Monthly Archives: August 2018

First Saturday Report, August

Since the last report I’ve gone back through The Palace of Winds and tweaked it. There were some typos that had, somehow, survived all the previous read-throughs. I also rewrote and/or expanded some scenes here and there where I realized my previous overfamiliarity (and flat out exhaustion with the thing) had left some plot holes. Now, back to sending it out.

The new project is still on hold. I’ve been preparing some vignettes and poems for a performance coming up August 11th (more on that in the podcast section). I’ve been going through old files, folders, and notebooks looking for things that are roughly 500 to a thousand words or so and are in the vein of the kind of things Bobbie Louise Hawkins was doing in her book and one woman show Absolutely Eden and her pieces from Live at the Great American Music Hall with Terry Garthwaite and Rosalie Sorrels, and in Jaded Love with Lee Christopher (which is exceptionally rare and hard to find). What I find most interesting about the hunt for suitable vignettes is that most of the time I don’t think of myself as being very productive, and not much of a short piece writer. Then I go through all the notebooks that I carry around and scribble things in from time-to-time when I’m out in the world and there are all these pieces where I’ve made some half decent observation about the world, or playfully used language and made startling juxtapositions.

And now I’m back to wondering why it’s so hard to get that to happen in my intentional prose anymore. I managed (somewhat) it in The Evolution of Shadows, but it’s been a challenge to get it teased out of The Palace of Winds (but that may have been a result of intention (long story that)). Then there’s Far Nineteen, which I’ve not looked at in almost a year now and don’t recall how flexible or artful the prose was. I guess that’s next on my list of re-tweaks. Except I really want to get back to the new project.

My most recent reads have been for the Crime/noir/detective podcast series. Recently finished James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, and Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man #89. I’ll save the critique and review for now since it’ll all be in the podcast when those come out in October (tentatively planned for then, anyway). These days I’m reading Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon.

Honestly, I’ll be glad when I’m done with the crime/noir stuff so I can get on that new Michael Ondaatje book Warlight.

One thing I have been squeezing in when I can is reading The Altar of the Only World, a collection of new poems by Sharanya Manivannan. I hope one day an American publisher will sign her so that her work will be more easily available in the states. She’s with Harpercollins India right now, so it shouldn’t be too hard of a leap for Harpercollins to bring her here. Her writing is breathtaking and daring, and you should make every effort to read it. I would recommend getting your hands on her collection of short fiction The High Priestess Never Marries.

I’m finishing up the crime/noir/mystery podcast. Two more episodes to go. I’ve had a bit of technical snag with episode three (Megan Abbott and Charles Willeford), but perhaps my new “producer” can fix it. If not, we’ll come up with something.

That’s right, I’ve recruited a producer. We’re still negotiating compensation, but both excited to be working together on the podcast. I need the technical help and my would-be producer needs to build a post-radio days stuff for a portfolio. There may be some special content for sale, some begging for donations, or something along those lines to help compensate the producer’s time and effort, but it’ll be worth it for a better polished podcast.

I’m also prepping for the first live podcast. I’ll be working with a band called The Ezras to put on Outrider Live: Words and Music. It’ll be recorded on Aug. 11th and the show will released on the Podcast in late August or early September. If ti all goes well, Shawn Craver (of the Ezras and a writer) hope to do more shows with other writers and musicians.

I’ve started a classic movie night with friends, and so far we’ve done Breakfast at Tiffany’s (June), and The Thin Man (July), which I’d never seen before. Next up in August is Gaslight, I believe the 1944 version with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton, but I’m not sure.

A number of my friends haven’t seen Time Bandits, which I find astounding and am oddly excited about sharing it with them.

I’ve finally gotten around to watching the PBS, Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War, and, to cut that from time-to-time, I’ve been watching old M.A.S.H. episodes.

There was a recent episode of the podcast Hidden Brain that got me thinking. It was called Rebel With A Cause, and it was about rule breaking—more or less—and the “curse of knowledge,” which basically means that experts sometimes forget what it’s like to be a beginner or novice and so lose the wonder, curiosity, and awkwardness that put a fire into their early forays into the field of their expertise. It put me in mind of a conversation I had with a friend not long ago about my own writing. This friend encouraged me quit worrying about putting all these elaborate requirements on my writing and just tell a story. In some ways, this friend was right.

I have been putting a lot of requirements on the projects I’ve been working on lately. My rationale has been that by putting a certain requirement in place—a limitation—it will force me to come up with a creative solution to get around that limitation. The problem, I think, isn’t the limitation itself, but how I’m responding to it. When I first started writing, and when I wrote The Evolution of Shadows, my limitations were largely unintentional. They were limitations of novice-hood and limitations born of a lack of experience as a writer. Since then, I’ve cranked out several manuscripts, even though none have been published. Each one has been a learning experience, despite their failures. Some of those manuscripts were, simply just too flawed to go anywhere, like the finished but unfixable novel By The Still, Still Water, and the 500 plus page epic conspiracy novel that ran out of gas called The God Tamers (title stolen from a line in “Silver” by Echo and Bunnymen), and the abandoned rock-n-roll serial killer novel Gravity Push (might go back to it). Then there are the finished ones that seem, at least for now, to be worthwhile—The Palace of Winds (a re-imagining of Jason & the Golden Fleece) and Far Nineteen (a story about deep-seated racial conflict and a dead body in a time capsule).

When I started out, I was fairly good at plot, dialogue, and point of view. Not a bad repertoire for a beginner, but my language as dull, functional, journalistic. There was not much poetry to it, and certainly no grace or personality. It was also missing that certain thing that comes from getting access to, and trusting, your native intelligence and the ability to tap into those truths we all know about what it means to be human and to suffer (or to be joyful, in love, etc.) and say something about those things in a new and artful way.

I think I let go of my beginner’s mindset too early. I went from asking “what do I do next?” to saying “this is what I do next” as if it was all understood now how I should apply my knowledge and proceed. I don’t like formulas, I don’t like formulaic writing, and although I enjoy various sub-genres of literature like Mystery, Sci-fi, Fantasy, etc. I don’t want to write exclusively in one sub-genre. My favorite books, and the book I’m always looking for but can’t find (ergo I then decided that I should write them), are ones like those written by Michael Ondaatje, John Berger, Lawrence Durrell, Jeff Talarigo, Emily St. John Mandel, Laird Hunt, Sharanya Manivannan, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, James Tate, Michael Chabon, Alexs D. Pate, and others (William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow is astounding, Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish crushes me, David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars breaks my heart). In effect, I’d built myself a formula without knowing and have been flailing about inside it, not breaking the arbitrary rules I’d set for myself, which were based on a desire to not follow the “rules” of a formula.

Now. . . to fix it.