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It Will Come

There is nothing like a long, slow, quiet period for a writer when, well, nothing gets written. I’m not concerned — it’s not like writing earns me a living and now I’m eating crumbs. I enjoy writing. It’s like when you go to a party and you just kind of sit there and watch everyone, have a drink or two, nibble on some chips, and don’t really interact. That’s what I’m feeling as a writer now: just hanging out watching, with no desire to chime in.

It has nothing to do with discipline–I don’t view writing as a chore or a task.

It has little to do with paranoia, depression, or other mental distress. While they may certainly be in the context of my and other writers’ lives, that’s always been there even when I was writing 1000+ words a day.

It’s just a period now that I don’t feel anything about. As if I’m on writer’s prozac, and devoid of any feelings for or against writing.

Which is too bad, because I miss writing, I like writing, and I enjoy reading my writing.

What sucks about the whole process–and you’ve read this ad nauseum–is the self-promotion. I think perhaps I’ve spent myself on that front. The self-promotion, as contradictory as that may be, is what may have exhausted the last shred of creativity from my bones.

I know just as well as anyone the importance of cultivating an audience of likers of my work, so don’t lecture me about how I must keep on keepin’ it on.

And sadly, I just can’t write stuff enjoyably without knowing there will be an audience for it. It’s the feedback, the discourse, the criticism, the applause that makes the process of putting a story out into the world enjoyable.

Someone told me a few weeks ago to write an write and write and keep it on my harddrive until I feel ready to share it.

Nah. That just won’t do.

Until I feel like mingling in the party again–and that’s just a mood thing–I’ll just stand on the sidelines for a little while longer.

It’ll come. I know it will come.

Thanks for reading.

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The Best Author Interview – Todd Keisling

Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years and my talent is not in writing, but in interviews. Nevertheless, author Todd Keisling responds to my inquiries about his writing process, and his new book, A Life Transparent, which I fucking loved.

The characters in ALT seem familiar to me. Even the Yawnings. It was eerily familiar as I read it. Why do you think that is?

I wanted the characters to be as real as possible. They’re people to whom the reader can relate in some way. I think we’ve all been in Donovan’s shoes at some point, stuck in a dead end job, wondering if that’s all there is to life. We’ve encountered people like Donovan’s co-workers. We know someone like Donovan’s brother, Michael, or Donovan’s wife, Donna. They’re the people who are living the lives they want to live, or yearn for something more but feel they’re being held back by a significant other. I tried to identify certain archetype figures and incorporate them into the story via these characters.

To me, the story’s pseudo-villain, Aleister Dullington, represents that nagging voice in the back of our minds, reminding us of our action’s consequences, pushing us in one direction even if we’re resistant to it. Even his minions, the Yawning, are manifestations of the way in which our boredom and mediocrity can consume us, thereby defining our lives for us.

I’d like to think those connections came through in the text in a subtle manner, and that what people find so unsettling or eerie about the story is their subconscious connection these things.

I realize that’s probably a convoluted, pretentious answer, but for now I’ll stick to it.

I’ll take it. You had a rough time with your first self-publishing printer. Did you take an opportunity to take another look at the writing in your novel before you republished it anew, with a professional editor?

I’ll preface this by saying my experiences with certain self-publishing outlets were my own. Your mileage may vary.

That said, yes, I did have a rough time. The book was initially published through Lulu back in 2007. Though getting set up in their system and securing distribution wasn’t expensive, procuring copies of the book was overpriced. Toward the end of my time with Lulu, I found it cheaper to buy the book from Amazon and pay my own royalty than to order directly from Lulu with the author discount.

That is completely fucked up. I wish more people knew about that kind of experience, and that there are alternatives. Go on.

In late 2009, while working on the follow-up novel, I decided to look at CreateSpace as an alternate solution. Around May of 2010, I finally started that transition process, and it turned into a huge mistake. There were a number of quality issues that led me to sever that relationship and pull the plug.

Kickstarter afforded me an opportunity to hire an editor and revise the book. I wanted to make a definitive edition, something that would be as high quality as I could make it. My editor made her first pass over the manuscript, after which I took her comments and rewrote the novel during a period of about two months. The end result was a slightly shorter, tighter work. It went from approximately 60k words to about 53k words. The story remained the same, but new scenes were added to flesh out the characters, and minor details were altered to better suit a lead-up to the sequel.

Looking back, I’m glad my editor and I spent that extra time with the book. It needed it (the manuscript was over 4 years old), and the end result is far superior to the original.

Kickstarter is a huge part of your renewed publishing effort. How did you set your budget for what your objectives were, and did you have a backup plan in case the funding didn’t come through?

The Kickstarter project saved the book. When things fell through with CreateSpace, I really didn’t know what else to do. My only other options were vanity companies like Author House and Xlibris (which seem like a total rip-off), and going to an offset printer (which is very expensive, and wouldn’t provide the distribution I needed).

So, you could say Kickstarter was the backup plan. If my project proposal hadn’t been approved, or if the project hadn’t earned out, ALT probably wouldn’t be available today.

I calculated the project budget by obtaining a fee schedule from Lightning Source. Then it was just a matter of doing some rough math. First I figured out how much the approximate product cost for each book would be (paperback vs. hardcover). Then I used that info to pick appropriate pledge tiers ($5, $15, $25, etc.) and the rewards associated with each. I settled on a total goal of $2000. That would be enough to pay the setup fees, editing rate, ISBN blocks, digital layout, and shipping & handling. I’m fortunate to be married to a graphic designer who knows her way around Photoshop and InDesign, so that wasn’t figured into the cost.

In hindsight, I probably should have gone for $3k. Midway through the project, I decided to go a step further and set up my own publishing house. The business fees ate into the funds. My shipping estimates for international rewards were also low. In the end, I had to go out of pocket
by a few hundred dollars. I will say that, had I not had to pay the setup costs associated with the
business side of things, everything would’ve come down to the penny from the Kickstarter funds.

What an experience! So many of us just skip the funding part, and then realize that we get out of it what we put into it.

What are you working on next?

The next book is a direct sequel to ALT. It’s called THE LIMINAL MAN, and it takes place about a year after the events of the first book. Currently, the manuscript is with my editor as she makes her first pass. We hope to go to print early next year.

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Big Fucking Deal

It occurred to me at 3am last night when I was awake wondering where the rain was. I’ve been obsessed with the rain–or more accurately, the lack of rain. It’s been a distraction all summer. In our little corner of the shore, we’ve had exactly 3 days of rain since May. It’s depressing to me. Every beautiful, shiny day there is no rain to interrupt the tedium of shining beauty. I am suspicious of the beauty. It shouldn’t be. No one deserves this much perfect weather. So instead, I focus on the drying, wilting aspect of a rainless summer: the high water bills for keeping our little garden intact and the sunburns.

And that’s what occurred to me last night as I lay awake: I’ve displaced my expectations for a texturally interesting and climactically diverse summer with the feelings of melancholy for releasing my book with no fanfare.

None, whatsoever.

So I wrote the book, with all the effort that any author–independent or otherwise–writes and releases a book. And it’s out. And that’s it. Sure I’m promoting it, but not so much. I mean really, one can only beg reviewers to review it so much. And one can tout it only so much on Twitter without people getting sick of seeing your same 140 character description and link. And the blog, well, what else can you do on your own blog to promote your book but keep a sticky post with the info?

I grew weary of calling and visiting every indie bookstore in a 50 mile radius to carry the book on consignment, only for them to look at me like I have ten heads. I grew weary of begging cafes and bookstores to let me do a reading, because I got sick of getting the brushoff. No one really gives a shit, problematically, so fighting against the tide just isn’t in the cards for me right now.

I’m not hanging around Amazon, so forget that. I wrote to Bonnie Bernstein at ICM, Harvey Keitel’s agent, in the random hopes she’d pick up the email and call me back about the book. But my overnight energy to get the book made into a film was dashed when even my two friends in the film industry didn’t email me back.

Meh.

So I wrote and released a couple of books. Big fucking deal.

Now when’s it going to rain?

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Tips from an Idiot

A year ago I was readying to “submit” to agents for mainstream publishing. I read some agents’ blogs and watched their tweets fly by. I decided they are dicks and so I maneuvered around that process, learning that there was no opportunity to get a widespread, quit-your-dayjob publishing opportunity without agents.

So I ditched it all and published my book myself.

I sold about 100 print copies of *that book* (you know what I’m talking about, that I can’t mention it here) and only had a couple of months to promote it before the world ended. I’ve had about 1000 downloads on various free-e joints, so that’s not bad, but you can’t count if people actually read the downloads.

I’m not into analytics on this stuff anyway. I just want to know people enjoy my work as much as I do. That’s actually a lot to ask, but my mantra has been to publish as much as you can wherever you can.

I’m on to my first novel now, which I’m issuing RIGHT NOW. Moxie Mezcal put a great cover together and I formatted this motherfucker last night in a few hours. It didn’t take the month + help I got on my first book, because I took the steps to ensure I didn’t have to retrofit more than 200 pages as much as I would have.

I am an idiot with formatting and graphics. That’s a disclosure it is important to understand. I’m not at the bottom of the barrel–in fact, I consider myself close to being an MS Word whiz. But in order to format a book properly, you really do need to be that whiz, not just be close to it.

Start writing your book the way you want it to look and the process isn’t as painful. I had to retrofit my entire first book, and that process sucked.

Using styles, this book was much easier to format since there were no bizarre blocks of text in a different font. tnd once I realized that my indents were too big (and gee, that’s why the thing looked so lame), I just went in and moved the top tab to .1 rather than .5 and the whole thing magically fixed itself. *Awesome*

Global seek and replace was a winner for my sections–those imperative but annoying breaks within a chapter but not quite a chapter break. I had two asterisks, then I had 5 asterisks, some separated by tabs, some not, but a global search and replace worked wonders.

I write a lot of dialogue that is cut off, like, “Hey, asshole, what are you–” In Word, it tends to not like the emdash followed by a closed quotation, so you have to manually go in and replace the open quote with a closed quote. Again, global search and replace works fine for symbols and punctuation so don’t hesitate to use it. (However, search & replace function doesn’t work for finding curly quotes and replacing with straight quotes. Or at least it doesn’t work on my system. You should try it though, to make sure you have all your quotes in the same style.)

I should have (but didn’t) customize each header to match the chapter, since I wrote Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn with multiple perspectives. It would have required going in and inserting a section break for each of my 36 chapters. Then the pagination gets all fucked up. Meh….

Table of Contents is easy, it’s an *insert reference* function on your menu and you just make sure your chapter headings are identified in your TOC settings. Once you finish formatting, right-click on your TOC field and click update. Because I messed with a few of the headings, I didn’t want to update the entire TOC but just the page numbers.

Mirrored margins was an easy choice to find and it wasn’t a custom or manual function. (This makes it so when your book prints each facing page is centered correctly.)

I laughed when I opened the book on my nightstand to get double-check the pages before the text actually started (copyright, acknowledgements, kudos, bullshit, whatever) in Murakami’s last book there were 10 pages of bullshit before the text started! But I did learn I had to put in a blank page so that the text started on the right side, not the left. I could have put the TOC on two pages then to avoid a blank page, but then it wouldn’t have been facing each other and that’s lame.

I DID NOT align the text along the bottom of each page. I don’t know how to do that and I didn’t fuss over it. I probably should have. I know I’ll get my ass kicked for not doing it. But I didn’t. Meh, again. (If my story is so boring that you are focusing on the bottom page alignment, then I need to worry more about my story rather than the formatting.)

And there it is. I formatted my book. Now go ahead and do yours.

Thanks for reading.

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Ice Cream (or Fat Girls)

This story was originally posted on Year Zero.

She fumbled with her keys outside her locker and kept her head down. Despite all the noise and the rush of people in the hallway, she held her breath thinking and hoping that if she continued to do so she would shrink away and no one would see her. She held her breath often, and had been in the practice of doing so since she was a little girl. Not so little, in fact, she was a fat girl.

Once the mad rush of high schoolers left the building, she lifted her head and peeked around her locker, but not as if she was actually peeking but nonchalantly, as if she was relieved they were all gone and now she could breathe. She breathed. The release was always a relief, and gave her a little, joyful sense of freedom, when she knew no one was looking at her. But then she felt her rolls of fat, and her belly protrude from underneath her shirt, and she was uncomfortable and self-conscious once again. This is why she held her breath: so that she could feel that little bit of joy when she let it out and breathed again. And then the moment was over.

She grabbed her backpack and zipped it shut, and flung it over her shoulder. She closed her locker, careful not to slam it like the standard practice seemed to be. She took one last look behind her to be sure no one was there to see her. Ever since she was a child—a fat child—she was conscious of people behind her laughing at her large butt.

She walked to the exit at the end of the long hall. She was conscious of the shush-shush sound of her jeans chafing together, the fat girl walking sound, she thought. She focused her attention on the sound of the trinkets she attached to her backpack, instead. She had a lot of trinkets: cute, funny, fuzzy, little trinkets pinned to her backpack.

She thought that cute little things would take the attention away from her fatness. She collected little figurines, small dolls, anything miniature she could, she stacked them on her shelves in front of her mirror in her bedroom. Or pinned them on her jacket. Or attached them to her keychain. And her backpack. Little, cute things dangling from everywhere.

It was the last day of school and she had no plans. She had done very well this semester and was proud of herself. She deserved a treat. But this is what Dr. Wassel told her she should not do. Each time she felt bad or good she would reward and treat herself with food, and that’s why she is fat, he told her, in not so many words.

She drove home. The house was quiet, as it usually is. She had the day off from work, since her boss thought she might have some end of school celebration with friends. Just because she was fat didn’t mean she didn’t have any friends. She had friends. She had fat friends. They were fat together, and that’s the reason they were friends. There were five fat girls. They drove around town cruising the strip in her 1992 Celebrity with mismatched doors, from the accident her brother was in years ago.

She put her bag down and went into the kitchen. She opened the freezer and pulled out a half gallon of ice cream. It wasn’t a half gallon any longer, she noted, but it was still called a half gallon for marketing reasons, anyway. That’s something she did a report on for her economics class. Instead of eating from the carton, she turned and got a bowl from the cabinet. She put it on the kitchen table. She got a spoon from the drawer. In a different drawer she fished out an ice cream scoop.

She scooped several scoops of ice cream into the bowl. She knew this was not a good choice. She put the scooper back in the carton but it fell out on the kitchen table top, with a clang louder than it should have been.

She started to cry, quietly, and put her head squarely in both her palms. Her whole body shook as she wept.
She sniffled one big sniffle and wiped under her eyes to be sure her makeup wasn’t dripping down her face. She cried so often that she could get it under control quickly, and she knew exactly where to wipe on her face to manage the make-up situation. She sat down on the chair and moved it back about a foot or two away from the table. She sat there with her hands in her lap. She looked at the bowl, the carton, the unruly scooper, now beginning to drip ice cream on the tabletop. She looked at the spoon. It was clean and hadn’t been touched. If she kept that spoon clean, she thought, she wouldn’t be making a mistake.

She concentrated her attention on the clean spoon. This is a tactic Dr. Wassel tried to teach her, to focus on something that will keep her from making a bad food choice. She intensified her gaze at the spoon, and tilted her head slightly so that the spoon would catch the light from the window behind her. She tilted her head ever so slightly to create a slow flash of light on the spoon. For a moment she may have meditated using the light and the spoon glare.

Then her concentration broke as some of the melted ice cream from the fallen scoop begun to drip to the floor. Her reaction was to clean the drippings immediately and she begin to reach for a towel, but then she thought about the implications of changing her focus from the spoon. She tried to let the melted ice cream continue to drip on the floor.

It was a hot day in June and she hadn’t yet opened the windows or turned on the fan in the kitchen. It was stifling in the kitchen. The entire carton of ice cream was sweating on the table, which was mixing with the melted ice cream from the scoop. She just hated a mess. She inched her chair back farther, to distance herself from the mess and the increasingly difficult bowl of ice cream to defy.

The bowl looked like a commercial or an advertisement for ice cream. She had never before scooped ice cream to look so perfectly round and enticing in the bowl. The sun behind her from the window felt like it was burning through her shirt and sweat was pouring down her back. She was agonizing now. She started rocking back and forth in the chair and humming a tune from Sunday school. She fixed her eyes on the spoon, now in the path of water almost streaming from the sweating carton. Please, spoon, please, don’t get wet, stay clean and dry, and we’ll be home free.

The spoon lay there innocently until a large gob of ice from the side of the container slid off, like an avalanche, landing within an inch of the spoon. She was now at the edge of her seat, rocking, humming, and rubbing her hands repeatedly up and down the top of her jeans to wipe the perspiration.

But now the spoon was in great jeopardy—in just a moment it would be tainted, dampened, dirty. She watched as the melted ice slowly made its way to the spoon, soon engulfing it. She felt hopeless now; the spoon left her gaze and shunned her loyalty. The spoon now belonged to the bowl of ice cream, fouled by the carton’s pollution. She leaped from her chair and grasped the spoon. She plunged it unhesitatingly into the bowl’s contents, now a soupy disaster.

She was left with no other choice.

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BOOK SALE

Following on my post on The Anti-Bookshelving Movement, I’m cribbing off what Todd Keisling did a few months ago. Books on the list are $5 plus $5 shipping in the US. You can paypal to lenoxparker [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tales from the Torrid Zone-Travels in the Deep Tropics, by Alexander Frater (Hardcover)

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

Foreskin’s Lament, a Memoir, by Shalom Auslander

The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin

The Gravedigger’s Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates

The Commoner, by John Burnham Schwartz

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Author, Author, by David Lodge

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

Sashenka, by Simon Montefiore

The Distant Land of My Father, by Bo Caldwell

Women as Lovers, by Elfriede Jelinek

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan

The Soloist, by Steve Lopez

Empire Falls, by Richard Russo

Moloka’I, by Alan Brennert

Neither Here Nor There, Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson

The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee

Wild Swans, The Daughters of China, by Jung Chang

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