In this episode Todd, Paul, and I discuss the somewhat lighter side of the genre with a look at Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon.
Episode 5 of Bad Business will be a bit tardy Tuesday. But never fear it’ll be with us soon.
1) I’ve been working on a long essay for the last few weeks (I mentioned it in the First Saturday Report). I’m watching it slowly progress to 20,000 words. Guess I have a lot to say about literature. Well, it is a manifesto after all.
2) Episode 4 of Bad Business is out. We flap our gums about James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. We don’t like Ellroy and he might like it that way—not that he knows who the fuck we are.
3) I had a dream about my father last night. It’s been happening a lot lately, and I think it’s a pattern of forgetting. After he died, I had dreams about finding him alive in strange places, or about him showing up alive and no one acting like anything was wrong, and the dreams were about me struggling with that incongruity. Now, the dreams have changed. There’s no surprise at finding him alive in my dreams, there’s no attempt to reconcile his apparent resurrection. In the dream last night, he simply came to visit. We got Chinese food and sat on the floor in my apartment and watched TV. We didn’t talk. It was a good visit.
In Episode 4, Todd, Paul, and I are back in the same room to discuss James Ellroy’s American Tabloid and Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man No. 89. It’s time for a little dark mayhem and some critical snark.
Writing & Submitting:
Work progresses. Lately I’ve been focusing on an extended revision of an essay . . . a manifesto? . . . that I’ve been working on, it seems, for as long as I’ve been in Wichita. It’s popped up in various formats over the years, but I keep expanding and trimming. After the discussions of writers and social engagement that I had with Stephen McClurg after the 2016 election, and some random, more recent discussions with literary acquaintances online about literary movements in the 21st century and the effects that current market forces might have on such a thing developing.
Still making slow progress on The Poisoned Moon. Still looking through lists of agents and editors I might send Far Nineteen to, and still wondering if The Palace of Winds should simply be put in the deep dark “nice try” folder.
There was a recent article in the Authors Guild newsletter about how paper makers are causing a shortage and price spike in the high quality paper that publishers buy for their books because paper maker are able to make more money now producing cheap, disposable paper packaging. The book paper shortage is having an effect on publisher’s timetables for publication and it’s affecting their decisions on what gets published. The Article didn’t say so directly, but it basically translates to this: publishers are going to decide to publish only those books that will, they believe make the most money since it will now cost more to print the books. That means the overall quality of what’s on the shelves will actually decline because higher sales correlate to more middle brow books from already popular writers (and popular does not always, and maybe never, means great literature – don’t believe me? take a look at the annual bestsellers lists going back a century. I bet you’ve never heard of most of those books).
Episode 4 of the Bad Business series will be out Tuesday, December 4th. Just two more episodes to go. I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Might still do the book to movie series.
We’ll be recording a second Outrider Live show on December 8th, and get that out soon. Maybe I’ll just do the live shows for awhile until something grabs my attention.
Lately, I’ve been reading a few random things in bits and pieces, fits and starts. I’ve started, for maybe the third time, Anthony Powell’s A Dance to The Music of Time, John Berger’s King: A Street Story, Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book, and Martin Puchner’s The Written World. I’ve been carrying around in my satchel, but haven’t started Jeff Talarigo’s In The Cemetery of the Orange Trees. I also plan to start reading the 58 page memo that Orson Welles wrote to Universal studio executives after they took control of his film Touch of Evil and recut it. I figure it’ll be an interesting look at how directors think, but also creative lesson in artistic vision.
What’s gotten the most attention, however, has been volumes 1 & 2 of Fred Clark’s The Anti-Christ Handbook : The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind. They’re only available on Kindle (sigh), but they’re worth a read. They started out as blog posts on Clark’s The Slacktivist website, and they are a delight, especially for someone like me. Clark does, at least at first, an almost page-by-page breakdown of what is wrong with the first book in the Left Behind series, both theologically and structurally with the books. Reading Mr. Clark’s dismantling is at times funny and shocking. It’s like a primer for understanding the current Evangelical mind and why, even though these collected posts were mostly written before the Obama presidency, explain why the far right has embraced and forgiven Donald Trump.
So, if you’re baffled by how evangelicals can believe Trump is an instrument of God, give The Anti-Christ Hanbook a read.
A busy month for watching stuff. Wrapped up my Marvel binge on Netflix by knocking out Iron Fist and Daredevil. Watched a nifty two-part documentary called The Evolution of Us, which featured an old undergrad acquaintance from my K-State Days, Professor John Hawks, talking about human evolution. Sat some friends down to watch Flash Gordon, which they’d never seen (kids these days).
Finally got my hands on the Blu-Ray of Orson Welles Touch of Evil that was re-edited by Walter Murch according to the 58 page memo that Welles sent to Universal after screening their sloppy edit of the film. Watched it the other night with a friend. It’s a damn good film, even if it is hard to believe Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop. Janet Leigh is excellent, of course.
Also watched the latest season of The Last Kingdom.
Not much new on this front. My channels for new music seem to be shrinking.
There’s nothing really eating at me right now, except maybe my day job.
I’m waiting to see what Mueller pulls out of his hat next.
I need a bigger place for the cats to roam, but there’s not much in my rental price range and with my student loan debt crashing my debt to income ratio, I can’t buy.
After overcoming achilles tendonitis earlier this year, I’ve been able to run some-what consistently and have been getting a better handle on my diet. Now I’m down to a consistent 189 lbs. Changing habits is a challenge, especially eating and exercise habits, and it can’t be done overnight if you want it to stick. When I found out I had high cholesterol (eight years ago now?) I really disliked the idea of simply taking a statin the rest of my life, but I hadn’t exercised since I was 16, smoked for most of the time between 16 and 37, and ate whatever the hell I wanted. At 40, I was a wreck and weighed close to 230 lbs. I could have done something drastic, but it probably wouldn’t have stuck, or I wouldn’t have kept to it. All these years later, I’ve rejiggered my eating habits, created a baseline cardio routine, and given myself a shot at permanent change. Nine more pounds and I’ll be at my target weight and able to maintain it. Maybe I’ll finally sign up to run a 5K in 2019.
A friend of mine, despite my gentle attempts to steer her in a direction not fraught with poverty and disappointment, has decided she wants to be a writer of fiction. About the time she made this decision, Jonathan Franzen published his piece on rules for writers. An odd collection of fancifully stated obviousness (the reader is your friend, you see more sitting still) and curmudgeonly snark (no one with an internet connection is doing good writing), it’s actually not very helpful at all. Franzen, who is not a writer with a day job (#writerwithadayjob), I think, seems a bit detached from reality—especially when he has to research middle class life to write a novel about the middle class and still can’t help but be disdainful of the people he writes about.
So, to help my friend plant her ass in a chair and do the hard work she seems to want to do (what the fuck is wrong with people?), here are my “rules” for writers.
1) Accept that your first draft will always be shit. Whether you plot out your story in advance or discover it as you go, the first draft will be shit. That’s why it’s best to get it out of your system as soon as you can and get to revising it. You can’t revise blank pages, and there’s no point in revising perfect (and you are never going to be perfect), so get comfortable with writing shit (or get comfortable not writing and be happy doing something else).
2) Since the first draft will be shit, you have to treat the writing of it as you would a bowel movement: do it regularly. Whether you’re a clock-puncher who sits down at the writing desk every day, or not, discover and establish a ritual or system that works for you and stick to it. The only requirement is that your system allows you to produce words on the page consistently, at a steady clip, predictably. Don’t compare the level of your output to others, all that matters is output. If there are no words on the page, you have nothing to revise and nothing to submit. If you aren’t writing, you’re not a writer. I’ve been punching the clock every morning for 21 years now and have missed only about 30 days that entire time and have written 5 complete manuscripts (sold one, but we aren’t talking the business side yet).
3) Writer’s block is bullshit. Those who believe in it, who worry about it arriving and never leaving, will have it and bemoan it, try to make others think it’s real, and wallow in it, expecting sympathy. Nothing getting on the page for the epic novel you’ve been pressuring yourself to write? So what? Try a short story or a poem. That not working? Try an essay. Try journaling. Do your favorite writing exercise (mine’s “I remember . . .”*), whatever . . . put words of some kind on a page, any page. I’ve found that when the words aren’t coming easily it’s because my subconscious is working a problem. If I’m patient with myself and simply keep the words—any words—flowing from my brain to my hands to the keyboard or pen and onto a page it all sorts itself out.
4) (optional if you want to publish). Learn the business of writing and publishing. Learn how to submit a manuscript. Learn how to work with an editor (and how to take constructive criticism). Learn how contracts work, and the difference between an advance (spent that fast) and the mythical royalty (I’ve never seen one because I’ve not earned back my advance against royalties). Learn how the Terms of Service apply to self-publishing platforms. Learn about copyrights and permissions. Learn about how the availability and price of book paper affects a publisher’s decision on what and when to publish. Learn about how bookstores work and how book distribution works. Learn all of that stuff so you can make an informed decision when it comes time to choose how you want to present your work to an audience. Traditional publishing? Self-publishing? Some hybrid of the two? Cool.
Some people think I have a low opinion of self-publishing, and I have to admit that, to an extent, I do. Here’s why—most of the people who end up talking to me about it seem to have a desperate need to justify themselves. I think they wanted to get a big, rich contract (which are like unicorns) but after a few rejections stormed off in a kind of Dunning-Kruger inspired fit of rage and have been angry ever since. Also, as a former indie bookseller, I helped manage a consignment program at the store where I worked, and 90% or more of the books in that program were self-published. The writers of those books did no marketing or self-promotion, and were never seen in the store before they dropped off their books, and weren’t seen in the store again until their contract expired and we called them about picking up their unsold books. They then got pissed off at us for not doing all the promotion and marketing they were neglecting to do and which traditional publishers and the more savvy self-published writers were doing for their books.
That being said, self-publishing does work for some people, and some people are good at it, and good writers are choosing to self-publish every day because of the shrinking acceptance rate at traditional publishing houses. But, self-publishing isn’t right for everyone, and traditional publishing isn’t right for everyone. By learning the business you can navigate that decision more wisely . . . and maybe even be successful at it**.
4.1) Make friends with your local indie bookstore, if you have one. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn and who you’ll meet. The blurbs on my first novel where provided by writers I met while working at Watermark Books.
5) Read. This one should be obvious, but I’ll put it here anyway. It’s the last rule, but perhaps the most important. There’s nothing worse than a poet who doesn’t read poetry. Nothing worse than a writer who doesn’t read. More importantly, you should learn how to read critically. Read so that you know how to spot formula, cliche, melodrama (purple prose), but also so you know how to analyze a well written metaphor, a graceful, moving image, and so on. Reading, and especially reading critically, is the best way to learn the craft, even if you went out and got an MFA in creative writing.
*Rules for “I remember . . .” Start with the phrase, I remember, write for 5 minutes and don’t let your pen stop. If you feel like you’re getting stuck, start over with “I remember.” It doesn’t matter what you put down, a list, even a long string of nothing but I remember I remember I remember is all good. Eventually your brain will get sick of it and spit out something else. That’s it. Find your own favorite writing exercise. Repeat as needed.
**Writers Digest, Writers Market, Poets & Writers – these publication among many, many others will help you learn the ins and outs of being a professional writer and choosing an appropriate publishing path.
Episode 4 of Bad Business will drop next week. In Ep. 4 Todd, Paul, and I talk about James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, and Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man No. 89.
In episode 3, Paul, Todd, and I talk about Charles Willeford’s The Woman Chaser and Megan Abbott’s Die a Little. NOTE: Despite Heather’s valiant efforts the audio is still a little uneven in this episode, but the conversation is good.
Episode 3 of Bad Business will drop next week. We’ll be discussing Charles Willeford’s novel The Woman Chaser and Megan Abbott’s Die A Little.
WARNING: Despite Heather’s valiant efforts, the audio is still a bit rough, but it’s better than what I recorded. So, put all the blame on me for not being able to manage two live mics and a Skype call.
In episode 2, Todd, Paul and I discuss Raymond Chandler and his novel The Long Goodbye.