I’m starting something new this year. Going to start off slow, of course, with just one post a month that’s not about a new episode of the Outrider Podcast.
Here we go:
Here are the books I’m reading as of today:
The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology by Joseph Campbell. – To me, if someone is going to make a case about the importance of storytelling and literature to the human species, to our development and evolution, to our uniqueness as the only storytelling animal on this planet, whether it’s Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly who wrote a nice little book called All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age or Jonathan Gottschall who claims to offer the first unified theory of storytelling that includes data from neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, in his book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, then they have to start with Joseph Campbell. The fact that there is no mention of Campbell in the bibliography or index of either book is rather telling of their incompleteness (especially in Gottschall’s case).
Now, I think part of the problem is that since Campbell’s death in 1987, the, dare-I-say-it, “mythology” of Campbell has been tainted by George Lucas and the Star Wars trilogy and the rise of the self-help culture. Campbell’s great and compelling life’s work into the origin, meaning, evolution and significance our first and most basic stories – our mythologies and religions – the sources of our earliest art – has been reduced to cheap plastic toys and the self-help catchphrase “Follow your bliss.”
Rut by Scott Phillips – I should have read this a long while ago, but, of course, as most reading goes with me, I acquire a book and put it on my to read shelf with all the other unread books I have, while I’m still reading some other book. Then I buy another book, and maybe another. I used to have an entire bookcase dedicated solely to books I’d not started reading yet. Anyway. Get out there and read some Scott Phillips. He’s fun and dirty and chaotic, as all good crime fiction should be.
Californication starring David Duchovny.
I’ve never subscribed to Showtime, so I’d heard about this but never bothered to track it down. Now the series is over and all seven seasons are on Netflix. I’m bingeing. Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a New York novelist who’s stopped writing after moving to L.A. and having his third novel turned into an awful Rom-com staring Tom Cruise. There’s lots of drinking and smoking and sex with women who aren’t his long-time, long-suffering partner and mother of his daughter as Hank struggles to get his shit together.
Every time I start a long project (and, really, I seem to only be working on long projects anymore), I create a playlist of songs that are intended to help me lock in a mood while writing. It evolves as the story evolves and as I find new songs. This is one of the reasons why finding new music is so important to me.
Right now, I’m listening to my playlist for a project called “Far Nineteen.”
Name Album Artist
1 Elegia Low-Life, New Order
2 Crime Scene Part One Black Love, The Afghan Whigs
3 Murder Substance [Disc 2], New Order
4 Hell Hound On My Trail The Complete Recordings [Disc 2], Robert Johnson
5 Mistakes We Knew We Were Making Straylight Run, Straylight Run
6 The Scientist A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay
7 Last Dance Disintegration, The Cure
8 Transatlanticism Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie
9 Existentialism On Prom Night Straylight, Run Straylight Run
10 Wild Horses Hot Rocks Disc 2, The Rolling Stones
11 Magic The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds Five
12 Wild Horses Blind, The Sundays
13 Instrumental 523 Villa Elaine, Remy Zero
14 18th Floor Balcony Foiled, Blue October
15 Recovering The Satellites Recovering The Satellites, Counting Crows
16 How It Ends How It Ends, DeVotchKa
17 Dreaming My Dreams No Need To Argue, The Cranberries
18 Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Smashing Pumpkins
I’m also high on the following albums right now.
Loom by Fear of Men
Do to The Beast by The Afghan Whigs
Farm by Dinosaur, Jr.
Blonde on Blonde, by Bob Dylan – especially Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.
The project for the foreseeable future is the one currently titled “Far Nineteen.” It’s set in a fictional town called Ketowah, which is very loosely based on Tulsa, OK. In other words, I didn’t want to have to a lot of research on Tulsa itself, but was fascinated by its racial history, especially the 1921 riot that leveled the African American Greenwood District, and the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere they buried in a time capsule.
I sent out a small clutch of submissions for the completed novel The Palace of Winds, and so far have gotten nothing but rejections. I’m incredibly self-conscious about my query letters, and about writing a synopsis. A lot of my writer friends encourage me to submit with more frequency and vigor, the so-called shotgun approach, but I prefer to submit like a sniper, which means I spend a lot of time researching the agent or publisher I want to submit to.
I’ve had a few people try to encourage me to self-publish. Normally, I try to brush it off, but if you’ll scroll down the blog posts here, you’ll find my epic essay “Why I will Never Self-publish.” It was an attempt to lay this “helpful advice” to rest for good, but apparently I was too wordy, and the self-publishing champions were a little too short attention span-y to read more than the first few paragraphs, and a little too self-conscious about their own publishing choices to see that I wasn’t attacking their choice to self-publish, but rather stating the very clear and practical reasons why I, personally, would never self-publish (I write slowly, I suck at self-promotion, I’d have to take out a loan to publish the way I’d want to publish, etc.).
So, I’ll take this month of January to get a few more submissions of The Palace of Winds out the door. I’ve got a few agents and a few small presses I’m sniffing around, trying to get a good feeling about. If any of my writer friends have an agent they’d like to recommend, I’d love to hear about the agent (or maybe you could tell the agent about me?).
The Palace of Winds is the first of a planned three book cycle experimenting with ideas about mythology and its dissolution, manhood, family, and American folklore. This first book is a loose retelling of Jason and The Golden Fleece that borrows some very broad elements from my grandfather’s life on the road during the Great Depression. He spent time in L.A. working for a boxing promoter, herded sheep in Montana, and rode freight trains for a time following work around the country. Those things happen in this story, but there are also violent Klansmen, incestuous street preachers, three harpies tormenting a legendary gunslinger, a mob kingpin’s daughter who murders her brother, a dark, desperate winter hiding in the mountains, and a long, sad journey home.
And new cat.