Writing & Submitting:
In October I started working on revisions to Far Nineteen again. I’ve kind of lost track of how long I’ve been working on this story. I think I might have written the initial pages for it (all revised or cut away by now) a year or more before I began work on The Palace of Winds. I’ve sent Far Nineteen out a few times, with no responses. That’s why I’m revising it again. I’ve been doing some work on expanding and refining an old essay on the place of fiction in society, but it’s gestating after finishing some new reading that I need to synthesize in the old noodle.
I think it’s time to stop sending out The Palace of Winds. I’ll put it in the file with the other failures: The Cinnamon Girl, and By The Still, Still Water.
I also hacked out about a third of the material I’d written for the new project. It had taken a wrong turn somewhere. After letting it set for a few weeks in October, I realized kind of where it broke and performed surgery to remove the offending outgrowth. On the surface, I suppose, it’s a rather simple love story, but for me, once I peel back that first layer of simple there is a labyrinth of human desires, fears, and regrets. And within those desires, fears, and regrets there are more labyrinths and spider’s webs.
For me, as a writer, the problem has always been narrowing the scope. I think that’s why all of my short stories always feel incomplete, or too big for their confines. It’s why I’m always a bit disappointed when readers pass cruel judgement on my characters and write them off. It means I failed to convey the internal personal agony, shame, regret, desire, and fear that ultimately drives someone to be selfish, or cruel. I don’t expect people to like my characters—they often do horrible things to each other—but if fiction is an engine for the empathetic imagination then somethings not firing right if readers aren’t conflicted about the trouble causing catalyst characters.
Let me see if this helps explain it. I went to high school with a young man who had a reputation for being a bully. Some of my friends had been bullied by this person for most of their childhood. I only suffered his wrath during high school, but I too came to hate and fear him because of his meanness and violence toward others. A few years after high school, this young man was murdered in a street brawl. When I told a friend of mine about it, a friend who had been a target of this bully since early in grade school, my friend’s response was simply to say “Good.” In that moment, in the bitterness I heard in his voice, I understood a whole host of things: my friend’s lifelong pain at having been repeatedly bullied; the sense of karmic justice he felt that someone who’d been cruel to others for so long had a cruelty returned. I heard also a release of fear. This friend, a grown man with a wife and kids, I believe, still feared this bully would be able to hurt him the rest of their lives and this death erased that fear for my friend. And then came all of the thoughts about the bully. I never liked this young man, he was cruel and violent to people he chose as targets. His cruelty and violence made him a popular athlete and so much of the cruelty and violence he displayed off the field was ignored, downplayed, brushed off. But what was he hiding? What was he scared of? Who made him scared of the things he was scared of? What was his cruelty a mask for? What kind of boy had he been before he learned to be cruel? How did he suffer? If all the fear and rage that made him cruel could be stripped away, what would he have become?
I write in order to try to explain the world to myself because, ultimately, it is a deep, deep mystery.
There have been some technical delays with the six part Bad Business series, as well as some scheduling and timing problems. So, episodes aren’t coming out as planned. Episode 2 and 3 are on the way, and if I schedule their release properly, we should have enough of a cushion to ensure the last few episodes come out as expected and without any delays.
We’re planning a second Outrider Live show for December. We’ll have two readers for that show, Shawn Craver and Michelle Barrett. We’ve not finalized the musical act yet. The live shows are at a small, private venue. So, if you’re in Wichita for Dec 8 and would be interested in attending, let me know. Seating is limited.
The Altar of the Only World by Sharanya Manivannan (finished)
Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers (reading).
I always feel like I should read more, but then there’s the writing, the day job, the desire to just sit and stare at the wall so that my brain can just process and purge and knit. For the first time ever, I’ve been keeping a reading “diary” of sorts. Not recording thoughts or perceptions, but just keeping a list. Up to 22 books read this year. By the time December finishes off I should be around 25 or so. That’s about two books a month. I’m sure someone out there is letting out a snide chuckle, and reciting some obscene number of books they read this year and thinking I’m a lazy reader for a fucking writer. It’s not a competition—and my number might be higher, but I spent the first part of the year reading Ulysses and talking about it on the podcast.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. Sharanya Manivannan’s collection The Altar of the Only World is beautiful, and highly recommended. Here in the states you’ll have to order off Amazon since it’s not actually published here. It’s published by Harpercollins India. But it’s worth the effort and bit of money that Bezos gets to suck out of your pocket. Hopefully, she’ll land an American agent or publisher and we can start clamoring for her books in independent bookstores. She has her first novel coming out, I believe this month (again, India only) called The Queen of Jasmine Country. I first encountered Sharanya back in my early blogging days while I was putting out the DIY journal The Project for a New Mythology. She’d posted a comment on something I wrote about Michael Ondaatje and we chatted over email for a while. I was all set to publish one of her poems in the journal when she had to pull it because, well, there was someone willing to pay her more than contributors copies for it. I was disappointed, but ultimately happy for her because, I think, that poem helped her get her first book, Witchcraft (2008), published. Her writing is so very sensuous, compassionate, and wise. I’ve been buying multiple copies of her book The High Priestess Never Marries—like some black market importer—and giving them away to fellow writers and literary minded friends.
Fast on the heels of that, I’m reading Shaindel Beers’ new collection Secure Your Own Mask. This is her third collection, and I’ve fallen in love with it as quickly as I did the other two. Shaindel’s poems strike a very familiar emotional and cognitive chord with me. I suspect she sees the world tinted with the same colors that I see the world with; however, those colors and the knowing that comes from them are just different enough, perhaps because of gender and experiences, that I seem to see things I thought I knew with a renewed mystery. Like Ms. Manivannan’s work, you should go pick up some of Ms. Beers’ and share them with friends – just like you would with beers. Hell, share Ms. Beers’ poetry with friends over beers. I think she’d approve.
Let’s see. For classic movie night in October, I watched Creepshow, which I don’t think I’d seen since I was a preteen. Went out to see The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I’d never bothered to see before. Other than that, I’ve been catching up on the Marvel TV shows on Netflix, specifically the most recent season of Luke Cage.
I finally got around to restocking some of my Red Hot Chili Peppers catalog that got lost way, way back in the mid 90’s when a case of cassette tapes got stolen out of my car. Repurchased Mother’s Milk.
After listening to Marc Maron talk with Sir Paul McCartney I’ve started sorting through his catalogue and making a list of stuff to get. So much of it is in my head, put there by my father, that it’s hard to decide where to start. The Beatles, Wings, his solo stuff—every time I put on a McCartney song I feel as if I’ve slipped out of the timeline, stepped into some limbo where I’m all of my assorted, cast off selves from childhood to now. I can remember the thin green carpet in our house in Dodge City, the sloped back yard, and the rude, abusive odor from the feed lots around town. And I can remember that young version of myself, naive, gentle, open to everything, especially the slights and pains cast out by others.
I feel all over the place with things right now. Stuff from my day job is crowding in on the rest of my life, and I don’t want it there. I want the day job to stay in the confines of the fucking building where I do it, not leeching into my writing time, my reading time, my quiet daydreaming time.
There’s the impending election and my dark and hopeless fears that we’ve lost the impetus for peaceful change and that come November 7th, I will have witnessed the destruction of my country’s democratic experiment. Between Russian interference, right wing fear stoking, and plain old GOP corruption and election rigging, I fear that the fascist leaning GOP leaders will either steal the election from the majority of Americans, or they’ll react violently when the shear weight of pro-democratic, progressive action overwhelms the voting system regardless of all they’ve done to suppress the non-white, non-republican votes.
I’m worried about loneliness, and certain physical limitations and impairments that I’m struggling with and how those will impact my future hopes and desires around that loneliness and its elimination (how’s that for vague?).
I’m worried about money.
I wonder if I’ve reached the limit of my talent, or that I used it all up writing The Evolution of Shadows. I fear I’m finished as a writer and that all that stuff above is simply the universe, which is infinitely more patient and powerful that the will of any human, finally grinding me down into the nothing.