Category Archives: First Saturday

First Saturday report, June

WRITING & SUBMITTING
I’m getting back to submitting The Palace of Winds, but I’m putting Far Nineteen back in the revision queue. I feel like it needs some more time and thought. Of course that means it might also be dead as a topical piece of literature. The new project is coming along slowly, and I’ve been distracted or, rather, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted. It’s hard to keep focus on a fantasy when the world seems to be teetering on a certain, final precipice. Will anyone even be interested in reading anymore? Will there be a social structure that permits publishing?

I’m also thinking about breaking up The Palace of Winds into three short novellas. The entire books is sitting at about 124,000 words and has three distinct parts that are written in slightly different styles. There’s the rather straightforward adventure style of the first section (The Journey Out), the noir inspired style of the second section (Year of the Monkey), the more moody domestic style of the shorter third and forth sections (A Sacrifice, and The Dead) which could easily be combined into one. Not all of sections are exactly the same length, but a good estimate is that at a total fo 380 pages, it could easily be divided into three 120 page novellas.

READING:
Finished rereading The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler for a special series of the podcast. That means I’ve not gotten to Michael Ondaatje’s new novel Warlight yet. I’m disappointed about that, but that’s the way life goes. Right now I’m reading Charles Willeford’s The Woman Chaser, along with Megan Abbott’s Die A Little for the next episode of the podcast.

This summer will be full of crime fiction. So, I might not get to Warlight unit the fall – along with all the other books sitting on my shelves.

PODCAST
I’m slowly getting the Ulysses series ready for Bloom’s Day. I think it’ll come out all at once. I’m also in the process of reading books and recording conversations with Todd Robins and Paul Fecteau on mystery, noir, and crime fiction. That series will be out in the fall, probably around the end of October. After that, there may be another little hiatus before I start in on a more regular series on books-to-film.

WATCHING
I’ve been watching movies a lot more these days, influenced, mostly, by all the time I’m spending with Julianne. It’s often hard to find movies she hasn’t seen, but I did share Shohei Imamura’s delightfully silly Warm Water Under a Red Bridge with her and she seemed to like it. That was my introduction to Imamura, and I’ve got two more of his films in digital versions that I’ve not yet watched — A Man Vanishes, and Vengeance is Mine — which are more serious. I’ve also seen his movies, Dr. Akagi, The Eel, and The Pornographers all of which I remember liking and would like to grab copies for my collection.

Saw Deadpool 2 last month. A little disappointed at the ‘fridgeing” bit, especially since I like to see Morena Baccarin, but life goes on. Overall, I liked it, but feel like it wasn’t quite as funny as I’d hoped it would be. Maybe that was because I sat through the first 20 minutes of the movie wondering if the wait staff had forgotten my order (in case you don’t know, the “Warren” Old Town Theatre Grill (now run by Regal) is a theatre/restaurant and usually they bring orders to your seat so fast you’re mostly done before the movie starts). I never did get my drink.

I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story—and they didn’t fuck it up. It was quite good. I suspect there’ll be a sequel even though some are saying Solo is a financial flop. There’s still some unseen Han Solo history to cover and that reappearance of a certain Sith lord once thought dead makes things interesting. I hope you watched the animated series, or you’ll be baffled.

Added a forgotten “classic” to my movie collection recently. I first saw The Blood of Heroes (Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Delroy Lindo, Anna Katarina, and Vincent D’Onofrio) sometime in the early 90s. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since. TBoH falls into the post-apocalyptic dystopian genre of “loose” sci-fi with utterly collapsed civilizations (there are no space ships or advanced tech) and it appeals to me a lot more than the shiny, sleek, space-suited variety. It’s probably because I don’t exactly have any faith that humanity can improve itself. Star Trek is a nice fantasy, even with all the fighting and existential crises that seem to plague the Federation (Star Wars is Space Opera and not, technically “speculative” because it happened “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”) Things like Firefly/Serenity, or Blade Runner are more believable to me as future outcomes of humanity than Star Trek, while I see TBoH as the place we’ll most likely end up. Greed and stupidity, often working together and not recognizing that they are opposite sides of the same wooden nickel (the greedy (i.e.: rich) don’t see their own stupidity, and the stupid think they’re only a single good break away from joining the ranks of the greedy (i.e.: rich)).

The whole of human history is a class war. Why wouldn’t the future be the same?

RANDOM THOUGHTS
I was going to write about yet another disappointing run-in with a Wichita writer, but decided against it. For a brief moment, I thought of replacing it with something else, but forgot what that something else was going to be. Something profound, obviously. Tried writing broadly about the disappointing encounter, but after a few hundred words decided to throw it out. The incurious will remain incurious and that’s that.

Instead, I’ll go with this: Why I don’t like going to the gym.

I’ve actually thought about it a lot, trying to sort out the block so I can fully make use of my YMCA membership. I guess the block is this: if I’m going to exert myself while remaining in one place, I’d prefer to exert myself mentally. Weight lifting, stationary bikes, treadmills, aerobics type classes, even yoga and simple in-home activities like push-ups and sit-ups/crunches/planks—or whatever is popular for the abdominals lately—just doing X number of reps or X amount of time doing something—despite the effort put forth—feels kind of like wasted time to me. Running outdoors, biking, and—since I live near a river, I’m considering buying a kayak—kayaking appeal to me a great deal more. The scenery changes. The environmental has variables to be overcome. There’s room for improvisation (I think I’ll take a left here today instead of a right, etc.).

But most of all, there’s a kind of privacy to being outdoors and exercising. I spend 40hrs a week in a cubicle farm. Places like that are . . . inhumane. I have to listen to other people breathe, chew, digest, fart, and blabber about things. It feels like someone is always looking over my shoulder. Hell, I sometimes I even get the impression that people follow me around at work to make sure I’m not fucking off. That paranoia stems directly from that sense of constantly having your personal space invaded that comes from a cubicle farm. The only thing that approaches private time when you work in a cubicle farm is going to the restroom and hoping to get maybe five minutes sitting in a quiet stall with no one around you.

The gym is like the office in that way. Someone is always a bit too close for comfort.

Going for a run, a bike ride, or a paddle, even though you’re outside and publicly visible, you’re in a private space. No one is sprawling their sloppy selves all over the place right next to you. You’re not having to deal with inconsiderate fellow users of shared equipment, their grimy I’ve-got-a-cold-but-I-came-here-anyway-to-touch-everything-around-you carelessness. I’d much rather dodge the piles of goose shit on the sidewalk.

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First Saturday Report, May 2018

WRITING & SUBMITTING
Haven’t gotten back on the submission mission, just yet. I’ve been working pretty steadily on the new project, reading a bit for that (see below), and gearing up for the next special series of the podcast (see below).
I like being in the trenches of a writing project, submitting is the pain in the ass thing I procrastinate about the most, which is why I’d really like to have an agent, but . . . The more search for one, the more I think finding an agent is like trying to find a girlfriend through online dating apps.

I sucked at online dating. Ever since I stopped trying to use it, I’ve been trying to figure out why I sucked at it. Here are my thoughts: and yes, these thoughts, with very little adaptation, apply to courting an agent.

1) I read the whole profile, and if the woman says she’s only interested in men between the ages of 28 and 38, I eliminate myself because I’m 47 and I won’t be one of those creepy douche-nuggets who appears to ignore someone’s stated preferences. When it comes to agents, I read their bios (if they have them online) and I look into their existing list. If they’re not interested in “literary fiction” or if all the books they’ve represented have garish, shiny, cartoon-like covers associated with the sub-genres (seriously, you can’t know who every writer is, nor spend your time reading all the writers an agent represents, but the publishing industry knows how to package a book for its intended audience (even if they sometimes get it wrong) and only satirical literary fiction would employ they cover art tropes of say Romance, or Sci-Fi – which is to say that, for the most part these days, yes, you can judge a book by its cover).

2) Again, because I read the whole profile, if a woman doesn’t read – or claims to only read, let’s say, self-help, I strike her from the list. I write “literary” fiction – which is to say I write whatever the hell I want and use genre elements as a part of my tool kit, rather than try to fit into any particular genre. So, if a woman or agent (oddly, most agents appear to be women) doesn’t appear to be interested in reading anything I might write, I’m not going to bother her because, frankly, she’ll be uninterested in anything I do and, as a writer in Kansas, I suffer quite enough neglect already.

3) I have a strange sense of humor, I’m socially awkward sometimes, and extremely self-critical. These things make it hard to write a profile and get someone’s attention in a small space with a limited amount of time. My dating profiles tend to be too obscure, or too snobby, or too formal, or too devoid of personality, which makes me easy to overlook considering the heavy amount of douchebags out there shotgunning messages to every woman on the dating site. In other words, all of the women on the dating sites have their defenses up to begin with (and all agents have their defenses up against unprofessional, and sometimes unstable wannabes) and since I can’t seem to figure out how to charm my way past the filters they’d put in place to keep the angry, entitled, aggressive assholes at bay, I seem like a plain, beige, blankness.

4) There are always more men on dating site than women, partly because of the aggressive entitled douchey-ness of men online, but also because, well, of social gender norms. Women get pursued in person because that’s how we train men, and so a woman, depending on her sociability, work environment, friend network, etc. will have just as much luck, if not better luck, meeting the right guy by going out in the world and doing the things she likes to do. That means guys like me, with loose, or small, social networks (all of my close friends in town are married and I seem to be the only single person I know, even at work), have to rely on diligent commitment to online dating, or luck. The literary equivalent to this is the literary conference. There are always more writers than agents, and because of the internet, the agents are getting bombarded by every delusional amateur who thinks they’re they next J.K. Rowling, but are actually more like a less talented (if that’s even possible) version of Dan Brown or E.L. James. The literary conference is a filter like a circle of friends, or trusted co-workers.

Luck, at least in the dating scene, did finally break in my favor a few months ago. It’s a longish, complicated story that if told as shortly as possible goes like this: someone I met a long time ago when I was dating someone else read a recent post I made on facebook and sent me a message, turned out we both had an interest in each other way back when but completely misread the other’s potential interest.

Maybe I need to go back and recycle a few of the agents who turned down my first novel.

READING:
After finishing Ulysses, I was supposed to pick up something else and get it read before starting in on the next special series for the podcast. I haven’t done that yet; however, the reading for the next special series is much, much lighter than Ulysses, so I should be able to squeeze a few additional things in.

On the agenda over the summer: The Little Prince, and The Long Goodbye (re-read) (podcast), plus some books by friends and other associates I’ve not gotten around the reading yet, such as Pauls Toutonghi, Laird Hunt, Brian Evensen, Andrea Portes, Troy James Weaver, Colin Dickey, and so on. Not to mention the host of books I’ve been hoarding, unread, for years like The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes, and Women without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur to name just two of what seems like a hundred or more.
                
I read a short essay titled “The Emergence of Metaformic Consciousness” by poet and feminist activist Judy Grahn, which she adapted from her book Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. In it, she posits, (in my very reduced rendering here) that when the early human mind began to see the pattern, the synchrony, between the moon and women’s monthly bleeding, and began to react to the implied power behind it, our early ancestors began to slowly, over millennia, develop rituals to understand and contain the power, thus creating, first, consciousness, and then all the other building blocks of civilization. Considering the depth and ferociousness behind modern misogyny’s attacks on women, it feels true. In fact, most of western civilization seems hyper concerned with controlling and containing women. It’s as if they posed some existential threat to the very existence of the world.

Misogyny is

PODCAST
The Ulysses podcast is finished and now I’m in the process of editing audio to get it ready for the Bloom’s Day release. But there is no rest for me on the horizon. I’m launching into another special series, this time one the mystery genre (for lack of a better term). I do need to get going on some filler episodes while Stephen and his family are still resettling after the home accident that left them living out of a hotel room for a while. Once Stephen and Co. are settled, and the school semester is over, we’ll be back to our monthly chats. Some of the ideas for the one-off episodes are to talk about query letters, and other aspects fo the publishing business. Then, in the fall, after the mystery podcast is released, I’m hoping to start another, longer running series with my . . . am I too old now to use the term “girlfriend?” Anyway, her name is Julianne, and she co-writes a blog called “We Minored In Film,” and we’re thinking about doing a series discussing books and their various film adaptations. Between the two of us we have four degrees in English (2 BAs and 2 Masters), so that should be fun.

WATCHING
It’s been a grand time catching movies with Julianne. We recently saw the Natalie Portman lead movie Annihilation, and the animated Isle of Dogs, which I loved. It put me in mind of my dog, Lady, long deceased now. I got her for Christmas when I was 8 or 9 years old, and she died when I was 21 or 22. I haven’t had a dog since. Someday, I’d like to live in a place with a fenced yard so it feels more practical to have another dog.

Julianne and I have also been watching movies at home. She’s a horror fan, and I’m not, but sometimes people will bend the rules if properly persuaded. She got me to watch The Conjuring recently. It was ok, better than what I expected for a horror movie in that no one’s actions seemed illogical, and the bouts of irrationality seemed to fall into standard human modes of irrationality rather than the realm of eye-rolling horror movie stupid. That’s my usual reason for disliking horror movies: there’s always a slew of characters who have witnessed a few people die or get possessed or whatever the big bad scary thing does to people, and then they do something similar to this: the band of plucky would-be survivors/victims get to a supposedly safe place away from the big bad scary thing, and one idiot, proclaiming their safety, says they have nothing to worry about and then promptly gets whacked sending the remaining survivors scurrying about screaming. At least in The Conjuring, supposedly based on true events, no one did anything truly stupid, and the irrationality was based in fear, not in the defiance of fear.

Now, the other reason I tend to dislike horror movies is because I simply don’t understand the desire to frighten yourself with spiritual, psychic, or gory violence as a form of “fun.” The faceless, implacable, nearly invincible killer, the centuries old, immortal witch baby-eater, devils, demons, satan, incubi, succubi, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, zombies, or Cthulhu – these are all a manifestation of our primal fears of the unknown and the mysterious. Scaring myself with that stuff for fun seems ridiculous considering the very real human capacity to inflict true horror on each other: mass shootings, lynchings, public execution by traffic stop, genocide, war, nuclear annihilation, serial killers, home invasions, and so on. The real world seems quite frightening enough. Evil is real and it lives inside everyone.

I don’t enjoy being frightened, and I especially don’t enjoy being manipulated in that fashion especially when there’s nothing to do about it (I can’t “fight back” so to speak, except by turning it off, which is “not watching a horror movie”). After movies like The Conjuring, where the horror, the evil, has been externalized and endured, it rebounds. For someone with an anxious personality to begin with, a highly sensitive personality, a “good” horror film activates my nightmare capacity. The imagined horror of the film turns into an uncontrollable imagining of the real horror of things like the Carr Brother murders, of the Manson Family, the bloody Benders, Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, H. H. Holmes, BTK, the Green River Killer, Tommy Lynn Sells, and other mass killers. Then let’s not forget the non-sentient horrors out there like the ebola virus, classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and the fact that the world is experiencing a acceleration of antibiotic resistance that could lead to a total, world wide resistance to antibiotics, which could leave us unable to treat even “simple” infections like pneumonia or a resurgence of something like bubonic plague as a mass killer. And, just like us, viruses and bacteria evolve, change, mutate and so who knows what future horrors are waiting to infect us (a “zombie” may one day be real).

I suppose there’s also a bit of the asshole fan factor about why I dislike horror movies. Like snooty vegetarians or completist nerds, you know, those people who adopt a condescending tone when they find out someone isn’t a vegetarian or doesn’t get all the subtle fan-boy nuances of the obsessed-over object, horror move obsessed fans can be the worst. I’ve had too many horror fans adopt a tone and tack of engagement that is best compared to playground taunts of being a chicken, a scaredy cat, a pussy – as if experiencing fear in the face of something frightening meant you were defective.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I had written something else for this section, and then threw it all out Saturday morning when I found out that Bobbie Louise Hawkins had passed away. Strangely, the random thoughts I deleted had been about funerals.

Bobbie was my advisor in graduate school, and one of those people who, despite my inability to keep in touch with her over the years, was incredibly important and had an outsized impact on my life. Ever since I sat down to have her read one of my stories out loud to me to the present, I occasionally hear her voice in my head when I’m writing or revision fiction. In particular, I hear this specific thing she said. I wrote it down the moment she said it, and I keep it on a slip of paper pinned to a cork board that sometimes hangs over my desk. It reads “Your organism will inform you that you suck.”

I treat it as a reminder that my internal editor and critic is useful and should be listened to, within reason of course. People don’t often trust their native intelligence, which is something I remember Bobbie talking about frequently in the workshops I took with her. If you learn to trust your native intelligence, then your organism will indeed inform you when you’re not doing well, and you should be smart enough to listen and correct. The trick, of course, is to be smart enough to know when you do, in fact, suck at what you’re doing and to be able to figure out how to get better. Once you trust yourself in that way, it’s easy to avoid being self-critical to the point of creative paralysis.

During my first summer, Bobbie was the moderator for a panel discussion with Robin Blaser, Bob Creeley, and Michael Ondaatje. I downloaded a copy of the recording of that discussion from the Naropa archive because it was a turning point in my life as a writer, and Bobbie was there to shepherd me through it. I became an admirer of Ondaatje because of that panel discussion. Bobbie also pointed me to John Berger, Lawrence Durrell, and Colette. Bobbie, like all of those writers, had a gift for evoking a deep emotional resonance in her work, a tone that seemed to attach a much deeper significance to what might seem to be otherwise simple language. This was something she tried to teach in a class of hers that I took called “The Feeling Tone” where we read Ondaatje and Colette among others.

If you ever find yourself browsing books somewhere in a second hand shop, or online, and come across one of her books, buy it, read it. You won’t regret it.


First Saturday Report April 7, 2018

WRITING & SUBMITTING
My submission routine has taken a beating lately. I’ve been preoccupied with a few other things. Namely James Joyce and Ulysses, but there have been a few other distractions. I have, however, been slowly plugging away on a new project, and I’m nearing the “100 page threshold.” It’s little more than an arbitrary barrier I maintain based on something Bobbie Louise Hawkins once said, which was, basically, if you get to page 100 then you know you’ve got something so you might as well finish it.

I’ve been thinking about doing another revision to my novel Far Nineteen. The longer it sits, the more I begin to feel I’ve missed something, thematically. It’s a book about race, but it’s not that kind of book about race – or, at least, I don’t think so. There are certain types of books about race that white people seem to write: first, the obviously racist book about race (think The Turner Diaries). Another type is the white savior book about race, and its less feel good version “The white man’s burden.” Then there’s the rather simplistic racists are bad type of book, which is mostly about white guilt, and protestations that “not all white people are racists.” I wanted to set out to write a story that would tackle the idea of white privilege and how, even in liberal, equality minded white people who want to do the right thing, their very privilege is often a barrier to true empathy and understanding – primarily that white people do have an “out” and that they can disengage or withdraw from the struggle for equality and justice (and still believe themselves part of the struggle) in a way that those under the heel of oppression never can. The longer the book sits, and the more I read (everything from tweets and posts from African American writers and “Twitter celebs” to magazine articles in The Crisis (I’ve yet to fully tackle the recent assortment of books I’ve acquired by African American writers like bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Ibram X. Kendi, and James Baldwin).

White people don’t wrestle enough with the notion of white privilege, so Far Nineteen has been my effort to do exactly that – and the longer it sits, the more I begin to feel I have more to do with it. So, maybe once I break the 100 page threshold in the new project, I’ll set it aside and go through Far Nineteen again.

In the meantime, I need to get back to sending out The Palace of Winds. I pumped out the first draft back in 2010, and have since lost count of the rewrites and revisions. It’s at nearly 125,000 words (380 pages typed), which for a while I thought was large, but really, it’s not. With my rather spare style it’s a fast read.

READING:
Ulysses. Still.

PODCAST
The podcast is on a bit of an accidental hiatus. Stephen has had a minor home tragedy involving water and a collapsed ceiling. So, once that gets resolved we’ll be back on schedule for our monthly conversations. We’ll be going back to an older format.

Getting ready to record the penultimate episode of the Ulysses series with Delia. Once those are in the can, I’ll edit them and get them ready to release on or around Bloomsday.

After I finish recording with Delia, I’ll start a new project with a pair of writers. know, Todd R. and Paul F. that will discuss crime and noir fiction. I hope to have that series ready in the fall.

In the meantime, I’m going to start filling the dead space with some short one-offs. Since I’ve been reading Ulysses and will start in on crime fiction, I don’t know that I’ll be able to rope in any author conversations for a while, but we’ll see.

WATCHING
Ok, so, I broke down and finally watched Game of Thrones. It was good. I liked it. But what’s the big fucking deal? Gratuitous tits and swords? Let’s discuss the notion of gratuitous tits: these are tits that appear for no discernible reason. Was it necessary for random Dothraki extras to have one boob hanging out while simply standing in a crowd? Melisandre’s dress came off so frequently and pointlessly I thought it was a wardrobe malfunction and the first director’s response was “well, that happened, guess we’ll use it,” and after that the all the other episode directors didn’t realize it was a wardrobe malfunction and just threw it a disrobing scene out of some prurient fascination with the actress. When I was younger, I would have been thrilled at the abundant display of naked women, but now, considering my own maturity and the general rise in awareness of Hollywood’s deep, misogynistic and sexual exploitation and abuse of women in particular, from the aggressively manipulative Harvey Weinstein and the rapes attributed to various actors to the somewhat more mild stories of Joss Whedon’s infidelity and the gray, complex and muddy story of Aziz Ansari, every time an actress takes off her clothes I can’t help but wonder if she was pressured to do it, if she felt that to refuse she would risk losing the job, an income, future opportunities.

The fact that there are naked men in GOT, that men have experienced similar stories of sexual assault and exploitation in Hollywood, does little to lessen my concern. Terry Crews and Brendan Frasier are to be applauded for their courage in coming forward with their stories of being exploited, especially since doing so not only comes with the standard, shame, victim blaming and disbelief that women endure, but with laughter and, oddly enough, a diminishment in their “masculine prestige,” which in a patriarchal society is the very thing that often enables the masculine entitlement that leads to a man committing sexual assault. Patriarchy sets up a man to feel he must assert his masculinity through sexual conquest, and, sometimes, that involves the apparent humiliation of another man’s patriarchal masculinity.

Anyway, I’m off the topic of things watched, and the gratuitous tit shot.

A new friend sat me down to watch Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. She hasn’t had the chance yet to show me the other two, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, but I’m sure we’ll get to them. I was quite impressed with the first one. I sometimes forget how much I like Ethan Hawke.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I feel like I’m entering that phase of life where I’m finally starting to see the uselessness of complaining, and of being perpetually grumpy. Not that it won’t still happen, but rather that I hope not to make it a center piece of my personality. Quiet endurance is a bit more important. If I make a choice to do something, go some where, order something, and it isn’t up to my expectations, or it fails in some way (too loud, too crowded, too cold, too hot, too slow, too fast – too whatever), I have a choice: further make it uncomfortable and awkward by complaining or pitching a fit (something I’ve been very good about doing in the past), or I can take a deep breath, let it roll away, and find a less destructive, more tolerant way to cope. It’s not that I’m adopting the “why can’t you be sunny all the time” philosophy that some of the geriatric critics of my general pessimistic bitterness have pushed (old teachers, ex-girlfriend’s grandparents), but the truth is, I’m tired of pushing people away by my general prickliness and anger.

I have in my head this model of behavior in the world that I hope to embrace. Let’s call it active passivity – sure it’s an oxymoron, but it’s founded on this idea of “sung (here, here),” which was a concept I first encountered while learning tai chi. The world, other people, don’t care about my comfort, or someone else’s. The world, other people, care about their own comfort. I care about my comfort, and, I think, part of that care for my comfort is transforming from “why isn’t this they way I wanted it to be” to simply not getting bent out of shape about disappointing things I can’t control, i.e. other people’s noise, poor service, etc. To be sung is to be rooted, solidly, and yet still flexible. Water is sung. Cats exhibit sung. When the world encroaches on our comfort zone, we can be rigid, complain, fuss, or we can be sung and flow through or around the encroachment. But remember, hitting water with enough force will shatter the object and the water will remain. A cat has claws for a reason. I’m trying not to be concrete or stone. I’m trying not to have my claws out all the time.

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First Saturday Report: March 2018

WRITING & SUBMITTING
The submissions pace has slowed down a bit, honestly, because I feel like I’m running out of agents who appear to represent the kind of fiction I write. I also can’t tell if the dismal response rate is because I’m doing something wrong in my query letters, or if my one book was just a fluke. Moving on to submitting to publishers now for The Palace of Winds. Still sending Far Nineteen out to agents.

Working on a new project. It’s been knocking about in my head for a few years and it finally started to really take shape after reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell.

READING:
Right now, my reading is completely consumed by James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’m pretty sure reading it is the literary/English Major’s equivalent of a snipe hunt. Or I’m stupid. Maybe I’m stupid.

PODCAST
Speaking of Ulysses, I’m not reading it for fun (maybe I should be?). I’m reading it for the podcast along with my grad school friend, Delia. We hope to have it finished and to start releasing episodes around Bloomsday, June 16,2018.

WATCHING
On a lark one night when I should have been reading Ulysses, I watched Barefoot in the Park, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Then I watched Our Souls At Night, with Robert and Jane. Although Barefoot is a classic, and based on a Neil Simon play, the movie is, well a bit of froth. Thoroughly enjoyable, funny, and classic froth, but froth nonetheless. Souls, based on the Kent Haruf novel (which I’ve not read, but may add to the list), was wonderful. I’m glad that places like Netflix are making space for small, quiet, mature, low-budget movies that, if we relied on Hollywood’s blockbuster system alone, would never get made.

RANDOM THOUGHTS
I was going to complain about how much I hate Dropbox, and was so disappointed at having to use it if I wanted to sync up Scrivener projects between my devices (a MacBook Pro and iPad mini). Dropbox is a memory hog, and even though I don’t use a lot of memory intensive apps, it still seemed to suck up everything and slow down my system. I don’t want to store the project fully in the cloud, all I want to do is to be able to copy the project I’m working on in my MacBook to a cloud service and then open the app on my iPad and viola, the new version is there. I don’t mind working from the cloud drive on my iPad, since space is limited there (my MacBook has 1TB of disk space, the iPad only 32GB). There are workarounds, but they all involve downloading the project to the iPad, which takes up space, then opening it in the app which then forces the app to create a duplicate file in the cloud service. Sigh. So I switched from Scrivener to Storyist, but I don’t like Storyist as much as I do Scrivener. I wish Scrivener would tweak its software so that I could use one of Derpbox’s competitors, like Sync.com.

The devil kitten (Ursula) is starting to calm down. I think we’re coming to an understanding. Mostly, I think she’s beginning to realize that being petted is enjoyable – and I’m starting to get a better grip on the fact that all she really wants is to play and be near me. Silly girl-cat. Dawn, the older cat, is also coming to terms with the situation, and is always happy when I plop down on the couch long enough for her to take a nap on my lap. It’s thoroughly charming that they meet me at the door when I come home from work every day.

I’m 46, and I’ve started getting emotional lately. It’s strange. A moving story on a podcast, an emotionally powerful movie, a documentary about injustice – and suddenly I’m getting choked up, little tears coming out. Is this “man-o-pause?” I do need to increase my exercise routine, which should be easier with the arrival of spring, but seriously, I think I need a work-out buddy. Going to the Y by myself and squeezing in between all the younger, fitter people there makes me uncomfortable. Plus I’m not really looking to bulk up, or turn myself into a lumpy stack of muscle. I just need to lose about 15 pounds (as of this morning I weighed 197 lbs. – that after being about 192 lbs. about a month ago and hovering at about 189 -190 in early December). Winter, depression, and anxiety… and next thing I know I’m stuffing shitty food in my face. I know, 197 lbs, that’s not bad – but it is. I’m not worried about my weight because I’m “fat.” I’ve got a paunch is all, but it generally translates into a cholesterol level over 250, which is, supposedly, not good. When I weighed nearly 230 lbs., my cholesterol was over 300. Getting below 200 lbs shaved a little more than 100 points off my cholesterol. If I can get my weight down to 180 lbs, then I might get that cholesterol level below 200 and get my doctor off my back about having to take a goddamn statin. The hard part is sticking to the routine through holiday shit, podcast projects, writing, errands and chores, illness, injury, day job, and maintaining social connections with friends – which, if you didn’t know, is something that 40-something men start to lose if they’re not married. And strong social connections are one of the key markers to living a healthy life. Actually having friends, and maintaining close personal relationships is just as good for you as eating right and exercise. So, yeah, I need a work-out buddy, a running partner, a gym spotter.

Who’s with me?

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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.


2018: First Saturday Report

        Most people I know are in agreement that 2016 and 2017 were not very good years. Shit years, in fact. 2018 looks to be just as turbulent with a greedy, fragile ego-ed, cheeto skinned dictator in charge of the world’s largest military, a bunch of venal, craven, greedy fucks running congress, Russians still meddling in our media and elections, playing stupid, uninformed people off of each other, and Robert Mueller taking is damn sweet time.

        I need to renew memberships or donate to the ACLU, the NAACP, NOW, and a few local campaigns. We here in Kansas almost kept Ron Estes out of congress, but the Kobach fix was still too powerful. At the same time that I have hope, I’m also fearful that we, as a country, haven’t completely reached the bottom yet.

        But this isn’t a post about politics. This is me trying to return to a good habit I had in 2015 with the hope of keeping my creative wheels greased, and my fingers on the keyboard instead of knitted idly under my chin.

        First Saturday Catch-up is now the First Saturday report.

        So, what the hell have I been up to besides some long winded social posts and a few new podcast episodes? Let’s find out.

WRITING & SUBMITTING
        Since 2015, I’ve wrapped up work on a novel called The Palace of Winds, which is both a loose retelling of Jason and the Golden Fleece and a mythological imagining of my paternal grandfather’s life during the Great Depression. My grandfather died in 1992 while I was still an undergrad. We’d never really talked or got to know each other, and he was never much of a storyteller, at least to me. So, it was quite a surprise to me at his funeral to hear that he’d been a road kid during the Depression and hopped freight trains across the country, that spent time living in Los Angeles where he worked for a boxing promoter, then lived in Montana where he herded sheep, and finally sold WearEver cookware door-to-door in Philadelphia. Then, when my father died in 2010, I realized that my half-brother, who was only 10 years old at the time, would never know our father the way I did, and would know even less than I did about our grandfather.

        No family should be without a story to tell, or a sense of where and from whom they descended. My dad’s side of the family has been notoriously devoid of that kind of history, and that sense of origin. By comparison, my mother’s family can trace their lineage back to a specific farm in Lower Saxony. So, not being much of a genealogist and more of a “mythologist,” I decided that since anyone can, really, trace the facts, I needed to write the myth of my father’s family as I would have wanted to see it growing up, and to do it as honestly and fairly as I could. This way, even if I never have children of my own, at least my half brother, whose mother made it quite clear she didn’t want me anywhere near her son (because I’m “sick” or something i.e. non-Christian), will have some kind of paternal family story.

        I’ve also finished another novel called Far Nineteen. In it, I’m trying to wrestle with the idea of race and white privilege. The fictional city at the center of the novel was inspired by Tulsa, Oklahoma and the 1921 riot there that wiped out the prosperous Greenwood district. I also threw in a version of the Plymouth Belvedere that Tulsa buried with a time capsule in 1957. I created the fictional city so that I could reduce the amount of historical research I had to do, and be able to fiddle with the timeline and put my characters in the middle of it all and not have to address actual historical figures and sequences. I also needed to have one character be a witness to most of the central events in the story.

        Since finishing Far Nineteen over the summer of 2017, I’ve been cautiously and slowly sending out queries for these books to agents. No luck to speak of. I’m tempted to go in and do some more revisions.

        Lately, I’ve been fiddling around with two potential projects. One project is about a pair of men, one a widower, who have nothing in common but the widower’s dead wife. The other project is a follow-up to the Palace of Winds and is, loosely, about my late father.

        After reading an old short story at a literary Christmas party, and reading Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s excellent new collection To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, I’ve decided to wander back into short fiction to see what I can do. It’s been years since I tried any short fiction, so we’ll see how it goes. For the last decade or so, I’ve been focusing on writing long works because, in some way, it seemed logical. With a full time job, the podcast, and life in general (reading, laundry, seeing friends occasionally), I felt that my writing time would best be spent on novels. Maybe it was a mistake. It’s been so long since The Evolution of Shadows as published I’m kind of back where I was in the years before it ever happened. I even have two finished manuscripts. This time, though, I think both are pretty good and since they can’t (or maybe they can?) both be published at the same time, it might not be a bad idea to turn my hand back to short fiction while I try to get The Palace of Winds and Far Nineteen sold.

        I’ve gotten 48 rejections for The Palace of Winds so far. I have not included any submissions sent since the end of November, nor the submissions for Far Nineteen, which has only been sent out 3 times to agents and once to a contest (not selected). One agent requested the full manuscript for The Palace of Winds, but I’ve not heard back from that agent yet. I’ll count it as a reject at the end of January. When the rejections for The Palace of Winds reaches 50, I’ll stop sending it to agents and start a focused assault on small presses – even though TPOW has already been rejected by 8 publishers.

So, the score so far:

The Palace of Winds: 56 rejections, 1 request, 2 still out.
Far Nineteen: 1 rejection, 3 still out.

WATCHING:

        I’ve begun to lose interest in the comic book/superhero TV shows. I suspect I lack whatever gene would allow me to enjoy extended serializations like comic books and soap operas. It’s probably why I never really got into comic books themselves that much. I guess, to me, at some point, a superhero would get his or her personal shit together and when the next new villain shows up, despite that new villain’s never before seen powers or skills the hero wouldn’t be caught so flatfooted and dumbfounded. And can we please fuck-off with all the goddamned alternate reality and time travel plots?

        Sadly, when western civilization dies, comic book superheroes will probably be seen by some future archeologist in the same way we see the Greek myths and heroes.

        It seems I’m desperately in need of some grown-up visual entertainment and storytelling that is compact and precise. To that end, I’m looking forward to seeing The Shape of Water when it finally comes to my town. As I’m writing this, it’s listed as showing, but there are no showtimes.

        Until then, I suppose I’ll have to rely on my iTunes movie collection. I’ve got a couple of Shohei Imamura movies I’ve not yet watched: A Man Vanishes and Vengeance is Mine. There’s also the Marilyn Monroe movie Clash by Night, and the 1977 movie Sorcerer.

        In the coming weeks I’m going to see if I can hunt down a blu-ray or DVD of the 1998 Walter Murch re-edit of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. The version advertised on iTunes turned out to be the sloppy, studio fucked-with 1958 theatrical release.

        Just before posting this, I watched the 2015 adaptation of The Little Prince on Netflix. In addition to being exquisitely animated, I feel like it’s incredibly and beautifully subversive. It was very emotional to watch for several reasons. First, its gentle understanding of the way adults forget childhood and the cruel monotony of adult life was brutal, and second, what truly shattered me was knowing how much joy this movie would have brought to my friend Jaime if she were alive to see it. The Little Prince was one of her favorite stories and this film would have pleased her in every way possible.

        And I am tired and I am sad, and the businessman is winning.

READING:
        
I have big reading plans for this year. My reading has been off-pace for a long while now, despite the continuous stream of book purchases. At first, it started with a string of novels I bought and then lost interest in, and that seemed to grow into a habit of reading a bit more non-fiction. And then a cheeto ascended to the White House and so sometimes I give in to my baser urges and just watch Netflix.

        There are three shelves of double stacked, unread novels alone, and another two shelves of non-fiction I’ve not read. Basically, I could take one of my five shelf bookcases and fill it with unread books, two deep. That’s how little reading I’ve succeeded in finishing the last few years. I won’t be able to read them all in a year, but I’m going to try clearing at least one shelf. Of course, the book buying won’t stop. Micheal Ondaatje has a new novel coming out in 2018, and I’m sure one or two of my writer acquaintances will have a book come out.

        My reading in the last months of 2017 included Duncan B. Barlow’s creepy metaphysical neo-noir The City Awake. It’s an excellent book all around, but it might especially be of interest if you’re a fan of noir or crime fiction and tired of the genre’s more formulaic writers. Duncan was recently a guest on the The Outrider Podcast, and you can hear more about The City, Awake, its origins, and Duncan there. Then, go buy the book.

        Another book I recently finished was Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s lovely and stark collection of stories To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts. There is a lot of what I like in this collection: broken hearts, death, memory, failure . . . all those things that make us far more human, and humane, than any success that might happen to us. The lack of broad, paying venues for short fiction these days, and the homogenization of the publishing world in general, often squeezes out the finely crafted, graceful stories that remind us how significant and elegant the short story form is, in favor of the shocking, the experimental, the gimmicky, or the grotesque. It’s hard to keep up with the remaining university journals, especially being on a tight, struggling writer with a day job type of budget, so I’m doubly pleased by Caitlin’s collection as evidence that not all short stories that get published in small journals and then collected into books started out as comic listicles.

        On the non-fiction side, the most recent book I finished was Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth by Joseph Campbell. It’s a collection of previously unpublished essays and lectures, on Arthurian legends, plus his master’s thesis on the Dolorous Stroke. I sometimes get the feeling that the literary community, and the various folklore, mythology, and theological communities, are all divided over Campbell. Maybe I’m just making it up, I don’t know, but I sometimes read writer types saying their story is based on the mono-myth, or that it’s structured on Campbell’s hero’s journey, as if somehow, that makes it a better story than other stories, or more deep and meaningful all by itself. I sometimes hear other writer types poo-poo Campbell and the idea of the mono-myth as too simplistic or inaccurate. There was an article on Patheos a while back by a folklorist about why folklorists hate Joseph Campbell, which left me kind of baffled. It seemed more like a defense of their existence disguised as a criticism of Campbell’s work rather than a serious criticism of Campbell’s work (which I would be very interested in reading). The basic take-away I got from the piece was that Campbell is an ethnocentric reductionist who didn’t understand scholarly history, and had a half-baked understanding or interpretation of Jungian archetypes and so you shouldn’t read him unless you then follow it up with lots of reading by modern folklorists who have gotten it right and are much smarter.

        I find that claim specious, and petty. It seems instead that what the author and the other folklorists she mentions are really upset about is non-academics only knowing Campbell’s very first book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, or watching the PDS series The Power of Myth, rather than reading the folklorists these academics admire, and thinking folklore and mythology are the same thing. I’ve run across a number of writers hoping to imbue their work with deep meaning (or Star Wars like acclaim) by using Campbell’s outline of the mono-myth as a plotting device and mistakenly thinking that doing so will imbue their plinky adventure story with deep symbolic meaning. In the first instance these non-academics think they can reduce the entire academic discipline of folklore studies to a manageable nugget by comparing it to a book published in 1947, and largely written when Campbell was in his (douchebag) thirties. I’d be upset too if people kept reducing my life’s work to simplistic comparisons to The Great Gatsby, or, for that matter, Huckleberry Finn. Second, Ms. Jorgensen’s assertion about “writers” returning to Campbell’s “problematic lens” reeks of arrogance and superiority in it’s assumption that “writers” (does she mean to lump the self-published, serialized sci-fi writer in with the Nobel laureate literary writer) are picking up Campbell, believing it to be the end all and be all of narratological wisdom and sweeping all of literary history (which includes myths, folktales, fairy tails, legends, etc. with all their contradictory variety) into a single dung beetle’s ball of shit to make some poorly misunderstood assertion that all stories are equal.

        As a writer who is interested in, aware of, and concerned with the problems of story and narratology, I’m aware of the subtle variations in narrative structure and intent, and how stories that appear similar on the surface can and do mean very different things depending on the audience, the social context, and authorial intent – we can see that not only in myths and stories from different cultures in the past, but in the way people from different cultures react to more recent things like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. We can even see something similar over time within the same culture, for example how America has revised and reinterpreted The Battle of Little Big Horn from gallant, heroic last stand, to tragic mistake, to brutal comeuppance for racist hegemony. I think Jorgensen and her anti-Campbell cohort do a disservice to Campbell’s entire work in comparative mythology as great as the lay person does to their work in folkloristics, by appearing to denigrate Campbell as a half-baked, ill-read ethnocentric and seemingly basing that position only on his first book alone. Attacking the scholarship of someone who lived and wrote his most famous work almost 70 years ago, in his thirties, and who then followed that with the four volume series The Masks of God where he addressed the development of myths in their cultural contexts, is petulant.

        It also seems to me that their argument accusing Campbell of missing or flattening the surrounding context of culturally specific myths, legends, fairy tales, and folk stories is, in a way, unfair and misses the context of Campbell’s work, which was written by someone who witnessed the First World War as a teenager, then witnessed the Spanish Civil and the Second World War as an adult. These early 20th Century conflicts were, for all their geopolitical and economic reasons for happening, wars of ideology and nationalistic narratives. They were clashes of culturally specific memes (for lack of a better word) born out of each society’s particular and unique mythology and folklore being seen as unique and superior (any civil war is this same dynamic in an intra-social context, so, although Spain was a civil war, the opposing Spanish ideologies were internationally inspired, but locally mutated). Sure, Campbell may not have been very good at translating Sanskrit, he may not have had the same understanding of Jung as a full-fledged Jungian, but in the face of the widespread social upheavals where different societies with different folklores and mythologies were slaughtering each other at alarming rates, Campbell’s attempt to unify those mythologies, to highlight their similarities, feels like a gallant attempt to fight against the demonization of the “other,” which makes it possible for one society or culture to lustily decimate another.
        
        So, now, perhaps, the reason Jorgensen’s “writers” are returning to Campbell with such force is that we see this same pattern of cultural demonization now not only in America’s “culture wars” between dominionist Christianity and everyone else, but in the conflict between East and West, between militant faux Islamists and everyday Muslims, between Muslims and Jews in Israel, between Buddhists and Hindus. Everywhere we see a clash of cultures, or ideologies, it comes from people only seeing the differences, not only in the real people before them, but in the cloudy ideologies behind them, and seeing those differences as imminent threats. Campbell, instead, points to the similarities, the commonalities, even if they’re strained, even if he has to ignore significant differences. In a world where people are applying the stories of various religions with a militant, dogmatic force that leads to alienation and embraces violence, getting lay-people and non-academics to begin to see the similarities between cultural traditions is, to me, wildly more important than burrowing into academic specialization and praising differences. Highlighting the differences is good only for those academics in their niches, carving out their intellectual turf, but it’s not necessarily good for the people confronted with a new neighbor who doesn’t worship the same god, whose cooking smells funky, and who dresses differently. Differences can be invigorating and enlightening, sure, but similarities and recognizing those similarities is what often gets us to overlook differences and recognize another’s humanity deeply enough to accept them and peacefully coexist.

        If Campbell is popular, it’s because he wrote for a general audience instead of a caste of insular academic cohorts at a cryptically named conference, and he avoided sounding like a basement dwelling nerd, sneering (or attempting to refrain from sneering) at a new fan of the super hero movies for not knowing the actual origin story of Wolverine, or Cyborg and all the alternate universe demises and rebirths. Something in Campbell’s writing appeals to people in general, and resonates with people who don’t have an interest in the minutiae of folklore. Yes, these people often take Campbell in a self-referential way, especially among those looking to justify specious, selfish, destructive life choices by claiming they’re just “following their bliss,” but it’s also appealing to those who look at this deeply divided and troubled world and want, desperately, to find some way of exploring commonalities without having to become specialists in a tiny academic field.
        
        As for the writers who are making big deals out of using the “mono-myth” to build their stories, well, I say that’s fine but it shouldn’t be construed as conferring some deeper meaning to their work than those who don’t use it. Superheroes follow the mono-myth Campbell laid out, as do most romantic comedies. It’s a good template for learning a certain type of dramatic structure, but it can’t confer meaning or depth simply through its application, and the subtle insinuation by Jorgensen that this is the problematic thing that’s happening when writers go back to Campbell is silly. Those of us who take this vocation, this calling of “storyteller,” seriously, who see ourselves as the descendants of those shamans and minstrels that created and recited the stories the Folklorists are now so intently and diligently studying the difference of, are aware of and spend time studying narratology, structuralism, and so on. Such things are the mechanics of what we do, but we writers are generalists, and sometimes mystics, but not specialists. At some point we’re going to stop reading detailed studies of the use of animal symbols in Slavic folktales of the Sixth Century and go write a story of our own and it might even have an animal in it.

        Most writers I know who’ve read Campbell, even if all they read was The Hero with A Thousand Faces, also adhere to an idea espoused by another writer, the late John Berger, that goes “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.”

Caturday.
The only girl getting in my pants these days.

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Last First Saturday of 2015

Well, I made it a year doing this thing on the first Saturday of every month. A lot of other things didn’t stay as consistent, but at least I did this.

And, of course, what does anyone do at the end of the year? They look back and take stock.

Because I’m the kind of person who tends to go dark easily, lets start with the failures.

Submitting
I failed to find an agent again this year. This isn’t really surprising. Submitting my work is an anxiety producing, self-conscious affair. And, like dating, which I’ve given up on completely, I get discouraged and over analyze my failures. The biggest difference . . . ah, who am I kidding? There is no difference. To me, both acts – querying an agent and asking someone on a date – are opportunities to fall madly in love or suffer humiliation. I’m drawn to the former and utterly terrified of the later. This is why I don’t send out queries as frequently as I should. Yes, I’ve put too much pressure on myself in this aspect. I’ve invested the other with too much power. This character flaw, this fear of rejection is why I need an agent: someone to put a wall between me and rejection.

I averaged a query a month in 2015. That means my odds are shitty.

Somewhere, off in the distance, I hear someone revving up their “why don’t you self-publish?” engines. To be crass and base about the comparison: that’s like telling me the next time I strike out on a dating site I should just take up regular masturbation. And don’t think for a moment that the comparison isn’t true. What is Live cam porn but self-published masturbation videos?

Podcast News
Let’s admit it, the podcast is floundering. I’ve been failing to get interviews. The audience, if there ever really was one, has dwindled to almost nothing. Time and technical problems have been the killers. It may be time to hang up the mic, or go some other direction.

Ok, now for the good news, such as it is.

Writing
I am still on my writing vacation after finishing the initial draft of Far Nineteen. I’ll start revising it in January sometime. Right now, I’m letting myself be aimless. I’ve jotted down a few notes for a couple of ideas. I made a no-pressure attempt at writing a short story. Let it die. The one thing I’ve been doing is making a bit of an effort to journal more regularly. It keeps the words moving.

Reading
I’ve been reading Hopscotch on my lunch breaks at work, and I’m nearly finished. It’s hard to tell though since I’m bouncing around the book following Cortazar’s numbering sequence. Ok, I just looked at the chart. I’m still somewhere near the beginning.

Began reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at The End of The Lane in the mornings during my usual writing time.

Watching
Evenings are for watching movies or the latest episode of from a TV show I’ve subscribed too. Since I don’t have cable, there’s no temptation to just sit and veg-out to whatever is on. I actually just watched the season 4 premiere of Arrow last week. I’m behind. And I’ve only seen two episodes of Jessica Jones.
Truth be told, I’ve been dedicating my evenings to playing Fallout 4, and, with the holidays, spending time with family and friends.

Random Thoughts
There’s an old saying that goes “In France, every writer is important. In England, no writer is important. In America, only the successful writer is important. In Australia, you have to explain what a writer is.”

The same reason I fail at relationships is the same reason I fail at finding an agent. The desire to be accepted is so strong, I’ve given the act of being rejected more power than it deserves. The only difference is a narrow one and it goes like this: rejection by a romantic partner is a rejection of me personally, and I’m flawed beyond repair, so I can, in a way, accept that more easily. My writing, however, is still perfectible, if only someone will take a chance on representing it (and by extension, me). Creating is hard, but revision and editing is the glorious part of art. I love good critiques, constructive criticism – – I want to hear from someone who is as invested in making my work better as I am. I value anyone who can point out the flaws I can’t see. And so, getting my book rejected by an agent feels so much more painful because it is the rejection of the imperfect but perfectible thing I have devoted myself to making.

My parents and the world I grew up in made me, so if I can’t meet a woman who can decide that what I am good enough to work with then that’s kind of beyond my control. I’m doing the best I can with the emotional and physical tools I was given (and denied) and I’m making efforts to sand down the rougher edges, but some things simply have to accepted. But, I made the book, and I know very well what the flaws and limitations are. I also know that a book, a text, is mutable, and I’m willing to listen to, accept, and incorporate suggestions to make those flaws better (or, in some cases, spin them into advantages) – in fact I demand it. So, throwing a novel out there to an agent and getting rejected feels like being told my efforts are not worth their time, energy, or devotion. It especially feels that way after having taking the agent’s advice and researched them, and their list.

I don’t shotgun queries. I don’t have a standardized letter (I do have a standardized description of the novel), I try to personalize each letter to the agent. Now, here, again, is a parallel to dating. I’m a quiet man who lacks a strong sense of entitlement. I’ve heard, very clearly, the horror stories from women on online dating sites. I do my best to be respectful, take no for an answer and search out some common ground for conversation. If those things don’t work, I don’t blame the woman. I blame the fucking boys who acted like jackasses and made her jaded. The same goes for agents. Once, I may have blamed the agents, years ago, but I’ve wised up, as they say. I’ve heard the stories, registered the complaints and have come to the conclusion that it’s not the agents I should blame. It’s the fucking jackasses who don’t understand the publishing business, have some bizarre sense of self-important entitlement, and who flood the agent’s inbox with garbage.

I’m from a flyover state, I didn’t attend a prestigious school, I don’t have a list of unread magazine publications, and I don’t have known, respected writer waving my flag at agents to vouch for me. On the surface, I look like every other naive hack from the middle of the country who thinks writing a book and making a million dollars is as easy as taking a dump (or uploading a file to Amazon).

It sounds pretentious, but I’m trying to make art. I’m trying to make something that is, like the best paintings, and the best novels from the past, pleasing and entertaining as well as profound and moving. I want something that will leave a permanent legacy. If I knew why that was important to me, maybe I could thwart it and become happy with quick returns and empty stories.