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.”

 

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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).


First Saturday of October

Reading
Dreams of the Red Phoenix by Virginia Pye.
The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell.
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar.
Rereading Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje.

Watching
It’s been an active month for watching things. A couple of Audrey Hepburn movies were taken in on Netflix. Roman Holiday and Charade. The thing that I found most fascinating about Roman Holiday was its subtle acquiescence to class boundaries. If Roman Holiday were remade today, the Audrey Hepburn character would not be a princess (she’d be cast as a movie star or model), or, if she were still cast as a Royal, the story would concoct some means by which the common American reporter character (played by Gregory Peck) could end up living happily ever after with the princess. In that case, I think, the whole story would be ruined. Maybe I only think that because the only love that’s been consistent and reliable in my like has been the unrequited kind.

There was the documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan that was very good. The only Harryhausen movie I’ve seen has been Clash of the Titans, but it was amazing to see the influence he’s had on other directors who’s movies I have seen, and enjoyed.

Watched a couple episodes of Columbo, but I always ended up putting it on late at night and would then fall asleep about halfway through. Watched the first season of Emergency! while doing laundry. It was truly astounding in its own way. Today it feels kind of campy now, but I remember it vaguely from when I was a kid, particularly because I had a set of Emergency! discs for my View Master. Randolph Mantooth (a very masculine name), Kevin Tighe, and consummate eyebrow actor Robert Fuller starred. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that only once during the entire first season does Squad 51 make a left turn (viewer’s right) when leaving the station. It’s now my personal joke belief that to get anywhere in Los Angeles, the first thing you do is make a right turn.

Listening
Lately, it’s been obsessively listening to a British band called The History of Apple Pie, particularly their first album, Out of View, but also occasionally throwing down their second album Feel Something. A number of the reviews I’ve come across have likened them to various 90’s alternative acts where a dreamy voiced girl singer-lyricist hooks up with an earnest, pencil thin guitar boy – think The Sundays, Mazzy Star, Belly. I like them, but then again, I’m a sucker for pretty girls who sing

Podcast News
Upcoming conversations with Virginia Pye, the author of River of Dust and Dreams of the Red Phoenix, followed by Elise Blackwell, author of several novels. Blackwell’s newest one is The Lower Quarter.

There’ll also be my regular monthly conversation with Stephen McClurg.

I’m still thinking of some other things to do with the podcast, mostly just to amuse myself, keep the feed active since I’m paying for it.

Over no the old Eunoia Solstice website, our cohort Eric Jenkins has restarted his podcast, now calling it The Unnamed Podcast. Looks like it’s going to be an on-going conversation about horror movies. If that’s your thing, head over there and give them a listen.

Writing & Submitting
I may be finally finished with Far Nineteen here in a couple of days. I’ll then put that aside for a few weeks and try to get started on something else.

The Palace of Winds is still making the rounds to agents. Finally starting to get rejections instead of dead silence. I’ve got a list of agents still to contact, and I’m adding to it. I’m also starting to build a list of small presses that still allow un-agented submissions.

As writers and publishers become “content providers” this whole business of making art instead of consumable entertainment product on an annual schedule, is becoming harder and harder. It seems like the big publishers are so sunk into the celebrity model combined with a serial model that the mid-list writer, just like the American Middle Class is being squeezed out of existence.

Random Thoughts
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the possibility that living in Kansas is hurting my chances of getting my second book published, but I don’t see any kind of a way to get out of here. Here, let me give you some numbers: $78,000, $486, $55,000, 87.9%, $39,000 (or 107% , $50,000), $61,000. And then I’ll add a word: Single.

The first number is my current student loan debt. The second is how much I pay on that debt every month. The third number is my current salary as “Senior Document Editor and Systems Coordinator” for a company that manufactures fertilizer. 87.9% is the cost of living difference between Wichita, KS and New York, NY and $39,000 is roughly how much more I’d need to make in order to live there. 107% is the cost of living difference between Wichita and San Francisco, CA, and $50,000 is how much more I’d have to make to live there (if we do L.A. it’s only a 59% difference, or about $24,000 more than I’m making now). $61,000 is the average media salary for an editor, but that depends on industry, so it includes acquisition editors at publishers big and small, TV editors, newspaper editors, etc.. Essentially, my current job is “technical editing” in that I edit business documents and operating procedures written by Subject Matter Experts so that the document can be easily read and understood by, well, laymen.

I tripped and fell backwards into this job. Previously, I’d been struggling along for most of my life in jobs that paid me roughly $26,000 per year, which is why my student loan debt looks so high. There were stretches, because I made attempts to live on my own in my 20s and 30s that I had to put the loans in forbearance so that I could do things like, repair my car so that I could get to my job, or pay for dental work when I didn’t have dental insurance, and hold my breath when I was unemployed for 9 months.

Now, between 1995 when I graduated from K-State and 1999 when I left for grad school, I lived in my mother’s basement. From 1999 to 2004, I lived in Colorado. First in a studio apartment that was so small the kitchen was a portable refrigerator, sink, and two burner stove tucked in a corner, then I moved to a 2 bedroom place with a friend. In 2004, I lost my job in Boulder and decided to return to Wichita, where I lived in my mother basement again until 2006 or 2007 when I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment not far from the bookstore where I worked full time. In 2008 or so, I moved in with my then girlfriend, Rebekah, and we lived together until 2014 when we broke up. By that time I had my current job and was able to afford a small one bedroom place of my own because, to be honest, there was no fucking way I was going to live in my mother’s basement again at the age of 43.

All of which is a long way of saying that I’m single, and so I’m my only support system. If I were married, I think I might have a bit more flexibility. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe some of my married writer friends would disagree . . . but they live on the east or west coast for the most part, near publishing/entertainment hubs, or work in universities scattered about. None of what I planned on in 1999 when I left for graduate school has happened except for getting my first book published. At this point in life, I don’t figure I’ll ever get married (and I’m pretty sure I’ll ever end up in a relationship again), and so any opportunity that presents itself has to be such that I can support myself on my own, continue to pay down my student loans, and be able to carve out sufficient time to write.

 

001 Dawn in a bag


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