Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stirrings of Dissent

It's a peaceful morning. I sit with my entire day ahead of me. Speakers, set at a low volume, hum with Lightning Hopkins and Skip James. The coffee in my cup is the way I like it, strong. Oatmeal, for my morning meal cooks slowly on the stove. I am surrounded by what I will do today: my journal, my composition notebook and the two books I'm currently mired in, Richard Arlington Robinson's The Man Against the Sky and Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World.
My mind wanders.
Outside hundreds of cars and buses and trucks pass the intersection of SW Vista Ave and SW Main. It's a gray day, but are the days of Portland, Oregon this time of year. I live in a gray city.
I'm free. I will leave the table today. At some point later, I will walk through the Southwest neighborhood all the way to the US Bankcorp tower, Ol' Pink, where I will punch a time clock. And in the meanwhile, I am alone with my thoughts, my musings and my writing. In short, this is the way I spend my days, my life. And I am free.
My thoughts go out today to another writer. Oddly enough my thoughts are not with Robinson or Ishiguro. No, my thoughts go to another writer, who, separated by language and one very vast distance. I have very little in common with this writer. We do share many views, I'm sure of this. We do not share a common language. But what we do share is the compulsion to write, to think, to be left alone with our musings and ultimately to produce a product for others to read.
Chen Xi.
Chen Xi, it is not right what they're doing to you. Chen Xi, it is not right that the world, yes, the entire world is not rallying outside your prison cell lobbying for your release. It is not right that your government has not only imprisoned you, but they have taken away your pen and your notebook. It is not right that some bureaucrat has stopped you from writing. And to think that you are Chinese, and your people have produced a volume of writers surpassed by none in the history of human scribblings.
Chen Xi, with tears in my eyes, I say this to you: “Your words will only gain more power now. Any injustice done to you will only weight your words more.”
Chen Xi, I long for a world where writers can write. Chen Xi, I long for a world where readers get to read. It is the only thing that separated us from the ghastly beasts so many are so hell bent on becoming.
Chen Xi, you are with me, or should I say, I am with you. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Last Licks

We've been in the planning of our pursuit of publication for 8 weeks. Eight weeks. Time flies. At this stage, there is no reason not to jump into the process. The definitions of ourselves, our work and our goals have been established, refined and understood. Hopefully, with all of this, there is a level of confidence that will enable us to endure the months ahead. The hardest work is now what we face.

Rejection
I remember when my friend Foot got a girlfriend. She was pretty, fun, a real catch. He dated her for about two months. Then she stopped calling. It tore the poor guy up. I felt for him, I did. I know what that's like. After he'd been heartbroken for a few weeks, I had to intervene. “Foot, it's over, she doesn't want to see you anymore,” I said. “I know,” he said. “I just want to know why.” “It's probably best to just let it be,” I said. “Easy for you to say,” he said. He was already bored with the conversation, and he wanted to stay in a wrecked state of heartbreak. “Foot, let me ask you: how long did you see this girl?” I asked. “Two months,” he said. “And did you have the benefit for sleeping with her?” I asked. “Yes,” he said smiling now. “And did you have a good time?” I asked. It was becoming rhetorical now. “Yes,” he said. “Then what's your problem? Keep it for what it was,” I said. “Easy for you to say, how many girls have broken up with you?” he asked. “What?” I said. “Foot, all of them.” And that's the long a short of it, they all have. It's a simple way of thinking about it, the rejection. Yes, rejection hurts, but that's all part of living life.
This is perhaps the worse part of it. If it's not tough enough to simply put our work out there for magazine and book editors to read, we face countless rejections. I don't find the rejections so bad. Many times it's a form letter rejection which leads you to think that the magazine didn't read your story at all. That's sad too. But there are the rare rejection letters that are personal, and these are rejections nonetheless, but they are a treat to read. Umbrella Factory Magazine got started because of a lovely rejection letter I got from Jason at Fiction Weekly. The long and short of it, don't be disheartened by rejection. It really is nothing personal. And if you've done the right research, the rejections will be less.

Burn-out
Burn-out is more insidious than the rejections. Whereas rejection is expected, burn-out is not. Getting burnt-out happens to everyone. When you don't see noticeable or even tangible results to your efforts, and you feel overwhelmed with all the tasks at hand, you might expect a level of burn-out. My advice, just keep working. I have said since the onset of this pursuit that the most important thing is focusing on the new material. I don't have any reason to believe that this is the cure, but new material is certainly more exciting than the grind of letter writing and hopeful thinking. The anecdote? Well, when I was in the Army and stationed in Germany, getting letters from home was very important to me. I wrote endless letters home to my friends and family telling them in boring detail my daily activities in my post war adolescence. The mail room on our base was on the distant outskirts in an old telegraph station. It was quite a hike, especially when the mailbox was empty. It got to the point where I was writing a letter everyday and if I didn't get one everyday, I became bitter. So, rather than stopping my letter writing pace, I decreased my trips to the mail room. It was burn-out. So, rather than stopping the writing of letters, I simply went to the mail room twice a week. Same thing here, keep your pace and don't obsess over the results. Try to stay focused on the task, and the results will follow.

Record Keeping
Keep track of what you've sent and to where. Some magazines permit simultaneous submissions. This means that they're okay with you sending one story to fifty magazines. This is an all right tactic if you can keep it all straight. Should your piece get accepted somewhere, then you must tell the others. I hate simultaneous submissions as an editor. As a writer, I don't need to do this, and I won't. Either way, one story to fifty magazines, or fifty stories to fifty magazines, keep records. Since I use the 3 by 5 card system for my short stories as well as my magazine research, it's pretty easy to paper clip them both together and date them.

Good luck in this endeavor. I hope it's a rewarding process.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Winter Reading List: December 2011

Well, after deciding not to read in the autumn, I've decided to go back to my old system of the reading list. The fall was terrible. Actually, now that I think of it, the summer was a bit terrible too. In the last six months I read next to nothing. It was terrible. I wonder if I'm the kind of reader who needs a list, and to further that one pace more, am I the kind of person who needs a list?

At any rate, it's about the reading list now and again. I read Jack Kerouac's On the Road last week, and what a great read. I had been a little reticent to read it because of some personal baggage. I read some Kerouac a few years ago, enjoyed it, but I never messed around with On the Road. There really is no excuse why. But, in the opening chapters of part one when Sal (the narrator) is on his way to Denver, I really got so homesick for the old place. Aside from all the places in the book that I have shared: Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, Tucson and Mexico City, the story was frazzled, jazz like, Catholic, American, and love filled. At any rate, it never occurred to me what I share with Sal, and ol' Kerouac himself: Catholicism, war veteran, love of jazz, contempt of the masses, hedonism, and a search for the face of God which can happen at any moment in a skirt, a travel trunk, or the blue skies over the Rocky Mountains. This book sparked something in me. The drive to read more books.

So, there it is. It's time. The winter reading list:

Tropic of Capricorn Henry Miller
Naked Lunch William S. Burroughs
Bad Monkeys Matt Ruff
The Dogs Rebecca Brown
In Cold Blood Truman Capote
The Rum Diary Hunter S Thompson
Poetry:
Howl Allen Ginsberg
Collected Edwin Arlington Robinson

So much of this list is inspired by Kerouac, which is kind of funny. Anyhow, there it is. I hope as you build your reading list, you have as much fun. And if you're in a dark place, like Portland, Oregon this time of year, keep in mind that the days are getting longer between now and then.

As always, good luck and happy reading.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Plan (Goal Setting and Work Mode)

I'm dumbfounded at the process. Any process. For instance, several years ago I thought of writing as something that I could not share with anything else. It was in the fall, 2004, I think. I was with Eric Driskell, and we had been drinking whiskey at the bar. I don't remember exactly how we made it back to my house, but there we were. My house was the obvious place to be because there was even more whiskey there waiting for us. But once we got there, I was without my house key. You never realize how far you've come in the world until you're drunk and climbing into your bedroom with your attorney. Fortunately, once inside the house we could get back outside again. We took our whiskey and headed into the garage. We looked at my old VW and talked about life. What else can you do with your friend Eric after a night like the one we had? I remember specifically telling him that I was planning to leave my job and do my best to write full time. “What the hell for?” he asked. I tried to explain it to him. “Naw man, come on, don't quit your job,” he said. “You got a great job, you can do it all. And look at this car.”

I'm nearly ashamed of myself in that I still consider his counsel, and I'm finally putting it to use. I wonder if he remembers that night, and if he does, I doubt it was a life changing experience for him the way it was for me.

But he was right. I could do it all. Just not then. I can now. Let's consider things for a moment. Over the last several weeks we've talked about this pursuit of publication as an important part of our careers as writers of fiction. I still consider myself a writer of fiction despite my last couple of publications being poetry, and the most success I've ever experienced was the writing of screenplays. In these weeks of preparation and thought, we've come to define ourselves, our work, and our mission. It really is a can do it all sort of thing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pursuit of Publication: The Research

Here we go.
In the recent weeks, we've prepared ourselves for the flooding of the free press with our words.  We've taken an inventory of our publishable work.  We've spent some time refining who we are as writers and distilling our short pieces of fiction into manageable hook and synopsis sentences.  We've tried our hand at the cover letter.  And we've defined our schedules to fit in the arduous hours of the work life, home life, writing life and the research associated with publication.

Now down to the wheel.
A few places to find possible markets:
1-go to your local library and leaf through magazines, journals and reviews.
2-try www.newpages.com  and spent hours at this site.  Each one of these reviews of magazines will take you to the magazines' sites.  Please read everything you can, read the magazine, read the reviews, research the writers, the editors and follow the magazines' guidelines exactly.
3-try www.doutrope.com following the same protocol as above.
4-if you use Facebook, try to "fan" or "follow" as many magazines there too.
5-if you're still in college, submit to your college literary journal.
6-find all the literary magazines in your town.  For instance, I live in Portland, Oregon and I know that both Tin House and  Burnside Review are up and running in my neighborhood.  You'll be surprised at the literary community even in the smallest of towns when you simply look for them.