I’ve been a professional author for 30-odd years now and I think it can be fairly said that I’ve earned a reputation as someone who stubbornly (ruthlessly?) defends my aesthetic autonomy.
With that in mind, I guess it’s understandable that I field the occasional question from other artists who find themselves wondering whether or not they have the right or strength of character to resist the suggestions and/or demands of editors, agents and fans.
I tell them:
Listen, as far as I’m concerned your inner editor should always take precedence over any external influences. It’s your name on the story or book or painting or piece of music, not someone else’s, which means you have a personal, vested interest in making sure your work is presented exactly the way you envision it. Brook no compromises or attempts to dilute the power and integrity of your project.
Editors and agents aren’t collaborators, that is a mindset that must be impressed upon them right from the get-go. You might welcome their opinions, but their input is not necessarily required and won’t be followed if it runs counter to your own thinking. I have encountered more than a few inept, dim-witted editors in the past three decades and I’ve learned to take everything they say with a grain of salt. They aren’t all bad, of course, but, truthfully, most are poor-to-mediocre, their contributions to literature existing largely in their own heads.
Agents, well, agents want to make money. That’s their primary focus and never think otherwise. They aren’t interested in developing the next DeLillo or Nabokov, they’re seeking clients who follow trends and deliver bright, shiny, commercial product. For which they will collect a tasty percentage. It’s all quite cold-blooded and transactional. Why should they hold your hand when they’re more interested in the contents of your wallet?
As for fans, who gives a shit? Your role as an artist is to frustrate expectations and short-circuit preconceptions. Your work shouldn’t reassure or offer words of comfort; if it does that you are kowtowing, truckling to popular opinion. Wrap everything up into a nice, tight bundle, adhere to formula, offer happy endings and you might as well be a ten-dollar hooker on a seedy street corner. You’re laboring on behalf of filthy lucre, rather than contributing to the legacy of creative endeavors extending back to the timeless cave paintings of Lascaux.
Art that resists imitation, that refuses to be derivative, is the work that lasts, achieving posterity because of its uniqueness, a courageous, unprecedented approach to your chosen discipline.
Why yearn for fifteen minutes of fame when you should be seeking something far more permanent and profound?
Finally, on a completely unrelated topic, let me say to those idjits who insist there are no new stories to tell, that they’ve all be told, you are out of your tiny fucking minds.
Every single minute of every single day, billions of human beings are interacting with each other, talking, engaging, sharing space, and each of these encounters represents a narrative that is distinctive and unrepeatable.
Each restorative walk you take, a trip to the bank or back fence discussion with your neighbor is a short story waiting to happen. No two individuals are exactly alike, every encounter potentially fraught with drama or humor (or, ideally, a bit of both).
Open your eyes, ears, hearts to possibility and it will find you.
Remember that the next time you’re out and about.
Turning a corner, bumping into a stranger…watch what can happen when two ancient souls meet for the first time.
Sometimes it makes for great Art.
You knew I had to be up to something and you were right.
A month between posts? C’mon, you know me better than that.
This summer has been my most productive, writing-wise, in several years. It’s like the taps were turned on again and I’ve been writing with all my focus and concentration, feeling the juices flowing again.
Two, count ’em, two long stories since June, quite a few poems, a short prose piece that’s one of the best things I’ve written in quite awhile…
And everything registering strongly on the aesthetic Richter Scale—nothing slight or inconsequential. Intelligent, literate efforts, not pandering to any school or taste.
I haven’t lost a fucking step.
Oh, and I’ve started work on a new novel. Well, not quite a new novel—I’m completely overhauling a 250-page manuscript I originally conceived around 2002. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m looking at 12-15 months worth of revisions, so you shouldn’t expect to see that one in print until, ballparking it, mid-2019. No teasers, except that it references a classic Victorian thriller and will be darker and more horror-related than some of my recent work.
But fear not, impatient readers, I shall be releasing not one but two full-length efforts in 2018: first, The Algebra of Inequality and Other Poems, a selection of verse culled from the past five years. The title is nicked from a line in a Don Barthelme short story that caught my eye. Ol’ Don had some zingers.
I know poetry is a hard sell to some folks but I believe it gives me the opportunity to address profound philosophical and spiritual and existential questions in the most spare, personal, unforgiving literary format. Poetry permits no artistic missteps—it really is like walking a tightrope.
And there will be (drumroll please) a new short story collection next year, Electric Castles: A Book of Urban Legends. Original tales, all centered around everything magical and terrifying about cities, near and far, real and imagined. Killer stories, spanning just about every genre, guaranteed to amaze, disturb and warp your puny perceptions and sensibilities. Consensual reality? What the hell is that?
Both books will feature, as per the custom here at Black Dog Press, gorgeous cover art and will be professionally formatted and bound. There will be an e-book version of Electric Castles, still mulling it over re: the poetry. Poetry is so unique and personal and analog…does it really belong on a tablet or phone screen?
Lots of writing and revisions in the months ahead, some highs and lows, good days and days when, as they say, “the bear gets you”. All part of the creative process: painful and terrifying, but also exhilarating and inspiring. No doubt you’ll be reading something of my triumphs and travails here…and I hope it will serve to remind you that the writing life is not easy and requires a great deal of courage and fortitude. Perseverance and sheer guts get you a lot further in any profession than mere talent. Surely you know that by now.
Some mornings I can’t imagine facing that page again.
And yet I do.
That’s the difference between an author and a poser.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for real writers, girls and boys, every fucking month is “National Novel Writing Month”.
You heard it here…
Photos by Sherron Burns
Usually in vain.
I’ve described my writing “career” as something of a train wreck and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. I lurch from project to project, with absolutely no conception of how to “market” or promote myself, zero interest in shilling for my work, peddling it around like an itinerant vacuum cleaner salesman. My writing doesn’t comfortably fit any niche, veering from genre to genre, encompassing everything from radio plays, to short films, ambient music and spoken word pieces. My last two novels were supernatural thrillers, my latest is an old fashioned western. Huh?
But that’s the glorious thing about the new technologies that have sprouted up in the past few years. They allow creative types to try their hand at a variety of disciplines, expressing themselves through different media. I don’t discriminate between my various projects, no matter what form they take. They all reflect my interests, fears, fixations and dreams. They all originate in the labyrinthine depths of my mind.
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Thanks to one and all who have stuck it out thus far. Popped in to this site for a quick look…and then lingered, read more and more of the entries, downloaded big swathes of my writing or tuned in to some of the weird music I’ve made available for free listening and downloading.
Through this blog I’ve become familiar with good folks and sharp thinkers. Thoughtful, intelligent people who love the printed word as much as I do.
And I believe that somewhere among the tens of thousands of curious types who’ve visited this blog in the past 4 1/2 years there is at least one ideal reader, someone who has followed my career, read the lion’s share of my oeuvre and eagerly looks forward to each new release. That’s the gal/guy who brings me back to my desk, morning after morning, my raison d’être, my secret admirer, number one fan and staunchest defender. Every day I sit down and create purely for the purpose of entertaining, surprising and intriguing my I.R., presenting them with a narrative or tune or spoken word piece that startles them and causes them to re-appraise my work (yet again), examining it in a wholly different light.
I am prepared to go to any extent to unsettle and shake up my Ideal Reader. I don’t want them getting complacent, taking me for granted. For that reason, my work must never fall back on tried and true formulas or reinforce commonly held beliefs and preconceptions.
I have to to believe my I.R. would be very disappointed in me if I resorted to such tactics.
My Ideal Reader is as courageous and aesthetically demanding as I am.
And they’d know if I wasn’t giving them my best work…
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It’s become something of a custom for me to either release new work or make some kind of announcement around my birthday.
First, please note to “self-portrait” that accompanies this post. A couple of Christmases ago, Sherron and my sons gifted me with a big fat scrapbook that I was supposed to play with; included among my tasks was executing a self-portrait on canvas. Last month I finally got around to it and, well, see for yourself. I have absolutely no acumen for visual art, couldn’t even figure out how to mix pigments—that’s why my picture is in black and white.
Okay, so I’m no threat to Vinnie van Gogh.
How about another strange, spacey, ambient tune, created a couple of days ago. “Lapse (II)” clocks in at over seven minutes and I think it’s a worthy addition to my odd musical catalog.
And, finally, a couple of updates:
Edits on my western, The Last Hunt, commence soon. Looking forward to knocking that little beauty into shape. Anticipating a March, 2012 release date. I’ll keep you posted.
My science fiction novelette, “Eyes in the Sky“, should be up on Amazon/Kindle in the coming days. It’s dedicated to “the Golden Age” and I think fans of the genre will understand what I mean.
No plans for my birthday, just another work day. Forty-eight years old and maybe a tad wiser. Still a long way to go and enlightenment continues to tease and then elude me. Every time I think I’m getting close to some kind of meaningful insight into the human experience, something truly ghastly and horrific happens and I am forcefully reminded of the Alain Finkielkraut quote:
“Barbarism is not the inheritance of our pre-history. It is the companion that dogs our every step.”
It’s small…and getting smaller.
Part of it is natural attrition: people grow away from each other or their lives becomes too busy or what have you. Or they die.
I’ve lost good friends, men and women I’ve been closely associated with more than two decades, for all of the reasons just stated.
Others I’ve shed. Deliberately, ruthlessly. With knowledge aforethought. What can I say? You cross me and I can be a real bastard.
I’m the first to acknowledge that it ain’t no easy chore being my friend. The long silences no doubt grate. And you know I hate, hate, HATE talking on the phone. The telephone is an infernal device, the only thing left that can really threaten my concentration. If a phone rings anywhere in my house between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 (when someone else will be home to answer it), I immediately explode into a string of expletives that would melt the ears off a plastic dashboard Jesus. Interrupt my work and you run the risk of being murdered. It’s that simple. God help the poor fucking telephone solicitor who breaks my train of thought. Perhaps that’s why so many calls are automated these days. People like me were traumatizing employees. Whose lousy pay offered poor compensation for the frequent tirades and threats they endured, their headsets smoking as they fumbled for “disconnect”…
I don’t do small talk, couldn’t give a fuck about the latest movie you’ve seen or book you’ve read or the gorgeous autumn walk you just enjoyed. Dig? I. Don’t. Care. If you got any thoughts or observations, stick ’em in a 100-word e-mail and zip it my way. I’ll get back to you within 48 hours. That’s a pledge. E-mails allow me to keep in touch on my time and terms. It is the perfect platform for a busy curmudgeon. It is the only form of communication I welcome.
And, of course, when I do get together with my friends they have to put up with my admittedly caustic wit and, let’s be honest, rants on my new favorite pet peeve or a long lecture on Gnosticism and the novels of Philip K. Dick. Amazing how, at once, a person can be both boring and a boor. I manage it quite easily.
I have a natural compulsion to entertain, to be the center of attention. I’m capable of saying almost anything, the most provocative and cringe-worthy statements, refusing to recognize the fine line between satire and offensiveness. I despise political correctness; watching our tongues and minding our manners like good little Stalin-era proles. Fuck that.
Nights out with me are rare but they’re usually memorable. Just not for the right reasons…
For the most part I enjoy being alone. Very comfortable with silence and solitude. I don’t require company or diversion. I’m doing something creative literally every single day of the year and I simply don’t have much time for other things. When I’m not working, I’m with my family. If I’m not doing either, I’m sleeping. That’s pretty much the schedule around here. The reality you have to adapt to if you’re going to remain in the picture longterm as a pal and confidante.
There’s one other thing and this is important: you wanna be my friend, you gotta read my work. Every single word of it. Read it, listen to it, hold an informed opinion on it. Having any conversation with me and not alluding, however briefly, to my raison d’etre, my entire purpose for existing on this planet, is like slapping me in a face with a sock full of canned ham. You don’t recognize the central role writing plays in my life and respect the enormous amount of time and effort I expend on putting words on paper, you ain’t no friend. You might be an acquaintance, a chum, but you sure as fuck ain’t part of the inner circle. You’re somewhere out in the Oort Cloud, a distant signal, a far point of light.
I fully recognize that these are hard terms, entirely one-sided and solipsistic. But the closer I get to fifty I’ve become less and less tolerant of superficial relationships and part-time pals. And, unfortunately, I live in a pretty remote locale so there’s little chance of mingling with fellow writers and artists, who would have a better grasp of my obsessions and the demons that relentlessly drive me. My wife and I have talked about moving to a larger center, where there are more opportunities to take in good movies, enjoy a cultural evening out. With our boys getting older, a year or two from heading out on their own, it might be time to seriously ponder a change of address. We’ll see.
Whatever happens and wherever I live, creativity and the compulsion to express myself will remain my primary focus. Unless my brain is fully preoccupied with a project or artful experiment, I become bored, restless. Dangerous. If it’s frustrated or annoyed, a mind like mine can quickly turn on others…or itself. It rages fearfully. Vindictive and brutal, refusing to forgive the slightest fault.
Believe me, it’s a good thing I’m such a workaholic. It’s better for everyone involved. Those long silences mean I’m deeply and happily immersed in a book or story or short film.
Be sure to ask me about it the next time we run into each other.
I’m always happy to talk shop with a friend.