Category Archives: Adventures

First Saturday Report: February 2018

Well, so far this year I’m not doing too bad.

WRITING & SUBMITTING
During January I didn’t write much new material. The bulk of it went into an essay I may not do anything with. It was a thought experiment on the Aziz Ansari incident, and the two camps that most people seem to have divided themselves into, while me and Dan Savage seem to be in a middle camp. Who knows, maybe it’ll see the light of day on the blog sometime.

Hell, if I don’t give away my writing and thoughts on the blog, no one would see that I’m writing anything.

I’ve been slowly and methodically plugging away at sending out query letters to agents. I’m kind of at the end of my emotional rope with this. I’ve been at it since sometime in July of 2017, and I’ve had only one agent request the full manuscript, and none of the rejection letters I’ve received have given me any clue at all as to why no one is interested in it except that it’s “not right for their list.” One or two agents have said something positive about my talent and credentials, but they didn’t want to take on the book, or me – and that – that right there – is perhaps the most disheartening rejection of all. I can’t decide if being told that an agent thinks I’m talented, but won’t represent me is worse than the no-reply rejection, which seems to be the new form rejection.

Then, in the weekly email from Poets and Writers for Jan 25th, there was the Agent Advice column that also appears in the Jan/Feb issue of Poets & Writers. This one featured Annie Hwang from Folio Lit (I was rejected by a different Folio agent). Some of her responses lead me to believe that I’d almost be better off as a first timer again, especially after reading her response to a writer from New Jersey about how agents will check an author’s Nielsen BookScan numbers. Ms. Hwang said she only checks them after deciding she wants to work with a writer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t agents who will decided if they want to work with a writer based on Bookscan numbers. Mine are awful, I’m sure, and nearly ten years old.

It’s time to move on to small presses. And no. I’m not self-publishing.

I either miscounted, or I went on a submission spree in January.

67 total submissions made (8 were to small presses, the rest to agents – some were made before July 2017)
57 rejections
10 still out, including 1 request for the full manuscript.

That, I think, is the most accurate account.

READING:
I finally got around to reading Ben Lerner’s 2011 novel Leaving the Atocha Station. I’m ambivalent about it. It’s well written, but despite Lerner’s skill and his previous history as a poet, it’s still a first novel semi-autobiographical bildungsroman about a poet from Topeka, KS who goes on an academic fellowship to Spain and witnesses the aftermath of the March 11, 2004 Atocha Station bombing in Madrid. Adam Gordon is not too terribly far removed from Mr. Lerner himself. Gordon and Mr. Lerner have a lot in common, including a lot of upper middle class white privilege, which I find to be a bit on the sci-fi spectrum of relatability. I even recognized a lot of the nascent ideas that would later appear in Lerner’s chapbook The Hatred of Poetry, which having read, made me finally decided to give his novel a try. I had known before hand that this novel was semi-autobiographical, but maybe after absorbing all of the hype around him over the years I expected more from it.

The review excerpts serving as blurbs and that are speckled all over the book’s cover, touting its brilliance and wit, didn’t help, especially since they seem to all be over-praising the book, and Lerner – as if they’d never read anything like it before. Please. I liked the book, but it wasn’t mind blowing, or life changing, or even “unlike any novel reading experience I’ve had for a long time” – to quote Maureen Corrigan’s rather handjob-y excerpt from her review. I Think of it as The Sun Also Rises (aimless American in Spain minus the wounded war veteran) meets a Fawlty Towers plot trope, with drugs replacing alcohol, and the main character’s “I hate poetry and it’s fake, but I’m really good at it” internal monologue replacing the bull fighting obsession. Also, I really need to be conscious of my tendency to automatically think the opposite of whatever Jonathan Franzen thinks, which is not to say that Franzen’s quote from his Guardian review is accurate, just that my bad reaction to the first pages of Franzen’s The Corrections has created a kind of knee-jerk “go fuck yourself” immune reaction to everything he says about – well – anything.

The problem is, I want to like Lerner and his book. We’re both from Kansas, after all. I found a lot of what he said in The Hatred of Poetry to be spot on, so I’m interested in what else he has to say . . . but . . . yeah, there’s some class antagonism going on here. Lerner is the son of noted psychologist Harriet Lerner (most famous for her book The Dance of Anger), because of that, he has had far more opportunity than I have (which is a significant amount since we’re both white dudes), went to Brown University for a BA and MFA. Won some major prizes early, and regularly, got a Fulbright to travel to Spain, kept winning prizes, and a MacArthur Genius grant. Typical stuff for someone who, well, was born thirty or forty yards ahead of everyone else. Then, he got invited to be in a documentary about one of my literary heroes, John Berger (here’s an excellent piece from 1999 about Berger, too), which, to be honest, made me a bit jealous. Lerner’s just one of those people who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people and getting jerked off by the fawning It-crowd of self-appointed literary tastemakers. I can’t tell if my “ho-hum, what’s the big deal?” reaction to his book is more of a response to the book itself or their praise of the book.

I’ve begun reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. Finally. The endeavor is being recorded for The Outrider Podcast, and I’m being joined by my friend, Delia Tramontina. We were in the MFA program at Naropa University together. So far, we’ve recorded the first episode where we talked about Joyce, the book’s history, and why we haven’t read it yet, even though you’d think that two MFAs would have read it before they got into their forties. I’ve resisted it for years because I’m a contrarian who will refuse to do something if someone who has rubbed me the wrong way for other reasons tells me I should do or try something. It’s probably why I’ve never seen Gone With The Wind. It was why I resisted the Harry Potter books for years until I was working in a indie bookstore.

WATCHING
Sat down with a friend and watched Strangers on a Train for the first time. I never realized it had such an intersection of literary and filmmaking trivia. The screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Robert Walker, who was on the tail end of his downward spiral after his divorce from Jennifer Jones. Strangers was Walker’s penultimate film. He would die while making his last film, My Son John in 1952.

I’ve been adding a lot of classics to my movie watching queue due to an infatuation with the podcast You Must Remember This. So, along with my plan to get more books read this year and clean off one of my many to-be-read shelves, I’m going to bust through some classic movies. Maybe I’ll plan some movie nights. On an afternoon off, I ended up watching The Godfather and The Godfather Part II instead of reading Joyce.

PODCAST:
The Podcast will be on a minor hiatus again, but not because I’m not recording. In February, I’ll release another author conversation episode, this one with Caitlin Hamilton Summie, who has a her first collection of short stories out called To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts. It’ll be out about the 10th of February or so. In the mean time, I’ll be recording the conversations with Delia for the Ulysses project, and beginning another 5 or 6 part series on crime and noir fiction. While Stephen is plowing through the spring semester with his students we’ll be plotting the next topic to discuss. We’ll also be adjusting the format and recording frequency to try to tighten up and perfect our ramblings.

I’d love to find someone to do the audio editing work for me because I’m kind of slow at it, but . . . I doubt I have the resources to hire someone. So, I’ll plug along.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I had delusions of fame when I was a young writer, and I probably made some bad choices based on an overblown estimation of my own talent. The thing is, as I get older, I find myself wrestling with the realization that, well, I’m in that segment of people who has been abandoned by history and circumstance. As society rightly and correctly begins to resist elevating any and every white man regardless of his talent or merit, and especially as late-stage capitalism squeezes and restricts the avenues for artistic expression, limiting the possibility of generating a livelihood from art to those who come from already privileged backgrounds, or those who can pander to the widest audience, there will be writers like me who will simply vanish from the literary landscape – and a loss you don’t know has happened is no loss at all.

I don’t have the talent to extricate myself from the day-to-day demands of a corporate job, and I wasn’t lucky enough to land an academic job, so I’m kind of stuck, and I don’t know what else to do with myself. I write stories that no one seems to want, but I can’t stop writing and still be a human being that other human beings would want to spend time with. Then, in a kind of sad ironic Catch-22 situation, the frustration of writing and meeting nothing but rejection slowly leaches away any optimism and replaces it with bitterness and despair that, well, pushes people away. I should learn to embrace my corporate overlords and do my consumerist duty to fatten their bank accounts in return for just enough compensation to stay dry when it rains, warm when it snows, and able to eat just enough stay alive so I can plug into my cubicle when needed by the boss.

Capitalism. Greed. Wealth addiction. There is a small fraction of people who want to live like the kings of old feudalism, to be the new royalty of the world, and then there are the millions of people who go along with these would-be rulers of the world because they’ve been made to believe that they themselves are only temporarily embarrassed millionaires who, if only the “enemy” or the “other” (immigrants, lazy brown people, jews, and commies, etc.) weren’t stealing from them, they’d be fancy people, too. Or maybe they haven’t been made to believe anything and they see who’s really stealing from them but are choosing instead to ally themselves with the thief-kings under the ridiculous assumption or theory that by making friends with the devil, the devil won’t turn on them and instead will reward them for their proffered aid. They could use some time studying the parable of the scorpion and the frog (or turtle), which was derived from Aesop’s fable of the Farmer and the Viper. When the thief-kings have squeezed all they can out of the poor, they’ll start on their loyal servants until they’re used up, too.

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I Have Not Been Asleep.

        After the year of monthly posts, and the year of sporadic posts, I have just about completed the year of no posts. I also let the podcast fall into disservice. It looks like I’ve been lazy as hell.

        My own sense of the last year or so would back that up, except it’s not really true. Since that September of 2016, I’ve completed one novel, revised that one and another. Each one is over 120,000 words. I suppose that, to some, editing and revising some 250,000+ words isn’t much. However, I’ve been balancing that against a full-time job and an existential, emotional upheaval.

        No, the existential upheaval wasn’t over Trump, not entirely. A great deal of it arose from a kind of desperate need to be social and the angst at failing at it. In other words, I’ve been attempting to date. The less said about that the better, I suppose. At least for now.

        So, what HAS been going on?

        Well, I’ve started to send out queries for the first of the two completed novels. I’ll start sending out queries for the second as soon as I get a synopsis that I’m happy with. Querying agents is going to be my primary focus for the next few months (it is a slow process for me – anxiety, doubt, self-consciousness, etc. all have to be fought with each opening paragraph. The synopsis and bio are easy. It’s the first paragraph and all the weight it has to carry that gives me trouble). I’m also beginning to dive into some serious reading, which I’ve been half-assing for longer than I’d care to admit. The reading will, most assuredly, recharge those creative batteries especially since there’s a lack of face-to-face literary challenge in my personal interactions (more on that later). And, at last, I’ll be rebooting the podcast with my friend Stephen McClurg because, again, I need some literary challenge even if it’s only face-to-face via Skype.

        Recently, I migrated my author website to a new host, and redid the whole thing. You can check out the “New Work” page to read the current descriptions of the two projects I’ve just spent the last 18 months or more working on.

        I first started writing vignettes and flash piece for what became The Palace of Winds in about 2008 or 2009, but the first completed draft didn’t get started until 2010, right about the time my father died. According to my files, it looks like I actually started the other recently finished project, Far Nineteen, about 2007 or so, right about the time I sold The Evolution of Shadows.

        It’s astounding how time rolls by so quickly. When Shadows sold, I had a completed novel called “By The Still, Still Water” that I thought was pretty good. My editor didn’t think so, but I spent about eight months as Shadows was making its way to press attempting to revise Water until I found the spot near the middle of the book where it was basically too broken to fix with the skills and knowledge I had at the time. Maybe my editor knew that, or suspected it. Either way, that novel got put in the failure file. I must have returned, for a bit, to Far Nineteen, but got pulled into Palace about the time my father went into the hospital for hydrocephalus. That was February 2010. He died that April after a car accident in March.

        I threw myself into Palace after that, and concocted a plan to make it the first of a trilogy. The second book would be about my father. Perhaps the half-assed moments of the last seven years, along with the frenetic energy, fear of isolation, and the approaching mid-life WTF moment (I’ll be 46 in October), have all contributed to my rather uneven nature and the hyper concern over a perceived lack of production and effort.

        A quarter of a million words in seven years (not including the words written and discarded). Should I consider that productive even if I’ve not managed to get any of those words published?

        


Long Time, No See…..

        On September 10, I finished the most recent draft of a novel I’ve been working on called Far Nineteen. It’s a big one, 113,000 words, 370 pages. On a whim, I went back and looked through the back-up files for the project and found the earliest files dated from 2008, the year I sold my first novel, The Evolution of Shadows, to Unbridled Books.

        If my memory is correct, I set it aside for a number of reasons. The primary reason was that it is a thematically challenging story dealing with race and white privilege which can be, for a white male writer, be a problem if he does not force himself to be awake and to listen. Privilege can be blinding, stealthy, and subtle all at the same time. The other reason was that, after selling Shadows, I fired off a completed manuscript I had “in the bank” (as Hemingway used to say) that turned out to be irreparably flawed. Then, in my stubbornness, wasted a good nine months or so attempting to revise it, mostly out of spite, until I hit the point where it was sticking. It was a lesson in trusting a good editor.

        By The Still, Still Water was an ambitious project, dealing with war, sexuality, guilt, and how unspoken family history can twist and damage relationships. In my early 30’s when I wrote it, I may not have had enough experience to pull it off. I’ve gone back and looked at it again over the years and find myself still pondering ways to fix it because, honestly, there is some strong writing in there.

        I remember talking with people about what would become The Palace of Winds sometime in September of 2009, just before Shadows came out. That means I had already done some preliminary sketching on the idea, maybe for as long as a year. I went back and looked for the earliest files because there was an exploratory scene I remember writing about two hobos taking shelter in an abandoned shack during a dust storm in 1930s Kansas. It would have given me a rough timeframe for when I began The Palace of Winds, but I couldn’t find it.

        In February 2010, I began writing The Palace of Winds in earnest, while Far Nineteen languished on the back burner. Palace took off, for me, after my father’s death in April 2010. I worked on it solidly through 2013 and in to 2014. It went through several drafts, friends read it out loud to me, it got submitted and rejected, revised again, and so on. In late 2014, I believe, I returned to Far Nineteen and completed a draft in September 2015, which involved first revising everything that had been previously written.
Now it’s time to bring in my early readers who will read the entire manuscript and rip it apart, and my volunteer narrators who will read sections back to me out loud so that I can hear my language.

        I should have been done with this earlier, but in January of 2016, a friend read the first few pages of The Palace of Winds out loud to me, and I was shocked. It was one of those cases where, after having read to me, then revising and revising again, I’d fucked up the pacing and language (no wonder it was being rejected so much). So, I went back in and did another line revision of the whole damn thing.

        Now, I have three complete manuscripts. One in purgatory, one I need to keep sending out, and one that needs to be critiqued. In the meantime, I’m going to wander back over the scenes and pieces and notebooks for other ideas until one grabs hold. There’s the Minotaur story, the dead girlfriend story, the Spanish story, the trench story, the Wichita noir story, and then there’s my rock b and serial killer story that’s been simmering since 2004. Or maybe I’ll spin my wheels for a while and see what comes up. I was thinking about my Haibun for the Missing idea a few days ago. I’ve been wanting to flex my poetry muscles again. I’ve also thought about writing that college band screenplay I’ve been kicking around.

        The biggest drawback, of course, is always time. Work life, personal life, and writing life form this hopeless tug-of-war when living alone. I write, I work, I exercise so I don’t die, I read, I do laundry, I cook meals, I sleep, I clean the apartment, I run errands and I see some friends once a week who are thoughtful enough to drag me out of the house. The last year has been so focused on getting these manuscripts finished that I dropped the podcast I’d been doing. I want to get it fired up again, but I’m not sure what kind of format I want this time. The conversation format was fun, but the reading schedule needed to read an author’s book before getting them on the show tended to crowd out my personal reading. My biggest fear was reading something and not liking it enough to really be interested in talking to the writer. I loved talking with Stephen McClurg on a regular basis, but I felt we were losing the audience and struggling to make our conversations interesting to anyone but us.

        So, there it is. Now, I’m off to see about some new adventures.
        


Shoptalk with Stephen McClurg

Call this the short and dirty show notes edition. Stuff.

Look up:
Ghoulanoids
        https://www.tumblr.com/search/ghoulanoids
        http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25723988-ghoulanoids

Ray Harryhausen
        http://www.rayharryhausen.com

You can learn more about McClurg and his work at Mr. McClurg’s Marginalia https://mrmcclurg.wordpress.com

The Outrider Podcast is available on Podbean, iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen at my website (http://jquinnmalott.com/index.html).


First Saturday of October

Reading
Dreams of the Red Phoenix by Virginia Pye.
The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell.
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar.
Rereading Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje.

Watching
It’s been an active month for watching things. A couple of Audrey Hepburn movies were taken in on Netflix. Roman Holiday and Charade. The thing that I found most fascinating about Roman Holiday was its subtle acquiescence to class boundaries. If Roman Holiday were remade today, the Audrey Hepburn character would not be a princess (she’d be cast as a movie star or model), or, if she were still cast as a Royal, the story would concoct some means by which the common American reporter character (played by Gregory Peck) could end up living happily ever after with the princess. In that case, I think, the whole story would be ruined. Maybe I only think that because the only love that’s been consistent and reliable in my like has been the unrequited kind.

There was the documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan that was very good. The only Harryhausen movie I’ve seen has been Clash of the Titans, but it was amazing to see the influence he’s had on other directors who’s movies I have seen, and enjoyed.

Watched a couple episodes of Columbo, but I always ended up putting it on late at night and would then fall asleep about halfway through. Watched the first season of Emergency! while doing laundry. It was truly astounding in its own way. Today it feels kind of campy now, but I remember it vaguely from when I was a kid, particularly because I had a set of Emergency! discs for my View Master. Randolph Mantooth (a very masculine name), Kevin Tighe, and consummate eyebrow actor Robert Fuller starred. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that only once during the entire first season does Squad 51 make a left turn (viewer’s right) when leaving the station. It’s now my personal joke belief that to get anywhere in Los Angeles, the first thing you do is make a right turn.

Listening
Lately, it’s been obsessively listening to a British band called The History of Apple Pie, particularly their first album, Out of View, but also occasionally throwing down their second album Feel Something. A number of the reviews I’ve come across have likened them to various 90’s alternative acts where a dreamy voiced girl singer-lyricist hooks up with an earnest, pencil thin guitar boy – think The Sundays, Mazzy Star, Belly. I like them, but then again, I’m a sucker for pretty girls who sing

Podcast News
Upcoming conversations with Virginia Pye, the author of River of Dust and Dreams of the Red Phoenix, followed by Elise Blackwell, author of several novels. Blackwell’s newest one is The Lower Quarter.

There’ll also be my regular monthly conversation with Stephen McClurg.

I’m still thinking of some other things to do with the podcast, mostly just to amuse myself, keep the feed active since I’m paying for it.

Over no the old Eunoia Solstice website, our cohort Eric Jenkins has restarted his podcast, now calling it The Unnamed Podcast. Looks like it’s going to be an on-going conversation about horror movies. If that’s your thing, head over there and give them a listen.

Writing & Submitting
I may be finally finished with Far Nineteen here in a couple of days. I’ll then put that aside for a few weeks and try to get started on something else.

The Palace of Winds is still making the rounds to agents. Finally starting to get rejections instead of dead silence. I’ve got a list of agents still to contact, and I’m adding to it. I’m also starting to build a list of small presses that still allow un-agented submissions.

As writers and publishers become “content providers” this whole business of making art instead of consumable entertainment product on an annual schedule, is becoming harder and harder. It seems like the big publishers are so sunk into the celebrity model combined with a serial model that the mid-list writer, just like the American Middle Class is being squeezed out of existence.

Random Thoughts
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the possibility that living in Kansas is hurting my chances of getting my second book published, but I don’t see any kind of a way to get out of here. Here, let me give you some numbers: $78,000, $486, $55,000, 87.9%, $39,000 (or 107% , $50,000), $61,000. And then I’ll add a word: Single.

The first number is my current student loan debt. The second is how much I pay on that debt every month. The third number is my current salary as “Senior Document Editor and Systems Coordinator” for a company that manufactures fertilizer. 87.9% is the cost of living difference between Wichita, KS and New York, NY and $39,000 is roughly how much more I’d need to make in order to live there. 107% is the cost of living difference between Wichita and San Francisco, CA, and $50,000 is how much more I’d have to make to live there (if we do L.A. it’s only a 59% difference, or about $24,000 more than I’m making now). $61,000 is the average media salary for an editor, but that depends on industry, so it includes acquisition editors at publishers big and small, TV editors, newspaper editors, etc.. Essentially, my current job is “technical editing” in that I edit business documents and operating procedures written by Subject Matter Experts so that the document can be easily read and understood by, well, laymen.

I tripped and fell backwards into this job. Previously, I’d been struggling along for most of my life in jobs that paid me roughly $26,000 per year, which is why my student loan debt looks so high. There were stretches, because I made attempts to live on my own in my 20s and 30s that I had to put the loans in forbearance so that I could do things like, repair my car so that I could get to my job, or pay for dental work when I didn’t have dental insurance, and hold my breath when I was unemployed for 9 months.

Now, between 1995 when I graduated from K-State and 1999 when I left for grad school, I lived in my mother’s basement. From 1999 to 2004, I lived in Colorado. First in a studio apartment that was so small the kitchen was a portable refrigerator, sink, and two burner stove tucked in a corner, then I moved to a 2 bedroom place with a friend. In 2004, I lost my job in Boulder and decided to return to Wichita, where I lived in my mother basement again until 2006 or 2007 when I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment not far from the bookstore where I worked full time. In 2008 or so, I moved in with my then girlfriend, Rebekah, and we lived together until 2014 when we broke up. By that time I had my current job and was able to afford a small one bedroom place of my own because, to be honest, there was no fucking way I was going to live in my mother’s basement again at the age of 43.

All of which is a long way of saying that I’m single, and so I’m my only support system. If I were married, I think I might have a bit more flexibility. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe some of my married writer friends would disagree . . . but they live on the east or west coast for the most part, near publishing/entertainment hubs, or work in universities scattered about. None of what I planned on in 1999 when I left for graduate school has happened except for getting my first book published. At this point in life, I don’t figure I’ll ever get married (and I’m pretty sure I’ll ever end up in a relationship again), and so any opportunity that presents itself has to be such that I can support myself on my own, continue to pay down my student loans, and be able to carve out sufficient time to write.

 

001 Dawn in a bag