First Saturday of November Catch-up

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.

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).

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:, 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.


Shoptalk with Stephen McClurg

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

Look up:

Ray Harryhausen

You can learn more about McClurg and his work at Mr. McClurg’s Marginalia

The Outrider Podcast is available on Podbean, iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen at my website (

First Saturday of October

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.

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.

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

Utility Literature

        A couple of days ago I got myself in a pretty serious funk. Took myself right out of the rhythm I was in that had me thinking I was nearly done with this latest novel.

        Sad fact of working on any long project is the inevitable funk, followed by a dead end. At least for me. An emotional crash leads to the creative energy getting sapped, and then I write myself, seemingly, into a corner. So, here I am, taking a few mornings to write a one-off blog post that may or may not make it up on the blog. I need to move some words and get some thoughts down. If you’re reading this then success! I needed a success, such as it is.

        Everything gets questioned at times like this. Why have I spent so much of my life trying to be a writer? Why is it so hard for me to write query letters? Why can’t I just stop writing and be happy as a corporate automaton making “useful” or “utilitarian” things? Does living in Kansas hurt my chances of being taken seriously? Why is searching for an agent so much like searching an online dating site for a date?

        In the past, when I’ve trotted out concerns or insecurities about writing, I’ve had at least one person respond with the directive to self-publish. I wrote a long post about why that most likely won’t happen, and I won’t rehash that particular argument here or even give a link. It’s down there somewhere. But there have been some things related to the idea of self-publishing that have been creeping around the surface of my consciousness lately. which may have finally come to a point.

        During the first day of this funk, I listened to a podcast episode of the Wisconsin Public Radio show To The Best of Our Knowledge, which was about why people write fiction. They had Hugh Howey on to talk about self-publishing and his series Wool. He doesn’t bullshit about his choices, and I respect that. He also has, in some of his posts, stated that self-publishing isn’t right for everyone, just like traditional publishing isn’t right for everyone, and I agree with him on that, too. The big thing that has come up in listening to him and reading a couple of things he’s written about self publishing, especially his piece on author earnings back in 2014 (, is that he has a very . . . utilitarian view of what he’s doing.

        When I was last assaulted by the highly sensitive and defensive champions of self-publishing for attempting to explain why I, personally, will never self-publish, I read a number of comments that sounded an awful lot like Howey did in the TTBOOK interview. The primary thing being espoused was that a writer should write a book a year with the implication being, at least in the way it was, rather aggressively thrown at me from a darker corner of the self-publishing world, that if someone isn’t writing a book a year then they aren’t a “real” writer (at best) or, more pointedly, they’re a snobby pouty literary MFA princess who is stamping his feet because the world won’t admit his arty-farty brilliance (at worst).

        One thing I’ve come to dislike, and especially since grad school have tried to avoid, is making prescriptive statements about what a writer should do in order to be a writer. Really, the only thing a person needs to do to be a writer is to write. Now, if that’s too broad a postulation for those who want to think calling oneself a “writer” shouldn’t be so easy because then that makes a five year old who writes a six word email to grandma a writer, let’s go with this: A writer is one who practices writing whether they think of it as a hobby, an art, or a commodity. That’s it.

        Hugh Howey and I both “practice” writing. Now, maybe someone who has a view of writing that is more similar to Howey’s would say that I practice and Howey does since he has far more books out in the world being read at the moment than I do. But that’s just snark, at best, or, plain old counter elitist elitism at worst. Howey writes a book or two a year, maybe more, I don’t know for sure. I write a book every three years or so. Michael Ondaatje publishes a novel, on average, every six years. Ernest Hemingway, published novels, while he was alive, about every 4.5 years (he had 2 novels in 1926, and I’m not counting the story collections, nor the two posthumously published novels).

        I’ve never read Howey’s work, and I probably never will. I also think it’s safe to say that he’ll never read anything of mine, and that’s cool. I’m not really into series sci-fi anymore, and he’s probably not into quiet literary novels about emotional cripples. But I have, for years, read a series of post-apocalyptic sci-fi books called “Deathlands.” At the moment, I’ve got about 24 unread books from the series, and no plans to read them. Their stable of writers come out with a new one almost every three months, which might be part of the reason I’ve lost interest in reading them. Back when the series started, books came out erratically (sometimes two in one year, sometimes more), but it was under the control of one writer only for almost a decade. In 1996, though, the series made its first steps toward being a team-written story mill. Several writers have worked on the series since (see this list): some have been more skilled than others, and so the writing has become inconsistent to me. Of course the writing itself was never, shall we say, “artistic.” I used to say that it was solid and functional. The primary writer before 1996 was pretty good at what he was doing, the writing did its job of keeping me in the story, and it had some life to it. I could pretty easily slip into that imaginative space and be content. When they started rotating writers, and I got older and read more widely, I began to lose interest.

        It wasn’t that the writing got sloppy, exactly, or even awful, it simply became, I suppose, what best could be described as utilitarian. It had ceased to have any life to it and became mechanical and predictable. But it’s that word, that concept, utility, that has been on my mind a lot lately in relation to writing in general, and the profession of writing specifically.

        My day job is in the business and manufacturing world, and in the business and manufacturing world, everything is utilitarian: toilet paper, hammers, vacuum cleaners, fertilizer, watches, computers, cars, plungers, drugs, and so on – even dildos, to an extent, are utilitarian. If you need a roll of toilet paper, and usually you buy Charmin, but the store is out of Charmin, you’re not going to stop wiping your ass until they restock the Charmin. You’ll buy a few rolls of Northern to get by. Brand names are mostly meaningless in a world of utility anyway. The brand name painkiller Aleve is naproxen sodium, which comes in a cheaper, generic brand as well. There’s really very little difference between a hammer made by Stanley and one made by Black and Decker, and if you need a hammer, but wanted one made by Stanley that isn’t available, you’ll get the Black and Decker rather than wait to finish your roof until the there’s a Stanley hammer. Utilitarian things are interchangeable, that’s the whole point of utility.

        Utilitarian objects have an objective use. Any old hammer will drive in a nail, whether you mine and forge the materials to make the hammer yourself or buy the top-of-the-line model from Home Depot, and it’s within that scope that business and manufacturing try to differentiate themselves, knowing that, really, the only difference between them is the illusory “image” created by the company’s advertising. In this utilitarian approach, the company has a few simple requirements: 1) their object must do what it is supposed to do 2) it must be produced cheaply and quickly and in sufficient volume to satisfy the demand created by the advertising department’s mythology, and 3) it must turn a profit.

        That is a fine model for legitimately utilitarian objects. However, for a certain cadre of people it also applies to writing. James Patterson, Hugh Howey, the guys writing the Deathlands series, and those aggressively defensive self-publishing champions who tried to rip me a new one, seem to all be approaching writing in this utilitarian fashion. Or at least trying to by putting the production model into play, at least. They’ve found a niche (thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.), developed a production schedule and streamlined it, created a mythology they hope an audience will buy into and shell out money for the next installment, and they measure their success by their profits almost exclusively. In this utilitarian model, profit is the result of being a “good” writer in the same way that a hammer is judged to be good.

        For some people, I think, reading is something like an itch and any old thing will scratch it whether it’s the back of a cereal box or the 125th book in a well plowed series where each book follows the same basic rhythm. Escapist genre fiction can be fun, if it’s done well . . . but, of course, everyone’s definition of “writing done well” is different. Some people have a much lower bar than I do, and, of course, there’s no accounting for taste – as the saying goes.

        I read for pleasure, for edification, for escape and entertainment, for the chance to exercise and expand my empathy, to more deeply understand and relate to the world. I read to test my emotions, and to challenge my intellect. I read for the thrill and surprise that comes when a writer puts the right words in the right order and says something that shifts my view of the world into a new alignment. I write for a lot of the same reasons, and yes, I want to be read. The caveat there being that I don’t want to be read because I produced a utilitarian piece of fiction that simply entertains someone and, more or less, passes through them, like a candy bar, to be shit out the back end and forgotten. I want to be read because I’ve written something that resonates with the human experience. Rather quixotically, I write and want to be read with the hope of being remembered. For me literature is Art, not a utility that will buy me a yacht.

        To me, it’s a bit delusional to get into writing because you think it’ll make you rich. Of course, it’s also a bit delusional to get into writing because you think it’ll make you somehow immortal.

        One self-publishing champion told me that Stephanie Meyer’s books would be remembered longer than anything I’ll ever write. That may be true, if only by a few decades and by virtue of her books being made into popular movies. But that is the gamble one takes when they make art.

        As opposed to things of utility, art is, well, useless. I used to balk at that description of art. To me, art is incredibly useful. The problem with art though is that it’s very personal and subjective. If you’re in need of a hammer, any old hammer will do, but if you want to hang an original painting by Picasso in your home, and not a reproduction or facsimile, you’ll have to wait for one to go on sale, but in the interim, you’ll probably leave the wall blank instead of buying a the next available painting that might be by some artist you don’t like. Do you see where I’m going? If you’ve lost all your favorite albums by New Order, replacing them with Travis Tritt isn’t going to work. Sure it’s “music,” but it’s not music that touches you, or moves you, or resonates. It’s like that with books. I like Raymond Chandler, but he’s not writing anymore, obviously, but Sue Grafton isn’t an adequate substitute. And, I bet, there are people who love to read Hugh Howey, but if he stops writing, I doubt they’ll simply drop down to the next author in the alphabetical list and be as happy, right?

        A few years ago, Michael Korda wrote a book called Making the List where he looked at Publisher’s Weekly’s annual bestseller lists (you can see the lists here, but the book is enlightening and you can also access a more detailed list, including non-fiction bestsellers here). What I got from the books was that being on the bestseller list is not necessarily a sign of being a lasting writer. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is an important American novel, one of those definitive 20th Century books, but it never made the annual bestseller’s list. Only three of Hemingway’s novels ever made the annual bestseller’s list when he was alive (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and into the Trees, and The Old Man and The Sea), and the fourth made it after he died (Islands in the Stream, in 1970). Of the four, only For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and The Sea are classics. The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell To Arms, To Have and Have Not, The Torrents of Spring, and none of his story collections or non-fiction ever made the annual bestseller’s list when he was alive (A Moveable Feast was in 1964, and Papa died in 1961). Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World did not make the annual bestsellers list for 1932, the year it was published. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four didn’t sell enough books the year it was released to make the annual bestseller’s list, and neither did Animal Farm. On the other hand, Thomas Dixon, Jr. was a bestselling American writer in the early 20th Century, and now, no one reads his work except maybe white supremacists and those who study their history and psychology (Dixon wrote “The Clansman”).

         It’s an interesting form of anthropology to comb the lists and see who you recognize, who you’ve never heard of, and who isn’t there that you think should be there. It might be an interesting exercise to count up who had the most bestsellers in each decade, and see if the writer is one whose name we recognize and still read today.

        Even if we think of writing as a utilitarian thing, its basic subjective nature will win out when it gets into the hands of the reader. As a writer, we have this basic choice to make, and both cases involve that old cliche of catching lighting in a bottle if our goal – stated or secret – is to “make money.” We can approach our craft in a utilitarian model and hope that we’ve picked the right genre and built an interesting enough world that it will capture the imagination of the most people, or we can approach our craft as a singular act of art and hope that our expression resonates as true with those who read it.


Shoptalk with Stephen McClurg

Hey, we’re back! Sorry for the inadvertent long hiatus. Things needed to be physically and emotionally reorganized. Here’s how it’ll fall out. The Shoptalk episodes with Stephen McClurg will be released sometime during the week immediately following the first Saturday of each month. Interviews with writers will be released in blocks during the fall and spring: I hope to have five to six interviews to be released at one week intervals at that time. Spot interview can happen any time I get the chance to talk to someone interesting. And, finally, I may do some experimentations (essays, random thoughts, etc.), if the mood and opportunity presents itself.

So, in this episode Stephen and I covered:

Invasions by the psychotic ballerinas, Hell in the Pacific and Enemy Mine are the same movie, Toilet stories from childhood, comics and poetry chapbooks, finishing the novel, and needing to finish the book, submitting and the query letter, Elizabethtown and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Night terrors, and #franzenairquotes while we attempt to talk intelligently about Jonathan Franzen while having read a combined total of ten pages of his writing.

Here’s an interesting piece McClurg wrote that was inspired by night terrors.

You can learn more about McClurg and his work at Mr. McClurg’s Marginalia

The Outrider Podcast is available on Podbean, iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen at my website (


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