Monthly Archives: April 2015

May’s First Saturday Post

Finished reading Witchita Stories by Troy James Weaver. It’s an excellent collection of vignettes. I recommend getting your hands on it. It’s distributed by Small Press Distribution, so it should be easy for your local indie bookstore to get a copy in for you. Or you can get it straight from the publisher.

I’m starting Weaver’s novella next, Visions, but more about Troy later.

Also finished Citizen by Claudia Rankine. That is a brilliant and painfully necessary piece of work. If someone hasn’t done it yet, I’m thinking I should build a list called “African Americans that Every White American Should Read.” Claudia Rankine, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Charles Johnson, Alexs D. Pate, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes . . . My list will grow and, since it’s my list these will be my rules: African American novelists and poets only – no non-fiction. Why? Because fiction has a more powerful pedagogical leaning than non-fiction. It more firmly engages the empathetic imagination.

Picked up John Ashbery’s Quick Question last month and I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve got a giant stack of to-be-read books . . . hell, it’s almost an entire five shelf bookcase. So maybe I’ll also start Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, or maybe I’ll finally get around to finishing The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, or Rut.

Although I’ve paid for the whole season, I’ve kind of lost interest in The Last Man on Earth.

If you’ve not seen the movie Dear White People, you should. It’s funny and pointed and very relevant to the larger, more real expressions of racial disharmony in America right now. Look, some people have a knee-jerk defensive reaction to real life displays of anger and frustration. They have a hard time staring into the abyss, so to speak. That’s why we have writers, and why the writers who can look

It’s been a slow month for new music too. I’ve been stuck on my playlist for the story Far Nineteen that I’m trying to finish.

Podcast News
Upcoming conversation with Troy James Weaver. That’ll be out in May. Troy is the author of Witchita Stories, and Visions. Both are out now.

Started the Laboratory as part of the Outrider Podcast with Stephen McClurg. It’s a lot of fun. We talk about a lot of things, and give ourselves a writing assignment each month. The first one was to do a cut-up inspired piece. Our listeners are welcome to play along and send us their completed exercises. We’ll share those in future episodes. So far, no one’s taken us up on the offer.

Gavin Pate and I have started up the Shoptalk series again while Laura Hawley is starting her married life, advancing her nursing career and trying to get some more pages written.

Writing & Submitting
This month I’m combining the two. Here’s why:

I began The Palace of Winds in – (fuck) – 2010, right about the time my father died. I thought I’d make it a trilogy. Kind of a career spanning thing. Three books rolling out whenever I finished them. The first, The Palace of Winds, the second called A Lost Thread, and the last one called Upon a Stranger Sea. These were, and still are, big idea stories (at least for me) – taking family mythology and marrying them to classic mythological stories (Jason & The Golden Fleece, The Minotaur, and the third Prometheus and Pandora) and then attempting to tie them all together in a arc that would follow Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey while disassembling it and reassembling it for a modern era. I’ve always had a hard time articulating the whole idea… but basically I want to try to make form and content match. A traditional mythic structure in the first book that begins to disintegrate and lose its meaning. A labyrinthian second book about dying, death, and inner demons that is trying to find meaning in a world gone meaningless. And, finally, a third book that reassembles meaning out of chaos.

Anyway, so, now, as I have struggled to find a foothold in the second book, I’ve done two things: 1) started a completely unrelated story (Far Nineteen), and 2) taken copious notes and made lots of ridiculous drawings and graphs to try to get a handle on the second book’s intended non-linear structure, that is, I want the story to be both maze-like and readable, but I don’t want it to read like stream of consciousness.

Maybe at this point I’ve over talked it.

Either way, I realized that the basic story I wanted to tell twisted into the form I wanted wasn’t going to be long enough for a stand alone book. That was when I realized, after five years (fuck) that I’ve got a 700 page book on my hands and I’ve only written the first 350 pages.

But I’m in the middle of another book. So, . . . fuck.

If you’ve ever read Michael Chabon’s book The Wonderboys, or seen the movie, then when I say I feel like Professor Grady Tripp, except without the previous fame. I’m trapped in an endless story. I wish I had more confidence in my short fiction, but the problem with my short fiction is that they all want to be long stories, novels or novellas.

Random Thoughts
As often as I move around external disk drives, have replaced internal drives, migrated computers, etc. I should have the whole moving the iTunes library thing figured out. Still wasted a morning with it today.

I’m going to be donating to, volunteering with, and possibly joining, the NAACP. Even white people are sick of white people’s bullshit. The main privilege of being white is the privilege to be oblivious to systemic, ingrained, racism because it doesn’t seem to effect white people. But it does. Every single distant riot in a black neighborhood that scares white people is nothing compared to the individual fear every black man has when a cop stops him for no real reason – And the so-called “reason” the cop is stopping that man is because our culture has a default setting where we (white people) believe that black equals guilty of something. And that’s wrong. It’s so fundamentally morally wrong that it makes me sad and angry and bitter. But what can I do? Sympathy itself doesn’t change anything. Expressions of sorrow don’t change the tenor of the debate. I think the best thing I can do, especially for someone like me, a white male, is to put my hands to work and to be of service.

I’ve been looking for a way to expand my editorial experience – especially in the literary, book publishing world, without taking a giant pay cut and possibly going into default on my student loans. It took me until I was nearly 40 to publish my first book, and to stumble backwards into a job that pays me just enough to live on my own. Anyone got any ideas?

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 ( 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 (

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 (

April’s First Saturday Catch-up

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.