Category: Opinions and Rants

From the Mailbag

I get quite a number of notes from individuals requesting my advice on matters relating to publishing, indie or otherwise.

Recently, two or three people queried me about how to better “monetize” their writing.

Deep breath.

Folks, anyone who has spent even a brief period on this site or has read a mere handful of my Tweets would know that I hold such attitudes in absolute contempt.

Trying to break into writing to make money, seeking fame, fortune and bestseller-dumb? Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place.

To clarify:

If you’re a purveyor of fan fiction, you should have your hands burned off with an acetylene torch. You are the shit real writers scrape off the bottom of their shoes.

If you concoct shapeshifter/paranormal romance you are a literary pornographer. You exhibit Grade Six-level writing and, it’s clear, retain an absolute horror of penetrative intercourse. As Bill Hicks would say: case fucking closed.

If you “lease” your talent to some franchise, averring that your penny dreadful writing subsidizes your “good” stuff, you’re only fooling yourself…and the gods of Literature can be very, very cruel. Regardless of how you rationalize it, you are whoring your Muse, peddling her ass for a fistful of loot. Your self-righteousness, the ferocity of your denials, only reveals the depth of your insecurity, your secret shame. You disgust me.

A twenty-something twat knows fuck all about life and has no right to claim an authoritative view on anything. You are also far too young and insignificant for a memoir. No one gives a shit about the suffering and pain (largely self-inflicted) you’ve endured during your brief existence. Your life is not unique or particularly interesting. You are part of a growing demographic: an egotistic, narcissistic non-entity with delusions of self-importance. There’s a lot of that going around nowadays and no vaccine in sight. Pity…

Demanding correct spelling and competent syntax is not “old school” thinking.

Unless you approach your craft with devotion and seriousness, work tirelessly and daily at improving yourself, you are a dabbler. A wannabe. Your efforts the equivalent of macaroni art: the gold paint may be slightly more gaudy, the noodles more generous, but it amounts to the same, unsightly mess stuck to the front of your fridge.

This blog is dedicated to a higher purpose, a celebration of the power and majesty of the printed word.

There are plenty of sites for people who compose in crayon, scribble on walls or any available surface and congratulate themselves for their artistry.

If that last sentence describes where you’re at, I think you’ve overstayed your welcome.

There’s the door.

Don’t let it hit you on the ass on the way out.

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“Neglected Authors Alliance” (Now Accepting Applications)

shadow1Awhile back, I exchanged some e-mails with my colleague Andrez Bergen, both of us bemoaning the sorry state of the publishing biz. Andrez is a superb writer, his novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat a stunning blend of Phil Dick at his best and “literary noir”—if you haven’t read it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Which is kind of the point of this post.

In one of my final missives I joked to Andrez that I was going to start an association called The Neglected Authors Alliance (NAA), and that the two of us would be charter members. Over the ensuing weeks, the idea kind of stuck with me and sometimes, as I passed my bookshelves, I’d take note of an author or two who weren’t household names, who had either slipped into obscurity or had never been widely read in the first place. I started putting together a roster; the living and the dead.

It was a depressing task; once I saw the sheer amount of raw talent represented, I felt sick. If these guys and gals couldn’t garner the rewards and praise and posterity to which they’re entitled, what chance do I have? Thirty years I’ve been putting pen to paper and my literary profile isn’t exactly where I want it to be (he says, choosing his words with extreme care).

And so, in tribute to Andrew and some other very fine scribes who deserve(d) far, far better from fickle readers and negligent publishers, I would like to recommend to you the following authors who have labored selflessly and courageously to produce innovative, literate prose, and who I am honored to add to the rolls of our oddball “society”:

Andrez Bergen
Michael Blumlein
Nicholas Christopher
John Crowley
Tony Daniel
Dennis Danvers
Peter Darbyshire
Paul Di Filippo
Katherine Dunn
Steve Erickson
Carolyn Forché
Barbara Gowdy
Ken Kalfus
Jim Knipfel
Thomas Ligotti
John Metcalf
Michael Malone
Corey Redekop
Abraham Rodriguez, Jr.
James Sallis
Steve Rasnic Tem
Christopher Tilghman
Wells Tower
Sean Virgo

Past (Honorary) Members:

Charles Beaumont
Martin Booth
Angela Carter
Louis Ferdinand Celine
Blaise Cendrars
Adolfo Bioy Cesares
James Crumley
Mahmoud Darwish
Guy Davenport
Stanley Elkin
William Fairchild
Mavis Gallant
Donald Harington
Georg Heym
Bohumil Hrabal
J.K. Huysmans
B.S. Johnson
Ernst Junger
Crad Kilodney
Rosa Luxemburg
David Markson
Seth Morgan
Flann O’Brien
Silvina Ocampo
Cynthia Ozick
Francis Picabia
James Salter
Bruno Schulz
Georg Trakl
Alexander Trocchi
Robert Walser
Denton Welch
___________________

Notice to any authors on my list who come across this post: drop me a line if you’d like to have your own, official NAA button, with all the perqs and benefits that implies.

And, in the meantime, don’t give up, don’t stop producing great work, refuse to cede the field to the hacks, “share-croppers” and pornographers plying their trade today.

We need you.

The barbarians are at the gate…

Photo by Sherron Burns

2015: A Banner Year

DSC007142015 marks my 30th anniversary as a professional author and 25th as an independent publisher.

That kind of longevity, in any vocation, is pretty rare, but when it comes to the arts? Writing? Are you kidding? It either shows tremendous faith, an overweening ego…or the simple acknowledgement that there’s nothing else I’m any good at. Or all of the above.

Over the past three decades, I’ve witnessed a lot of changes in terms of technology, trends, the way the publishing business is run. Hell, I’m so old, I can recall a time when it wasn’t embarrassing to call yourself a horror writer and John Updike and Ray Carver represented the high bar in terms of American literature. Jesus, where’s my cane and adult diapers?

In that interval, I’ve seen ’em come and I’ve seen ’em go. One-hit wonders, lighting up the sky like a rogue comet and then exploding, leaving not the slightest trace of their passing. The darlings of the critics and cultural poobahs, earnest scribblers telling their very personal stories of suffering and courage and redemption, seeking applause and acclamation the way a junkie probes for a fresh vein. Their offerings winning all the literary prizes, earning highly coveted media attention, getting their names in lights. Hooray!

Except…where are they now?

I won’t name names (that would be cruel) but how many highly touted scribblers have popped up during my 30-year tenure, sucked up some attention (and sometimes a considerable amount of money) and then faded away? Check out the prize lists since 1985—Pulitzers and Bookers and GGs and Gillers, right down to the regional level: how many of those names are still prominent today, still producing quality work?

Exactly. I’d have to use a quantum calculator to determine the number of “bold new talents” and “exciting voices” that have come down the pike in my professional lifetime. It’s an annual rite, like checking to see if Wiarton Willy can spot his shadow. Never mind that the vast majority of the “stories” these bright, young things are telling are very much their own: fictionalized accounts of their journals and diaries, their pathetic lives laid bare. A love affair gone bad, tender hearts cruelly broken; often one detects a faint whiff of revenge. The only problem is, when you write solely about yourself, sooner or later the material grows stale…or runs out all together.

Which is why the latest “next Margaret Atwood” or “next ______” (your favorite literary icon here) invariably lasts one or two books and is never heard from again.

I’m reminded of the old song that goes: It don’t mean a thing/’til you prove it all night.

True, I think, for any worthwhile endeavor.

The creative life demands a special kind of courage and commitment—it requires a soul-defining leap of faith because there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful, very little chance of your work achieving posterity. Many superb artists have died broke and unknown.

But those who are truly chosen don’t give a whit for fame and fortune, they create for the sheer pleasure of knowing that they are working without restrictions or outside expectations, designing and shaping their efforts to their own specifications and aesthetic purposes. They’re not trying to emulate someone else or jump on a popular bandwagon. Their visions may be personal, unprecedented, bizarre (by popular standards), but there’s a shining brilliance to them, helping them achieve a universality that makes them accessible to people of vastly different geographies, even epochs.

Think Homer. Sophocles. Poe. Baudelaire. Kafka. Picabia.

Authors who defy convention, risk penury, disapprobation, despair.

Picture 14Vasili Grossman and Friedrich Reck, writing in the face of discovery, imprisonment, death.

And yet they persevered.

So you’ve written a clever poem, a halfway decent short story, posted it on your blog. Six people have “Liked” it. Good for you.

What next?

Are you prepared to sit down tomorrow and the next day and the day after that…until your allotment of days run out? Writing and re-writing, driving yourself to distraction trying to achieve quality, well-crafted prose. The search for improvement, perfection never ceases. I’ll testify to that.

I’ve been in this biz a long time, much longer than most, and it’s still hard, still a challenge every day to summon the courage to walk into my office, plunk myself down and commence work on my latest writing project. As I’ve gotten older, my standards have risen and so the act of composition has become even more challenging and immersive than it was when I first started out. In other words, it doesn’t get easier, kids, it gets harder.

Dreaming about writing doesn’t get you there, promising yourself that you’ll start something serious in November, when National Novel Writing Month rolls around, won’t cut it either. If you’re a writer, a real writer, you can’t wait. As much as the chore of writing depresses and intimidates you, you can’t resist reaching for a pen and putting something down on paper. Anything to fill that blank page, defeating the white silence. Only then is there a sense of fulfillment, completion, our purpose for existing realized.

How does that gibe with your experience?

Are you a dabbler? A hobbyist? A wannabe?

Or do you have the courage to take a great leap…without the slightest notion or concern for what awaits you far below?

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A belated welcome to 2015

footprintsWell, here it is, another year later…

No, it only seems that long since my last post.

And you know I haven’t been idle. Nossir, not this author.

Besides, judging by the surge in subscribers of late, apparently I don’t need to post regularly. All these new people signing up to my blog and I’ve hardly said a word since Christmas…d’you folks realize the mixed messages you’re sending?

I’ve been in heavy duty editing mode since mid-December, really bearing down on this new novel of mine. Definitely making encouraging progress but refusing to let up until my perfectionism and obsessive-compulsiveness cry “uncle!”.

Just about ready to talk in more detail about this latest project, which has been assigned an official release date, May 1, 2015. Gimme a couple more weeks and I’ll be answering some of the queries regarding the book friends and readers have been zipping my way almost from the moment I announced its existence.

I will tell you it’s yet another departure for me, a “genre” I haven’t tackled before. I like to keep my readers on their toes, doncha know.

During my thirty year career I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, horror, mainstream/literary, western/cowboy, poetry, radio drama, music lyrics…what’s left? You’ll find out in a few weeks.

A fun time over the Christmas holidays–our little family reunited and this hundred year old house literally rocking on its foundations. Made out like a bandit, in terms of Christmas gifts. My tastes are extremely weird and varied, I’m very hard to please but, somehow, folks around me manage. I doff my hat to them. My favorite book I received was Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary–fantastic tome, I “Tweeted” a number of quotes, gems of wisdom and experience. Imagine hoisting a few tall, cold ones with a posse that included Serge, Walter Benjamin, Karl Kraus and, say, Albert Camus. That would make for some memorable bon mots, methinks. And maybe a fistfight or three (Kraus was a notorious prick).

I managed to read 107 books in 2014 (the second year in a row I cracked a hundred). My favorite books in terms of fiction were David Gilbert’s & Sons, as well as a couple of short story collections, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives (Brad Watson) and Emerald Light in the Air by the great Donald Antrim. My colleague Corey Redekop asked a number of authors to compile their reading lists for 2014 and here’s my contribution.

Movies I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of weeks: “Locke” (starring Tom Hardy) and “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix. The former was especially good–Hardy carries the film single-handedly, a virtuoso performance.

Music? Mark Lanegan, The Stooges, Wall of Voodoo, The Swans, Jacqueline Du Pre, Gene Autry…the usual mixed bag.

But I’ve taxed your patience long enough.

Before I go, I want to thank the folks who’ve purchased copies of my latest collection, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. The brisk sales have surprised me and I’ll likely have to put in a supplementary order to my printer before too long.

Keep those messages and questions coming (blackdogpress@yahoo.ca) and watch this space for more exciting news in the days to come.

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Jennifer Aniston’s Nipples

DSC00189Shame on you.

You’re the kind of person who hunts through Google or Yahoo entertainment sidebars looking for “Jennifer Aniston Heats Up Red Carpet” or “Miley Cyrus Grinds Her Way to Adulthood”. You can’t wait to find out the latest poop with the Kardashians and have a sick fascination with the British royal family that borders on obsession.

What is it with you and celebrities? Why do you instinctively reach for a tabloid the way a chimpanzee is drawn to a scatter of dimes?

Take a gander around, look at the culture you and your monkey-brain kind have created with your stupid, acquisitive, wide-eyed ways.

Sequels and spin-offs and comic book adaptations, because your minds are too scattered to grasp original concepts. Bad, derivative art, audio/visual porn, easy to assimilate, just as quickly forgotten.

Here’s a question for you:

Instead of endlessly trolling the internet for a glimpse of Jennifer Aniston’s rather mundane aureole, why aren’t you:

—working on a cure for ovarian cancer or coming up with a new, revolutionary branch of cosmology?

—concocting a plan to end the stalemate in the Middle East?

—devising an all-inclusive religion that will help humankind attain its destiny in the stars?

Yes, indeed. You’re the sort of inane, pathetic asshole who will happily pony up fifteen bucks to see any piece of crap movie and rationalize it afterward: “Yeah, I knew it was just fluff…” Your NetFlix queue would make a twelve year old blush in terms of its sheer vapidity. “Transformers 3”, “Fast & Furious 6″…how about: I/Q. 68.

At what point do you draw the line? What, and I’m deadly serious, is too stupid even for your egregiously short attention span and under-developed forebrain?

How far would you go for a look, the most fleeting glance, at a celeb’s nether regions?

And how much would you be dumb enough to pay?

…and it snowed, and snowed…

Cliff/SnowTake a look at this.

We’ve had more snow this winter than in at least a decade. We’ve broken one snow shovel, shaken our fists at the sky and moved God knows how many tons of snow from our sidewalks and property. And, of course, this much snow means a big run-off come Spring. It’s a good thing we’re situated on a fairly substantial hill—hopefully the water will flow down and away from us.

I notice that at 49, snow shoveling is a whole lot less fun than it used to be. I have to take frequent breaks, lean on my shovel, gazing glumly at the white expanse in front of me. Our long driveway has become my nemesis; I joke that it’s an alternative landing strip for the space shuttle. I say even worse things when I’m scraping it off at thirty below. Because as well as being a snowy winter in these parts, it’s also been seasonably cold. Note the choice of words. We’ve gotten off lucky for the past few years, experiencing relatively mild cold seasons. Not this year. 2012-13, we’re getting the real deal. Saskatchewan at its most nasty and inclement.

In the old days, the cold never got to me. I could play road hockey with my pals until our clothes were frozen stiff as cardboard, our cheeks and noses raw and inflamed. Not any more. My body has developed a strange sensitivity over the past decade and I’m prone to awful chills, getting the shakes so bad my jaw locks tight and my body stiffens, arms clamped against my sides, shoulders up around my ears.

I think I’m starting to understand why so many Canadians become “snowbirds”, fleeing to warmer climes as soon as the first Arctic front descends from the north.

But this is Canada, after all, and whining about the cold weather is like complaining that grapes won’t grow on Pluto. There are certain realities you just have to adjust to, certain mentalities you have to adapt.

Be at one with the snow…become your shovel...

Keeping in mind, in six months we’ll be bitching about the heat and bugs.

On that happy note…Cheers!

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Defending the best of us

Humanity is on the receiving end of a good deal of vitriol and abuse these days.

Fundamentalists of all stripes yearn for Armageddon, a “great cleansing”, a final accounting that will separate the sinners from the righteous, the forsaken from the saved. Whacked out environmentalists and New Agers look forward with gleeful anticipation to the upheaval and destruction that, according to the Mayan calendar, are due to wreak havoc on great tracts of the planet on or about December 21st, 2012. Weird. Please note: these folks are usually separated by huge, yawning gulfs in terms of their philosophy/ideology and yet here they are pining for the same thing: the wholescale destruction of vast populations of their fellow human beings.

It will start in the Middle East. Ancient scores settled with modern day technology. The Holy Land rendered uninhabitable, reprisals that envelop the world.

Or maybe a dirty bomb in Manhattan.

A meteor from outer space.

Alien invasion…

Everyone in agreement that mankind is doomed…and deserving of every rotten thing about to happen to us. A pox on our heads!

I find this kind of thinking hateful, a self-loathing pathological in its pure virulence. Both sides are also seemingly allied by their belief in “original sin”—homo sapiens are vile and depraved from birth (and maybe before). We are beyond redemption (most of us) and should pay the ultimate price for rejecting the presence of a higher power (God or Gaia; it amounts to the same thing, right?).

Our crimes against the environment condemn us, no question. We have stripped and burnt and undermined and defaced a substantial segment of our natural world. Our voracious appetites, rampant consumerism and selfishness have also directly contributed to a disproportionate amount of suffering inflicted on the majority of our planetary brothers and sisters. We possess every creature comfort and it is entirely at their expense. There’s a First World because there’s a Third World.

Hey, I get all that.

But I also know that we walked on the moon. Sent down a paper-thin craft, guided by a computer that was little more than a glorified pocket calculator. Got Armstrong and Aldrin to the surface, then brought them back alive.  And we’ve dispatched robot probes to just about every planet, even have a vessel on the verge of entering interstellar space

Think of the books, theater, dance performances, movies, the artwork and architecture we’ve created; the way we’ve related to our environment in positive ways.

Now try to conceive of the complexity of the minds capable of imagining such things. Men and women imbued with gifts and insights which allow them to alter the way the rest of us perceive the universe.

We know of nothing more astonishing or inexplicable than the human brain. It makes the fanciest, state of the art super-computer look like a, well, a soul-less calculating machine. Which is what it is. Sorry, all you geeks out there.

The brain is capable of extraordinary mental leaps and bounds, possessing a muscularity and agility belied by its rather mundane appearance. Two pounds of inanimate tissue containing trillions of nerve endings. Every millimeter interlocked through ever-changing networks of electro-chemical connections. A magnificent feat of engineering. Clever beyond its designer’s wildest dreams.

Maker of horror and holocaust.

Jesus Christ and Buddha.

Of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

…penicillin and Groucho Marx.

Keep screaming and waving your pictures of Kigali and Katyn…meanwhile, I’ll continue my stream of conscious rant/monolog about the Salk Vaccine and the eradication of smallpox.

I will concede there’s strong evidence we’re killers, born and bred.

But we also come equipped with a conscience, a little voice that insists we atone for our wrongs. It allows us to acknowledge the darkness but prohibits us, by specific commandment, from despairing, even in the complete absence of light.