Category: writing life

Blog Post #496: Automatic Crap Dispensers

My wife sent me a picture she took while waiting in Edmonton International Airport.

At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I was hit with a wave of nausea…a short story machine? Tales pumped out of a dispenser like junk food?

Dear God.

Sherron, bless her heart, anticipated my reaction and printed up a number of stories to bring home for my examination. Without exception, the offerings were inept, tuneless, unoriginal, poorly executed, childish. There was no professional vetting in terms of quality and it showed. Apparently the company in question, ShortEdition, has over 80,000 stories, of varying genres and length, for potential readers to choose from. Based on the examples I scanned, you’d get more aesthetic satisfaction reading the back of a cereal box or instructions for using a pay toilet.

Awful, awful stuff, printed on thin tape for speedy consumption, as disposable and forgettable as most of the other crap we produce these days.

And the horrible thing is that we’re living in an absolute golden era in terms of the short story format. Geniuses like Jim Shepard and George Saunders are gracing us with tales that can move us deeply, while maintaining the highest literary standards. Daring, innovative prose that shatters preconceptions and offers entirely new perspectives of the world around us.

This ridiculous gadget is yet another example of the dumbing down of society, offering blatant mediocrities and tone-deaf amateurs a platform to exercise their egos. It is junk food for the post-literate, the mental equivalent of fucking Pez.

Anyone who pays for this service is a moron, anyone who enjoys the “writing” needs to stop wearing their hats so tight.

How about spending your money on real authors, men and women who devote an enormous amount of time and effort ensuring their prose is as tight and polished as it can be? Masters of the printed word.

They deserve your support, whereas the ShortEdition wannabes warrant only a snort of derision and a sad shake of the head.

 

“Algebra of Inequality”: Listen to the audio versions

Below you’ll find a 4-5 minute audio clip I created around some poems from my latest Black Dog Press release, The Algebra of Inequality.

I added some background music tracks for dramatic effect and I think this performance is an excellent teaser for the book.

If you want to hear audio renditions of more poems from the collection, recorded back in 2016 at the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus, go to my “Other Media” page and scroll down a bit; you’ll find it.

This blog is approaching its 500th post and, of course, I have something special planned to mark the occasion.

Watch this space.

Five hundred posts, eleven years of maintaining Beautiful Desolation…that’s a lot of time (and words and music and rants).

Couldn’t do it without you, folks, your support, your public responses and private messages.

Enjoy this snippet—there’s much, much more to come:

 

Podcasts are eating my brain

It’s true.

Ever since I picked up my iPad a few months ago I’ve been obsessively listening to podcasts. To the extent that my reading has dropped off to next to nothing and there is no way in hell I can reach my usual 100-book threshold by the end of the year. I’ll be lucky to make it to 75, for Chrissakes.

I can see why more people are listening to podcasts, while fewer and fewer find time to pick up a book.

Podcasts are immersive, well-produced (the ones I listen to) and frequently riveting. You find yourself binging and, whoops, there goes the morning.

Favorites? Well, I’m a big fan of Pod Save America–the cast is made up of bitchy, ex-Obama staffers–The Daily Show, Intercept (Jeremy Scahill is one of my journalistic heroes), Mehdi Hasan’s Deconstructed (never miss it), Science Vs., Planet Money, Hidden Brain, This American Life

But if I had to list the podcasts that have had the most impact on me in recent memory, that roster would include:

“S-Town
“Dirty John”
“In the Dark: Series 2” (The Trials of Curtis Flowers)
The Caliphate” (featuring the great Rukmini Callimachi)

“The Caliphate” is an extraordinary ten-part series (affiliated with the New York Times) that traces the growth and spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East, their recruiting tactics, life under their regime, etc. Ms. Callimachi bravely skirts the front lines of a violent conflict in order to gain further insights into the mentality driving its members, the perversity of a  “faith” that permits followers to murder, rape and terrorize with impunity. When she meets with survivors of the Yazidi movement targeted by ISIS, hears their harrowing accounts, I almost couldn’t bear it. But at all times Ms. Callimachi behaves with impeccable civility and respect, her integrity and humanity shining through even the darkest moments. She and her team are to be commended; nothing else came close this year.

As an author, I’m troubled that more and more people would rather listen to amateur storytellers offering rather polished versions of some strange but true episode from their lives (“The Moth”, “Beautiful Anonymous” “Risk!”, etc.), than tackle a consciously literary offering . On the other hand, as an artist I’m challenged by a medium that was previously unknown to me. Sure, I’ve recorded lots of spoken word stuff, but an actual venue that allows me to directly address my audience, grant them an inside look at the life of an indie artist, struggling on the margins, trying to draw attention to my work in a 500-channel universe, while, simultaneously, venting on political matters, airing out pet peeves…well, I can definitely see some attraction to that.

I believe I shall ponder this further…

THE ALGEBRA OF INEQUALITY: The Cover Art

My book designer, Chris Kent, labored mightily over the weekend, sending me a number of versions of the cover until he came up with the absolutely perfect look for The Algebra of Inequality.

Chris took the cover art I gave him, a painting in acrylics I completed earlier this year, and transformed it into something that is gorgeous, evocative and utterly in keeping with the mood and themes of the book.

I shall say nothing more, merely post his final version for all to see.

I believe this is Chris’s 11th book for Black Dog Press.

I think he’s got something, don’t you?


Self-publishing: just for losers?

We all know that the only reason books are self-published is because they’re amateurish and inept, their authors barely capable of stringing two words together.

Except…wasn’t Virginia Woolf a “self-publisher”? After all, she released her work through Hogarth Press, which she co-owned along with her husband, Leonard. It was a going family concern—Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell designed some of the book covers.

And I know for a fact Ezra Pound wasn’t averse to paying out of pocket, if it meant seeing his erudite, obscure poems get into print.

Robert Browning, ditto.

If I’m not mistaken, James Joyce put up part of the publication cost of his first collection, The Dubliners (regardless, his nervous publisher held the presses for years, wary of violating Ireland’s stiff obscenity laws).

I guess I’m saying that historically self-publishing, the vanity press, whatever you want to call it, wasn’t always the province of the hack and the wannabe. And I think the same is true today. There is a lot of shit out there, don’t get me wrong, but there are also a few genuinely talented, innovative authors in amongst the dross.

Don’t give up on us.

Keep looking…

Black Dog Press: The Year Ahead

book-catalog

Over the holidays I devoted a considerable amount of thought to what should happen next with Black Dog Press.

So far, my imprint has released eleven books, a couple of limited edition chapbooks…but now what?

I’ve come to the determination that I won’t be publishing anything in 2017—and before the emails and complaints start flying, let me elaborate.

Despite my considerable efforts, Black Dog Press remains a very marginal enterprise. It is a constant struggle to draw attention to my writing when there are so many tomes being published and self-published, churned out like dumb, identical widgets. I want to pursue new methods for advertising my books, trying my best to overcome my aversion to self-promotion (a particularly ugly manifestation of narcissism). I’ve never been an author who haunts forums, always looking for an opportunity to reference my own work, and I’m not much a joiner, if you get my drift. More like your classic lone wolf.

In the past, I’ve sought out other, like-minded indie authors/publishers but, candidly, haven’t found many who take the printed word as seriously as I do. Very few scribes these days produce genuinely original, literary work; their prose is often derivative (fan fiction) or stuck in a genre of little interest to me (zombie, shapeshifter romance, etc.). Sadly, the proliferation of technology, the growing number of publishing platforms, means that the amateurs and wannabes out there can publish all the crap they excrete, with the minimum of editing or critical scrutiny. Pounding their chests and calling themselves writers, having a fit when anyone dares question their professional credentials. As petulant as they are untalented, vicious, rather than visionary.

Sending out review copies doesn’t work—that much has been made clear. Again, too many books, too few good publications (even fewer qualified critics)…and then there are the unnamed rags that want you to buy advertising space before they’ll even consider your book for review. There’s a special red-hot poker in Hell waiting for that scum.

I adamantly refuse to purchase a positive, five-star review from Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. Never, never, never.

What does that leave?

I’ve been looking into hiring a publicist, but that would mean leaving my comfort zone and putting my books, my personality, my face in the hands of a stranger. Granting them permission to do what’s necessary to “raise my profile” (I’m literally squirming as I type those words).

But something has to be done. I’m publishing terrific, intelligent, compelling novels and stories and they’re not getting the attention they deserve. After over 30 years as a professional author, my stature isn’t anywhere near what it should be…and the fault lies with me.

I have to do better at promoting my growing body of work, even if that means trying things I’ve never dared attempt before.

It’s an approach I’ve always shied away from, but there’s no other option.

If I want to continue growing my readership, keep Black Dog Press afloat, I have to cast aside my aversion to, gulp, selling myself to the public.

Sigh.

This isn’t going to be easy…