Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Numbers That Add Up to 40

I turned 40 last week; that is 14,610 days (and yes I added leap years).

If I am lucky, I have lived ½ my life; if Biotechnology can be trusted, perhaps 2/3.

I have 1 wife, and will always have this 1 wife. In August we will have been married 18 years, so when we are 44 we will have been married for half of our lives (though we dated for 5 years before that, so she has already been the 1 for over 1/2). We have 2 sons (15 and 7) and 1 daughter (13).

Of extended family I have 1 Grandmother left, though with the Alzheimer’s she wouldn’t know me. I have 2 parents that will have been married for 42 years in 4 days. My wife also still has both her parents, so our children have significant relationships with their 4 grandparents. I have 4 Uncles (having lost 1) and 3 aunts (having lost 1). I think I have 15 cousins.

I have been employed by 14 different organizations, including factories, warehouses, architectural offices, tax-preparation services, air-shipping sorting facilities, retail establishments, and schools. I am in my 2nd year at my current School District, in my 7th full-time teaching year after all, so I estimate I have taught around 1,000 students.

I have entertained and enriched myself by reading 688 books (not counting picture, children, or most young adult books), and am currently reading another 5. My goal is to hit 1,000 well before I turn 50. I have also read several thousand comic books and graphic novels. Of films I have seen 3379. Unless something drastic happens to free up my time I doubt this number will reach 3500 by the time I’m 50.

As a writer I have written 37 short stories, 17 of which have been published so far. I have written 1 complete novel, and 3 novels that are crawling toward completedness. By the time I am fifty I would love to have published the rest of the short stories, and at least another 4 novels.

Thank you for taking several minutes from your number of years to read of mine.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Quarterly Report: 2016 Q1

At the beginning of the year I made several pledges that like all writers involved, essentially reading and writing more. Today, amid all of the requirements of life I will briefly reflect on how the year has gone so far.

On my writing:
The overarching goal for the year was to commit to do something creative every day: whether writing or art, or the maintenance of my meager publishing presence. To accomplish this I decided that at the end of my work day, at the moment when I had fulfilled my contractual hours, I would drop whatever teaching-related activity I was engaged in and concentrate of my writing. This year I have sixth-period prep, which for you non-teachers means that the last period of the day I have no students in class, and I grade and plan and do the countless other things that my teaching career requires from 2:07 to 3:00; my wife, also a teacher, though at a different school across town, leaves to pick me up for the commute home around 3:35, getting to my school somewhere between 3:45 to 4. So from 3 to 3:40 on weekdays I put on some writing music, and put in work. Sometimes, if possible, I will write a bit more when I get home, or if I have some extra time in the morning before students arrive I can get down a few lines, but the afternoons are where the most words get on paper. I shoot for a page a day, figuring my average written page is 250 words. Then Saturdays I typed the week's writing, file the manuscript pages, fill out a planner & log to gauge the week's productivity, and do other stuff like submit short stories to lit mags. Sundays I have generally taken off.

That's the plan at least, here is how it went:

January was primarily involved with short works: revising and updating, researching lit mags and making submissions. I worked on 8 short works, writing 3318 words, and made 25 submissions. On my daily log, only 2 of January's 31 days have "Nothing" as an entry. Even though I have a daily average goal of 250 words a day, and the 3318 words weren't even half of 7750 word monthly goal, I still felt like I had made a productive start to the year.

February saw me finishing the last short story revision, and returning to my novels. I have three novels-in-progress, with The Two Loves of Ugly Doug getting most of my attention with 5828 words, followed by Diary of a Sad Man, which I renamed Education, getting 1044; adding 952 words from my last short story addition, and I got a 7824 total, beating my February goal of 7250 words. I made 13 submissions to lit mags. On my daily log, only 2 of February's 29 days have "Nothing" as an entry

March started strong, then tanked when I first got hit by a vicious flu that sapped all mental processes along with my energy (seriously, for about three days my sole desire was to sit on the couch and stare off into space until I could go to sleep-though with it also being 3rd quarter finals that week, I only got to stay home and do that for one day), and then went on a spring break trip with the family. Over the first three weeks of March I got 5421 words into The Two Loves of Ugly Doug and 220 into Education, and then nothing for the last fifteen days of the months, going 5641 words into my 7750 goal. I made 1 short story submission.

Going forward next quarter my writing goal is to get at least 20000 more words into The Two Loves of Ugly Doug. I would be thrilled to finish the first draft of the novel before summer vacation, when my family is planning an epic cross-country road-trip through half of June and July, but that's a long-shot. I'm feeling that the first draft will be between 120000 and 140000 words, and since right now the manuscript is at 94070 I'll have to be well above my quotas to get close. Here's hoping though.
Short work-wise I have nothing new in the pipes, so it's just finding new mags to submit to so that every story is out soliciting at least three mags at a time - with the exception of a couple non-simultaneous submission white whales I'm going after.

On my reading:
I haven't done nearly as much reading as I had hoped I would. As per my Medium personal essay/pledgey thing I am only reading non-white male straight cis authors this year. As usual, the majority of reading came through audiobooks, where I started with Megan Abbot's Fever, and then started reading post-apocalyptic books from female authors, reading Edan Lupeki's California (which I didn't really like), and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, (which I really liked); then on my family's spring break trip when we had over 2000 miles of driving I cheated on my pledge as we listened to Andy Weir's The Martian, (which was entertaining as hell). I also read a bunch of Roxane Gay's essays from Bad Feminist, but I find I can't follow them very well on audio, so I'll have to pick up a physical book sometime to finish. Next up is Octavia Butler's Kindr'd.

As for physical you-can-hold-them-in-your-hands books I finished Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner (took a while to get into, but ended well), and then started on Jeffrey Hannan's Hugo SF (really enjoying so far), the first in a series of books I will read by homosexual writers. Trying to maximize as much writing time as I can, I am sacrificing reading time, but with my kids all in sports now I am getting more reading in at practices, between track heats and baseball/softball innings. The plan is to finish Hugo SF, and get at least 2 other books in before Summer break.

And I think that's all I've got for now. I'll check in again in early summer to let you know how everything has gone in quarter two.

And now I'm wishing I had a cool ending word like Stan Lee's Excelsior!...

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Setting Up the Year

I should probably feel better about 2015 than I do. Not that I feel that it was a bad year, just that it went by so fast, and I just have a general feeling of indifference about it. It's like I'm in the middle chapter of a series that's just setting up exposition for exciting plot developments to come, but the foreshadowing is too vague to know where my character is headed.

And there were some great things that happened in 2015 that should make me feel more fondly about it:
- We paid off our student loans and our car loan, so that for the first time in our 17 years of marriage we are completely debt free. And since then, this inexplicable thing has begun to happen where we actually have more money in our savings at the end of the month than when we began.
- Besides our annual daytrips to Santa Cruz we took the kids to Yosemite, Santa Barbara, Lake Tahoe, and Disneyland. Our kids travel very well, so our family trips are a pleasure.
- I started my second year of full-time teaching at my new school, and have finally got all juniors and senior classes, so that everyday teaching isn't a battle against hormone-fueled immaturity like last year's freshman and sophomore classes were. My administration is great, my colleagues are great, and I've got great rapport and buy-in from all of my classes. Planning and grading are a pain as usual, but it's so nice to feel stable, with it almost that next year I will be tenured.
- My eldest son Jacob gave up little league baseball for track, and flourished, competing in the mile, and getting a medal in long-jump at the district meet. His parents definitely enjoy the chill atmosphere of track meets compared to overly competitive parents of little league. Best of all he finished the evil purgatory of middle school and has made a better transition to high school than we could have hoped for. He played on the JV football team, got nearly straight A's, and was Homecoming Duke for the freshman class. My daughter Olivia is midway through middle school, but has avoided all of the bullying and negativity that plagued Jake. The uber-creative one, she is loving her crafts class, and playing trumpet in honor band. Though she had a crap time doing travel softball, she managed to have fun with it, and made it onto her school's team in the fall. Then the youngest, Ben, started 1st grade (though after Pre-K, T-K, and Kindergarten, he's an old hat at school) already having nearly mastered all of the 1st grade standards. He's reading chapter books all on his own, and has started the Harry Potter series.

All great things, right? Things that should be enough.Of course as a writer I hoped to have read more and written more in 2015, which is a mix of guilt that I wasn't more productive and envy of those others who always seem to have the time for it all.

Maybe it's getting older. I'm turning 40 this year, meaning 2015 was the year I began closing down a decade of my life, and it is too easy to think of the things that didn't happen in the past ten years that could have or should have, rather than the good things that did happen.

So it goes. Some reflection is necessary, but there's a point where too much looking back keeps you from moving forward with a purpose. Goodreads tells me that I read 26 books last year, missing my 40 book goal, which didn't keep me from making the same goal again this year. This year I am accepting K. T. Bradford's Challenge, and only reading books not written by white, male, straight, cis authors, with the caveat that I will occasionally cheat. I wrote about it in an essay on Medium.

Writing wise it's the same resolution every year: write more, make sure all finished short stories are under consideration somewhere, be better about connecting on social media, start making art again. This year to keep me accountable I started a log, so that I can ensure that I have done at least one thing for my creative life every day. After I get these last few short stories revised and submitted I hope this will be the oft advised "Write at least one page a day".

Since 2016 for me is split with finishing my 30's and beginning my 40's, it's a strange hybrid of short-term and long-term goals. I think now I will just focus on the next five months before my birthday. Here is my best case scenario (for why envision anything else):
- I will have completed all of my unfinished and unrevised short stories and have them off soliciting acceptance.
- my reading book count for the year will be in the teens.
- I will have begun one of the art project I've been planning for (gulp) years.
- I will be well on my way to completing one of my novels-in-progress (right now I'm leaning towards my Great American Zombie Novel The Two Loves of Ugly Doug).
- and since we are discussing best case scenarios, some of the short stories I have out will have been accepted, and there will be a sudden surge in readership, bringing enough revenue in to start a micro-press, which will begin it's run by finally allowing me to hold printed copies of my first two books in my hands.

Good luck to me, and good luck to you this year!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Dostoevsky - Grandfather of the Zombie Apocalypse

It's not often that one is able to discover something in a 149-year-old book that no one else seems to have caught, but I have, and the internet confirms that I am the only one to realize that Fyodor Dostoevsky originated the idea of a zombie apocalypse in his novel Crime and Punishment.


In the epilogue of the book, when the main character Rodion Raskolnikov is finally enduring his "Punishment" he has this dream:
He [Raskolnikov] dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices.

A "plague" of "microbes" that affects human behavior, making them "at once mad and furious", driving them to kill; not just to kill, but to "fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other." With the exception of some early stories that uses radiation as the culprit, the majority of zombie lore show the cause of the "plague" as some form of "microbe." [ex. Resident Evil, 28 Days Later]

The outbreak moves fast, and spreads wide: "Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection." [ex. Night of the Living Dead]

It evokes a military response, "They gathered together in armies against one another..." [ex. World War Z]

He shows the confusion and breakdown of communication among the survivors: "The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew." [ex. The Walking Dead]

He shows how our priorities would change: "The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned." [ex. also The Walking Dead]

And he shows the dangers of survivor against survivor: "Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other." [ex. Zombieland, and again, The Walking Dead]

Civilization moves to the edge of destruction: "There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further."

Until finally, there is a glimmer of hope that all the death and destruction cleansed the earth for a better future: "Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth," before the inevitable dark, hopelessness of humankind closes in: "but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices."

So Robert Kirkman, Max Brooks, Colson Whitehead, Isaac Marion, and other writers who have expanded the zombie mythos, make sure you give thanks to the one who first put the zombie apocalypse into our literary consciousness; as one that is currently writing a zombie novel, let me pay my dues here: "Thank you, Fyodor. Without your idea of a microbial plague that decimates civilization, our society would lack the awesome stories this idea has generated."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Unfortunately Outdated Interview with M. Allen Cunningham

In this, the third of my blog idea housecleaning, I present an interview I did with M. Allen Cunningham back in 2012, after he had launched his micro-press Atelier 26 with its inaugural release Date of Disappearance. I tried to get the interview published, and had high hopes after I received my first personalized rejection, and then heard nothing else ever from the other dozen places where I submitted it.

In the years since that initial book release, Atelier 26 has published two more books by Cunningham, with a third forthcoming, as well as adding three other authors to their list. Buy there books now here.

Why don’t we start by discussing your shift from traditional publishing at the small press Unbridled Books, to going indie? What do you feel happened between the publishing of Lost Son, and the submission of your third novel, The Silent Generations?

Do you have some time? This might take a minute.
            OK, I guess I should start by noting that Unbridled is, in fact, indie. That is, they’re unaffiliated with corporate publishing, they’re decentralized, and they don’t even keep offices in New York. All good things.
            What I can say about my latest novel, The Silent Generations, is this: it’s finished and ready for print. It’s been ready for more than two years now. An offer was made on the novel back in 2010, and this offer remained in place (generously, amazingly) even as I elected, for various reasons too personal and complicated to go into here, to see what other interest the book might attract. I felt, and my agent agreed, that I had reason for optimism. Then, after a little while, owing to numerous and mostly private factors, there was no longer any offer.
            Meanwhile, the book was making the rounds of big and medium-size publishers. Or, as I came to see it, the book was brushing up against the distinctive silliness of largely New York editors — a few of whom turned out to be barely matriculated twenty-something neophytes appallingly tasked with manning the gates. As their replies rolled in, I got used to hearing obnoxious comments about the author’s “track record,” the inability to make him a “breakout,” etc. — all of which seemed pretty irrelevant. And I began to understand to what extent BookScan does most authors a grievous injustice, not to mention its effect on the overall literary health of the publishing marketplace.
            Generally, too, I came to see what scant reading most of these New York people had done in my manuscript — wholly misinterpreting it through obvious (and faulty) skimming. Amazingly enough, this did not deter most of them in their perceived prerogative to offer so-called editorial insight about a novel which, in their descriptions of it, hardly resembled mine.
            Do I sound offended? Should I not take it all so personally? My position is, I gave them a chance at good work and they couldn’t take their thumbs out of their ledgers or stop their corporate multi-tasking long enough to really pay attention to the quality of the pages in front of them. My position is, I’ve been writing a pretty long time now — I’m not just some head-in-the-clouds amateur defensive about crummy work or reflexively averse to commentary or criticism. I have spent vast amounts of time — more than a decade — developing my work, vetting every sentence. This book alone I’ve lived with and painstakingly worked on for five years now. I know it better than anybody, I know it’s good, and I’m allowed to stand up for it — in fact, it’s a matter of dignity to do so when more than a few of the people subjecting it to such sloppy attention appear to be incapable of composing an error-free e-mail. These are the front-guard editors? My position now is that most writers should get more offended. Our publishing culture needs an earth-shattering shakeup (and e-books are not the answer).     
            I’m talking about a serious rejuvenation of editorial sensibility, an old-fashioned passionate readerly sense of mission! It did exist in this country once, even in the warrens of Manhattan.
            These feelings were all components of my decision to launch Atelier26, certainly.
            Anyway, as I say, The Silent Generations is finished and ready for print. I and my incredible agent stand by it. And I am still, for the most part, keen on it going to a traditional publisher. Which is not to say that I won’t publish it my own damn self if necessary. Anybody respectable out there want a chance at it, though?

So, amid your struggles to get The Silent Generations published, came Date of Disappearance. How did you get involved with USA Projects, and why did you choose Date of Disappearance to be your first self-published / micro-press project?

Last summer I was invited to a reception here in Portland introducing artists to USA Projects. I thought it was brilliant to apply the Kickstarter fundraising model in an online venue dedicated exclusively to the arts and geared toward a community of arts supporters. Brilliant, too, was USA’s offer to match funds for each project. But I was also highly skeptical about the usefulness of the platform for the purposes of my work (or any writer’s work actually). Writing seemed to me all but impossible to present in the visual-dynamic way that the USA site favors: the artist’s video pitch, etc. It just so happened, however, that I’d had this finished short story collection on my hands for a few years, and that my artist friend Nathan Shields had recently finished illustrating it. My plan was to publish it on Lulu or something (never through Amazon, though!). After the USA reception, it occurred to me that the visual component of this book could really help me overcome that challenge of attracting support online for literary work. And if I could amass funds this way, I could publish the thing more on my own terms (design specs, etc) and under my own imprint. Date of Disappearance turned out to be the first wholly literary project on the site, and the fundraiser’s success astonished me!

Preparing Date of Disappearance for print gave you a chance to see the publisher’s side of bookmaking. What did you enjoy about the process of publishing Date of Disappearance?

The process was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, including the initial fundraising effort, which tapped into some entrepreneurial instincts I didn’t even knew I had. I liked working with the illustrator, Nathan Shields, on cover design, laying out the flaps, etc. I liked poring over the printer’s paper samples. I liked consulting with the page designer on the font, the illustration spreads, the interior. I liked receiving and opening the cartons of finished books — I’m in love with them, they’re beautiful. I liked wrapping and packaging the first shipments of copies to go out to my donors. I liked stamping each copy’s parcel paper with the Atelier26 logo. I’ve really enjoyed bringing copies around to independent bookstores and talking with booksellers. I like selling the book myself — I never really could have anticipated the level of gratification this would bring. Beyond the incomparable royalty margin (which is itself gratifying) there’s an indescribable pleasure about handing (or mailing) a book directly to a customer. That’s certainly something that’s hard to come by outside of the self-pub model (except at book-signings, to an extent). The whole enterprise has had an old-fashioned, hand-crafted, village merchant quality that gels nicely with my value system as a person and my aesthetics as a writer. I imagine the fun and gratification will only increase when it’s another writer’s work I’m ushering into the world.

Let's discuss Date of Disappearance. In addition to the previously published stories collected in the book, there was the story “Summer.” The notorious film Faces of Death acts as a coming-of-age experience in the story for your young main character. I'm curious, had you seen the film yourself at a young age? The narrator, Harris Gerber, confronts the fake sexual passion of pornography, and the alternately fake and real deaths in Faces of Death - did you have any formative cultural experiences similar to Harris's?

I did see “Faces of Death” at some point in mid-adolescence, under circumstances similar to Harris’s viewing, i.e., a samizdat VHS was obtained by an older sibling. Pretty much everything I remember from my own viewing went into “Summer.” It’s sort of odd for me to talk about this now, because while working on this story and making the allusions to “Faces of Death,” I had no reason to believe that anyone else had ever heard of the movie, let alone seen it. Is it really “notorious”?

I think in the VCR era when we grew up Faces of Death did have that notoriety. I had heard about it being seen by what passed for the underground at my high school. In college I remember a large group huddled around a small dorm-room television watching a scratchy dubbed copy, alternately laughing at the absurdly faked deaths, and feeling doubtful squeamish about the ones that seemed real. “Summer” would be a very different story if set in the Internet age. What I'm wondering is, were there any bits of culture that you experienced that catalyzed you to action as a young man?

I have an old friend I first met in the sixth grade, and to this day he likes to recall my early predilection for heavy movies. I guess it’s true. I dragged him to see “JFK” when it first came out — we must have been in seventh grade by then. The film compelled me to undertake some extracurricular research into conspiracy theories: I remember promptly buying a copy of Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins. What I carried away most vividly from that particular movie, though, was the kick-in-the-gut morbidity of the actual assassination footage shown in the courtroom scene when Kevin Costner (as Garrison) says: “Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left,” while replaying over and over the frames showing Kennedy’s head exploding. That image was so horrifically primal, especially knowing that it was real. Around that same late-adolescent period, I watched a number of other films — Dead Poets Society, The Remains of the Day, and (a little later on) Shadowlands — all of which also indelibly reinforced in me the understanding that I was going to die someday. It was a keen understanding that I never managed to shake, not for a single day. And yes, it made me — and still makes me — want to do something with the time I’m given. Thoreau’s phrase, “…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” which I first heard in Dead Poets Society and later committed to memory along with great chunks of Walden, has been a stern and freeing catalyst for many years. The making of things in words has proved to be, for me, a good way to channel all that life energy. “Summer” is certainly about this kind of frightful awakening moment in one’s youth, and in that sense is highly autobiographical (though I hope the story is funny too). For that matter, my first novel The Green Age of Asher Witherow is also about a young man’s formative reckoning with mortality, his ardent struggle to find something lasting to hold onto.

What was your intention in setting “Summer” before the instant access to titillating and disturbing content brought by the Internet age?

It was a mostly unconscious intention, I think, but now that you bring it up I do see how important it was to the nature of the story as a coming-of-age vignette. First there’s the samizdat quality of the Faces of Death videotape. It has a certain significance as an artifact, a hard-to-come-by thing won by cleverness and stealth — and only for a limited time. This elevates the video’s stature and so increases its impact on the kids watching it. Somehow, if they’d just been able to find the same footage on YouTube (which I suppose one can probably do, now, with Faces of Death), the ease of access would dissipate the punch. In this sense, the leveling effect of the Internet is a sort spiritual/aesthetic problem: when everything is so readily and instantaneously available, nothing is particularly special. We pay less attention. We’re desensitized not only to the horrible stuff, but our capacity to be wonderstruck is diminished. I can’t really put myself in the shoes of today’s youngster who “grows up online,” as they say. It’s so foreign to me. I tend to suspect the daily experience is one of total oversaturation, a wash.
            It was supremely important to require young Harris Gerber to agonize about making the equally pined-for and dreaded phone call to the girl he worships. There is so much wrestling of mind and soul that goes into that simple action. Were “Summer” to be set in the present, he’d have the option of breaking the ice via Facebook, a flirtatious text, or something. With middle school crushes of this kind, it used to be a choice between direct contact or nothing. There was the anonymous love note, sure (a medium Harris employs). But the phone call, or the tête-à-tête was the biggee. Whatever the epistolary preludes, we all knew they didn’t really count. What counted was the direct contact — you couldn’t get anywhere till you had that. As most of us pre-Internet folks recall, that was a delicious — and meaningful — kind of torment. It yielded all kinds of pain, longing, and social- and self-development. Now, given the multitudinous methods of mediating contact, the default of the text message or the act of “Friending,” where does all that juicy youthful experience go? Maybe it’s been translated into that SMS somewhere, but I can’t see it. Is puppy love today flattened by over-mediation, just as kids’ access to culture may be a problem of oversaturation?

USA Project contributions not only helped publish Date of Disappearance, they helped you found the press to publish it. Can you explain your vision, and what is next, for Atelier 26?

From the start I envisioned Atelier26 as a beaux arts, belles lettres kind of enterprise. Completely boutique in nature, and yes, necessarily quixotic. Hence the emphasis, with Date of Disappearance, on the finest design standards, the incorporation of visual art, and the book as being a personal, keepable art-object (signed and numbered). Add to all this, too, the very important element of making Aterlier26 titles available for retail exclusively through indie bookstores (no Amazon!).
            It’s been great fun to produce my first title, a volume I can be proud of in all these respects. But my main and most passionate objective with Atelier26 is to champion the fiction of other writers. At the moment I’m in the early stages of working with my first author, an accomplished novelist whose work I hugely admire. It’s extremely exciting to me.

You have been quite vocal against the rise of e-readers and electronic publishing. How has publishing a short story in e-book format changed, or confirmed your opinions?

I wouldn’t say I’m on any kind of cultural campaign against e-reading devices, per se (though I do detest them personally). What I’m against, if anything, are the dogmatic technophiles — or, more often, technocrats — who tend to dominate the conversation about where reading, writing, and publishing is headed. This is a conversation being had, if at all, online — which explains its common “rah-rah gadget!” substance. The technocrat’s dogma holds that the world is destined for the absolute conquest of the screen and its pixels over the page and its ink. Why it must be a question of conquest, rather than useful and reasonable co-existence, no one ever says. It’s a tiresome, self-serving, empty, and ultimately scary kind of hallelujah.
            While we’re on the subject, I might as well say that I’m also against the abject surrender of some readers who accept that other default perspective on this subject, which goes like this: Books are wonderful, we love books, but they’re doomed, like vinyl, to become scarce, overpriced specialty items. That, to me, is a scenario that ought to give any self-respecting reader the dystopian creeps. (C’mon readers, put some fight in those dukes!)
            E-books have their virtues, and there’s a place for these, they should not be discounted. But digital text will never be an adequate wholesale replacement for the printed page, for about a bazillion reasons. My main concerns around the rise of e-books have to do with:
            a) the creepy atmosphere of “inevitability” that has been, let’s face it, socially engineered by technologists through online mass media — I’m referring to the instilled consumer belief that every aspect of life ought to revolve around a digital gadget, that books are simply old media in need of updating, etc. (see Sven Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies);
            b) the widespread neural restructuring effected in readers as they adapt to the digital intake of text, and the ways this may considerably weaken (as neuro-scientific research indicates it does) the important cognitive processes long fostered by print reading (see Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows);
            c) the unavoidable issues of privacy violations — wherein digital content providers know exactly what we’re reading, how much time we spend reading, where we stop reading any particular work, etc.; (see Amazon’s Kindle privacy policy)
            d) the effects of c. as a market-research phenomenon and a determinant in what books — print or digital — the increasingly timid publishers of today choose to publish (witness the innumerable abundantly gifted and seasoned novelists who can’t get their latest books published);
            e) the evolutionary move toward an outright confusion of literature and data (see item d);
            f) the extreme manipulability, or as Jonathan Franzen has called it, “radical contingency” of digital text. Here today, vanished tomorrow. Words that say this one minute, and that the next. The dangers posed by such an unreliable, disembodied medium goes mostly unremarked (but see Orwell’s Ministry of Information);  
            g) the leveling of independent bookstores and, by extension, the disappearance of the kind of vibrant idiosyncratic local culture a great bookstore can encourage (see your own neighborhood);
            h) the further empowerment of Amazon. Consumer passivity in the face of this rapacious company and its frightening CEO has got to end!
            It’s worth noting that none of the above issues show any sign of going away.

            I did recently publish my short story “Sight Unseen” as an e-book. Doing so hasn’t really changed or confirmed my feelings. It’s been fun to know that the story is now available to people instead of simply sitting in a drawer. There’s much to be said there about e-books. They do offer, in a way, a certain empowerment to writers. Except that they also serve to depreciate the perceived price value of a book … oh, but I could I go on forever. …

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Danger of Attempting to Describe the Creative Process

There comes a time in every writer's life where he or she has the urge to find a creative way to describe their creative process. This should be avoided at all costs, for while this exercise is fun to think about and write, invariably the product will be pretentious as hell.
Example: the following was originally planned as part of a series of blog swaps with author Nath Jones in early 2013. The intention was for us to begin in a void that we would each bring ideas and props in to discuss and examine and let it evolve before us. This contribution of mine pretty much derailed it...

Welcome to our void. As all voids long to be filled I have lent the void some materials from my mind. Let’s head over to those flashes in the distance; they’re not as far away as they initially seemed.
Here we are. Before us are five swirling clouds, each about the size of a baby whale, each a different color, each with flashes of image occasionally crackling in their foggy interior.
The first cloud is the brown of rich earth, well composted. It is memory.
The second cloud is variegated greens; the green of young shoots ready to be guided up the structure of a pole, and also the garish green of weeds that infect the garden. This cloud is dreams.
The third cloud is the flickering dance of yellow-orange campfire light, of candlelight, of brightness amid the dark, of the hypnotic quality of a story well told from the moment the log alights to the final coals that stay buried beneath your surface, waiting to kindle other stories. This cloud is every story I have read
The fourth cloud is a cool blue, at once electronic and photonic. Its images project out of the cloud like crystals of light. It is every story that I have watched, in film, or on television, or participated with in a video game.
Each of the first four clouds is at a level that I can reach into them, save for the fifth. This last cloud is hanging above me like a Charlie Brown raincloud, only it is red. Right now it is red and flashing like an emergency light. This cloud is my anxiety over writing. When I am being productive the light dims from an angry red to the sweet pink of bakery boxes—of old school soda fountain booths. But many things can inflame this red: if I read something too good, something I feel I can never match—or, conversely, if I read something by a successful writer that I feel I could write better; if I have spent too long idle, or absent from writing; or if I am frustrated with the work I am doing, and long for the mythic “writer’s life;” these sharpen the tone of urgency in the red.
It’s flashing like an emergency light now because I have been meaning to write this for a while, so the anxiety to see it written, to check it off the “To Do” list, has been building.
This is how I use the clouds.
There is a piece of paper suspended in air before me. I scoop a handful from each cloud until I have a rainbow cotton candy cloud floating in front of my paper. I then take a jar of India ink, and throw through the cloud, onto this paper. It dries quickly, but I always get some on my fingers: I like this though, as I like to get paint on my fingers, and graphite, and stone dust, for I can look at these stains afterward and have tangible proof that that day, I managed to do something creative.
Next, I skitter my fingers over the paper, performing the magic that pulls all of the ink out, and breaks it down until it is an ordered construction of electrons. From this state I can reorder the electrons at will. I used to send jets of ink through these electrons to rebind them to paper—either to throw more ink from my jar onto it (which I find I’m doing less and less), or to send them as offerings to holy men and women (which I never do any more—now I just send them the electrons).

That’s all there is to it.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Happy Anniversary to Me

Ten years ago the self-appointed designation of ‘writer’ was legitimized when I received a copy of my first published story. Printed in Illya’s Honey, a lovely little journal published out of Dallas, words I had set in order were printed under the name I had chosen for myself.

I remember receiving the letter of acceptance. Back then every submission consisted of a sheaf of papers – never stapled together upon pain of rejection (I have always preferred those pretzel-shaped ideal clips) – with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope that you charmed to repel form rejections. In the garage somewhere I have half-empty return address mailing labels for three different addresses. Today young writers would have to print out their rejection emails to have a collection from the world’s great literary journals to nail above their writing desks – I have actual paper rejections from Esquire, Playboy, Ploughshares, and more.

When that first acceptance came I immediately became a cliché: I had become so acclimated to no’s that I had to read it more than once to believe that it was a letter of yes!

Since that first yes I have received nine others, placing an additional pair of stories in a series of anthologies. A dozen stories released from my mind and accepted as worthy of publication by like-minded strangers. Eighteen other stories are either cruising around looking for a home, or back in the garage waiting for a tune-up. Here's hoping the next decade sees more of my stories find acceptance.