Category Archives: First Saturday

First Saturday Report: February 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, I think, is the most accurate account.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RANDOM THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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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.

img_0147-2018-01-6-08-53.jpg

        


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.


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.

wpid-imgp3997-2015-11-7-10-29.jpg


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.