Shoptalk # 7 w/ Gavin Pate

After some wrangling and fuzzy scheduling, it’s finally back on with a new guest. With episode 7 of Shoptalk I bring in Gavin Pate to chat with me about the day-to-day and year-to-year of being a writer in the world when you’re not famous or pushing a brand new book. This is the long haul version of the podcast, unlike the get-to-know-you episodes. In here, we talk shop.

Gavin is Associate Professor of English at Virginia Wesleyan College, and the author of the novel The Way to Get Here from Bootstrap Press (http://www.bootstrappress.org/about/). His short fiction has appeared in several journals and been included in the Velvet Anthology Warmed & Bound.

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


The Laboratory #1 with Stephen McClurg

Trying something new in this episode. The Laboratory will appear on the first Monday of every month. In each episode, my co-host and I will discuss experimentation in literature (as well as many other things) and – this will be the laboratory part – we’ll assign ourselves a writing exercise each month. This month, it’s a cut-up hybrid exercise. You can find the rules/guidelines at the end of the show notes.

Stephen McClurg teaches and lives in Birmingham, Alabama. After winning the National Cherry Blossom Festival Haiku Contest, he spent a week writing haiku for the Washington Post‘s blog. In the past he has published articles, essays, reviews, short stories, poems, and comics in newspapers, journals online and otherwise, and appeared in the anthologies You Ain’t No Dancer and Voices from a Safe Harbor. He has written and composed music for award-winning short films, art installations, and dance.

Rules for Exercise #1
Use the following three techniques to create a new text. It’s not required to make sense.

1) Take 1-2 pages from a mass market paperback – black out sections or cut up the pages to create a “new” text.
2) incorporate a second none-prose text, either song lyrics, a poem, bits from a screenplay
3) generate original text using automatic/free writing for 5 – 10 minutes.

4) OPTIONAL – try to generate a coherent text or narrative out of the three sections. 

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


April’s First Saturday Catch-up

Reading
Recently started reading Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. I’d heard about it, I think, years ago. What finally got me to pick it up was hearing Marc Maron talk about it on his podcast WTF. Aside from Denial, I also have waiting for me on my shelves The Essential Rudolf Steiner and The Fantasy Bond. Not sure when I’ll get to them. I mean I’ve had Lewis Mumford waiting on my shelves for almost 15 years.

Up next on the list, and jumping the line because I’m trying to get him on the podcast, is Troy James Weaver’s debut collection Wichita Stories. He is from Wichita and still lives here, so I’m going to ask him why he and his publisher decided to misspell Wichita – if it’s not explained in the book.

I have a plan to accelerate my reading rate. I’ve let it slack off, let myself be distracted by other things, etc. Part of the plan includes setting up a reading nook for myself (done). Something I’ve not really done since grad school. One shouldn’t underestimate a comfortable place to read. Generally, reading in front of a computer is not a good place and neither is reading in front of a TV.

Watching
Speaking of TV…. I did get the season pass to The Last Man on Earth. So far so good, except, of course, he’s not the “last” man on earth. It’s a bit painful to watch sometimes. I’m not a big fan of humiliation comedy and that seems to be what’s going on here. – What do I even mean by humiliation comedy? In real life we all do things from time to time in the hope of impressing someone else – say a possible love interest – often those things are pretty banal and subtle. When it fails, we’re often ashamed or humiliated, but it’s all mostly internal. The object of our affection usually doesn’t notice, or at the most, finds it mildly amusing and quickly forgets about it. In humiliation comedy, when someone wants to impress a possible love interest, the act they choose to perform is over-the-top, exaggerated and the failure of it and the subsequent humiliation is also amplified where I’m not laughing at the situation, but laughing to quell my internal discomfort. And to me, that’s not as funny as less over-the-top comedy.

Listening
Downloaded the debut album by Smallpools, LOVETAP!. I really like it. I’d picked up their 4 song self-titled EP a while back and those four excellent songs are on the full length album. My favorites from the album are American Love, and Lovetap!. But, here’s the video of the song that got me interested.

I’m still catching up on Dinosaur Jr and Superchunk. Also, back in the day, I’d had a few of the Pearl Jam albums on cassette, or maybe I’d had the CDs. I don’t remember. A bunch of my music gotten stolen out of my car one day during my last year of college (most disappointed at the loss of my cassette of “Wintermind” by The Moving Van Goghs). Like a lot of things, I sort of kept up with Pearl Jam peripherally, but whenever I bought music I bought something else. So, lately, I’ve been rebuilding my Pearl Jam collection.

Podcast News
Working on expanding the podcast. This coming Monday will see the release of the first of a new series in the podcast with my friend Stephen McClurg (Interview 21). We’ll talk about writing experimentation and exercises, and give each other writing exercises. We’ll share the results on the following month’s podcast. Listeners are welcome to follow along and send their results in to me and we’ll share some of their results in following episodes as well. I believe we’re going to call this series “The Laboratory.” That will start coming out regularly on the first Monday of each month.

On the second Monday of each month, we’ll have new Shoptalk episodes featuring another grad school friend of mine, Gavin Pate (Interview 2). Gavin is the author of The Way To Get Here, and has had short fiction appear in several journals and in the anthology Warmed and Bound: A Velvet Anthology. He teaches at Virginia Wesleyan College.

Then, on the third Monday of each month I’ll post a new interview. The fourth and occasional fifth Mondays will be left free.

Writing
Making slow progress on Far Nineteen. It’s always a challenge to write characters who are unlike me, which is probably why I do it. Far Nineteen involves a number of African American characters ranging in age from 90 to 12. And since the novel explicitly deals with race, I feel there’s an extra moral burden to portray these characters honestly, accurately, and fairly. In my mind, the whole novel will fail if I allow white racial bias, ignorance, and privilege creep in. It’s especially important since I do not have any African American friends. I have a few acquaintances, but when only 13% of the population is African American that means each African American would need to be friends with . . . fuck math . . . what? . . . 6 white people? That would be full time work, not to mention hard to do since more black people get sent to jail with longer sentences than white people who commit the same kinds of crimes. Which is to say, if I were busted for selling drugs along with my black friend, I’d get five years and he’d get ten . . . that is if he survived his arrest.

Anyway, here’s an early, raw description of the story.

The city of Ketowah is haunted by a past heavy with racial tension. In 1936, after a young black man is falsely accused of assaulting a white woman, the town erupts in violence that levels the town’s affluent African American neighborhood, Booker Heights. After the Second World War, Connor Wilco takes the job of City Planner and hires as his deputy planner, Hannibal Hayden, a Ketowah native and veteran, despite protests from the City Council over Hannibal’s race. Together, Connor and Hannibal attempt to heal Ketowah’s past with an ambitious, decade long development project that includes placing a time capsule to be opened fifty years in the future.

In 2010, Connor’s son, John Wilco returns to his hometown for the first time in fifty years to honor his father’s request to be present for the time capsule’s opening. When the remains of Emmett Hayden’s twin brother, Walter are found inside, the Wilco and Hayden families must finally deal with their complex history and its ties to Ketowah’s painful past.

Submitting
There’s nothing on the submission horizon at the moment. My short story, Dr. Zeus was rejected by The Missouri Review. My novel The Palace of Winds was rejected by Coffee House Press.

Putting together new submission packages so that I can get more rejections. I’m such a pessimist.

Random Thoughts
I’ve never been the kind of person who is easy to love. I can be incredibly short tempered at times. Spend enough time with me and you’ll find that I tend to – as the old saying goes – run hot and cold. I travel inward a lot and sometimes come back disgusted with myself. I’m a perfectionist and sometimes, when I fail to be perfect, I lash out at myself – inanimate and throwable objects, desks, chairs, walls, doors, and windows beware. I don’t expect others to be perfect, which often leads people to think I’m bent on being some kind of martyr, flogging myself over the mutual mistakes made in any relationship. This usually happens after I get into an argument with someone and, for one reason or another, throw a fit: yell, pound my fists on the table, break some innocent object like a pencil or a coffee mug. Then, afterwards, descend into a shame-filled, guilty funk where it’s all my fault. I was the one who lost control after all.

One of the things that has baffled me over the years is the number of times I’ve pondered the relationship dynamics that lead me into those embarrassing, self-destructive corners and, when I mention to a sympathetic ear the other person’s share of the culpability for the argument going the way it did, I get told “Jason, you can’t expect other people to change. You have to be willing to make the change, adjust, adapt, and cope with that other person. You have to be the grown up.”

And the person giving that advice is right. We can only control ourselves, ultimately, and the fact that sometimes I can’t control myself is, of course my own damn fault. Sometimes, the reminder works, at least for a while, and then some new argument pops up and if I’m tired or depressed or struggling to be articulate, it’ll happen again. I’ll blow up.

And then I go through my shame cycle and get that old nugget of advice again . . . and then a long while ago, it dawned on me: Hasn’t the other person received the same bit of advice from another confidant? If both of us are receiving advice that directs us to change and not expect change from the other person . . . won’t we both end up changing the way we deal with the other person, thus making the advice valid and useful? And that brings me to this set of questions: If we both change and the relationship continues to be rocky, does that mean that we are then incapable of change? Are we changing to accommodate the other person’s difficult quirks only to find newer, equally difficult quirks? And since I know I make an effort to change my behavior and still these things happen does that mean the other person is ignoring the advice and simply waiting around to see if I’ll fail at changing to accommodate their equally bad but less outwardly shocking behavior?

I’m beginning to think it best to limit human contact.

Dawn


The Outrider Podcast: Genre Wars with Jenn Zukowski

Back in February, Kazuo Ishiguro made a comment in an NY Times article about him and his new novel The Sleeping Giant, that made Ursula K. Le Guin upset enough to write an article defending the fantasy genre and reviewing Ishiguro’s book . . . unfavorably.

I had read the Electric Literature article and shrugged. My grad school friend, Jenn Zukowski, read the Esquire article and posted it to Facebook, tagging me and asking me what I thought because we’d argued about genre a lot fifteen years ago and, at least between us, settled it.

We decided we’d get together and record a special show where we revisited our old argument in light of this new skirmish in the so-called “Genre Wars.” Jenn was the very first guest on The Outrider Podcast, and she teaches at several Denver area universities specializing in stage combat, creative writing, and literature, including classes on fantasy and children’s lit. You can find out more about Jenn at her blog, https://jennzuko.wordpress.com and you can download her episode of the Outrider Podcast at this page of my website, http://jquinnmalott.com/iframe/page3.html, or http://jquinnmalott.podbean.com .

We hope you enjoy it.

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

The Ishiguro vs. Le Guin Articles

NY Times Article on Ishiguro
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/20/books/for-kazuo-ishiguro-the-buried-giant-is-a-departure.html?_r=0

Ursula K. Le Guin’s smackdown
http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2015/03/02/are-they-going-to-say-this-is-fantasy/

The Electric Literature piece about the dust-up
http://electricliterature.com/the-last-holdouts-of-the-genre-wars-on-kazuo-ishiguro-ursula-k-le-guin-and-the-misuse-of-labels/

The Esquire article about the dust-up
http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/books/a33599/genre-fiction-vs-literary-fiction/

A Good Critical analysis of the who she-bang.
http://flavorwire.com/508134/kazuo-ishiguros-the-buried-giant-and-the-tyranny-of-genre-fiction

Older articles about the Genre Wars and the Pullman speech

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2013/may/17/genre-wars-fiction-book-trade

http://www.tessgerritsen.com/genre-wars-never-seem-to-end/

http://flavorwire.com/487948/the-secret-truce-in-the-literary-genre-wars

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/05/are-the-genre-wars-won

http://creativewritingguild.com/lesson/sa/micros-pedestal-literary-elitism-and-the-genre-wars/

http://herocomplex.latimes.com/books/game-of-thrones-george-r-r-martin-fights-the-genre-wars/

The Pullman Speech
http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/author/carnegie.php


The Outrider Podcast Episode 29 Lynn Sloan

In this episode I talk with author Lynn Sloan about the ghettoization of writers, the assumption of quiet domesticity, the fact that old white men aren’t alone on top of the great mountain of literature, and her years as a photographer, including her time in New York working for a major magazine that made a game out of sneaking a picture of naked breasts into each issue.

Lynn is the author of Principles of Navigation, out now from Fomite Press. Lynn has had short stories appear in such journals as Sou’wester, Nimrod, and Puerto Del Sol, and she has been nominated for the Pushcart Award. She’s also been a finalist for the Dana Award and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize. Before writing, she was a photographer whose fine art photographs had been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. You can learn more about Lynn at her website http://www.lynnsloan.com and you can learn more about her publisher, Fomite, at http://fomitepress.com/FOMITE/Home.html

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


March First Saturday Catch-up #3

Reading
The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (wikipedia and Goodreads). Finally reading this after having on my shelf for years. YEARS.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf). Bought this the other day and it’s jumping the line.

The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell. Yeah, still working on this one. I like to read a section, and dwell on it for a while. Makes for slow going, but also makes for deep synthesis.

My grad school friend, Laura Hawley, has a short story out at Junoesq. It’s most certainly worth a read.

Watching
Debating whether to buy a season pass to The Last Man on Earth or not.

Started watching Spartacus: Boobs and Sand (the first season) on Netflix. I’ll give it a few more episodes. Lots of boobs in this, and background fake-fucking. It’s titillating, and seems to have some moments of pathos, but I’m not sure there’s much more to it than spectacle at the moment – might be the point though.

Listening
My sister and I had our usual music talk when she was in town for a visit from New York, which I always enjoy even if, there she is, in a land of new music, and she’s only sent me two new band recommendations. I was kind of meh on both, so she stopped. Fool. Keep sending them until something hits, dammit.

Now, although I am constantly on the look-out for new bands like Fear of Men, The History of Apple Pie, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and so on, I’m not above admitting I missed the boat on some bands back in the day: I didn’t buy my first Dinosaur Jr. album until a year ago despite a few of their songs catching my attention way back in the early 90’s when they were played on K-State’s radio station DB92 (innuendo and out-you-window. DB92 – I also remember the damn phone number for Pizza Shuttle after twenty years (776 5577 call us now at Pizza Shuttle)).

These days, I’m going back to pick up Superchunk, which I first heard of back in 1995 with the release of Here’s Where the Strings Come In, but never picked up an album until last week. I blame the “Buy it now on iTunes” feature on Pandora Radio.

Now, if someone can get me a copy of Pilate’s (they now go by Pilot Speed) first album Caught by the Window without send me to the Devil (Amazon), I’d be very appreciative.

Podcast News
Monday, my conversation with Lynn Sloan will come out. It was a great conversation, so get ready for that.

I’m working on lining up some new guests. My wish list remains the same as last time.

With Laura taking a personal hiatus while she focuses on furthering her nursing education and getting married. I’m working with a couple of friends to do the Shoptalk episode, as well as create some new content for the Podcast. Keep an eye out for that.

Writing
Still working on Far Nineteen. Putting in an hour in the morning makes it slow going, but it’s making progress.

I’ve been dusting off some of my poetry, and going through the notebooks I’ve been filling with stuff that has never been typed up. I may start experimenting with some classic forms as a way of exercising some forgotten linguistic muscles. May play with some cut-ups. Debating if I want to start sending out poems to magazines.

Submitting
The short story “Dr. Zeus” was submitted to The Missouri Review, but I failed to pull the trigger on the story “Sunny” by the end of February. I think I had a bit of a crisis of confident with that one before sending it out. I’ll do a little more revising and get it out by the end of March.

“The Palace of Winds” was off to the AWP Awards contest last month, but since it is my only completed novel at the moment, I’m still using it to query agents. Anyone have an agent to recommend? I’m scouring the AAR website and the Poets & Writers website, but it feels like a damn dating site, which sucks.

Oh, and I sent The Palace of Winds off to Coffee House Press.

Random Thoughts

The Opening Shot: Ryan Boudinot writes this piece for The Stranger and it gets fired around the internet by writers and writers who are writing teachers. Among them, it begins to generate a discussion and a host of responses (here’s one that I liked), which I wasn’t aware was happening, and that gets written about at Salon by someone whose job it is to comment on these things as if they’re news. The crowd that took the most offense to Boudinot has even put together a website where they’re cataloging, with something I assume is glee, all the anti-Boudinot pieces that are being written.

So, first thought on those running the anti-boudinot site: they smacked down an asshole, do the really need to catalogue every wrinkle around the ring of his anus? Seems like you’re giving him way too much power over their time and energy.

Other thoughts: He wanted to be provocative. So, mission accomplished. Nothing creates a little provocation like hyperbole and, even better, straight, direct language.

First off, there’s a whole generation of kids who are now launching themselves into college and life who grew up on meds for ADHD, plugged into computers, helicoptered over by micromanaging parents, and bathed in unending concern for the maintenance of high self-esteem. Furthermore, because of the ease of self-publishing they can can flap their self-important gums to anyone, anywhere, at any time. So, frankly, Boudinot’s piece, to me, although cranky, mean, and sometimes misguided (see the bit about wishing some abuse victims had been abused more), represents a certain type of classic literary advice style, which starts like this:

Writing teacher curmudgeon says: “You don’t have what it takes, kid. Go be a plumber.”

The young would-be writer then has a choice: 1) Give up writing and go be a highly literate, well-read plumber or 2) Go prove the curmudgeon wrong by working hard, learning the craft, and writing, writing, writing.

Writing (and publishing) is often presented as easy – especially by the self-published – and, quite often, the good writers make it all look effortless. Furthermore, writers don’t tend to correct the reading audience’s illusions of what the writing life is really like out of simple politeness. If a reader believes we spend our days staring out the window at beautiful skylines and sunrises, diddling our muses and drinking good coffee while wearing silk pajamas, it can often seem like a special kind of rudeness to say to that reader, “No, actually, I get up at 5 a.m., shivering from the cold because I have the furnace turned low in January to save money, drink a cup of cheap coffee while I try to bang out a paragraph or so in the dark before I have to take a shower and go to my soul-sucking day job for eight hours.”

Yes, not every MFA candidate is going to go on to become a writer. And yes, as a lot of the critics of Boudinot have pointed out, every student should be treated with respect and compassion. But, the writing teacher is doing a lot of them a complete disservice if that teacher doesn’t tell those would be writers that if they can do something else, do that something else. Those MFA candidates who do end up doing something else probably didn’t have that mysterious X factor needed to be a writer. Those MFA candidates who hear the go be plumber speech and secretly say to themselves, “Fuck you, I’m doing this and I’ll show you.” Those are the ones who will keep working even after years of bad coffee and freezing mornings at the writing desk. And, a chunk of them, will be the ones that Boudinot didn’t think were “Real Deal” writers in his workshop.

Talent is subjective. Discipline, obsession, determination – whatever combination of natural inclination and learned habit is needed – are the elements of alchemy. The writers who keep to that after hearing the go-be-a-plumber speech can erase almost all of Boudinot’s other rants in that piece.

Thought – Boudinot’s sections on complaining, and being a serious reader. Those are just silly. Some people complain to relieve the stress of doing the thing. Around my family, if you don’t hear someone complaining about a chore, you know they aren’t doing it. If you hear someone mumbling and grumbling about cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes, taking out the trash . . . they’ve got the sponge or the toilet brush or the bulging trash bag in their hands. Yeah, that’s not true for everyone out there, and I’m not trying to defeat a good generalized argument with my personal exception, but still . . . I thought that was silly. Now, about being a serious reader? I grew up in Western Kansas, I had a library card, my parents bought me books, read to me, etc. I’ve still not read Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I didn’t read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn until grad school. See, there was no one giving me direction as a kid. No librarian took me under her wing and fed me books, my teachers were working to keep the bottom of class on pace with the top of the class and since I fell somewhere in the middle, got mostly forgotten. I rarely failed, but I also rarely showed any interest in such a way that they thought to challenge me by giving me anything other than fragments and short stories by canonic writers. So, I read randomly, science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and pop fiction when I finally started reading the books my parents bought me. By Boudinot’s standards I didn’t become a “serious reader” until college, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I’ve also learned that reading can’t be treated like an obstacle course: Read Huck Fin by age 12, Mody Dick by age 19, re-read them at 30 or whatever.

Now, a thought on the abuse thing that everyone is all upset about. Yeah. That’s just overly mean to say someone should have been abused more to make their memoir more interesting. However, in grad school, some friends in a workshop had this particular experience: a student chose to write a semi-autobiographical novel about her childhood. As a child, she was sexually abused and that played a major part in her novel. The novel was written in the first person. Now, the class, after reading the abuse section for the workshop, began to comment that the narrator’s voice seemed to shift its tone and vocabulary level when the abuse scene came up. The narrator went from sounding like a 12 year old to sounding like a wise, 35 year old therapist. Now, this student already had a habit of arguing every point of criticism as it was voiced, and as the class discussed the tone of the abuse scene, the student got more and more agitated, finally collapsed in tears and wailed “But this really happened to me!” All discussion of the story stopped, and the teacher moved on to the next student’s story.

If you haven’t figured out what happened there, here’s the deal: this woman was using her MFA workshop as group therapy, and the constructive criticism of a problem in her writing got mistaken for a criticism of the veracity of her personal experience, and so she shut down all discussion. The class was trying to get her story to a place where the pain and confusion that a child feels at being abused would have the strongest impact for the reader, but this student couldn’t separate herself from her fiction enough to see the fiction wasn’t working. If a writer can’t separate personal critique from literary critique in a workshop, then it is indeed a problem for the workshop leader. Suddenly any discussion of a semi-autobiographical novel, or a memoir, turns the fellow students in the room from would-be writers into unpaid psychoanalysts and makes any discussion of the text about the author instead of the text and its success or failure at communicating the author’s intentions. In other words, the class purpose shifts from “help me be a better writer” to just plain old pathetic “help me.” And really, it would be cheaper for that writer to go see a real therapist than to enroll in an MFA program.

 

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