Long Time, No See…..

        On September 10, I finished the most recent draft of a novel I’ve been working on called Far Nineteen. It’s a big one, 113,000 words, 370 pages. On a whim, I went back and looked through the back-up files for the project and found the earliest files dated from 2008, the year I sold my first novel, The Evolution of Shadows, to Unbridled Books.

        If my memory is correct, I set it aside for a number of reasons. The primary reason was that it is a thematically challenging story dealing with race and white privilege which can be, for a white male writer, be a problem if he does not force himself to be awake and to listen. Privilege can be blinding, stealthy, and subtle all at the same time. The other reason was that, after selling Shadows, I fired off a completed manuscript I had “in the bank” (as Hemingway used to say) that turned out to be irreparably flawed. Then, in my stubbornness, wasted a good nine months or so attempting to revise it, mostly out of spite, until I hit the point where it was sticking. It was a lesson in trusting a good editor.

        By The Still, Still Water was an ambitious project, dealing with war, sexuality, guilt, and how unspoken family history can twist and damage relationships. In my early 30’s when I wrote it, I may not have had enough experience to pull it off. I’ve gone back and looked at it again over the years and find myself still pondering ways to fix it because, honestly, there is some strong writing in there.

        I remember talking with people about what would become The Palace of Winds sometime in September of 2009, just before Shadows came out. That means I had already done some preliminary sketching on the idea, maybe for as long as a year. I went back and looked for the earliest files because there was an exploratory scene I remember writing about two hobos taking shelter in an abandoned shack during a dust storm in 1930s Kansas. It would have given me a rough timeframe for when I began The Palace of Winds, but I couldn’t find it.

        In February 2010, I began writing The Palace of Winds in earnest, while Far Nineteen languished on the back burner. Palace took off, for me, after my father’s death in April 2010. I worked on it solidly through 2013 and in to 2014. It went through several drafts, friends read it out loud to me, it got submitted and rejected, revised again, and so on. In late 2014, I believe, I returned to Far Nineteen and completed a draft in September 2015, which involved first revising everything that had been previously written.
Now it’s time to bring in my early readers who will read the entire manuscript and rip it apart, and my volunteer narrators who will read sections back to me out loud so that I can hear my language.

        I should have been done with this earlier, but in January of 2016, a friend read the first few pages of The Palace of Winds out loud to me, and I was shocked. It was one of those cases where, after having read to me, then revising and revising again, I’d fucked up the pacing and language (no wonder it was being rejected so much). So, I went back in and did another line revision of the whole damn thing.

        Now, I have three complete manuscripts. One in purgatory, one I need to keep sending out, and one that needs to be critiqued. In the meantime, I’m going to wander back over the scenes and pieces and notebooks for other ideas until one grabs hold. There’s the Minotaur story, the dead girlfriend story, the Spanish story, the trench story, the Wichita noir story, and then there’s my rock b and serial killer story that’s been simmering since 2004. Or maybe I’ll spin my wheels for a while and see what comes up. I was thinking about my Haibun for the Missing idea a few days ago. I’ve been wanting to flex my poetry muscles again. I’ve also thought about writing that college band screenplay I’ve been kicking around.

        The biggest drawback, of course, is always time. Work life, personal life, and writing life form this hopeless tug-of-war when living alone. I write, I work, I exercise so I don’t die, I read, I do laundry, I cook meals, I sleep, I clean the apartment, I run errands and I see some friends once a week who are thoughtful enough to drag me out of the house. The last year has been so focused on getting these manuscripts finished that I dropped the podcast I’d been doing. I want to get it fired up again, but I’m not sure what kind of format I want this time. The conversation format was fun, but the reading schedule needed to read an author’s book before getting them on the show tended to crowd out my personal reading. My biggest fear was reading something and not liking it enough to really be interested in talking to the writer. I loved talking with Stephen McClurg on a regular basis, but I felt we were losing the audience and struggling to make our conversations interesting to anyone but us.

        So, there it is. Now, I’m off to see about some new adventures.
        


Dennis Carl Malott January 19, 1947. Died April 8, 2010.

Today would have been my father’s 69th birthday.

For years now, I’ve tried to write about him and about our relationship. The scrapped essays, blog posts, and fictional flights have piled up, but none of them have been read by anyone. They’ve all felt incomplete, or far too long and rambling.

I keep coming back to this line from John Berger’s novel, Once in Europa.

“Sometimes to refute a single sentence it is necessary to tell a life story.”

 

dadsunglasses

My father in the early 70’s. The photo was taken by my mother.

 

For me, the single sentence is this: My father and I didn’t get along. While it is true, it is also not the

whole and only story. It’s also not the story I want to be left with at the end of my own life; however, unknotting it, untangling the threads of it, will take telling a life story.

 

Perhaps even two or three life stories.

 

 

 

It’s probably not true for all fathers and sons, but since it’s true for my father and me, there must be others out there who have navigated similar rocky paths. All I can say with certainty is that there were things we wanted from each other and sometimes we failed to deliver those things because of fear or blindness or maybe even, after a while, spite. Those things, those emotional, spiritual, personal things are, I think where all the mystery lies.We, as a society, often think of men’s internal, emotional lives as simple and easy to understand. Even making jokes about it.

 

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The truth, and the problem, is that men’s internal and emotional lives are not simple. If they were, the conflict between my father and me wouldn’t have lasted for twenty-five years, which was long enough that, by the end of his life, it was hard for us to figure out how it all started, how it continued, and, at times, how we were before.

 

I’m still working on understanding my father, and myself. Still trying to tell the life story that will refute our sentence.

Friends

My father and his sister, Helen.


Last First Saturday of 2015

Well, I made it a year doing this thing on the first Saturday of every month. A lot of other things didn’t stay as consistent, but at least I did this.

And, of course, what does anyone do at the end of the year? They look back and take stock.

Because I’m the kind of person who tends to go dark easily, lets start with the failures.

Submitting
I failed to find an agent again this year. This isn’t really surprising. Submitting my work is an anxiety producing, self-conscious affair. And, like dating, which I’ve given up on completely, I get discouraged and over analyze my failures. The biggest difference . . . ah, who am I kidding? There is no difference. To me, both acts – querying an agent and asking someone on a date – are opportunities to fall madly in love or suffer humiliation. I’m drawn to the former and utterly terrified of the later. This is why I don’t send out queries as frequently as I should. Yes, I’ve put too much pressure on myself in this aspect. I’ve invested the other with too much power. This character flaw, this fear of rejection is why I need an agent: someone to put a wall between me and rejection.

I averaged a query a month in 2015. That means my odds are shitty.

Somewhere, off in the distance, I hear someone revving up their “why don’t you self-publish?” engines. To be crass and base about the comparison: that’s like telling me the next time I strike out on a dating site I should just take up regular masturbation. And don’t think for a moment that the comparison isn’t true. What is Live cam porn but self-published masturbation videos?

Podcast News
Let’s admit it, the podcast is floundering. I’ve been failing to get interviews. The audience, if there ever really was one, has dwindled to almost nothing. Time and technical problems have been the killers. It may be time to hang up the mic, or go some other direction.

Ok, now for the good news, such as it is.

Writing
I am still on my writing vacation after finishing the initial draft of Far Nineteen. I’ll start revising it in January sometime. Right now, I’m letting myself be aimless. I’ve jotted down a few notes for a couple of ideas. I made a no-pressure attempt at writing a short story. Let it die. The one thing I’ve been doing is making a bit of an effort to journal more regularly. It keeps the words moving.

Reading
I’ve been reading Hopscotch on my lunch breaks at work, and I’m nearly finished. It’s hard to tell though since I’m bouncing around the book following Cortazar’s numbering sequence. Ok, I just looked at the chart. I’m still somewhere near the beginning.

Began reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at The End of The Lane in the mornings during my usual writing time.

Watching
Evenings are for watching movies or the latest episode of from a TV show I’ve subscribed too. Since I don’t have cable, there’s no temptation to just sit and veg-out to whatever is on. I actually just watched the season 4 premiere of Arrow last week. I’m behind. And I’ve only seen two episodes of Jessica Jones.
Truth be told, I’ve been dedicating my evenings to playing Fallout 4, and, with the holidays, spending time with family and friends.

Random Thoughts
There’s an old saying that goes “In France, every writer is important. In England, no writer is important. In America, only the successful writer is important. In Australia, you have to explain what a writer is.”

The same reason I fail at relationships is the same reason I fail at finding an agent. The desire to be accepted is so strong, I’ve given the act of being rejected more power than it deserves. The only difference is a narrow one and it goes like this: rejection by a romantic partner is a rejection of me personally, and I’m flawed beyond repair, so I can, in a way, accept that more easily. My writing, however, is still perfectible, if only someone will take a chance on representing it (and by extension, me). Creating is hard, but revision and editing is the glorious part of art. I love good critiques, constructive criticism – – I want to hear from someone who is as invested in making my work better as I am. I value anyone who can point out the flaws I can’t see. And so, getting my book rejected by an agent feels so much more painful because it is the rejection of the imperfect but perfectible thing I have devoted myself to making.

My parents and the world I grew up in made me, so if I can’t meet a woman who can decide that what I am good enough to work with then that’s kind of beyond my control. I’m doing the best I can with the emotional and physical tools I was given (and denied) and I’m making efforts to sand down the rougher edges, but some things simply have to accepted. But, I made the book, and I know very well what the flaws and limitations are. I also know that a book, a text, is mutable, and I’m willing to listen to, accept, and incorporate suggestions to make those flaws better (or, in some cases, spin them into advantages) – in fact I demand it. So, throwing a novel out there to an agent and getting rejected feels like being told my efforts are not worth their time, energy, or devotion. It especially feels that way after having taking the agent’s advice and researched them, and their list.

I don’t shotgun queries. I don’t have a standardized letter (I do have a standardized description of the novel), I try to personalize each letter to the agent. Now, here, again, is a parallel to dating. I’m a quiet man who lacks a strong sense of entitlement. I’ve heard, very clearly, the horror stories from women on online dating sites. I do my best to be respectful, take no for an answer and search out some common ground for conversation. If those things don’t work, I don’t blame the woman. I blame the fucking boys who acted like jackasses and made her jaded. The same goes for agents. Once, I may have blamed the agents, years ago, but I’ve wised up, as they say. I’ve heard the stories, registered the complaints and have come to the conclusion that it’s not the agents I should blame. It’s the fucking jackasses who don’t understand the publishing business, have some bizarre sense of self-important entitlement, and who flood the agent’s inbox with garbage.

I’m from a flyover state, I didn’t attend a prestigious school, I don’t have a list of unread magazine publications, and I don’t have known, respected writer waving my flag at agents to vouch for me. On the surface, I look like every other naive hack from the middle of the country who thinks writing a book and making a million dollars is as easy as taking a dump (or uploading a file to Amazon).

It sounds pretentious, but I’m trying to make art. I’m trying to make something that is, like the best paintings, and the best novels from the past, pleasing and entertaining as well as profound and moving. I want something that will leave a permanent legacy. If I knew why that was important to me, maybe I could thwart it and become happy with quick returns and empty stories.


First Saturday of November Catch-up

Reading
Reading has been kind of slow this past month. Finished rereading Ondaatje’s Running in The Family, and I’d kind of needed that. It might have helped lodge something loose in regards to the next story.

Other than that, the only thing I read was a friends manuscript with an eye towards offering a critique. That always takes a good deal of time, especially with note taking rereading.

Started reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson.

Watching
Re-watched The Crow, with Brandon Lee and thought I’d give the sequels a look. Yes, I know the follow-ups to the original are supposed to be horrible. In fact, it took me three days and a considerable amount of wine to get through The Crow: City of Angels. That was awful. I still haven’t watched the other two. I don’t think I should.

Started watching the second season of The 100 on Netflix because I have a thing for post-apocalyptic stories (I could go find the novels by Kass Morgan the show is based on, but I’ve already got enough to read). I think the good old fashioned post nuclear apocalypse stories, or the post environmental collapse apocalypse stories, or even the world ending virus stories, but without “zombies” tend to be the most sturdy. In fact, I’ve kind of lost all interest in zombies.

I’m always, ultimately, disappointed by non-comedic zombie stories. This is why I kind of lost interest in The Walking Dead (I never really got in the habit anyway). Maybe it’s a nitpick-y thing, but often I feel that characters in zombie stories, and characters in horror movies in general, don’t often act in ways consistent with their established character. I’m not expecting them to act the way I think I would act, but rather to consistently act and react in a way that is in line with their previously established character traits and the circumstances they are in. In other words, characters can act in a way that I never would, they can be stupid and foolish and careless and oblivious to the mayhem around them, but they shouldn’t be smart, wise, careful and aware of all the mayhem around them in all the scenes previously. I don’t expect fictional characters within the construct of a story to act exactly like real human beings (that would, actually, in a fictional setting seem unbelievable), but I do expect characters to adhere to the logic of the story. Now, if the “logic” of the story is that characters ignore the carnage around them to sneak off and have a shower alone, or meet someone for a secret sexual tryst, then the writers of those films are doing a piss-poor job of establishing that logic early enough in the story that it seems like a rational thing for the character to do (even if I don’t think I’d ever do it).

Listening
A brand new New Order album came out, and I’ve been listening to that. Music Complete is pretty good, but I wouldn’t put it up there with some of their classics – at least not yet. Substance 1987, their singles compilation, is by far the best, followed by the fabulous Low Life, and Technique. At least those are my top three albums. If we wanted to get into favorite songs, we could be here all day

Of course, there’s a band website: neworder.com, but there’s also another official site called Singularity: The Influence of New Order where artists are adding posts detailing the influence New Order has had on them, or sharing playlists of New Order Songs. There’s a great essay there by Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, a playlist from Robert Smith of The Cure, and a brief essay by Sam Fogarino of the band Interpol. The list of contributors is growing.

It was interesting reading Welsh’s piece because he has the experience of New Order in England, which, whenever I read essays on New Order from people in the UK, and even, sometimes, New York, it always seems very different from how I experienced New Order out here in the Land of Oz (or the Land of Ah-shit). In a documentary about New Order that came out during the Republic era, artist Peter Saville, who does almost all of NO’s cover art, talked about a “mass produced secret,” which is something that thousands of people or more might know about but somehow it manages to stay out of the the mainstream consciousness. Now, maybe that applied to New Order in England for a brief time before 1990, but I’m not sure it does now. In the states, however, they do still seem like a mass produced secret. They’ve only had one song reach #1 on the UK Singles Charts, and their songs True Faith and Regret were their only songs to crack the American Top 40. However, they do have the best selling 12” single of all time, Blue Monday, which got there because of its epic run on the international Dance/Club charts. But out here in the flattest place on earth, New Order has always seemed like a skeleton key to a secret club. The perfect mass produced secret. Only my music nerd friends in high school had heard of them before I discovered them on MTV’s 120 Minutes. Then, as I when off to college and grad school, I was always surprised to find out people were even moderate fans of New Order. I always thought it meant we were supposed to be friends, but the flip side to that is that they often made me feel like an idiot because they had known about New Order in places where it wasn’t unusual to find a fellow fan, and so they often acted as if New Order was passé and it made me feel naive and far too earnest for my own safety.

None of that, however, has dimmed by affection for the band and its off-shoots (yeah, I’m talking about you Peter Hook & the Light).

Podcast News
Not much going on here these days. Still talking to Steven McClurg once a month, but no new interviews planned.

Writing & Submitting
Last month, I finally finished the first draft of a new novel called Far Nineteen. This is the one inspired by the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, and the 1958 time capsule that was tucked inside a buried Plymouth Belvedere.

I started it back in October 2012, wrote a large chunk of it, got lost in it, frustrated, shifted to working on revisions to The Palace of Winds, and trying to write something else, then, finally, came back to Far 19 and finished it simply because I needed a completion. Three years on a first draft. That’s a new record of slowness for me.

Since finishing Far 19, I’ve also finally finished the initial draft of a graphic novel script for an artist friend. We’ll see what else needs to be done to it, but now, it’s up to him to get that shit drawn.

Maybe I’ll wait and see if something really grabs me by the gonads and says write. Until then I’ll recharge the creative batteries (read, a lot) and get my query letters for The Palace of Winds out.

Random Thoughts
Basically, in the dating world, I’ve been placed out to pasture.

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Shoptalk with Stephen McClurg

Call this the short and dirty show notes edition. Stuff.

Look up:
Ghoulanoids
        https://www.tumblr.com/search/ghoulanoids
        http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25723988-ghoulanoids

Ray Harryhausen
        http://www.rayharryhausen.com

You can learn more about McClurg and his work at Mr. McClurg’s Marginalia https://mrmcclurg.wordpress.com

The Outrider Podcast is available on Podbean, iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen at my website (http://jquinnmalott.com/index.html).