communities, are all divided over Campbell. Maybe I’m just making it up, I don’t know, but I sometimes read writer types saying their story is based on the mono-myth, or that it’s structured on Campbell’s hero’s journey, as if somehow, that makes it a better story than other stories, or more deep and meaningful all by itself. I sometimes hear other writer types poo-poo Campbell and the idea of the mono-myth as too simplistic or inaccurate. There was an article on Patheos a while back by a folklorist about why folklorists hate Joseph Campbell, which left me kind of baffled. It seemed more like a defense of their existence disguised as a criticism of Campbell’s work rather than a serious criticism of Campbell’s work (which I would be very interested in reading). The basic take-away I got from the piece was that Campbell is an ethnocentric reductionist who didn’t understand scholarly history, and had a half-baked understanding or interpretation of Jungian archetypes and so you shouldn’t read him unless you then follow it up with lots of reading by modern folklorists who have gotten it right and are much smarter.

        I find that claim specious, and petty. It seems instead that what the author and the other folklorists she mentions are really upset about is non-academics only knowing Campbell’s very first book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, or watching the PDS series The Power of Myth, rather than reading the folklorists these academics admire, and thinking folklore and mythology are the same thing. I’ve run across a number of writers hoping to imbue their work with deep meaning (or Star Wars like acclaim) by using Campbell’s outline of the mono-myth as a plotting device and mistakenly thinking that doing so will imbue their plinky adventure story with deep symbolic meaning. In the first instance these non-academics think they can reduce the entire academic discipline of folklore studies to a manageable nugget by comparing it to a book published in 1947, and largely written when Campbell was in his (douchebag) thirties. I’d be upset too if people kept reducing my life’s work to simplistic comparisons to The Great Gatsby, or, for that matter, Huckleberry Finn. Second, Ms. Jorgensen’s assertion about “writers” returning to Campbell’s “problematic lens” reeks of arrogance and superiority in it’s assumption that “writers” (does she mean to lump the self-published, serialized sci-fi writer in with the Nobel laureate literary writer) are picking up Campbell, believing it to be the end all and be all of narratological wisdom and sweeping all of literary history (which includes myths, folktales, fairy tails, legends, etc. with all their contradictory variety) into a single dung beetle’s ball of shit to make some poorly misunderstood assertion that all stories are equal.

        As a writer who is interested in, aware of, and concerned with the problems of story and narratology, I’m aware of the subtle variations in narrative structure and intent, and how stories that appear similar on the surface can and do mean very different things depending on the audience, the social context, and authorial intent – we can see that not only in myths and stories from different cultures in the past, but in the way people from different cultures react to more recent things like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. We can even see something similar over time within the same culture, for example how America has revised and reinterpreted The Battle of Little Big Horn from gallant, heroic last stand, to tragic mistake, to brutal comeuppance for racist hegemony. I think Jorgensen and her anti-Campbell cohort do a disservice to Campbell’s entire work in comparative mythology as great as the lay person does to their work in folkloristics, by appearing to denigrate Campbell as a half-baked, ill-read ethnocentric and seemingly basing that position only on his first book alone. Attacking the scholarship of someone who lived and wrote his most famous work almost 70 years ago, in his thirties, and who then followed that with the four volume series The Masks of God where he addressed the development of myths in their cultural contexts, is petulant.

        It also seems to me that their argument accusing Campbell of missing or flattening the surrounding context of culturally specific myths, legends, fairy tales, and folk stories is, in a way, unfair and misses the context of Campbell’s work, which was written by someone who witnessed the First World War as a teenager, then witnessed the Spanish Civil and the Second World War as an adult. These early 20th Century conflicts were, for all their geopolitical and economic reasons for happening, wars of ideology and nationalistic narratives. They were clashes of culturally specific memes (for lack of a better word) born out of each society’s particular and unique mythology and folklore being seen as unique and superior (any civil war is this same dynamic in an intra-social context, so, although Spain was a civil war, the opposing Spanish ideologies were internationally inspired, but locally mutated). Sure, Campbell may not have been very good at translating Sanskrit, he may not have had the same understanding of Jung as a full-fledged Jungian, but in the face of the widespread social upheavals where different societies with different folklores and mythologies were slaughtering each other at alarming rates, Campbell’s attempt to unify those mythologies, to highlight their similarities, feels like a gallant attempt to fight against the demonization of the “other,” which makes it possible for one society or culture to lustily decimate another.
        So, now, perhaps, the reason Jorgensen’s “writers” are returning to Campbell with such force is that we see this same pattern of cultural demonization now not only in America’s “culture wars” between dominionist Christianity and everyone else, but in the conflict between East and West, between militant faux Islamists and everyday Muslims, between Muslims and Jews in Israel, between Buddhists and Hindus. Everywhere we see a clash of cultures, or ideologies, it comes from people only seeing the differences, not only in the real people before them, but in the cloudy ideologies behind them, and seeing those differences as imminent threats. Campbell, instead, points to the similarities, the commonalities, even if they’re strained, even if he has to ignore significant differences. In a world where people are applying the stories of various religions with a militant, dogmatic force that leads to alienation and embraces violence, getting lay-people and non-academics to begin to see the similarities between cultural traditions is, to me, wildly more important than burrowing into academic specialization and praising differences. Highlighting the differences is good only for those academics in their niches, carving out their intellectual turf, but it’s not necessarily good for the people confronted with a new neighbor who doesn’t worship the same god, whose cooking smells funky, and who dresses differently. Differences can be invigorating and enlightening, sure, but similarities and recognizing those similarities is what often gets us to overlook differences and recognize another’s humanity deeply enough to accept them and peacefully coexist.

        If Campbell is popular, it’s because he wrote for a general audience instead of a caste of insular academic cohorts at a cryptically named conference, and he avoided sounding like a basement dwelling nerd, sneering (or attempting to refrain from sneering) at a new fan of the super hero movies for not knowing the actual origin story of Wolverine, or Cyborg and all the alternate universe demises and rebirths. Something in Campbell’s writing appeals to people in general, and resonates with people who don’t have an interest in the minutiae of folklore. Yes, these people often take Campbell in a self-referential way, especially among those looking to justify specious, selfish, destructive life choices by claiming they’re just “following their bliss,” but it’s also appealing to those who look at this deeply divided and troubled world and want, desperately, to find some way of exploring commonalities without having to become specialists in a tiny academic field.
        As for the writers who are making big deals out of using the “mono-myth” to build their stories, well, I say that’s fine but it shouldn’t be construed as conferring some deeper meaning to their work than those who don’t use it. Superheroes follow the mono-myth Campbell laid out, as do most romantic comedies. It’s a good template for learning a certain type of dramatic structure, but it can’t confer meaning or depth simply through its application, and the subtle insinuation by Jorgensen that this is the problematic thing that’s happening when writers go back to Campbell is silly. Those of us who take this vocation, this calling of “storyteller,” seriously, who see ourselves as the descendants of those shamans and minstrels that created and recited the stories the Folklorists are now so intently and diligently studying the difference of, are aware of and spend time studying narratology, structuralism, and so on. Such things are the mechanics of what we do, but we writers are generalists, and sometimes mystics, but not specialists. At some point we’re going to stop reading detailed studies of the use of animal symbols in Slavic folktales of the Sixth Century and go write a story of our own and it might even have an animal in it.

        Most writers I know who’ve read Campbell, even if all they read was The Hero with A Thousand Faces, also adhere to an idea espoused by another writer, the late John Berger, that goes “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.”

The only girl getting in my pants these days.



The Year in Writing 2017

Thought I’d share my podcast co-host’s accomplishment post. You didn’t know he was this cool, did you?

Mr McClurg's Marginalia

Though in different ways, this year was as tough as last year. Maybe that’s just what it is.

I wrote seven installments of Test Prep, my contribution to The Terror Test, a horror podcast made by two fellow English teachers. I wasn’t able to write as many as I wanted to, but I’m proud of the work I do for the show and it indulges my interests in both philosophy and horror. I’m working on my first column for next year and it’s about one of my favorite movies, The Brood (1979).

In March, Jasper Lee’s Mirror of Wind LP was released. I played bass on “Asleep a Hundred Years,” which is the last recording and live music I’ve done. Jasper is a fabulous visual artist and musician.

I can’t ever get away from music, even though I feel like I try to every few years. Now…

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Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Duncan B. Barlow

In this bonus episode I talk to one-time Naropa classmate Duncan B. Barlow about punk rock in Louisville, losing our fathers, our mutual affection for Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Laird Hunt, how to stay in the game, and the cats that interrupt us. Also, I screw up the name of Lewis and Clark College. Duncan is the author of the books Super Cell Anemia (2008), and Of Flesh and Fur (2016). His most recent novel is The City Awake, available from Stalking Horse Press. Duncan is also the head honcho at Astrophil Press, which recently published Eirka T. Wurth’s recent book Bucskin Cocaine. 


You can keep up with Duncan (and check out some of his band’s albums) by visiting his website: