Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Breakin'

It has been a quiet, relaxing Spring Break, for me, thus far.  I have spent a lot of time watching Star Trek and Lie to Me on Netflix, and my wife and I have also gotten into The Following with Kevin Bacon.  In spite of my general laziness over this time period, I have also been working on school work, both work for my classes, and the class I am teaching--I am just doing it at my leisure. 

I have also spent time thinking about my novel, Out in the Garage, and finishing a final edit of it.  I have made a personal vow that, after I get done with it this time, I am not going back to it again.  I have some great ideas for my second novel, tentatively title Consequences--which I believe will be even better than the first, since I have a better idea of what I am doing and I have already more or less mapped it out, beginning to end (as it is somewhat based off of a movie script I wrote).  In fact, I am also brainstorming a third novel, as well (called Born in 1984-- I am waiting to write it third as it is going to take more research and studying than I have time to do right now, since I need to focus more on finishing school and finding a job).

Consequences is altogether a different novel than Out in the Garage.  For one, it is narrated in a third-person omniscient voice, and is in the past tense, and it has more of a story arc and plot than Out in the Garage.  It is more apparently social criticism--although I wouldn't really consider it satire.  It is more social criticism in the way that The Great Gatsby is social criticism.  I am really looking forward to being able to sit down and work on it, but, first things first.  I have to be satisfied with Out in the Garage.

While I certainly could have left it the way that it was, and after a lot of deliberation I am not doing anything extreme, just cutting the fat.  One thing I have been considering, mostly due to my insecurity, more than anything, is my use of the present tense.  It is this that has pushed me to make changes--although, rather than going backwards and using a past edition of the novel, I am pushing forward and making it work more in the way that I had in mind.  One common error that people have is that they assume that by using the present tense it is taking place in the present, or that the narrator is experiencing it in the present.  Rather, it is merely another way to narrate the past.  

I decided to use it for a variety of reasons, but my biggest reason is that I like the way that my writing sounds in the present tense--it gives it a poetic, musical quality, which is important, in particular, for this novel, since it is designed to be a sort of novelization of a rock opera (that doesn't really exist, but I have honestly thought of making one).  If you take a look at the book (if you happen to have a copy), instead part being divided into parts, it is divided into sides A and B, and, while I haven't label the chapters as tracks, I haven't labeled them as chapters either.  It is not intended to be the narrator experiencing and describing things as they are happening, and, most of the time, when any writer uses it, if they are using it as it is intended to be used, it isn't intended that way, either.  John Updike referred to it as being  similar to time sense  in a movie (referring to Rabbit, Run).  In fact, Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis and Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Coetzee are both also written in the narrative present.  While I am no Updike, Easton Ellis, or Coetzee, I strive to be, and will continue to study them closely (and many others, as well).

The changes I am making aren't major, I am not adding anything, I am just trying to make the story (and the ideas within it) more clear; I am cutting out parts that only distract the reader (and I am also trying to catch any remaining typos).  While I know it goes against the status quo of publishing to go back and make changes to a book that has already been published, as a self-publishing author, I have more freedom to do what I want, and part of my reason for self-publishing is to discover what works and what doesn't.  I can be as experimental as I want to be, and it's not like I have a big readership or anything like that, so, I must need to keep trying and keep honing what I am doing.  That being said, I do understand that I can only reasonably do so much to one novel before it's time to move forward--and I am nearly to that point, I just need this one last push, this one last effort, to get it to where I will be comfortable with leaving it and moving forward.

It shouldn't take too much longer, but I am trying to be thorough.  Once I re-release it, I am not going back to it again.  It will remain how it is at that time, and anything I learn I will just apply to the next project.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Rather than releasing more than one version of Out in the Garage, I have done some editing to the version that is out now.  I have cut out a couple of scenes as well as a few small parts that are extraneous.  These cuts, I believe, will make it a touch more ambiguous and will give the narration a more realistic touch, since there were about three or four instances where the narration was a bit too advanced for someone who is supposed to be a teenager--although, there wasn't really any more than that. 

While the criticism was definitely exaggerated, I believe it has pushed me to be a stronger writer and to know when make minimal changes that will hopefully help me gain a wider readership without changing the scope of the novel and the ideas I was intending to express through it.  I firmly believe ambiguity will work to my advantage as people read and determine the meaning. While it is certainly not perfect, it is as perfect as it is going to get, and I am proud of it, and my putting it out there, regardless of how others feel about me or my writing.  While I am sure not everyone will like it (as no book is universally liked by everyone), hopefully these changes will make it more accessible to more people.

To be cautious and to make sure that I didn't create any errors when I made the changes, I am getting a proof of it before I put it back out there in print and before I change the e-book version.  This is the last time I am changing it.  After these changes are finalized and it is all released, it is how it is going to stay, take it or leave it.  I firmly believe in the story, and I think that I have a lot to offer as a writer, and I want to continue learning and growing and moving forward, and these changes represent to me the best possible way of moving forward and continuing to feel good about the work that I have put out there.

In other news, I have some ideas for short stories (which I am saving for my short story class) and I have decided on my next next novel, which is one that I already actually started, based off of a movie script that I wrote, in Chicago.  Since I already have it all planned out, more or less, it shouldn't take me long, once I have time to sit down and work on it, to get a draft out.  It is a third person narration that primarily told through two different perspectives.  It is different in a lot of ways from Out in the Garage, which is exciting for me.

It is tentatively called Consequences, and I already have about 3,000 words written (in addition to a 30-page movie script as a sort of outline, in addition to further brainstorming I have done over the years, here and there).  I decided upon it as I was brainstorming the other night and came up with some great ideas for it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Poem:


Never be complacent.
It’s that unspoken sort of knowledge
that our parents passed down to us
through the horror flashing in their eyes
as they tried to make ends meet.
But it’s like trying to make a circle
from infinity to infinity
and trying to keep reliving it.
There are two ends:
one that you are always traveling towards,
and another that you
are always traveling away from.

You can never go back, because
it’s all exploding behind you.
 If you don’t keep moving forward,
it will engulf you.  Your matter
will be sapped back
into the universe
until it is regurgitated…

Maybe we really do live forever.

We can all be kings and queens.
We are all swimming
through the same vast ocean of universe.
We are all traveling through space
and reliant on light.  We all breathe air and
require water and sustenance
from other living things.
We are all part of an ecosystem,
whether natural, or artificial.

We can all be the kings and queens.
We can be whoever
we define ourselves to be.
We make it all up.
Our minds are trampling us
under the immense weight
of our self-consciousness.

We are so smart that we scare ourselves,
and we cannot grasp that we can
progress if we put our minds to it, and carry
on only the best ideas, and try to repair
everything that’s broken, or keep trying,
because it is an impossible task.

But that is what should humble us.
It is difficult
but we can keep wanting it.  We should
always keep wanting it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Creating Meaning

"Every person would be exactly as important as any other.  All facts would also be given equal weightiness.  Nothing would be left out.  Let others bring order to chaos.  I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done.

"If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead."--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Criticism be damned, I am going to keep on going.  Sometimes people too quickly let others get them distracted from what is truly important, which is relative.  I am guilty of this, and surely it has to do with the insecurity of the fact that I am venturing into new territory for myself as a writer, and if I wasn't insecure, then I probably would just be a blockhead.  Maybe I am a blockhead anyway, and we all are blockheads, and everything we do is meaningless.  

That doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Maybe my way of giving meaning to my life is  to others meaningless or trash or poorly written or whatever, but if it gives me some sort of happiness, then it isn't wholly meaningless, since all meaning is artificial, anyways, and thus, as long as it means something to me, that's all that matters.

Sometimes people play against your insecurities, and, even if you disagree with the criticism, the critic, even though he may not intend it because he is not attempting to be helpful as much as he is just being pompous, might be doing you a service.  When you put yourself out there you need to grow thick skin but also let legitimate criticisms inside.  They might hurt the skin, but, if there is anything I have learned through what I have read, a lot of times, more often than not, true growth only comes as the result of pain.  The wounds might be fresh, but in my mind I can heal them, if I allow myself to be able to do so.

Perhaps, the critic, while he might have been  inconsiderate, being removed from the project, unaware of the creator, or his intentions, or at least only vaguely aware of my intentions through intuition, is demonstrating the basic subjective nature of writing and reading what has been written. While certainly it is not fun to get a negative criticism, just because one person believes it to be legitimate, doesn't mean it is so, but it doesn't mean it is not either.  People decide for themselves what is legitimate and what is not, and some might agree, some might disagree, others might have other points of view.  It is hard to say, and it is out of my control, but I think what I have learned is to not respond to it or let it bother me too much--only enough for what I need to learn from it.  I can only be one voice among many, to try to affect change in others, and to allow others to affect change in me, when it makes sense to do so.

I fully acknowledge that I am not a perfect writer, and that I have room to grow and change.  it would be arrogant of me if I didn't feel that way.  Everyone always has room to grow and to change, even if he can't think of a way to make it happen, it is possible.  Sometimes it takes another person and an open mind to see it.  I am learning all the time, and I feel good about the future of my writing and what I am capable of doing--if I can work on my self control and truly articulate my ideas in the way that best suits each of them, individually.

Maybe I will only start off with one or two fans, but as I grow and adapt and become a better writer through experience: continuing writing, reading, and studying--reaching for what is possible, or slightly beyond, to keep myself wanting--I will ultimately break through and really reach people in a constructive and meaningful way.  And as for what is better and what is worse, I hold myself to the standards I have developed through my experience.  I will continue gaining experience and will adapt my standards as I learn.

If writing is an act intended to communicate ideas, and if social discourse also happens, at least in part, through writers sharing ideas with one another through time, then that is what I will continue attempting to do.  It is worth it to continue trying, even if I fall short.  Even if no one else, or only few other people understand, then at least I gain some sort of better understanding.  And you never know or rarely ever truly know who else might be affected--but even if you are never aware of it personally, it is worth it to try and affect others, positively.  

Maybe I will just continue to entertain myself, and maybe, if I am lucky, a small group of others, for a little while, and bring some sort of artificial meaning to life, even if the meaning is merely in the act of actually working towards something like reading or writing a novel from beginning to the end, and thinking about it a little while, before moving on to the next shiny object.  If that is the most one could ever hope for in life, then that is enough for me.  It is better than nothing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Long and Winding Ramble

One idea that keeps floating across my nerve center and making it's way to the conscious part of my mind has to do with experimenting as much as possible until I figure out what works for me as a writer and a publisher.  

The common sense of the status quo suggests that I should only publish one version of my book, because if I were to publish more than one version it would come across as indecisive and insecure. However, the mere fact that I consider these things out loud to the world makes it sort of impossible for me to go with what is the right-now accepted correct way: I am already working against doing things "properly."

Then again, I am really just doing it as a hobby and not for a living and that should allow me more leeway since I am not financially dependent on it.  When it comes down to it, really, I can fucking do what I want, how I want.  

I just have to get creative, and, I do believe I can venture to say that I have a large capacity for creativity and the experience of working with no budget.  That's just how I have had to live my life out of necessity.  I do believe this blog should be my primary thing, as it is something people can read regularly, for free.  

The books will be there, and if I can sufficiently impress people with my writing on this blog, people might be more inclined to purchase my books.  Therefore, I have write on this as regularly as possible.

When it comes to my next novel, I need to brainstorm it thoroughly from beginning to end and then limit myself to like two or three drafts, copyediting, and proofreading.  Any more than that and I will  start to over-think it and bastardize the original idea.  It too easily becomes something else. The best thing to do is to finish it, polish it, and then move on to the next one.  I spent far too much time on my first novel.

Although, I realize, spending too much time can also have it's benefits, especially if you are willing to break free of any artificial restraints and go against the current.  Since I have already done it with this one, why not experiment?

Once you are free, you are more willing to try things out and see what happens.  This is why I am going to also publish two other versions of my first novel.  Each version is distinct and I am not sure which is truly better.  

Maybe that does make me indecisive, but isn't that just a part of who I am?  Isn't it better to admit that and try to turn it into a good thing?  At least try and use it to my advantage and see what happens?

Do I have any reason to assume that any other way that I could do things is the way that I should do things and ultimately get more people interested in my writing?  Why not try out a variety of ideas and see what works?  

In my case, I believe the positives of publishing all three outweigh the negatives.  Hopefully, it will help me see what direction to take with the next project.

For now, I will watch The Twilight Zone, grade papers, finish Breakfast of Champions and watch SNL when it comes on.  There will likely be some music squeezed in there at some point, too.  As it is Saturday, it will likely be something along the lines of the J. Geils Band or Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.  Then again, maybe it's more of a Beatles kind of night.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Walking Away

At some point, perhaps last semester when my wife and I found out that we were going to have to move, it occurred to me that I wasn't going to finish my thesis.  Some might say that I picked the wrong topic--although, I don't think that is the case.  I believe that I am just at a stage in my life where I am ready to be finished with school.  Thankfully, I have enough credits and have met the requirements so that I can still graduate in August without finishing my thesis.  

This certainly limits my future possibilities, but, in a way, I am thankful for that.  After a certain point, the more degrees you have, the more it limits you--and there just aren't that many tenured teaching positions out there.  The institution of higher education is rapidly changing for the worse, and I don't want to be around when it implodes in on itself, which is going to happen sooner or later.

Maybe I am just burned out or frustrated with the educational system, but, when it comes down to it, I think I have learned what I set out to learn and am ready to start the next stage of my life.  I believe I have enough education and world experience that I can get the kind of job that will allow me to do all that fun stuff that eventually comes about for most people to do.  I want to be able to enjoy it while it is happening, and not worry about studying and writing papers and grading and all that crap.  

That doesn't mean that I won't continue to read and learn and attempt to understand life and the world around me as much as I am able.  In fact, I believe I will have more freedom to do so.  After all, I have shelves filled with books that I am anxious to read and study--and when you are in school and barely have enough time to get your work done and lesson plan and grade, you don't have time to read or do much else.  Not to mention the fact that there is no better teacher than experience.  I will continue to learn and grow throughout my life.

Many of the writers who have influenced me the most worked full-time jobs and wrote in their free time.  If I don't need to rely on writing to make a living, and I can continue to self-publish my work, I will have greater artistic freedom to explore life through fiction and write stories about whatever I see fit in whatever fashion I see fit.  I am not a writer because I am successful or make a living at it, or whatever, I am a writer because I write, and will always write.

This is not the end, but a beginning, and, while I close the door on some possibilities, I am opening the door on many others.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Answering THE Question

As anyone who has ever written a novel will tell you, when someone else finds out that you have written one, he/she will inevitably ask, "What's it about?"  While it seems like a simple and honest enough question,  it is actually a bit complicated and answering it adequately is an area where I struggle.  I mean, essentially, when someone asks you that question, that person is asking you to sum up, in my case, a nearly 57,000-word novel, in one or two sentences.  

While it is not an impossible task, depending upon the level of complexity of the work, it is something that takes careful thought and consideration, so that you can give the person asking an accurate description and hopefully entice him/her to want to read it.  It is difficult to promote a book, and it is important to take every opportunity that you get to win someone over.  Hopefully, eventually, you can get people to buy your books based on your reputation, but first you have to build one, and to do that, you need to get people to read what you are writing.  That is the hard part.  In my opinion, it is way harder even than writing the thing.

Up until recently, I feel I like have been doing an inadequate job at this task.  After having taken time to consider the problem, I have come to realize that it all comes down to getting the information out, in an efficient, effective manner, and that all starts with the question.  I had grown accustomed to saying something along the lines that Out in the Garage is a coming of age story--but that is pretty vague.  Next time I am asked--and I will, inevitably, be asked again--I will say something along these lines:

It is a coming of age story about growing up in a small town in the Midwest and playing in a band.  It focuses on the importance of doing something because you love it instead of because you are trying to look cool, as society/life is going to fuck you around every corner and it ultimately shouldn’t really matter what other people think.

It is short and to the point, and, while still somewhat vague, it gives the person asking a much more specific response than just, "coming of age story."  If that still isn't satisfactory, I can talk about how it also deals with love, sexuality, relationships, marriage, and divorce, and explain how it does so, or I could go more into the technical side of the novel. This might be necessary if I am talking to someone who is well-read or a writer, such as a colleague.  I could tell add to my description, by saying:

It’s also an experiment in narrativity in that it is in the first person and the present tense (for the most part) which, the way I have written it, I think, gives it a stream-of-consciousness feel.  It is very much set in a subjective, symbolic world where time is relative.

Finally, if that still isn't enough, or if I am inebriated, or something, and it seems like the person asking needs even more of an explanation, or if I want to make myself sound smart, I can say:

It is a meditation on religion/spirituality, focusing on how humans create meaning as a way to cope with aspects of life that they have a difficult time in grasping, which are really fundamentally ungraspable.  Just because you grow up in a culture where the keepers of the status quo tell you the world is a certain way, it doesn’t mean that you have to accept that as Truth, because there is no Truth, but truths.

Generally the first, most-basic one will be enough of a description for most people, as I believe it pretty well gives the gist of it, for the most part.  As different audiences require different levels of complexity, I can always pick up these threads and weave in more detail--if I am feeling generous or if the person asking seems genuinely interested and wants to hear more.

It is important to be detailed and specific, and flexible, when telling people about the novel, as it is an important part of promoting it.  This is how low-budget, word-of-mouth promotional strategies go: every person who seems remotely interested is a potential customer.

As I will be the first to admit, I am still learning the ins and outs of self-publishing.  I need to get better at self-promotion and finding subtle, effective ways at getting people's attentions.  Unfortunately, I have to come at it from a sales mentality--that doesn't mean I have to be obnoxious, but I should use every opportunity (especially ones that come about naturally) to get the word out there.

It does get annoying, at times, when people ask the question--at least, anyways, when it seems like they are more or less just being polite and don't really care--but I still need to get better at popping out my  description, because, well, you can never be completely sure about someone else's motivation.  Maybe they do actually care and will actually go out and read it.