First Saturday Report

Writing & Submitting

As expected, it didn’t take long for me to get around to beginning revisions on The Poisoned Moon. I was listening to music one day, shuffling through my collection, and played the song Don’t Call by The Twilight Singers (one of Greg Dulli’s bands). It is a bonus track from their 2011 album Dynamite Steps. It fit the tone I have in mind for the novel, and I’m surprised I missed it and didn’t add it to my playlist for the project before. It’s probably good that I didn’t since I write to music that feeds the mood I have for a project. Coming across a late addition to the playlist often revives my interest and focus in a project. First thing to do is read the damn book and mark it up. Looks like my evenings will be full for the next few months.

. . . And, of course, I started a whole new project because, you know, it’s not like I don’t have a hundred other things to do. Let’s call it my Jesus of the Trenches project. I’ve been reading about World War I since I was a kid and it’s finally time to get it all out of my head.

Reading
I’m reading a short story collection called Accelerated Learning Techniques for a Budding Sociopath by my friend Evan Hundhausen. We were in grad school together, and he was the first person I met when I showed up for new student orientation.

Also reading Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, even though I’ve never read Jane Eyre. I should probably get around to that some day, but life is short and I have a lot to do already.

On the plane back from Canada last week, I started reading the recent novel A Dog Between Us, which is by another grad school acquaintance, Duncan B. Barlow. I talked to him on the podcast a while back shortly after his previous novel The City Awake came out. On top of the novels, Duncan is also a musician (a founding member of two hardcore punk bands out of Louisville, KY one called Endpoint, and another called By the Grace of God), and he recently released a new solo album called Colony Collapse.

Podcast
Heather is working on cleaning up the shows for Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes. I just need to write up an intro, and collect all the bios for the show notes. The PTMT shows will carry us through the holidays, and we’ll get back to recording new episodes on other topics sometime early next year. I may do a few one-off interviews/conversation in that time, but we’ll see.

About the time I start a new series, we’ll also be starting to plan for another live show to be recorded.

Maybe I need to take a break on this.

Listening
Picked up the new Of Monsters and Men album “Fever Dream.” It’s excellent. I’ve also been going back and listening to a couple of albums the Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks that I’ve had for a while and not listened to fully. Also picked up Duncan’s new album Colony Collapse.

Watching
Recently rewatched Roman Holiday. Also watched a few Netflix series, or parts of them with a friend, Kathleen. Russian Doll stands out, but I’ve not finished it yet. There seems to have been a whole generation of filmmakers whose touchstone is Groundhog Day. There were previous “time-loop” stories out there (read the “Legacy” section of the wikipedia page on Groundhog Day), and most of what you’ll find referenced on the Groundhog Day film page are cinematic, but I think Robert Coover’s novella, Spanking the Maid could also fit into the time loop theme even though it’s not a sci-fi or fantasy source for the “loop.”

Random Thoughts

There’s so much to do, even when it feels like I’m not doing anything at all. Three finished novels and, all of them I feel, need more work in some form. The most recent one needs a full rewrite—pretty much from the ground up. The older two, I’m not so sure what needs to be done. It’s been a while since anyone looked at them and told me what they thought. Maybe I need to collect some new beta readers who will pull them apart for me.

I’ve started a new project, aiming for it to be short so that I can get it out of my head quickly. Not sure what I’ll do with it.

I need to be submitting more frequently. But, much like dating, I don’t know where to start anymore and can’t get out of my own self-critical way. I keep trying agents, and keep not even getting replies. That’s how writers, even one with previous publications are treated these days. The no-reply rejection is the rule now for agents. The no-reply rejection, applied uniformly, keeps the agents from having to deal the those unprofessional egoists who would reply to rejections with rants, pleas for a second chance, and threats fo violence because our online culture feels like a shield of anonymity even when someone puts their name on it. If you want, you can follow literary agents on places like Twitter, or Manuscript Wishlist, and get a flavor both for what the agents are looking for and the kind of unprofessional exchanges they often have with amateur, egotistical twits who think everything they write is brilliant.

I’ve never had much success with agents. I’m not a very good self-promoter, and I’m too self-critical. I self-eliminate a lot of the time. Because I’ve not had much success with agents, it rules out the publishers who only deal with agented writers—that includes all of the Big Five (Penguin Random House, Harpercollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan) (click this link to see a chart with the Big Five and all their Imprints)—an expanding group of the mid-major independents like W.W. Norton, Workman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, John Wiley and Sons, are also moving to working only with writers who have agents. That leaves only the small presses working with un-agented writers.

The small presses, all struggling to make ends meet in a publishing world dominated by the Big Five and Amazon’s ruthless assault on brick and mortar booksellers, are the last best hope for American literature. The only problem is their respective lists are often very particular. They have to be. We as a society subsidize oil and gas, but not literature, not art. To me, that’s backwards. Utilitarian things, like gasoline, solar power, hammers, tampons, shoes, internet access, these things should not be subsidized. Some should be de-monopolized though (internet service providers), some so necessary to one gender only that they shouldn’t be taxed) but largely, utilitarian things should be left to survive on the quality of their usefulness. Art, literature, is NOT utilitarian, but it is necessary and more complexly, it’s highly subjective and personal. Judging art on its universal popularity is a bullshit metric for worth. As Ernest Hemingway once said “If you have a success you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular it is always because of the worst aspects of your work.” To understand how that translates, take a look at this old post from one-time agent Nathan Bransford. It shows you the bestselling novel of each year, starting in 1900, and the book or books published the same year which were part of the Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels. Out of the list of 112 novels (1900 to 2012) only SIX (6) annual bestsellers were on the Modern Library list. There are some books on Bransford’s list that you may think should be on Modern Library’s 100 best list (Doctor Zhivago, The Good Earth, All Quiet on The Western Front, and some others), but even then, the bulk of the annual bestsellers were and are forgettable (who the fuck was Morton Thompson?) or, in the case of the years 1982 and 1983, spin-offs from popular movies of the time (E.T. and Star Wars respectively). We can argue about the Modern Library’s criteria for a “best” novel and how they chose their list, but some books, even if they’re bestsellers, simply aren’t that good.

For me, I’m more concerned with being good than being popular. I eschew formula, and I’m looking for truth and beauty. For me, story is a way to understand and comprehend an incomprehensible world. My problem is I’m never sure I’m good enough. When I do my research into small presses, I often find myself in two separate situations. First, I find a press I like that’s published books I might want to read, and where I think I could fit, but they’ve suspended acquisitions, often indefinitely, sometimes for six months or a year, or they have a single month in which they consider submissions and I just missed it by a week and have to wait another year (I’ve started putting their submission month into my calendar with notices in the hopes that when the next period roles around I’ll have the confidence to send one of my manuscripts).

Second, I find a press that I like, with books that sound interesting, but then I read their mission statements, and the descriptions of their authors, and I think I’m simply not “cool” enough for them, not ironic enough or hip enough, and that my credentials are too staid, old-mannish, and too white male. I can smell their judgmental rejection before I even type the salutation on my query letter.

A third and less frequent situation I find myself in is this: I have some acquaintances and former classmates and fellow alumni who run small presses, but I’m afraid to submit to them. Their rejection would be too monumental, too personal.

And so, I feel stuck, adrift. It’s been a decade since my first novel came out. I’ve written three more since then and acquired nearly a hundred rejections on the oldest one. Some days it seems pointless to keep trying to send it out. Instead, I plow my energy into writing the next one, do doing the podcast, and, now, trying—again—to build a literary community around me that might, in some small way, keep me and the other struggling writers I know around here, sustained, encouraged, and most importantly involved in creating a literary ecosystem that will make it possible for writers who are pursuing their own sense of truth and beauty to find their audience, and feel seen, no matter how small an audience it may be.

Because I always forget Caturday.
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First Saturday Report: October

Writing & Submitting:
Finally finished a new manuscript: The Poisoned Moon . . . after four years.

I’m still waiting to hear back on the UNO Publishing Lab contest. They were to have picked the finalists by the end of September, and will announce the winner sometime in November.

In the meantime, I’m revising a pair of essays for upcoming issues of Vautrin.

Reading
Finally finished Team Human. It wasn’t hard to read or boring. It was, in fact, quite thought provoking, which was one of the reasons I’d set it aside so that I could think about some of the things Rushkoff was talking about, ponder the ways I could implement some of the ideas he gave me into my daily life. The big take-away, of course, is that we should stop letting technology determine our behavior, stop letting technology, the internet, and corporations use US, the people, to extract ever greater levels of wealth, and instead take back control of those things and use them to free ourselves from corporate control and manipulation. Use them properly, wisely, and to our benefit. There were a lot of things Rushkoff made me think about–chiefly how we’re now the very resource that corporations are using to extract wealth from the environment and put it in their pockets. In order for that “extraction capitalism” to work they have to isolate us and be able to predict and then direct our behavior.

There’s a link there, in my mind, to what I’ve been working on in the essays for Vautrin. Those essays are about how, in literature, things written purely for entertainment alone cut us off from our ability to empathize and then things written to persuade us to adopt a dogmatic ideology swoop in and turn us against each other because conflict is more profitable.

One other thing Team Human brought up is the destructiveness of believing that profits can exponentially increase forever, as if it were the natural order. Nothing good ever grows exponentially forever and remains healthy. Plants, animals (including humans) eventually become adult and stop growing. The only exponential growth we experience is cancer and if not stopped will kill the host. Late-stage capitalism, extraction capitalism, surveillance capitalism—whatever you want to call it, it’s a cancer and it’s starting to kill the host i.e. us and the planet.

New reading adventures begin with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Podcast
Wrapping up recording new shows on Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes with Jenn Zuko. These are companion pieces to her Problematic Badass Female Tropes essays and The Outrider Podcast series. One of the things we talk about is how the real solution to the problematic badass female tropes is to simply have more women writing movies, directing movies, and producing movies. For these problematic man tropes, the solution is a bit more complicated, so we end up talking more about the real social implications that these tropes relate to. When a society is built upon a gendered hierarchy, it’s easy to see what those at the bottom need—i.e. access to the privilege denied them by those at the top of the hierarchy. It’s harder to see what needs to be adjusted for those at the top who are invested in defending the the top of the mountain, so to speak. I think they’ll be some fascinating shows.

Listening
I really need to find some new music. I feel like I’m losing touch. Oh well, I guess you have to get old someday.

In the podcast listening realm, I’m not sure I’ve added too many new things since September. Oh, no, wait. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos is the only new one. I’ve been going back and catching up on Stuff Mom Never Told You, and Things You Missed in History Class.

I’ve been trying to get back into The Moth, but like so much stuff tied to NPR anymore, they seem to be in the Rearrange, Repackage, Recycle mode, and I’m hearing stories I’ve heard before being RRR’d with other stories I’ve heard before. It was why I stopped listening to This American Life, and a bunch of other NPR podcasts.

Watching
Recently watched A Futile and Stupid Gesture, the biopic about Doug Kenney, co-founder of National Lampoon.

Random Thoughts
This is not a “woe is me, I deserve more” rant. This is an attempt at an honest reckoning with my own expectations. As Jenn and I have been working on these Toxic Masculinity shows, and as I sit in this fallow period after finishing another manuscript (my third unpublished (unpublishable?) manuscript since the publication of The Evolution of Shadows ten years ago), I can’t help but engage in a kind of reassessment of my . . . well . . . life.

One has to set a basement for failure. To me, that means establishing where the bottom is and when to put down the shovel and start looking for a ladder, or at least, some ledge above the rising water. I’m nearly fifty, and all I’ve every really wanted was to be a writer, to publish novels and stories and poems and essays . . . and, most importantly, have people read them and to connect to them the way I’ve connected to so many other books.

I hear the self-publishing champions revving their engines. Sit down, please. To self-publish means to take on a whole host of roles I don’t want to take on, and that I’m very good at. To be reductively obvious: to self-publish means to become your own publisher, and even though I’ve flirted with the idea of starting my own press, it’s never going to happen because deep down it’s not something I think I ever want to do. Editor, yes, but not a publisher. Someone else should foot the bill of publishing books, not me. Someone else should design or hire someone to design the book jacket, not me. Someone else should do the marketing, not me: I’m awful at it. I have a narrow set of talents that I prefer to focus on, and the “business side” of publishing is not one of them.

And that’s where this reassessment is focused. A kind of inward-directed mid-life crisis because I don’t have the money to buy a sports car nor to be a sugar daddy to a twenty-two year old woman with expensive tastes and father complex. All this talk about toxic masculinity, and about men (especially white men) “expecting” things not because of any particular talent or gift, but simply because they are white men, and how they’ve been raised in a society geared to reward them for minimal effort (see Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump), and protect them from the worst of their behavior (see justice Kavanaugh again, or Brock Turner), has me thinking about my own expectations in regards to my life as a white male writer.

The traditional publishing route is hard to begin with, and right now it is a battle ground in the racial, sexual, and gender struggle for visibility and tolerance. As an industry, we are wrestling with issues around access, representation, and fairness. Straight white male voices have dominated for generations, and now, thanks to efforts by LGBTQ+ writers and publishers, by women writers, by writers of color, and many others, we’re seeing an expansion of the types of voices being heard. Representation matters, as the saying goes, and this is positive, and it’s something I am excited about. It is a fantastic time to be a reader of fiction. To explore and experience the perceptions of writers so different from me in some regards, but, ultimately, essentially, familiar in their humanity and empathy, is an unqualified gift.

If I were a shallow, angry, unaware man, who acted as if straight white male was the default condition of all humanity, then it would be easy to direct my personal struggle outward and to be angry that all these women, gay people, black people, etc. were “stealing” spots in a publisher’s catalogue that 2were somehow meant for me. But I am not that person. There is no spot reserved for me except the one I’ll be placed in after I die, and I don’t want this to seem like that is the route I’m taking when I say that I have to confront the fact that I may, in fact, be a mediocre white guy who got lucky ten years ago, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

In a society that has, in the past, allowed for mediocre white guys to ascend to levels of success beyond their skill, talent, intelligence, or competence it seems necessary that I assess myself, and the source of my expectations for myself. Would it have been better to have never gotten that book published at all? I’ve never had an agent. I wasn’t published by a friend or classmate who’d started a press, nor was I “sponsored” or recommended to an agent or editor by an established writer who’d been my teacher. I got plucked out of the slush pile. That has to mean something, doesn’t it? Or maybe it doesn’t. It certainly set the expectation that I could do it again.

There have certainly been plenty of times over the years where I thought that if I had a different (a “better”) biography, I’d have a better shot – If I were anything other than a straight white male. But that line of thinking is awfully close to the kind of aggrieved white male thinking that I can’t stand. The idea of it being harder out there for straight white males than anyone else is ludicrous. If a straight white male has it harder than those around him it’s not because he’s straight, white and male, it’s because he’s poor, uneducated, a substance abuser, lazy, entitled, disabled, struggling with mental health issues, and so on—a hundred things that don’t have anything to do with sexual orientation, race, or gender, but with economic class, extractive late-stage capitalism, and the basic fragility of human life.

We are in the process of a great level-setting and, as someone who firmly believes in the ideas best articulated by The Combahee River Collective (that when gay women of color have the same access, opportunity, and privilege as straight white men then there will no longer be any reason to discriminate based on orientation, race, or gender), I refuse to be the kind of angry, reactionary white man that will stand in the way of recognizing someone else’s humanity.

And here were are, back to my point. In an equal society, do I have the talent to meet my expectations? Are my expectations even rational? Or am I in that situation, like the fictional version of Antonio Salieri from Amadeus, where my awareness is greater than my talent? The fictional Salieri let the imbalance between his awareness and talent turn him bitter and vengeful. I would hate to lose my awareness since that is what keeps me from falling victim to the Dunning Kruger Effect, but that means I have to find a way to be at peace with myself, to continue to strive and work under appropriate expectations so that I don’t become a bitter, resentful monster.


Outrider Live: Words and Music No. 4: The Cookout Show with Cathy Dryden and John Jenkinson

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-7vk95-bea6c3

The Cookout Show was recorded live on August 17, 2019 in the backyard at my mother’s house because, well, I live in an apartment. 

 

Catherine Dryden earned her MFA in fiction at Wichita State University.  Her short stories have been published in various literary journals, including American Literary Review, So to Speak, Sulphur River Review, Alligator Juniper, and Pocket Rocket.  Several of her stories have been nominated for Pushcart prizes and she was awarded Alligator Juniper’s national prize for creative non-fiction.  After a longish hiatus from writing in order to quit smoking and gain weight, she’s resumed writing with a focus on travel writing and creative non-fiction.  She’s married to John Jenkinson.

 

 

John Jenkinson earned his MFA at Wichita State University and his PhD at the University of North Texas. A past winner of an AWP Discovery Award, a Balticon Science-Fiction Poetry Award, John served as Poetry Fellow at the Milton Center and now teaches creative writing and literature at Butler Community College.  His poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, Green Mountain Review, Passages North, Quarterly West, Rattle, 32 Poems, Visions, and three chapbooks.  His full-length book Rebekah Orders Lasagna was published by Woodley Press at Washburn University.  He’s currently reinvented himself as a singer song writer and guitar player specializing in songs for academics (his songs are featured in his daughter’s thesis and his son’s dissertation), children (especially his grandchildren) and lovers. He’s married to Catherine Dryden.

 

Many thanks to everyone who attended and brought food. Special thanks to Ray and Lauren Clause for the use of an amplifier for the show, and as always, big thanks to Heather Anne Eden. 

 

The live shows are on a temporary hiatus until late November or early December as we begin the recording process for our next series on Problematic Tropes with my friend Jenn Zuko. The Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes shows will be out sometime in late November or early December. 

 

You rock. Thanks for listening. 


First Saturday Report: September

Writing & Submitting:
As I write this, I’m waiting to hear back from The Publishing Laboratory at the University of New Orleans on the manuscript I submitted to their annual contest. I doubt the news will be good. I am a pessimist after all.

Finally broke through the climax of the new project. The rough draft of the scene is—well—rough as hell, but that’s what revisions is for. I’ve been working on this first draft for about two years or so, and I’m ready for it to be done. I’m not sure how long I’m going to let it sit before getting to the revisions. Maybe I’ll send it to some trusted readers, see where they find the really awful parts and start there. Until then, I think I’ll try some short fiction, some poems, and essay or two. A screenplay? I don’t know.

Polished up my second essay for the journal Vautrin and sent that off to Todd. I’ll need to get the next one ready soon.

Reading
My reading pace has dropped in the last few weeks. I’ve been a bit more social than normal, and it’s been taking its toll here. I’m still plodding through Rushkoff’s Team Human and although I’ve been carrying around Tate’s The Government Lake, I’ve not been reading it. I did tuck Jeanine Hathaway’s new poetry collection Long After Lauds into my bag with the best of aspirational intentions, but have only read a poem or two.

Podcast
We recorded the last live show of the summer last month and that will be out soon, if I’ve not dropped it already. John Jenkinson and Cathy Dryden were our performers for what we called The Cookout Show. It was probably our largest crowd so far.

As this post goes up, I’m getting ready to start recording a new Problematic Tropes series with my friend Jenn Zukowski. This one is on Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes. I’m sure it’ll be as fun as the Problematic Badass Female tropes, and much more personal as these tropes seem, perhaps, more insidious and destructive.

Heather and I are thinking of ways to expand and monetize the podcast, even though it feels kind of anti Team Human: i.e. taking something you love to do for the love of doing it . . . and “monetizing” it. But we need gear, the use of bigger performance spaces for the live shows, and other show related things, and it’d be much easier to pay Heather for her work from a different pool of money than the one I use to feed, clothe, and house myself.

Watching
Part of being more social these days often means passively watching TV, either with someone or after hanging out with someone in order to de-jangle the brain. I’ve moved on the Deep Space 9, finally watched the last two or three episodes of Stranger Things 3, and was shown Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the first time. I still haven’t renewed my Netflix subscription even though I want to watch the new season of Glow and people tell me I need to go pack and watch all of the series Easy, and not just the episodes with my older-brother-spirit-guide Marc Maron.

Listening
My forays out to see live music fell off in August. There’s some shows coming up this month that I’m hoping to get to.

In the “keep me occupied at work while I trudge” podcast realm, I recently started listening to the 1619 podcast, which is about the first slave ship to make it to America. I’ve also picked up the Deconstruction Workers Podcast – mostly because Jenn was on there talking about the Problematic Badass Female tropes. The other shows look interesting so, I’ll put it in the loop for a while and see if it sticks.

Random Thoughts
Other people’s expectations. That’s what’s rolling around in my noggin these days. It’s not unreasonable for people to have expectations of the people around them, and of the people who are important to them. Where we get ourselves into trouble are the unreasonable and the unspoken expectations. Separately or combined—but especially combined—they tend to act like landmines in any relationship.

I was once promoted to a data entry job at a call center, given a little bit of training by a co-worker, and allowed to work the job for a month on a “probationary” status. The manager I reported to never laid out the expectations, never told me I was making errors, never had a meeting with me during my month-long probationary period to see how I was doing or if I had any questions. I thought I was doing fine, but on the last day of my probation, I was told I wasn’t meeting expectations, and that I could either go back on the call center floor or quit. When I said I would have worked to improve if I’d been told I was making errors, the manager told me that she “wasn’t a hands-on manager.” I quit that day.

My father and I struggled with both unreasonable and unspoken expectations. In situations like that, deeply intimate situations, it’s often hard to even articulate or admit to certain expectations. The sources of those expectations are often buried too deeply, too primal to even really be understood and are masked by more immediate, surface expectations. It’s taken me years of reflection, to even begin to understand what some of those things were, and it’s been almost ten years since my father died.

Ten years without the burden of all those expectations, by the way.

Before my father died, I couldn’t have devoted myself to reflecting on those deeper, mysterious expectations because we were still wrestling with more immediate and present ones. All I could do, and at the time it was only the first, early attempts, was to begin to let go of my anger at him for, well, being who he was. My father was kind, empathetic, loved bad puns and jokes, and he especially loved music. He could also be narcissistic, codependent, arrogant, and short tempered. He felt shame and self-loathing at incredibly deep levels, and I think that drove both his kindness and empathy as well as his codependency and anger. I don’t think that either of us, while he was alive, could have admitted to ourselves or each other how deeply we needed the other’s approval—but I was the child, and he was the parent and I needed him to act the part. I needed him to be a parent (not my friend, not my therapist—roles that he preferred), and he needed me to approve of him, but I couldn’t because he couldn’t be the parent I thought I needed. A classic, emotional Catch-22.

Even if we’d been able to talk ourselves to that point of understanding, it wouldn’t have helped. It wouldn’t have helped until I did the one thing I was only beginning to fumble my way to doing when he died, and that was to let go of my expectation that he act like a parent. I had to forgive him for being himself.

That’s hard. Taking someone as they are, fitting them into and around the uneven parts of ourselves, takes a lot of patience and forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you let them stomp all over you. If they do that you’re justified in pushing them away. Most people, however, aren’t psychopaths or sociopaths. Most people when they hurt us will regret it, ask for forgiveness, try not to hurt us again in that way. However, when someone we care about hurts us, especially accidentally or unintentionally, our ability to frame that moment correctly, to let go of our immediate hurt and not let our own defensiveness (our expectations of the other person and ourselves) take over and drive us to lash out, is tested. In the best of circumstances, we should be able to let that person know they’ve hurt us without being defensive and angry, or lashing out ourselves.

That old Catch-22 again. Someone hurts us, we’re hurt so we lash out and hurt them back, which hurts them and they . . . . you get the picture.

Calmly letting someone know they’ve hurt us in a way that heads off the cycle is even harder than forgiveness because we have to be aware of and attuned to our own expectations. We can’t really adjust, rejigger, or reset most of another person’s expectations. We have to understand there are different types of expectations with different sources. There are the general expectations a person has in general that come from the person’s family life—how they were raised, the relationships with their parents and siblings and, even, previous platonic and romantic relationships: things like they expect the world to be unfair and cold, or welcoming and forgiving. They expect to be treated like property because they are women, or they expect to take charge because they’re men. Then there are the expectations we have of other individuals that are based upon previous behavior by them. Think of it this way, since we’re in the computer age: it’s firmware vs. software. The firmware is made up of all the expectations our parents and our past experiences have given us. The software is written by the interaction of our separate, not fully compatible, firmware. I can’t change or upgrade your firmware, I don’t have the right “permissions.” However, I can change and upgrade my own firmware to accommodate, or adapt to the relationship (the software) being written between us.

In the case of my father, I had to rewrite my expectations of him, and then I had to learn to forgive those broken parts of him, the codependency, the anger, the neediness, the narcissism, and be aware of the fact that those things showed up as defenses when he was feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and full of self-loathing. You see, even though he had helped to write my firmware when I was a child, I was the only one who could rewrite it as an adult. If he had not died ten years ago, I wonder what kind of space my efforts would have opened up between us. By not holding his feet to the fire every time he failed to live up to my expectations of him, and finding a way to forgive him, would that have given him the space he needed to see our relationship as clearly as I was beginning to see it?

Maybe some might say that, being the parent, he should have gone first. To that, all I can say is his firmware was older and had been in place and unaltered much longer than mine was. Our lives were vastly different. My father never wandered off into Buddhism, never sat and pondered the idea of negative capability, or pondered the ideas in Japanese aesthetics like mono no aware, and a thousand other things that made me who I am – and still as imperfect and flawed as he was but in different ways.

And that leads me to another thing I’ve been thinking about: those spiky, jagged parts of my own personality. I can grind them down, make them less sharp, but they’re still going to be there. They’re still going to poke people from time to time. There are also actions I don’t perform well, things I’ve never learned how to express or articulate. Oddly enough though, I don’t need to be praised for making the effort to learn those actions, for limping my way through the motions. Sure it’s a benefit to those around me, but really it’s first a benefit to me because selfishly, it makes me a better writer if I can learn to express those inexpressible things.


Outrider Live: Words and Music No. 3

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wqemz-bb11f2

In this live episode we feature poet Chandra E. A. Di Piazza and singer/songwriter and rock drummer Rhea Sewell. 

Chandra E.A. Di Piazza grew up in Wichita and got her BGS and MFA from Wichita State University. She’s published three collections of poetry and in 2013 won the Kansas New Voices Award for her collection A Short History of Our Love, which was published by Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in print and online in journals like The Cimarron Review, The Chiron Review, and Muzzle Magazine. Chandra is the founder and editor of the online journal Poetry for the Masses. Although the journal is dormant at the moment and not accepting work, she plans to start publishing new work from established and emerging poets in 2020. Currently she is working on a new collection that she hopes to complete before the end of the year. Recently married to Anthony Di Piazza, Chandra has a daughter, Lyric, plus some cats and dogs that she is constantly surprised that under her care, haven’t been lost or run away. 

Rhea Sewell is originally from Lindsborg, KS but was lured to Wichita by a music scholarship to WSU but mostly studied sociology, women’s studies, and English. On top of working full-time for the WSU Foundation, finishing a BA in 17 years with no student loan debt (what?), She’s been playing in rock bands of one stripe or another since 1994 including such acts as 1/2 Mad Poet, 7/8 Quick, JANET, Aoogah and most consistently False Flag ICT with Jeret Shisler, Tracy Sailer, and Pete Studtman. She played at the 1998 Lilith Fair show, and has opened for Joan Jett . . . twice. False Flag ICT is getting ready to record their fifth collection of songs, and you can get their EPs Rubber Blue Steam Fuck Punk, From the Inside, and Celestial Download on iTunes. 

Extra special thanks to my producer, Heather, for the new live show logo. 


First Saturday. . . nope wait . . . First Sunday Report

this is kind of how my year’s been going . . . always a little off.

Writing and Submitting
Still working my way through the ending of this novel I’ve been working on for the last year or more. It’s proving a challenge to wrap up. I may need to stop trying to finish it, and go back to the beginning and just read. I may have, with all the other distractions (day job travel, day job in general, all the other life BS that gets in the way), lost the thread.

Trying to finish up another essay for the next issue of Vautrin.

Reading
I started to read Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor, but I don’t think I’ll be finishing it any time soon. Sorry, the stories are finely done, but I’m not in the right frame of mind for the tone and subject matter.

My interests are more in line with Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human, and The Government Lake: Last Poems by James Tate. Tate was the first poet I discovered on my own without being handed something in class or taking a class from a poet, and there was something in his sensibility that struck a chord. His sense of humor, masking something very serious felt like a language I’d always known but had never heard spoken. One of the few poems I seem to have permanently memorized is his poem “Teaching the Ape to Write Poems.” I tell people I always have that poem in mind when I write, especially when I write poems. It keeps me humble, and it still tickles me.

Tate died in 2015, and these last poems, including one that was still in his typewriter when he died, are wonderful and bittersweet.

PODCAST
Recently recorded a live show that will be out soon, and we’re getting ready to record another on in August. This will be the Cookout show.

The follow up to the Problematic Badass Female Tropes series is in the work-up phase. Jenn has a few of the essays finished, but because of publication delays for the future essays we’re actually going to do a number of the Toxic Masculinity Tropes off of outlines, which will be slightly different than the other episodes in the series. We hope to have them dropping once the temperatures start to drop.

Listening
I’ve been to see a lot of live music lately: Claypool Lennon Delirium and The Flaming Lips at Wave, and then some local acts, After Judo, Jordana, and Marrice Anthony at Ellis St. Moto.

The young people in town are really turning out some good music lately. I hope some of them get some good national exposure.

In the podcast world, I’ve been listing to This Land, hosted by Rebecca Nagle, a journalist and citizen of the Cherokee nation. There is so much in that podcast to think about and ponder. The biggest take-away I got from it is this: so much of what is wrong in America finds its nexus in how we treat indigenous peoples. Our treatment of minorities, our treatment of women and children, and our treatment of the environment is entirely perfectly and painfully reflected in how we treat indigenous people. If we’re going to survive as a nation, we have to do right by the indigenous people of this content. We must honor the treaties, we must respect the land set aside for them, we must respect their honor their heritage and respect their family bonds, and we must seek justice for missing and murdered indigenous women. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the issues and causes that demand my attention. I am beginning to think that devoting my time and energy to protecting indigenous people will have the most impact.

I am sorry it’s taken so long to realize this.

Watching
Still plowing through episodes of Star Trek TNG. No, I’ve not seen all of Stranger Things 3. Yes, I’ll have to restart my Netflix account.

Random Thoughts
yeah, I got nothing. Have a cat.
img_0412-2019-08-4-15-04.jpg


Special: Todd Robins & Vautrin

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-zmu94-b7387e

The inaugural issue of Vautrin is available now, and features pieces by Scott Phillips, Sylvia Maultash Warsh, Thomas Pluck, and many others. 

 

Vautrin is only available at Watermark Books. Follow this link. https://www.watermarkbooks.com/product/vautrin-volume-1-issue-1-spring-2019

 

Vautrin is old school. To correspond with editor and publisher Todd Robins, to make a donation to support the magazine, or get a two-issue subscription you’ll have to use the US Postal Service and write to him. For donations and a two-issue subscription, make checks payable to Vautrin. The mailing address is 3418 East English Wichita, KS 67218. 

Vautrin.jpg 


First Saturday Report: July

Writing & Submitting:
It is taking longer than I’d planned to finish the new project, but that might not be a bad thing. Diligence and fear playing off each other. What a flop if I get it wrong, if I’m not honest, fair, and even.

I’m also working on the follow-up essay to the one that appeared in issue one of Vautrin.

Reading:
Finished reading Alexs D. Pate’s Multi Culti Boho Sideshow. It’s out of print, so, if you’re looking for a copy, try Abebooks.com

Read Erika T. Wurth’s Buckskin Cocaine. This was published by Astrophil Press, which is run by an old grad school acquaintance, Duncan Barlow. Wurth’s book is excellent. I was especially taken by the capper story, Olivia James. It is a very graceful story about the sacrifices that all artistically driven people make in order to pursue their passion, but it was particularly poignant about the sacrifices that marginalized and impoverished people—especially women—have to make not only to continue to pursue their art, but to avoid the pitfalls and traps of poverty.

Ocean Vuong’s collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. I also picked up, but haven’t starting reading, his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. There were some fantastic poems in Night Sky. We’ll see how the it goes.

Podcast:
Coming soon will be a short conversation with Todd Robins about his new literary journal Vautrin. Later this month I’ll be recording a live show with the poet Chandra EA Di Piazza and musician Rhea Sewell.

I hope you all enjoyed the Problematic Badass Female Tropes series. I’m looking forward to Jenn finishing up her Toxic Masculinity tropes essays so we can talk about those.

Listening:
This section feels like it’s a broken record (ba-dum, bang crash). I’m pretty locked in to listening to the playlist I created for the novel project, and simply plopping that in here again wouldn’t work. Then I realized, I’ve been listening to podcasts for years and never talked about those here. My go-to standard is Marc Maron’s WTF. He’s like my spiritual older brother.

There are others that cycle through as reliably good. Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast, companion to his most recent book of the same name is excellent, especially if you’re interested in fighting against the dehumanization of this age, and big data’s attempt to predict and codify our behavior though algorithms in order to sell us things we don’t yet know we want—or even need.

The You Are Not So SmartPodcast is another one that I go to frequently. In fact, their most recent episode was disturbing and eye-opening. It looked at the concept of Pluralistic Ignorance, which is a situation where a majority of people privately reject a social norm, but go along with it anyway because they incorrectly assume they are in the minority. What’s especially interesting about this episode of YANSS is that they look at pluralistic ignorance through the lens of Jonestown mass suicide, and how even when someone speaks up against a norm that the majority of people would like to reject, the norm can still win out through what is called false enforcement. I feel like among Trump supporters and the Republican Party we’re witnessing false enforcement on a massive scale, fueled by Fox News, and propped up by people like Mitch McConnell.

There’s the always important Savage Lovecast by Dan Savage.

There are lots of other, but I’ll save them for a later report.

Watching:
Not much has caught my eye, although I may have watched the last Avengers movie. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Random Thoughts:
I always struggle with the success of other writers. There’s some jealousy involved, some happiness, confusion, frustration, anger, and hopelessness.

Part of it is that I don’t know how we should define talent anymore. So many times I wander through the aisles in bookstores, pick up books with titles that catch my eye, read the first few paragraphs . . . and I’m disappointed. It’s rare that anything really sparks my interest. I have an entire bookcase at home dedicated to unread novels I’ve purchased. Some of them have been unread for over a decade, and there are other unread books, the non-fiction ones, scattered around the apartment on other bookcases. Some of these unread novels were gifts, some were picked up when I attended an author reading, some were recommended by trusted friends and fellow writers, and some, I think, must have been picked up with good intentions, or at least while I was in some kind of generous fugue state (why did I have a copy of Riptide Ultra-glide by Tim Dorsey sitting on my shelf for five years?). I go through the unread ones every now and then, read those first paragraphs again and . . . put them back on the shelf. Pretty much when I go into bookstores anymore, I’m looking to buy a book by someone I actually know, or have at least met and talked to about writing. What I find on the bookshelves in bookstores is . . . or feels . . . homogenized. The praise in the blurbs seems overblown, and when I have managed to read the book, sycophantic. The best example would be Ben Lerner’s Leaving The Atocha Station. Overall, it was a fine book, I enjoyed it, but the blurbs lead me to believe that I would be reading something transformative, or deeply moving, and it wasn’t. It was a solid first novel by a poet, but it could have been written by anyone, really. Most of the books I find are capably written, competent, but wholly lacking in any daring or risk. The writer’s imagination seems devoted to the creation of an exact simulacrum of the real world, and their skill with the craft of writing is focused on what I call “invisible prose” where the language is just evocative enough to engage a reader’s imagination in relation to the story, but not so evocative to make the reader marvel at the beauty our language can evoke.

Since everyone is working in “invisible prose” it might be best to offer examples of some writers who don’t. Here are some exceptions I’ve recently come across: Lindsay Drager in her book The Archive of Alternate Endings. Sharanya Manivannan in her story collection The High Priestess Never Marries. Heather Tucker in The Clay Girl.

Of those three, only one was published by one of the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Harpercollins, or Hachette), and that one was published by Harpercollins India, a division that has a very different editorial vision and aesthetic than Harpercollins, USA.

And that leads me to another part that is the source of all that angst. Some people are generous and simply call it a “workshop aesthetic” as if all writing workshops were guilty of creating the same blandness. I’m not so generous and will unapologetically point the finger where I think it needs to be pointed: it’s the Iowa Writers Workshop aesthetic. The style that comes out of there isn’t just “invisible,” it’s inoffensive and unchallenging. The people who argue against there being an Iowa aesthetic all went to the IWW, or accepted by the IWW worshipers and are hesitant to rock the boat because there’s no way to make it in publishing as a literary writer unless you play by Iowa’s unspoken, perhaps even unacknowledged, rules.

The only other way to have a life in books seems to be to come up with an easy-to-reproduce formula of some sort based on the “annual model upgrade” system created by the auto industry in the 1950s which has lead to the only real difference between a 2016 model and 2017 model being the shape of a headlight or tail light. This is what popular fiction is now. Get a recurring character, and write a new novel about that character every year and maybe you might have something. Maybe. If it can be made into a TV series.

Ok, so, I’m bitter. I can admit it. In the last decade, when I’ve gotten a rejection letter from an agent that wasn’t a form rejection, I’ve been told they think I’m talented, but not right for their list—which, of course, makes me question whether anyone has a good understanding of talent anymore, and whether I actually have any real talent or if I just got lucky the one time.

This is why I struggle with the success of other writers. When I was younger, I generally just disliked the writer simply for having a success, but except in certain cases (you know who you are Dan Brown), most writers are diligent, careful, and concerned about that awful, misunderstood, sneered at word—“craft.” Even ones with serialized characters and annual novel cycles. For a while, I was even angry directly at agents and editors, but I’ve come to have a gentler opinion of them as well.

I struggle with the success of other writers because I feel like we don’t talk enough about two or three things: 1) Luck. 2) the presence of identifiable formulas in so-called “literary fiction” that are just as restrictive and prone to abuse as formulas in genre fiction, and 3) the presence of pluralistic ignorance in the publishing world, especially in regards to the influence of the IWW and its adjacent programs.

Think about it for a while.


Problematic Badass Female Tropes EP 7: I’m Only Here For My Vagina

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-pcnwa-af3461

A seven part series on the way a lot of seemingly badass women in our stories are undermined and not as badass as they seem. 

 

The Outrider podcast is hosted by me, Jason Quinn Malott. I have a BA in English and an MFA in Writing and Poetics. My first novel, The Evolution of Shadows, was published in 2009, and I began hosting the Outrider Podcast in 2013.

 

My co-host for this miniseries is Jenn Zuko. 

 

Jenn is adjunct faculty at DU, MSU Denver, and Regis University. She teaches courses in writing; literature; visual, performing, and martial arts; body language; and stage combat. She is the author of Stage Combat: Fisticuffs, Stunts, and Swordplay for Theatre and Film, and “I Do My Own Stunts.” She can be seen performing on stage and in classrooms in the Boulder/Denver area, and online at Daily Cross-Swords and Writers’ HQ.

 

The music in the intro and outro is from the songs Choose an Adventure, and Break and Mend by Wichita based band, Cartwheel, off their new EP Best Days, and are used by permission of the copyright holder, Kristyn Chapman. You can get Cartwheel’s EP on Apple Music and Spotify. Visit them at www.cartwheel.band 


Problematic Badass Female Tropes EP 6: One of The Guys

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-m3sjj-af345d

A seven part series on the way a lot of seemingly badass women in our stories are undermined and not as badass as they seem. 

 

The Outrider podcast is hosted by me, Jason Quinn Malott. I have a BA in English and an MFA in Writing and Poetics. My first novel, The Evolution of Shadows, was published in 2009, and I began hosting the Outrider Podcast in 2013.

 

My co-host for this miniseries is Jenn Zuko. 

 

Jenn is adjunct faculty at DU, MSU Denver, and Regis University. She teaches courses in writing; literature; visual, performing, and martial arts; body language; and stage combat. She is the author of Stage Combat: Fisticuffs, Stunts, and Swordplay for Theatre and Film, and “I Do My Own Stunts.” She can be seen performing on stage and in classrooms in the Boulder/Denver area, and online at Daily Cross-Swords and Writers’ HQ.

 

The music in the intro and outro is from the songs Choose an Adventure, and Break and Mend by Wichita based band, Cartwheel, off their new EP Best Days, and are used by permission of the copyright holder, Kristyn Chapman. You can get Cartwheel’s EP on Apple Music and Spotify. Visit them at www.cartwheel.band