Thursday, October 29, 2009


I started smoking cigars when I was nineteen. I'd grown up in a house divided by smoking, it was one of the bad things my dad did. Somehow it was part of the package with depression, yelling and running away. To this day smoking is a demon in the family mythos, along with many other things most people take for granted. The ghosts dance like smoke across windows, playing hell with the light.
I'd always liked the smells of tobacco and smoke, so when cigars came up among older friends and mentors, and it sounded like something to try. I ordered one that looked tasty, a Churchill in a dark maduro wrapper, and did some basic reading. A toe in the water of vice, as an adult.
It was the first week in April, and a soft rain fell on a warm day. Everything was green and gray and the earth was rich with wetness. My mom was in the hospital, my dad with her, and I was alone on the ranch. The cigar has come, carefully packaged. It was a good day at the post office, a box of five vintage British Fairbairn-Sykes fighting daggers, and the cigar. I cut it, carefully, with a razorblade to protect the wrapped, and lit it with a cedar firebrand. And then I walked in the light, fine, rain. It was the beginning of everything.
More cigars followed, and whiskey and women. Vice, for the sake of vice. Because in their own right, these things are good and ends unto themselves. No demons need escaping, no wildness or chaos to cover despair and loneliness. The whiskey nights of smokey women and drunken, joying, love are their own justification.

If there is external motivation it is this - I do the things politeness says are bad for me because my heroes did them, and it made them who they were. They would have been barren abstractions without the smell of smoke or the whiskey stains or the women and heartbreak. I refuse to be barren, and I insist on being distinct.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Publishing for Kindle

I'm putting my money where my mouth is. Okay, your money where my mouth is.
Rum and Donuts is now available to Kindle users, for a small subscription fee.

It's still available right here for free, and will remain so. Those who feel its worth some nickels to read on their Kindle, can shell out those nickels. The rest of you, as you were - You're still my favorites.

It's just something different I want to try. I doubt it'll make a significant difference in anything. I just want to see the process from the inside. It might go away.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Making Rounds

My friends come to me with their medical problems. Usually, not the intensely personal. I think I've made it clear that if its crotch related and is dripping, swollen or pustule covered I'll treat it with fire. So they come with coughs, running noses, pains, sleep problems, and, my personal favorite thus far, a gashed open chin.
When someone vaults a railing, catches his foot, and drives all hundred-and-eighty pounds of himself into the concrete on the very point of his chin, you can pull open the gash and see his whisker follicles on the inside. He'd waited an hour and a half in the emergency room before he'd called me. I cleaned it out and closed it with superglue. It scarred just a little. He paid me eighty dollars, which I tried to give back, but only a little. I'm still thrilled at having seen hair follicles on the inside. It's so cool.
This was when I lived in town. Now I'm a desert dweller, forty-miles from a paved road on the family ranch. Now they come to me online, on Facebook or GTalk. I can't close wounds, but I can do about all I ever did otherwise and dispense advice on caring for yourself when ill with the usual crud. Or the crap. Or the ick. You see where this is going.
Why do they come? Because we're friends, primarily. That's the most important part. It may be the only part, really. I'm not a doctor. I was pre-med for a blink, and an EMT for awhile. I'm still very interested in medicine, and keep really current. I can talk shop with doctors, but that doesn't make me one. I'm pretty honest about that too. They joking call me the “mob doctor”, although part of my standard advice is to go see a doctor. At least, go see the university nurse, since a lot of my friends are still students. I try to be honest and only do what I can. Even then, I always wonder if I'm not overstepping some unseen bounds. I feel bad that the cut I closed with superglue scarred. I reassure myself that a century ago people, who couldn't possibly know what I do, were still hanging signs proclaiming to be doctors. For many their only legitimacy the lead paint word on the knotted plank swinging above the door. Third world tribe members who've been through intensive programs provide a higher level of care for hundreds of their fellows than I do. It's okay. I obviously am not a total quack. They keep coming back.
In the spring, when swine flu first came up, I wrote a long piece about it and posted it on my blog, and on Facebook as a note. I added links and for the first week or so that the novel H1N1 virus was emerging kept track of it. I did it for my friends who were either panicking or totally dismissive. I know a little bit about biology and viral behavior, I did go to college for three years. Most people ignored it, at the time. It was just another part of the sensory overload of the initial mad rush of attention for a potential nightmare pandemic. Now that is has, according to plan, reemerged in the northern hemisphere for fall, I've been fielding my friends questions. Most of which have been answered with a simple no. No, your runny nose is probably not swine flu. If you get worse, increasing fever, nausea, and so on, go to the doctor. No, it's not that bad it's just another flu, you'll be okay. No, I'd avoid playing beer pong for awhile, sharing cups right now is a bad idea.
Most everyone I know is actually fine. I do have a few who are sick. Not all with the flu. I call them mine because they are, they're my friends. And in a way, they're my patients. They've trusted me and my advice, and I'm going to do my best. I take care of my friends every way I can, this is another of them. So when I see one of them on Facebook, or GTalk I ask how they are. What temperature they're running. I make sure they're hydrating, taking vitamin C, and any medication they might be on. I suggest over-the-counter medicines that might help. And tea, always tea for almost anything. Talking to one, reminds me of another, so I'll pull up the messenger client and check on them. I'll make my rounds like that. Taking care of my friends, the best I can, because I can.
This is important. It always has been. We need to use the skills we have to take care of those around us, in the communities we've chosen. We're in a pretty big mess, all around, and the only people we have to rely on are ourselves. Are you alone as yourself, or are you among a group of selves who look out for one another with the skills you have? Better figure it out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Making Our Own Justice (A Riff on "Virtual CrowdSurfing")

The other day Steve Bodio commented on one of my entries, and noted that “ a just world you'd be paid for this.”
I agreed, even though it wasn't my best writing (the re-write the computer ate was much better), but was dismissive too. I said, and it's true, that I'm just happy to put something into the world that will either resonate with another human being, or elucidate, inform or excite.
I come from what I've begun to describe as a lonely culture – It's sparsely populated, but it is a culture in whole - I'm proud of it and think we're all very interesting. I'm always glad to strike a chord with others who identify. And I'm thrilled if something from my culture sparks or rekindles something in someone else. That's deeply satisfying for me. At the end of the day, I write to fulfill and satisfy myself, and I'd lie if I said I didn't draw part of my satisfaction from being read. The creation is fundamental, and it drives on regardless, but it's satisfying to have a cry in the darkness answered. As a reader I've always felt I was participating in the writers finished art, rather than just receiving it – As a writer, I seek to participate with my readers not simply produce product.
But in a just world, if the participation is good, if the work is good, I should get paid shouldn't I? Of course I should. In a just world.
I'm not sure I believe the world is just. I believe the world is neutral though, and that it is up to us to make our own... whatever, really. Including justice. I believe this is true, on many fronts. As artists, we have to make a lot of things for ourselves, so what's stopping us from making our own justice? Okay, maybe not make entirely, but enable.
We can't necessarily force people to pay for our art - If we limit its availability only to those who pay we may be limiting ourselves right out of existence – But we can enable our audience, our fans and collectors, to pay us if they want to, can't we?

There are already writers with “Donate” or “Support” buttons on their blogs. They produce a lot of content, or a body of work, that is easily accessible and typically for free. No demand is placed on the audience to pay for it, but they are enabled to do so if they think its worth it.
We're also seeing novels, chapbooks and other publications, as well as music in a variety of forms, offered using a “Pay what you feel it is worth” model.
I'm finding this idea more and more attractive – Because I'd like to do this for a living, or at least part of my living. Or at least for beer money. To be able to devote more of the time and energy to writing and the rest of my art, that I end up spending on wage earning (or trying to at least).

So what's it worth to you?
Nothing? Cool. Keep reading. I'm slowly stealing your soul and corrupting your heart the more of my ideas you entertain, so it's all good. Seriously, it is all good.
You'll buy my book once I have one? Bring it around for coffee, I'll sign it.
Not a lot, but sometimes you'd pay for reading me? Awesome, thanks.
You want to be my sugar mama, support me financially and * ahem * otherwise, all for keeping up my writing? Please email at least three clear photos that aren't extreme close ups, and show you clearly in good lighting from different angles, and a list of references.
I'm being flippant here, but that is (minus the creepy uberfan sugar mama AKA Kathy Bates in Misery psycho-fan) the gist of the enabling I'm talking about.

This isn't something I'm going to implement now. Most of you don't know me, and I'm not producing content at a rate that is really befitting suggesting recompense for it. For me, now is not the time to roll this out – Just the time to start thinking about it. Mapping out how I'd like to try putting it to work.
As a writer, it's pretty easy to map.
As a blacksmith, and artist metalsmith? Not so much.
Tangible, physical, art is hard to transition into the virtual realm – Those physical materials cannot be emailed. How can I, how can my fellows, as a materials artist work with what Amanda Palmer dubs “Virtual Crowdsurfing”? That's trickier. I have several ideas, some of which I'm going to keep to myself for awhile. But, among those ideas is one of knowledge and experience sharing.
There are a lot of people who are not, and don't want to be, artists who remain intensely interested in the processes of art. There are those who want to learn about an art other than their own. Still others want to learn how to do a type of art. As artists, we can be educators about our art. Coming from the blacksmithing world, most blacksmiths are also teachers or at least have taught occasionally. I think, as with other forms of art, we aren't limited strictly to that art, in what we can teach. You can teach a great deal with art.
Couldn't a metal artist (or a wood worker, fabric artist, glass worker, etc. etc.) put out “process content”, demonstrations, tutorials, videos of the art being made (which opens up possibilities of cross-media video art), in a public fashion, and stick a donations button on their website/blog? You could take it out of the virtual world as well: A free public demo with a tip-jar set out. If I show up at an event, and forge an iron hat, won't there be someone to drop money in it? I'd like to think so.
I think this cross over into the really-real world is extremely necessary for building a fan base, and one that is rich with the actual human touch. Musicians have this made, because live shows are damn near guaranteed – They will happen, they have to. Writers can do readings, or perform poetry. Other artists have to innovate in how they reach their audience, if they want to try out the “virtual crowdsurfing” thing. Without the fan base, the people to catch you when you dive off, you'll get nowhere. (Yeah, I'm riffing on AFP here. She's right on, see my last entry and go check out her blog.)

This is an area, a realm of possibility, that I am truly excited about and actively exploring. Woe unto my other projects, I've found something else time consuming.

Some models/ideas of “virtual crowd surfing” as a writer that I think support my own:

Nathan Tyree is hard at work on a novel project titled “Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski Fistfight in Hell”, and has auctioned a fairly prominent role as a character in his novel via eBay. The move, apparently, has generated him some measure of buzz in addition to the immediate monetary advantage. Also apparently a burned thumb.

Jeremy C. Shipp is selling subscriptions to his short story writing as Bizarro Bytes,
He offers multiple levels of subscription, for those wanting to offer further support, and has some interesting incentives for those who do.

Stephen Elliot, for his memoir
The Adderall Diaries, used advance copies originally destined for media outlets to create a “lending library” for fans,
The only requirement was that the copy had to be forwarded to the next person on the list once read. His thoughts on the idea are pretty interesting. The idea has a lot of merit. Just another example of working the crowd in new and innovative ways. He's also supporting the book with a tour and getting out there, another essential element.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Amanda Palmer

I really don't remember how I discovered The Dresden Dolls, but I suspect it was through a friends Facebook status asking for a coin-operated boy. However it was, that's how I heard of Amanda Palmer, the Doll's lead singer (among other talents). Quickly the Doll's albums, and Amanda's solo effort, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, became some of my favorite music, and continue to get a lot of play. Particularly when I'm writing or being otherwise creative.
But it's only recently that I've started following Amanda Fucking Palmer's blog.
I'm not much of a fan boy. If I like someone's work, I'll promote it to my friends who share my tastes, and maybe mention it here, but not much more. I'm a quiet fan. I follow the artists artistic output, invest my money in the output I want to own or participate in, and encourage fellows to do the same, but that's the extent of it. I'm not a gushing, twitter following, fan-art making fan. It just doesn't work for me. If I follow an artist on Twitter, odds are I'll get pissed at narcissistic irreverence and nonsense and stop liking them. Same for a lot of blogs. For me to enjoy engaging with an artist I like in that fashion, something has to be different. I like artists who blog smartly.
I particularly like artists who talk about art, and the processes behind it, and within it. Whatever their art may be. Even better, artists who talk about the future of their art. Best, an artist who can talk about these things in a manner that's as inspiring as their art.
This is why I'm actually reading AFP's blog, and have linked it at right. She's fucking brilliant.
She's thoughtful, and puts a lot of her energy into her words, making the blog both enlightening and inspiring. It's something a lot of artists just can't do – Their blogs end up narcissistic or dry, or narcissisticly dry. AFP is engaging, funny, energetic, and smart. She also regularly displays a firm grasp on current, and emergent, trends and offers insights that more people should really be paying attention to.
Some of her recent blogging in particular has been excellent in terms of trends and things people should pay attention to. Her ideas and comments about how she, as an artist, is making money and the necessity of doing the work, and how others are succeeding, or can succeed, are great.
More artists need to embrace the entrepreneurial opportunities afforded by the current state of technology and communication. More artists need to stop being shy about cultivating a fan base, being involved with that fan base, and making money from that fan base. Making money is not dishonest, it doesn't dirty up the work. Everyone has a right to try to make a living from what they're passionate about. Go read, seriously. AFP is talking from the POV of a performance based artist/act like a musician, but if I find it valuable as a scribbler and metalsmith, other artists should as well. If you're a musician, video artist, writer, pounder of metal, any sort of artist who wants to make a life an an artist, her ideas are worth a look.
I find her commentary very much in keeping with my recent ideas on writing/publishing, markets and marketing there-for, and making use of available technology and the memes they enable to achieve success in genres and as artists.
On top of that, she's awesome and I enjoy her work, and the things she has to say.

(As a note: I'm thinking about putting up something for each of my recommended reads, who I haven't mentioned before at least, but don't know if I'll get to it. My recommended reading, and the blogs I follow (see profile) are all recommended, or they wouldn't be there. You should check them out.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Regarding Short Fiction

Not much substance, of my own, here but two things I'd like to note:

Back in April, the NY Times ran a piece from A.O. Scott on the value of short fiction in American letters. The things he has to say sync nicely with my ideas in the previous post about the direction in fiction: Brevity's Pull: In Praise of the American Short Story
The quote:
"The new, post-print literary media are certainly amenable to brevity. The blog post and the tweet may be ephemeral rather than lapidary, but the culture in which they thrive is fed by a craving for more narrative and a demand for pith. And just as the iPod has killed the album, so the Kindle might, in time, spur a revival of the short story. If you can buy a single song for a dollar, why wouldn’t you spend that much on a handy, compact package of character, incident and linguistic invention? Why wouldn’t you collect dozens, or hundreds, into a personal anthology, a playlist of humor, pathos, mystery and surprise?

The death of the novel is yesterday’s news. The death of print may be tomorrow’s headline. But the great American short story is still being written, and awaits its readers."

I still say the novels will come. They may be different, but we'll get to them - We need the long immersion in characters, place and narrative ecstasy that novels provide.

Secondly: Nanoism, which I linked previously, is running a contest for fiction that will fit into a Tweet, 140 characters. They're looking for five piece serials, which will form a more complete work. You can learn more here:
A very interesting idea, and proof that even the shortest form can go the distance. I intend to submit, but either way look forward to seeing the end result. The work they have up already as stand-alone stories is all quite impressive.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's Happened to Fiction?

I grew up among books and writers. The word, and the next one and all the pages full have been elements of my life as long as I can remember. I don't want to say I took this for granted, but I have. In doing so, it seems that I missed something. Or a few somethings. Among them, the following:

  • Men don't read good fiction.
  • Novels are dead.

These assertions aren't mine, they're things I've come across recently in different places recently.

The first is an issue raised by BULL: Mens Fiction, via Fictionaut. Men buy around 30% of the fiction sold, primarily thrillers and crime fiction. Which leaves literary fiction to the women. I hadn't given this any thought prior to hearing about it, but find it very disquieting.
I don't really mean to say that there is no “good” fiction in the thriller and crime fiction fields. I read a lot of drek, almost anything not religious or romantic, and actually enjoy plenty of that type of fiction. However, on those shelves remain the Dan Brown's and David Morrel's and countless other fairly bad writers. Writers who use one crutch and cliché after another, and who will never be a Steven King, much less a Maclean or a Hemingway.
If men aren't reading good fiction, then it stands to reason that men's fiction isn't getting published. We end up with a chicken, or egg, sort of question. Is it not being published because it won't be read, or is it not being read because it's not being published?
My view of writing and authors is very male centric. I like plenty of female writers, and their work, but the influences on my enjoyment of writing, and being a writer, are primarily male. My father who taught me about poetry. My fifth grade teacher who showed me that poetry was written by real people having real experiences, not recounting mad charges and death in far off lands. Writers I met as a kid, like Steve Bodio, and Joel Bernstein. Writers whose work motivated, changed, or challenged me in my audacious youth when I read far outside my age group, McCarthy, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and even the baser Heinlein. And whose work does that today, Palahniuk, Frederick Busch, and the above as well. Writers whose work and experiences resonate with my own life, McMurtry in particular at this point. All these influences are masculine. It's something of a shocking wake-up to see that masculinity in good fiction may have suffered a downturn.
It raises a lot of questions. Primarily about the nature of male reading. Why do men read, or perhaps better, why don't men read anything worth a damn? In wondering at the why of this, I have to ask myself why I read. Am I a reader because I write? I've always thought I was a writer because I read, but maybe that's not correct. My own perspective is suspect here, as I'm not just part of the audience.
Part of it is entertainment. I read to be entertained, like I imagine most people do. Some will argue that reading for entertainment alone precludes reading for intellectual stimulation, but I disagree. I am entertained by mental calisthenics and deep thoughts and discoveries and seek it out in music, movies, television and writing of all types. I'm also pretty confident that I'm not unique in this, even among men. Women are not the only people on the planet who want to think deep thoughts and engage in mental stretching. On the opposite side of the coin, I also read as a form of mental escapism – I want to be involved in something very not my immediate life, and let my mind relax. This is where, for me, reading “garbage” comes in. But one type of writing is not exclusive to the other – I do both, and again am pretty sure I'm not alone in at least the right motivations and interests
So, why do men still primarily read non-challenging, unintellectual, formulaic and cliched garbage? The place I feel left to turn to in answer, is society at large. Somewhere the American culture has told men that its not okay to be literary. It's knitting and tatting, not logging and grilling, and just not something that men do. But why?
It's a damn shame. It convicts me even more of the importance of masculine voices in writing. I'd realized it was a needed element when I first found BULL, before I ever planned to submit anything even. There exists western, eastern, southern, GBLT, and woman's writing and writers, but who identifies as a “male writer” or a writer of “mens fiction”? No one who's selling, apparently. And even the distinctly masculine voices in contemporary literature are being co-opted by feminine movements.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy, one of the most distinctly masculine novels I think I've read, was brought to the attention of America at large by being placed on Oprah's book list.
There's nothing wrong with women, southerners or GBLT folks, but there is something goddamned wrong with this.

The second among literary issues I missed is the supposed death of the novel. I read this on Tom Russell's blog, and actually called bullshit in the comments. I don't think the novel is dead. I'm seriously out of touch with current novels though, particularly anything highbrow. The most recent literature I've read has been
The Road and a Palahniuk or two. I've been rather caught up in the literary past. But, I see a lot of novels that look good being published, and quite a few that I hear are good to read too. I can't really swallow the idea of the novel being dead.
However, the thought nags. Maybe it actually is. If I, as a reader, have been visiting the literary past of ghosts like Maclean, Cheever, Hemingway, and grand old men like McCarthy, for my diet of novels then what does that say about the current state of the things? Without a doubt, 80% of my literary fiction diet comes from short fiction journals, both online and in print. Perhaps a result of this, most of my writing is not on my novel, but on flash, short fiction and poetry. And I don't seem to be alone. I see a lot of good, fundamentally good, fiction being written in the form of flash and short stories. I am even seeing powerfully good poetry out there. It's accessible, it's at the tip of the finger, at the end of the hand placed on the mouse or touchpad.
I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with the shape and form of popular internet media and communications. The majority of America is online, and our creative engagement with words and communication in this medium is short. Blog posts are short. Facebook status updates are short. Tweets are short.
Twitter is the perfect example. One hundred and forty characters, to communicate effectively. And, really, we've gotten good at it. It's become entertaining, effective and, finally, important. Friends bitch and share and plan inside the limits of a Tweet. Businesses advertise, share updates and network. Revolutions, or the attempts there-of, are documented - The best information coming from Iran in recent troubles has been in one hundred and forty character bursts. That is what finally convinced me that Twitter had some actual value. And now, there are literary efforts, such as Nanoism, focused on extremely short fiction that will fit into a Tweet.
The modern face of textual communication is short. Why should anyone be surprised that written art would follow that? Even some of the more successful novels and memoirs of recent years have begun as blogs.
So, maybe I am wrong and the novel is dead. Or I'm half wrong, and the novel is elderly and graying. If that's the case though, it's not because culture is dead. It's not because we've lost something. Exactly the opposite in fact. We've found a way to retain our literary culture, our artistic use of language, in the modern era. There's been no death – Merely a refinement. If anything, it forces writers to be better.
Narrative Magazine recently had a small contest asking for people to contribute six word stories, in the tradition of the supposed original flash fiction piece by Hemingway. Hemingway's six word story, the product of a ten dollar bar bet, was the essence of succinct and powerful fiction: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
If the internet influenced literary culture is cultivating a standard of writers who can do as much with as little as Hemingway, then we'll be just fine. The novels will happen, and when they do, they'll be magnificent.

Now, if we can just make it okay for men to read them. Maybe the internet will help that as well. If the publishers, and their often female staff focusing on the female 70% of the market, aren't delivering then the internet will.
Let's not lament what's happened to fiction, its still here – Rather lets ask “What's Happening to Fiction”, and what can we as readers and writers contribute.