Category Archives: essay

Commodity or Magnum Opus?

Some people blow through a book in a day or two, while others take a couple of weeks or more. Many people just inhale them like a sweet breeze, one after the other, without stopping in between. I’m worse than that — I just forget the endings of books I enjoy. (Truth is, I don’t even finish books I don’t love.) To most avid readers, books are not only an unquestionable right, but they are taken for granted as a vital component of life.

It’s like when the tourists cruise through the Sistine Chapel, look up and say, “Look honey, Michelangelo’s painting, now let’s go get some spaghetti.”

But to a writer who may spend a year or more writing the damned thing, think about how we feel when we see a pile of books stacked up 5 feet high against the wall of a summer cabin and the proud readers saying, “We read all of these books this summer!” It’s an intractable dilemma. It’s not easy to write a book, and for some it’s extraordinarily difficult and a compelling feat. So when a reader zooms through it and moves on casually to the next one, how are we to reconcile this disparity?

Think of the planning, outlining, and writing. And writing. And writing. Then the editing, proofing, and rewriting. And rewriting. And editing some more. And then the synopsis. And for some who choose to submit their work for mainstream publishing, the sterilizing and demoralizing query process. Then the rejections. More queries. More rejections. Finally the agent, then the selling to the publisher. The reworking of some parts. The publisher meetings. The marketing meetings. The marketing. For the DIY writers, the layout–the horrible horrible layout process, then the pre-marketing, the blogging, the begging for interviews and reviews, the vetting of e-book/free-book websites, the setting up your website and trying to figure out the e-commerce plugins and CSS and HTML, the tweeting and more tweeting, the artwork, the printer or POD joint, the price gouging, the amazon threads that will make you gouge your eyes out, the paltry and late checks from your method of distribution.

And some asshole reads the thing in a weekend?

There it is, that’s the truth. We are at odds with the very mode of entertainment we choose to pursue. We can’t possibly ask or expect the reader to study and appreciate every word and page as we did; we don’t want them to know how we made the sausages, after all.

This supports my argument that short fiction, novellas, and experimental-length and format fiction should not only have more of a platform, especially with e-books, but that more authors ought to put out more of this type of work. ESPECIALLY with more e-books, because readers will devour even more of our work with this enhanced format, right? RIGHT? So all the better to fill up our tanks not with the predictably dull 80,000 word novels, but with interesting work that we can package with other media to deliver in the increasingly sophisticated (but still clunky) devices for reading.

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Fear of Success?

Dude, what the fuck does that mean?

That’s what I keep thinking when I hear people drop that line. “Oh, so and so is just scared of success, so they self-jeopardize, yadda yadda.”

I don’t understand what that means.

Or at least I didn’t think I understood what that meant until a few minutes ago.

The Yankee game is on a rain delay so I thought I would sketch out a plan of action to tackle the various projects I have jumbling around in my head. Prioritize, make a timeline, create an outline, do some research, that kind of thing. And then I realized that I have a novel I am about to release any minute now.

What am I doing working on other projects — juggling several of them, in fact — when I have a life-sucking day job, two toddlers, a commute from hell, and Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn to release? Since my last book’s promotion was brought to a screeching halt due to circumstances beyond my control, I owe it to myself to push Back(stabbed). So then I thought, am I that scattered, or am I really just trying to escape what could be a disappointing, anticlimactic release? Or is it the other thing — that fear of success thing?

For those of you who know what my last book was about (the young me), you’ll recall that it was a series of goals that I set which I met, and became disoriented after having met the goal. It’s kind of disappointing when you set out to reach what you tell yourself is a lofty expectation, and then you get there and it’s not so fabulous.

So perhaps it’s not a fear of “success,” in its immeasurable form, but a fear of continued disillusionment. Or, worse, (and this is where you say, babes, go see a shrink), an inability to feel satisfied not just with my own work but with its acceptance in the world.

So what does this all have to do with writing? Because it is a tremendous emotional and personal investment in our work and while we rely on external validation to a certain extent, much of how we feel about our work is measured on an internal scale. I write because I like to tell stories. I feel personal satisfaction once I’ve read the story I’ve written. I am proud of a lot of the stories I’ve written. But I cannot help but to put my work on a larger scale with the hopes that I’ll find gold at the end of the rainbow. Part of that desperation is due to the fact that the gold is simply unattainable.  It is like asking to live in bliss, to be able to support my family and writing.

Well, girlie, this life doesn’t work that way (for me, at least). My fear of success isn’t the problem so much as my expectations to win over fans and readers, adulation, demand, and my overwhelming desire to have the freedom to start any project I want. In order to really hit the next level as I want, I have to take some serious risks and just focus. I realize that I probably am not willing to risk what I have now (lame) in order to pursue what I really want. I did that. 29 times. And failed.

Projects I would like to get off the ground:

  • Sports Blog – http://TheIntentionalWalk.wordpress.com (this is live, but sucks a little bit. need graphics.)
  • Freelance articles and interviews with sports figures
  • Maggie & May full length novel (4 chapters done)
  • Jean-Baptiste Foulon is a Brilliant Liar full length novel (3 chapters done)
  • Screenplay for Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn and set up some major meetings to get it produced
  • Find an excellent food photographer and publish Intuitive Cooking cookbook (manuscript is complete)
  • Biography of Jay-Z (alternatively, a story or novella about a fictional character attempting to write a biography of Jay-Z.) Not started yet.
  • Launch Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn with more readings and appearances (1 appearance scheduled, here on August 22 for Katelan Foisy’s book release party)

Can I do it all? Check back to measure my progress. Nudge me, will ya? Thanks.

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Facsimiles of Evil

(I’ll disclose up front that yes, for those of you who know me, having worked at Troma and having partaken in my fair share of horror films in the past, this post may seem inconsistent. Or even self-contradicting.)

There is enough evil in the world that I don’t believe that artists have any moral need to create work that mimics evil. If you can provide me with any examples of these facsimiles of evil that provide some value or insight through absurdist methods or satire, then let’s talk about those. But right now my point is, what the hell are we doing creating, patronizing, and promulgating films and novels that depict evil? Why?

We can discuss the old adage about art mimicking life, or is it life mimicking art; or we can discuss gratuitous violence and freedom of speech. But more to the point, let’s think about why a writer would embark on writing a novel, a good mystery that is well-written, that graphically portrays a serial-killing family that brutally attacks, rapes, and kills women, including its own women. So yes, I’m picking on the Dragon Tattoo thing, among others.

After the news and authorities revealed a few examples of the world’s worst human beings who kept their own families for years under torturous conditions, there is absolutely no human value in recreating these acts in any form of art.

Facsimiles of evil. Just stop it. Do something else, please. Let’s rid ourselves of this genre.

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Anti-Bookshelving Movement

Ok, it’s not really a movement, it’s just me, to my knowledge. But I’ve been harboring feelings of anti-bookshelves for a while and wanted to get my thoughts out in the open. Thanks to Indiependent books’ post (http://www.indiependentbooks.com/blog/2010/07/home-libraries/) inquiring about readers’ bookshelving processes, I offered a contrarian opinion (go figure). Here it is.

when i released my first book, i released it for free online and in all electronic versions, and priced it at a very cute, ironic price in print, and event that was still a little steep for a first time author releasing an independent book that was uncategorizable (read: not a genre novel). so all i asked as i started giving it away to everyone on the street i could find who would take a copy was that their payment was to pass it on to someone else to read.

i cringe every time i hear someone say that my book is sitting on their coffee table, or on their nightstand, or proudly in their stack of unread or read books. I DON’T WANT MY BOOK TO SIT ANYWHERE. i want it to be read and read and read again. why would i have written a book, then, to have it sit on a shelf somewhere?

and that’s when i realized that all of the books i own and sit on my own shelves have authors, too, who have poured their guts and passion into writing them and want the same for their own works. so i’ve started to pass on my books on the condition that people do the same.

books should be an ever revolving product that can be used and re-used and re-re-used. ban bookshelves. bookshelves should be re-named thingshelves, so that they don’t carry books. they should be re-sized so that they can’t carry books. they should be a deterrent to holding books. books should have timers and alarms on them to remind the owner to pass it on.

the problem with book pricing is that when someone pays $24.95 plus tax and shipping, you want to get some bang for your buck. so you read it, you gingerly protect the cover, and you place it proudly on your shelf for all to see.

ew. we must get away from that mentality and pass books around because it faciliates more discussion about the book itself when you suggest someone read it and then you actually give them the thing. it makes recommendations real and that is what all authors want. and i do suppose readers do, too.

thanks.
lovelenox.

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Are You Scrooge McDuck?

Scrooge McDuck couldn’t get enough of what he thought he wanted.

He was never happy with what he had.

No matter how much money and things he collected, he always wanted more.

Sound familiar?

Even if you’re not a materialistic, greedy bastard, you want more from your writing career. But what’s so bad about that? It’s ambitious, right? For some, we want our writing to be our career, and so ambition and wanting more is a catalyst for that success we envision.

Writing makes me happy. I am likely not talented enough to see my writing rise above most other independent writers’ work and so I must accept that the term career does not signify the end of my day job. So logically, my objective then is to write for my own sanity, and when I choose to make it public, the bonus feature is to receive accolades and critique from other trusted peers–writers, friends, strangers–who take the time to read my work.

So that should be enough, right? RIGHT?

Sometimes I feel like Scrooge McDuck, who always wants more out of the words I put on paper. I struggle as the victim of the competitive spirit of the little industrious writing community, even despite my fiercely independent status. I want to earn more fans and readers. I want people to love my work and discuss it. I want Focus Features to come knocking to make films of my stories.

And then I feel shame. I should be pleased and content with having the ability to write what I can.

Oh fuck that.

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Attention

What kind of attention do you want, as a writer?

Your first instinct, if you’re someone I hang around with, is to say you’d like any and all attention, just to get your writing some visibility. You are so confident in your work (hopefully) that you are anxious, eager, and bursting at the seams to get more eyeballs on your work.

You are willing to throw it all in for that attention. You’ve blogged exhaustively. You’ve been nice to people you don’t know and don’t so much care about all over the internet. Your Twitter life is overtaking your own, all for the sake of gaining fans, followers, readers.

You are reading every piece of shit and every mark of brilliance you can get your hands on so that you can raise your own bar for your work product. The book review process is painful for you, with little feedback or responses. You feel like you’ve built the only platform you can, but…

You admittedly whore yourself all over the blogosphere, commenting everywhere and trying tactfully to get your plug in wherever you can.

You hang on opportunities to get a  reading, or a mention on some notorious blog.

You study those stats, analyze the analytics, and query to death your traffic. You’re doing everything you can, in between your day  job, your kids, your mortgage, your in-laws, and the goddamned lawn that needs to be mowed. Fuck.

So here comes an opportunity, you think, to really blow yourself out of the water. To really shine. You need something because everyone around you is raising that bar, doing video book trailers and podcasts, and selling just a few more through the Amazon threads (or so they say), than you are.

And you are better. You know what will bring attention to you. You didn’t want to talk about politics, or religion, or baby-killers, whatever the hell it will take to bring attention to yourself, just to get more eyes on your work. But then all of a sudden, you think, maybe being shameless isn’t as shameless as it may seem. Everyone else is doing their thing, why are you keeping to the book and maintaining all of the integrity that you feel may be the one thing holding you back?

So you go ahead and make that post or you label yourself in such a way that, well, labels you. You lay it all out.

Have you LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND?

Not necessarily, but you’ve lost yourself. You lost your objective. What is your objective? You are an independent writer. You need to be proud of your work and the few readers who do appreciate your writing and art. Not that you shouldn’t aim higher because you always should. But just leave it at that, will you?

Indie writers are surrounded by exponentially-expanding ranks of competition for a diminishing group of readers. There are enormous opportunities, but you have to love what you’re doing because you love writing and talking about writing and reading about writing and arguing about writing to feel any glory. Or else you really have lost your integrity.

And so then what the fuck are you doing if you have no integrity?

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Opening My Eyes and Tuning In

I took the earphones out and shut off my music. Then I opened my eyes, as I grabbed a seat on the downtown 4 train at about 5pm last Friday. It’s the New York City subway and oddly, there was a sense of lightness, content, and connection. I’m not sure I know how else to describe it. I made eye contact with several people, instead of looking at the floor, reading, or gazing into a parallel universe.

Two older women stepped on and there was a friendly fuss over seats given up for them. Then one lady began to hum and sing. At first I thought my ears were deceiving me. Then I looked right over at her and she leaned back in her seat and smiled as she sang what sounded to be hymnals, in French. I thought she might be Haitian. Within moments there was banter–the aloof high schooler who put down her summer reading to listen and observe leaned over and smiled. The guy who looked like he just busted out of Riker’s peered over and smiled, glancing around at others to engage them in this woman’s unprompted muse.

Anyone within earshot had pulled out their headphones. And interestingly this woman wasn’t singing to be heard, necessarily, as subway performers often do. She was singing out of pure joy.

I don’t know, or remember, what pure joy is. The hours and days after giving birth to my two kids was pure joy; and then later seeing each take their first steps. But I don’t otherwise have joy. So the next best thing is to witness someone truly bursting with joy to the point of song.

This sounds entirely sentimental, I know, and very much out of character for me. But I learned just a little bit about the benefits of connecting with the environment–as hostile as it sometimes may be–and by observing the emotions and expressions of others, even strangers.

Can I inject a little of that sensibility into my writing? I hope so, since much of [my] writing is drawn from personal experience, but more realistically, that experience may just be second-hand. Witnessing expressions of a range of emotion and having the sensibility to observe and document is important. Then the beauty of writing is to take those snapshots and articulate them so the reader is right there with you observing and feeling, whether it is a fictional or true experience.

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