Category Archives: First Saturday

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.

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First Saturday of November Catch-up

Reading
Reading has been kind of slow this past month. Finished rereading Ondaatje’s Running in The Family, and I’d kind of needed that. It might have helped lodge something loose in regards to the next story.

Other than that, the only thing I read was a friends manuscript with an eye towards offering a critique. That always takes a good deal of time, especially with note taking rereading.

Started reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson.

Watching
Re-watched The Crow, with Brandon Lee and thought I’d give the sequels a look. Yes, I know the follow-ups to the original are supposed to be horrible. In fact, it took me three days and a considerable amount of wine to get through The Crow: City of Angels. That was awful. I still haven’t watched the other two. I don’t think I should.

Started watching the second season of The 100 on Netflix because I have a thing for post-apocalyptic stories (I could go find the novels by Kass Morgan the show is based on, but I’ve already got enough to read). I think the good old fashioned post nuclear apocalypse stories, or the post environmental collapse apocalypse stories, or even the world ending virus stories, but without “zombies” tend to be the most sturdy. In fact, I’ve kind of lost all interest in zombies.

I’m always, ultimately, disappointed by non-comedic zombie stories. This is why I kind of lost interest in The Walking Dead (I never really got in the habit anyway). Maybe it’s a nitpick-y thing, but often I feel that characters in zombie stories, and characters in horror movies in general, don’t often act in ways consistent with their established character. I’m not expecting them to act the way I think I would act, but rather to consistently act and react in a way that is in line with their previously established character traits and the circumstances they are in. In other words, characters can act in a way that I never would, they can be stupid and foolish and careless and oblivious to the mayhem around them, but they shouldn’t be smart, wise, careful and aware of all the mayhem around them in all the scenes previously. I don’t expect fictional characters within the construct of a story to act exactly like real human beings (that would, actually, in a fictional setting seem unbelievable), but I do expect characters to adhere to the logic of the story. Now, if the “logic” of the story is that characters ignore the carnage around them to sneak off and have a shower alone, or meet someone for a secret sexual tryst, then the writers of those films are doing a piss-poor job of establishing that logic early enough in the story that it seems like a rational thing for the character to do (even if I don’t think I’d ever do it).

Listening
A brand new New Order album came out, and I’ve been listening to that. Music Complete is pretty good, but I wouldn’t put it up there with some of their classics – at least not yet. Substance 1987, their singles compilation, is by far the best, followed by the fabulous Low Life, and Technique. At least those are my top three albums. If we wanted to get into favorite songs, we could be here all day

Of course, there’s a band website: neworder.com, but there’s also another official site called Singularity: The Influence of New Order where artists are adding posts detailing the influence New Order has had on them, or sharing playlists of New Order Songs. There’s a great essay there by Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, a playlist from Robert Smith of The Cure, and a brief essay by Sam Fogarino of the band Interpol. The list of contributors is growing.

It was interesting reading Welsh’s piece because he has the experience of New Order in England, which, whenever I read essays on New Order from people in the UK, and even, sometimes, New York, it always seems very different from how I experienced New Order out here in the Land of Oz (or the Land of Ah-shit). In a documentary about New Order that came out during the Republic era, artist Peter Saville, who does almost all of NO’s cover art, talked about a “mass produced secret,” which is something that thousands of people or more might know about but somehow it manages to stay out of the the mainstream consciousness. Now, maybe that applied to New Order in England for a brief time before 1990, but I’m not sure it does now. In the states, however, they do still seem like a mass produced secret. They’ve only had one song reach #1 on the UK Singles Charts, and their songs True Faith and Regret were their only songs to crack the American Top 40. However, they do have the best selling 12” single of all time, Blue Monday, which got there because of its epic run on the international Dance/Club charts. But out here in the flattest place on earth, New Order has always seemed like a skeleton key to a secret club. The perfect mass produced secret. Only my music nerd friends in high school had heard of them before I discovered them on MTV’s 120 Minutes. Then, as I when off to college and grad school, I was always surprised to find out people were even moderate fans of New Order. I always thought it meant we were supposed to be friends, but the flip side to that is that they often made me feel like an idiot because they had known about New Order in places where it wasn’t unusual to find a fellow fan, and so they often acted as if New Order was passé and it made me feel naive and far too earnest for my own safety.

None of that, however, has dimmed by affection for the band and its off-shoots (yeah, I’m talking about you Peter Hook & the Light).

Podcast News
Not much going on here these days. Still talking to Steven McClurg once a month, but no new interviews planned.

Writing & Submitting
Last month, I finally finished the first draft of a new novel called Far Nineteen. This is the one inspired by the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, and the 1958 time capsule that was tucked inside a buried Plymouth Belvedere.

I started it back in October 2012, wrote a large chunk of it, got lost in it, frustrated, shifted to working on revisions to The Palace of Winds, and trying to write something else, then, finally, came back to Far 19 and finished it simply because I needed a completion. Three years on a first draft. That’s a new record of slowness for me.

Since finishing Far 19, I’ve also finally finished the initial draft of a graphic novel script for an artist friend. We’ll see what else needs to be done to it, but now, it’s up to him to get that shit drawn.

Maybe I’ll wait and see if something really grabs me by the gonads and says write. Until then I’ll recharge the creative batteries (read, a lot) and get my query letters for The Palace of Winds out.

Random Thoughts
Basically, in the dating world, I’ve been placed out to pasture.

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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


First Saturday of September…..

Reading
Still chugging my way through my podcast reading list: Elise Blackwell, Virginia Pye, Shann Ray, Jan English Leary, and Lenore Myka. I’d be further along if my discipline and time management skills weren’t lagging behind my desire.

Picked up a copy of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I’m only a little way into it, but I’m already including it in my broad theory on the importance of storytelling to the evolution and sustainability of humans. So far, the bibliography for my theory looks something like this: Joseph Campbell, John Gardner, John Berger, Edward O. Wilson, Jonathan Gottschall, Dzevad Karahasan, Michael Chabon, Italo Calvino, Douglas Rushkoff, Georges Bataille, Ernest Becker, Lewis Hyde, and some others.

Also picked up a copy of Nina Revoyr’s new novel Lost Canyon. I’d read her wonderful novel Wingshooters a few years ago after meeting her when she came to read at Watermark Books.

Watching
A few weeks ago, I watched the movie Elizabethtown on Netflix; the movie that inspired Nathan Rabin to give us the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in his review of the movie. Rabin has, recently, stated that he regrets coining that term and inflicting it upon us because it turned into something other than what he intended it to be. Now, I didn’t think Elizabethtown was that bad, although, sure, Kirsten Dunst’s character is a bit thin, but to my mind a lot of the characters in that movie are a bit thin, including male lead played by Orlando Bloom. Personally, I think the movie should have been more focused on the relationship between Drew Baylor (Bloom) and his father than on the romance with super perky Claire (Dunst), and a few minor tweaks might have helped reduce the problem that lead to Rabin coining the term.

First off, if Claire could have somehow learned about Drew’s father’s death (and maybe even the shoe failure) without Drew knowing that she knew.

Second, if the backstory of Claire’s mysterious boyfriend (we never see him) could have been addressed in a more concrete way (if the boyfriend could have been shown to be a jerk in some fashion, to not value Claire in the way she wished to be valued).

So, basically, if the reasons for Claire giving Drew her phone number and for helping him get over his loss and depression could have been grounded in some definable need of her own, then the movie would have been more successful.

Listening
Nothing new here, really. I’ve been listening to Alt 107.3 here in Wichita while I drive to and from work. I hear a number of new (or newish) songs I like, but I don’t always track them down later. I will, sometime, and have a band to or two that I can rattle off.

Podcast News
Speaking of all those podcast books I’m reading: I’m way behind schedule and haven’t even gotten around to sending out invitation to come on the podcast for all those books I listed above there. In fact, Elise Blackwell’s book, The Lower Quarter, is already out.

I have to get on it.

Stephen and I have been rejiggering The Laboratory episodes. We’re dropping the exercises, and trying to find a rhythm. It’ll basically be the Shoptalk series, but with a bit more of a focus. That’ll come out regularly, once we get our shit together. Then, with the interviews, I’ll be doing those as “seasons” coming out in fall and again in the spring. I’m hoping this will put less pressure on me to read and schedule constantly and, instead, read and schedule and record, etc. is a burst.

Writing & Submitting
I’ve been sending out query letters for The Palace of Winds. No luck so far, but, as usual, I should pick up the pace. Back in August I got started on sending out queries, but a few of the agents I was fired up about were on vacation and their auto-reply messages said to try again after September. It kind of took the wind out of my sails. So, here it is, September at last, and I’m back on the hunt.

Somehow, I just can’t seem to finish Far Nineteen. The best way to describe it, I suppose, is that I’m in a lightless tunnel and can’t find the exit sign. But, I keep plugging away.

Random Thoughts
I daydream about winning the lottery, but I almost never play the lottery.

I’ve completely given up on online dating. It’s hopeless here.

I used to have the Time magazine cover that proclaimed Jonathan Franzen as “The Great American Novelist.” I drew the “No” symbol over him and pushed thumb tacks through his eyes. My dislike of Franzen is based solely on the first two pages of The Corrections. The only other book I had a more violent and immediate reaction to was Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. When I sat down to write this thought, I went back and reread the first two pages of The Corrections. My reaction wasn’t violent this time, but I did find the prose to be ponderous. I will, someday, end up reading one of his books just to say I’ve done it. Right now, I’m enjoying the mockery he’s receiving on Twitter and other social sites because of some of the sometimes tone deaf, pretentious, sexist things he says in public. Twitter was on a roll awhile ago with #franzenairquotes. There is a certain amount of schadenfreude involved.

Back to work.

 

 

Lap cat


First Saturday Catch-up for August.

Reading
Been a busy-ish month on the reading front. I’m working through a little backlist on a couple of writers with new books coming out this fall, and starting to work through some debut galleys.

Finished River of Dust by Virginia Pye. A well done, very dark story about missionaries in China in the years after the Boxer Rebellion. She has a new book coming out soon that’s been getting some really good reviews: Dreams of the Red Phoenix.

Also finished The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish by Elise Blackwell. A beautiful, gentle story about a young man’s coming of age during the lead-up to the 1927 flood of New Orleans. I also have Blackwell’s an Unfinished Score in my stack, followed by her new book due out this fall called, The Lower Quarter.

The other books on the list are Thicker than Blood by Jan English Leary, American Copper by Shann Ray, and a short story collection King of the Gypsies by Lenore Myka.

All of those are with an eye toward getting the authors onto the podcast. More about that later.

For personal reading, I’m looking to get started, finally, on Molloy by Samuel Beckett, or maybe Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, or Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson, or maybe The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Watching
Because I have a little celebrity crush on Grace Park (Boomer/Athena in the Battlestar Galactica series), I’ve been watching Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. It’s . . . OK. There’s some good humor in it, but at the moment, only part way into Season 2, I’m not that impressed with the writing. I know it’s an hour long TV show so they’ve got to get thing wrapped up all snappy like, but . . . wow. They make some pretty amazing and unbelievable leaps of intuition and logic. Also, who knew Hawaii was such a hotbed of international intrigue? But it’s fun and I get in some good eye roll exercises.

However, I do find a few certain things disturbing, especially in the light of current events related to police these days.
        1) Everywhere they go, every person they encounter, the Five-O team has their guns drawn. WTF? Within the isolated context of the TV show it provides visual drama. Within the broader social context, it further reinforces this militarized, escalated idea that every police encounter is a tense fart away from violence.
        2) These cops always seem to shoot the right person. It’s always a bad guy and the bad guy is always armed. Also, they repeatedly have shootouts in public places full of bystanders . . . and no bystander ever catches a bullet unless – somehow – that bystander is integral to the plot.
        3) Five-O has been given special legal status in the context of the storyline, but I still find it disturbing how cavalier they are with the collection of evidence. Sure, yeah it’s a TV show, but staging the kidnapping of a suspect, complete with placing a black hood over his head, and then pretending to threaten the suspect with throwing him off a cliff . . . well, I doubt any confession obtained would be admissible in court, either in the effort to convict the suspect or to convict the “real” bad guy the suspect works for.

What I’m getting at is this: cops watch TV, too. How many of them watch fictional cop shows? Is there a correlation between the overly aggressive cop and that cop’s consumption of unrealistic cop shows on TV? We are already concerned that the dramatic device of torturing a suspect to save a city in fictional scenarios is seen as acceptable and effective in real life when really it isn’t. I’m not demanding Cop shows on TV b become hyperrealistic. That would be boring for one, and for the second part, the show would pretty much consist of cops stopping people for minor violations and issuing them tickets and fines so that the police force can keep itself funded. Here, read this piece from Mother Jones about the financial pressure behind super aggressive policing.

Listening
Didn’t discover any new music this last month, but I’m not worried that my musical exploration has ended. I’ve been locked down on writing, so, mostly I’ve been listening to the playlists I’ve built for a couple of the stories I’ve been working on. I have a playlist for Far Nineteen, and one for a new project that I’m itching to get started. When it’s not either of those, I’ve still got Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight going.

I am interested in finding out more about certain bands that have some catchy songs getting some play now, but I’ll have to do some research since I mostly hear the songs on the radio, in the car, driving to and from work.

Podcast News
Ok, podcast news. Stephen and I have been continuing to do the Laboratory shows on The Outrider Podcast. We’ll be late on the August episode. Doing the podcast has been a challenge and a reward. I love talking to other writers, learning about new books, and feeling like I’m engaged in a community despite being in the middle of nowhere (basically) and isolated for some undefinable reason among the writing community (small as it is) here in Wichita. Perhaps it’s a “Gen X” thing, in that I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I recoil at naive earnestness and delusion.

Anyway . . . the difficult thing with the podcast is the time and energy to maintain the initial schedule I had when now, I’m kind of in the standard publication cycle. I’ve pretty much run through all the writers I know who are up for talking to me. A few I know have, for unfathomable reasons, declined. I’m hard of hearing, was one excuse. Recovering at home from surgery was another excuse. I’m not going to name names, but seriously, I can make a weekend trip for someone close enough who can’t hear well over the phone, and how physically taxing, even post surgery, is it to lay on your couch and turn on Skype? So, having run through all the writers I know, I now have to track down writers I don’t know, and that means, more often than not, reading the writers book first to see if I even like it.

I’m not going to spend an hour talking to someone whose book I didn’t like. That wouldn’t be a good conversation and it would be dishonest.

So, I’m kicking around ideas on formatting and so on. A number of podcasts I listen to do “seasons,” and that may be the solution I go with for the interviews. The Laboratory will continue, but Stephen and I may reformat it, or not. I like the exercises, but I’m a terrible procrastinator. I have some other things I’d like to do with the podcast, but, of course, those take time and effort and I’m here also trying to get a novel out into the world, finish writing another one, and start yet another. Throw in a full time job, trying to exercise on a regular basis, and hopelessly, dumbly, deludedly trying to find someone to date, it doesn’t leave a lot of hours in the day to sit and think – and sitting and thinking, for me, is a huge part of being able to write.

Writing & Submitting
So, writing and submitting. I’ve decided that The Palace of Winds does NOT need to be 700 pages. I’d written it to stand alone, so it should stand alone. Plus, I needed a “finished” in my create ledger and telling myself after almost a year of thinking it was finished that it was, in fact, NOT finished, was sending me into depression. I should be using it to find an agent anyway, so I’m getting back on that track. But, of course, I’m hyper critical of my query writing skills. So much so that I often paralyze myself. I need to find a way around that.

Far Nineteen missed its deadline for the end of June. It missed its deadline for the end of July. Good thing these were just my own, personal deadlines. It’s been harder to finish than I’d expected, but that, in a way, is a good thing. I feel like the hang-ups have come from me allowing myself to simply sit with a character and get them properly understood. Since the book deals with race and racial issues and has several African American characters, that is far more important than the drive to get it done.

When that gets done, I’ll be recruiting readers to either read it and provide notes, or come visit me and read it out loud while I take notes and mark up the text.

Random Thoughts
Dating sites are horrible places.

There’s always a secret baby.

I’m too old to hang out in bars, and even when I was young enough, I never had the nerve to approach a woman and strike up a conversation, so what make anyone think I’d start doing it now.

They say that to meet someone, you should go out and do something you like to do and while you’re doing that thing you like to do, you’ll eventually meet someone who also like doing that thing – and Yahtzee! So, if you’re a dude who’s into motocross, do that a lot and eventually you’ll meet someone. I like indie bookstores and libraries. Problem is, my ex-girlfriend is the inventory manager at my favorite indie bookstore. It feels kind of awkward to troll the place looking for a new girl right in front of the old girl. The other problem is that the main library here in Wichita is just a few blocks south of the largest homeless charity, so every time I’ve been in library I’ve a strange encounter with a homeless man, which, being me, is utterly disturbing. I’m usually very much inside my own head. I move through the world trying not to have surprise encounters. Homeless men always surprise me and on top of that they’ve been known to go to great lengths, to cross wide, empty parking lots, push through crowds of other people to, seemingly, target me as the person to most likely have change. Startle me in public, and I react like a frightened cat. That’s not good. So, I avoid the library except when I really need something, and I always enter trying to look as mean as possible, which is not the best look to have on my face when I accidentally bump into a cute librarian.

There will be a very intense conversation with the next person who tells me I should go to church to meet a good woman. That conversation will begin with “Do you know the difference between a leap of faith and a conclusion based on empirical evidence?” I’ve also been planning a graphical way of representing the lecture I imagine following the person’s inevitable wrong answer to that. Then I’ll explain that since I do not share any faith in their particular deity, and since they cannot empirically prove the existence of their deity, nor can they prove the non-existence of all other deities imagined by humans, it’s pointless to ever talk to me about God. Also, which church has the hottest women? And, furthermore, which of those hot church women would be OK with finding out that I’d trolled her church pretending to be a believer? Not many relationships survive that were started on a foundation of dishonesty.

I am flabbergasted that people think the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked. Of course, some of those same people probably think people and dinosaurs coexisted and just missed getting on Noah’s Ark. I often get the “your brand of stupid hurts my eyes” look when I have to talk to them.


First Saturday Catch-up

Reading
Finished Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I kind of needed that. I generally don’t like an intrusive narrator who comes in and addresses the reader directly, but here it worked and added something to the book. The narrator’s acknowledgment of the reader and the inherent invented-ness of his characters, I think, put the focus on the – this’ll sound boring – pedagogical aspects of fiction while also adhering to the basic direction for all writers to be entertaining and interesting. Definitely deserves its status as a classic – and a second read . . . . . Someday.

Still plodding through Narrative Discourse (again) by Gerard Genette, and taking notes (again). Genette, Michael Ondaatje, and Walter Murch were big influences on me in grad school, and really changed my writing. Or, rather, changed what I expected from my writing. I couldn’t have finished The Evolution of Shadows without the ideas and examples provided by that trio.

Got a flotilla of galleys in June that will be jumping my queue so that I can maybe get the writers on the podcast this fall. The Lower Quarter, by Elise Blackwell; Thicker Than Blood, by Jan English Leary; American Copper, by Shann Ray; and Dreams of the Red Phoenix, by Virginia Pye. Now, since I’ve had Blackwell and Pye on my to-be-read list for earlier work, I’ve also plucked up Blackwell’s Unnatural History of Cypress Parrish, and Pye’s first novel River of Dust, both of which I’ve been meaning to read, but, of course, that’s not how things work, is it?

I have a stockpile of unread books because, well, you never know when the world will end.

Watching
Spent a week plowing through the Netflix original Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston. It’s very funny, and very human, but . . . it’s narrow despite being a show about two women dealing with their husbands leaving them for each other. Strange and fun to see Sheen and Waterston playing gay, but I wondered why they didn’t try to find a pair gay actors to do it. Of course, maybe there’s something to that casting in a kind of meta-commentary way. Cast a pair of straight Boomer actors who are comfortable pretending to be gay and maybe someone realizes there’s nothing to be afraid of there. Social class, however, is the only real problem I had with it. To me, there is nothing about that world that isn’t a kind of upper middle class fantasy.

Watched the Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. It’s very fascinating, and I need to watch it again because first, the subject matter is very dense and, second, because Slavoj Zizek has, for me anyway, a difficult accent. I have to listen intently to anyone with an accent for a good while before I can pick out the pattern and make sense of the way they make familiar words sound unfamiliar. The movie is a long, cinematic treatise on the fantasies that make up our various belief systems. I may have to pick up some of his work in English, add it to my long list of books to be read.

Listening
My only addition to my music collection in June was the 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit. Their song “Fast Blood” had been popping up on my Pandora feed, and I became obsessed with it.

Here’s a live version recorded in Madison, WI

Podcast News
This is the summer of inactivity on the podcast. Had some big plans that didn’t, or haven’t worked out. Being a one-man operation in the middle of nowhere means I’m often thwarted by my own emotional pendulum, and the logistics of it all.

Thankfully, Stephen McClurg has remained steady, so there has been a consistent, monthly show to keep the feed active. I’ve been enjoying the The Laboratory shows immensely, which might be why they’re running long, and why we keep talking for hours after the recording stops.

Writing & Submitting
I’ve missed my deadline for finishing “Far Nineteen,” but, of course, I’ll keep plugging away.

Submitting things is always so . . . fraught with anxiety . . . That might be the best way to describe it. I’ve always had a problem asking for help, and asking to be considered for anything. Asking an agent to consider representing me, or an editor to consider publishing me, is a lot like asking a woman to consider dating me. In the last 17 years, I’ve had two women who’ve dated me and one editor who’s published me. Every agent’s rejected me.

I used to say that I had a tiny nugget of talent, but I was going to polish that nugget until it shined. Can you polish something full circle? Right back in to dullness?

Random Thoughts
The idea of learned helplessness has been on my mind a lot lately. This is a behavior where someone has mistakenly learned that they cannot control or escape negative or unpleasant situations and that they must simply endure them. The false belief that they’re helpless then becomes so ingrained that, even when an escape is easily available, they can’t take advantage of it. It can happen to anyone if they have experienced the right kind of defeat, abuse, or loss of control and if it’s paired with the right kind of attribution style.

There is a very good, very detailed episode of You Are Not So Smart that covers learned helplessness (article with links here).

I’ve been thinking about it a lot in relation to two things in particular: writing query letters (or, rather, NOT writing query letters) and dating.

A lot of the problems with learned helplessness arises out of a person’s attribution style. If someone tends to attribute the cause of their pain to themselves and if they believe that the reasons are internal, stable and global – that is, the defeat, abuse, or loss of control is their own fault, that it will always be that way, and that it will happen in every aspect of their lives, then they can very easily find themselves in a situation where the means of escape, of relief, are right there in front of them and they can’t bring themselves to take advantage of it.

People locked in poverty and homelessness struggle with learned helplessness, but then so too do affluent people in abusive relationships or bad jobs. And, learned helplessness doesn’t apply just to individuals, it can apply to social groups and communities. Those in control, the politically powerful, the wealthy, often take advantage of and reinforce learned helplessness in order to maintain whatever status quo is to their advantage.

I once had a conversation with a man who tried to convince me that the poor wanted to be poor and unhealthy because those were the choices they made. If they wanted healthy food options, better jobs, and so on then they just had to decide that’s what they wanted – the facts that they might not have a car, that they lived in a “food desert” and didn’t have access to adequate public transportation didn’t matter. He seemed to believe that if a poor person would simply decided to be healthy, then they’d find a way to trek a mile or more from their home to a suitable grocery store, and trek the mile or more back home laden with healthy perishables instead of hoping down to the convenience store on the corner or the MacDonald’s a block over (all the while being told by society that it’s the poor person’s fault for living in a part of town without a decent grocery store when it was the grocery store’s decision to pull out f the poor neighborhood). Of course, he was a well-to-do white man from a well-to-do family who had, quite possibly, never had an opportunity closed off to him. He’d never heard “No” on a frequent and consistent basis and so essentially never developed an internal attribution style. Maybe he had an internal attribution style when it came to something else, but certainly not when it came to economic set-backs.

I’m naturally inclined to blame myself first, to ask what it was that I did wrong. My rejected queries all tend, I assume, to be my fault and not the agent’s fault. Form rejection letters don’t do a good job a circumventing that habit – and, of course, that’s my fault. See? When I’ve gotten a few personalized rejections, even if the content was baffling, it actually helped. Looking back on it, probably the best personalized rejection I got for The Evolution of Shadows was from an agent in Colorado who told me that present tense literary fiction didn’t sell. It was – and still is – a bullshit reason, but it allowed me to attribute the reason for my rejection to that agent and not something I did, which, in turn fired up that other dark side of my personality, the “I’ll show you” side. Over the years, I’ve begun to be more and more grateful to that agent, and to the other agent who told me that the book had a haunting, lyrical quality but that she didn’t know how to sell it.

But, I can’t keep relying on others to short circuit my tendency to blame myself for rejections (both literary and romantic). I have to find a way to do that myself and so, un-paralyze myself.

And Cat.

Dawn in the Office


First Saturday of June: Catch-up

Damn, May was a long month.

Reading
This past month I took a bit of a detour.

I’ve been reading John Ashbury’s collection of poetry Quick Question. You would think that it wouldn’t take me so long to finish a book of poetry but there’s something strange and fascinating about these poems. I end up reading a few and then dwelling on them. I put the book aside, try to digest the poems I’ve just read, the strange images that Ashbury has created and what they’ve triggered in my own imagination.

So, yeah, I like it. I like being forced to take time with the things I’m reading. This is why I don’t put much stock in the number of books read in a given time, but rather in their quality and their impact.

Have been reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It had been on my radar for years… decades, in fact, but I think I’d been intimidated by it. That was a mistake. I should have read this book earlier in my life.

I’ve started rereading Gerard Genette’s classic Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, and its follow-up Narrative Discourse Revisited. Genette’s book was the theoretical cornerstone of my master’s thesis. I enjoy discussing meaning in literary works, but, as a writer, I’d much rather understand the mechanics of building meaning. Learning and thinking about the way manipulating time, perception, repetition, and so on can create depth, tension, and empathy is useful. Back in grad school, we used to say “Plot happens” with much the same tone that gets applied to the phrase “Shit happens.” We also used to say that dramatic tension can exist between two people sitting quietly in a room. Outward momentum, action, is – I almost hate to say it – easy (or easier). Every character has a desire, and plot is the tension created as they try to get what they want and run into obstacles, get distracted, fail. During the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan wants to blow up a bridge, but there is the in-fighting in the guerrilla band, the Fascists, his budding romance with Maria. Jack Duluoz wants sneak away to Big Sur to write in a cabin in the woods, but is sidetracked by his fame, reputation and alcoholism. Back in the early days of thinking I was going to be a writer, I got a lot of advice out of Writer’s Digest. It was foundational kind of advice, broad, almost pedantic in a way. As I remember it, most of their advice was based around the old adages of “show don’t tell” and “write what you know.” Great advice for beginners, but limiting to the more advanced writer.

Watching
Re-watched a few episodes of the X-Files because, well, apparently there’s a six episode mini-series coming out soon and I was a pretty devout X-phile once. Not quite as obsessed as my ex-girlfriend, Rebekah, but I never missed an episode, even when I didn’t have cable back in the days before streaming video.

Also knocked out the British produced Netflix original series Scrotal Recall. Shockingly off-color title, but the shows are damn funny and sensitive. I hope I can find someone with whom I can do a one night party to-do list that include jumping out of a moving car.

Caught Star Wars fever after the release of the new trailer. To satisfy the itch, I have been watching the animated Clone Wars series. There are a lot of throw-away episodes put there to fill space and entertain the kids. Then there are the ones that feed into the canonical storyline. I’m a geek. What can I say?

Listening
My listening always fluctuates. Thankfully, there is finally an alternative radio station in Wichita. Sadly, it’s a Clear Channel owned station, but still . . . it’s better than the smattering of classic rock, pop-country, “urban,” latino, and religious radio stations that clog the airwaves around here. So, I’m finally hearing songs by band that have been around for a while but weren’t being played around here. Bastille, Big Data, and, unfortunately, Hozier (fuck that band – yes, there’s a story).

Every once in a while, I go on a kind of nostalgia trip: in this case it’s with HUM… if you missed out on this band in the mid 90s I’d recommend searching them out. You can get their stuff still on iTunes. The song “Stars” off their album You’d Prefer an Astronaut was their biggest hit; however, their follow up album Downward is Heavenward is, perhaps the most perfect album I’ve ever heard.

Podcast News
Working on lining up a few guests. I know I’ve said this before, but part of the problem with being your own producer, scheduler, and “talent” is that sometimes things take longer than expected. My once stable release schedule has fallen off, but I’m still doing the podcast. Going to keep doing it as long as I can produce something that feels good. The Laboratory episodes with Stephen are going well, and you can look at the results here. The episodes appear in the regular podcast feed, if you’ve subscribed. Or you can check out an episode here.

I’m thinking of doing some other things to fill space, and also differentiate my content from podcasts like Brad Listi’s Other People, or John King’s The Drunken Odyssey, both great literary podcasts.

Working on getting interviews set up with Steve Heller, Sarah Bagby (owner of Watermark Books in Wichita), Elise Blackwell, Virginia Pye, and a few others.

Writing & Submitting
Plodding along with the usual material. That’s the thing with writing novels: not much changes over the course of a month, even a long one like May. I’m still hoping to have a draft of Far Nineteen finished by the end of this month.

Random Thoughts
On June 4th, I attended the Rebecca Makkai reading at Watermark Books. She’s gotten a lot of praise from the establishment, been published by Penguin, etc. You can read about her and her books here. She’s solid in that Writer’s Digest, Iowa Writers Workshop mode that seems to dominate the American literary landscape. It means she’ll have a long career full of accolades, but I’ll remain unmoved by her prose, which, to me, when I heard her read, sounded rather . . . banal. That might be too harsh of a word though. Safe might be better. However, I don’t want to spend this space trying to skate some thin line between trying to avoid slamming a writer who is someone’s favorite writer while explain why I bought her books, then immediately gave them to my mother who will like them.

What struck me most, however, and may actually have an echo with my kind of “meh” feelings is this: during the Q&A section she was asked about the writing community in Chicago, where she lives. On one level she made it sound very much like the kind of writing community that I want to be a part of: events, cocktail parties, get-togethers, meet-ups, whatever you want to call them where writers get to know each other. And then she said something that saddened me: when she and these writers get together they don’t talk about the craft of writing – ever. They gossip. They talk about their kids. He explanation of this was that “all of them teach” and since they talk to their students about “craft” they don’t want to talk about it with each other.

That was disappointing to hear, especially for someone like me who truly enjoys talking about craft – the mechanical how-to of a story. What technical moves did someone make to get a certain effect, how can I learn it and apply it to the story I want to tell next? I still talk craft with my friend Laura, even though she’s not writing much anymore. I’ve tried talking craft with non-writers, but that usually goes badly because it is often the more complex questions of craft that can help a writer discover the simple answer to the question “what is the story about?”

I’ve been a student writer. I’ve been a creative writing teacher (formally and briefly while still in grad school, and informally whenever I’ve critiqued other writer’s work), and I’m a published novelist who, during the revision process of all of my novels (the published one and the unpublished ones), has leaned on “craft” to structure and shape my early drafts into drafts that achieve (I hope) certain desired effects. At each stage of my writing life, the questions of craft have been paramount, but have also changed.

Early student writers are learning how to solve basic questions of craft, questions that are addressed in class with about as much detail as they are addressed in magazines like Writer’s Digest. Student writers are often still struggling with control of Point of View, with basic scene structure, questions of plot, and characterization, with “finding their voice” (a dubious exercise to begin with) and since they’re generally dealing only with short stories, they’re not addressing the bigger, novelistic questions of craft that deal with longer structural issues, sequencing, shifts in time and place, with distance or multiple focalizations. As a writer practices, gains experience, the fundamental craft questions fade. We know how to solve them and do it almost out of habit. That habit is the first step to boring. To me at least, that means it’s important to discuss the more complex and advanced questions of craft with other experienced writers in order to help keep us on our toes, keep us learning and developing. If our discussions of craft constantly revolve only around the basics, it seems out thinking about them can become rote, stagnant. Maybe some writers find that kind of monotonous cycle of discussion exactly the kind of thing to spring them out of old habits, but I don’t see that happening a lot.

It seems to me that writing in American is suffering because our so-called “major” practitioners are stuck talking the basics all the time and not really challenging themselves or each other. We’re taking “safe” risks by trying to write about seemingly sensational things (rape, race, politics, etc.) but not taking risks in the ways that we present those stories and so our moral risks are lost under a blanket of banal language and habitually familiar methods of storytelling.