Monday, December 30, 2013

An Interview with Melanie Whithaus

I first met Melanie Whithaus in March of 2012 when we ran her poetry in Umbrella Factory Magazine. Her poems in UFM's Issue #9 where her first publication.  In the last year and nine months this poet has had many other magazine publications, two chapbooks and has become an editor of  Wednesday Night Writes.  I have had the opportunity to read both her chapbooks, Enigma and Motherhood. Please enjoy the following interview.

AFI: First of all, thank you for participating in this interview.

MLW: Thank you so much for considering me for this opportunity!

AFI: I enjoyed your chapbook Enigma very much. It's a wonderfully slim chapbook with 12 poems, if you can, tell me a little of the back story. Did you set out to build a chapbook from scratch, or did you make this piece from 12 existing poems? How did you choose the 12? I see you made the cover image too, you are a photographer as well? I saw in your editor's bio from Wednesday Night Writes magazine that you list photography as an interest.

MLW: Thank you very much! I’m so glad you liked it. Many of the poems in the book I wrote back in high school. They were about relationships, friends, and my depression; I thought I wouldn’t have any chance in publishing them individually. They still meant a lot to me and I wanted to see them published elsewhere than online in my personal blogs, so I decided to put them in a book handmade by myself. The 12 poems I chose I felt all fell under the same theme of confusion, hints the title of the book. The poems themselves are hard to understand and describe, and I had a very hard time identifying who I was at the time when I wrote the poems. I like to think of myself as an amateur photographer, haha. It’s a hobby of mine, but I don’t feel that I have enough experience in the field to do anything professionally with it. I’m still proud of the photographs that I do have, especially the cover photo of Enigma. I took the photo while I was in New York on vacation. I fell in love with the city, and I think the tone of the city and the photo fits the word “enigma” very well.

AFI: I love poem “Intoxicated” perhaps it's because I identify with the line “where kisses only take place in dirty basements/and outside along dirty fences”. It feels like a tribute to youth. Rather than pressing you for the details of this poem's construction, let me just ask: what was this poem's process? And I can't shake the feeling that “Intoxicated” has a lyric quality. It feels like the second stanza could be a refrain, and other stanza could be verses. Are you influenced by music? Are you musically inclined?

MLW: The poem is about innocence and youth, but also how easily it can slip through your fingers. To me, innocence is bliss, not just ignorance. It’s about growing up, but also learning how deal with life when the dust clears. All the stanzas were personified events in my life. I wanted to make something simple sound so exciting and alive. The last line of the poem was completely true, and I have never forgotten those woman’s words. In a way, they’ve defined not only this poem, but who I am as a person. She told me to never stop writing, and here I am doing this interview. Am I musically inclined? Haha, not at all. Music inspires me, this poem in particular considering the rhyming, but I can’t read sheet music to save my life.


AFI: Another one of my favorites has to be “Blood Rush.” Again, what was this poem's process? It has cyclical feel to it, and a loss of innocence dimension that happens between 1978 and 1979. The dates seem important to the piece. Despite the I voice in the poem, I cannot imagine this is autobiographical. Where you even alive in 1978? There is something more to this narrative poem than meets the eye, right? What is the inspiration? It's really very stunning.

MLW: “Blood Rush” has always been one of my personal favorites, and no, I was not alive in the 1970s, haha. Once again, the poem is about a relationship, it coming to a dramatic end, and how the narrator deals with the changes in her life (which obviously isn’t very well come the end of the poem, haha). The narrator is almost self-abusive when it comes to her relationship because she is desperately wants to be with this person for the rest of her life even though she doesn’t truly love him. She loves the idea of him; the guilt then consumes her, and she dies with her lover even though she will be eternally unhappy. In a way, the poem reflects the relationship I was in at the time. As for the time period, I’ve always been inspired by periodical pieces, but honestly I think I just chose the year 1979 because of the Cold War and the space race. Something about that year stood out to me, and I felt it fit the tone of the poem.


AFI: The late 1970s certainly were tumultuous, I was very young, but I do remember the time. It is a great time to set such a poem. Let's talk about your background a little bit. I love to ask this question: when did you decided to be a poet/writer? Was there a specific event, an a-ah moment or a grand revelation? Who are your biggest influences, and who are your role models? Tell me about Southeast Missouri State University and what you're current studying? Plans for graduate school?

MLW: Oh gosh. I think I decided to become a writer than I was in the second grade? I wrote my first book during that year, but didn’t do much more with writing until I was about 11 years old. My older brother was writing a short story for class, and I decided I wanted to do that too. I wrote my first novel called The Wonderful Night. Oh goodness, I was so proud of that piece of junk, haha. At first it was a good thirty pages with my 14 pt comic sans font, but once I finally edited it years later, I had a ten page “novel”. I wrote a number of novels back in middle and high school, but it was all just for the fun of it. I never imagined I would get somewhere with my writing. But as I’ve grown and began to understand all the details behind writing a novel, I haven’t been able to write one since. They’re too daunting. So basically, I started writing for fun and I fell in love, and now it’s become my life. My biggest influences would have to be various friends I’ve made in the literary world, along with my favorite authors such as JK Rowling, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, and Charles Bukowksi. Also my family and friends have been very supportive over all these years. I’m currently a senior and studying creative writing at Southeast Missouri State University where I also study small-press publishing. The staff and the friends I have made have all been very supportive of me. But I can’t wait to get out of here and move on to my next adventure: grad school. Ideally I would love to go somewhere in New York or Chicago to receive my MFA, but more than likely I’ll end up staying in the St. Louis greater area.

AFI: I chose Goddard College for grad school, it was a great experience. I think you should get off to grad school. Your blog is fantastic. How long have you been at it? Have you had any revelations as an artist as a result of keeping your blog? Also, your social media presence is impressive, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Have you received good response from your fans/followers?

MLW: My blog is fantastic? Haha, I never would have thought that, but thank you! That’s very encouraging actually. I try to keep all my social media up to date so I can reach the biggest audience I can get. I would say I have a decent amount of followers as an up and coming artist, but who doesn’t want more? Networking with other writers and publishers is definitely key as well.

AFI: Tell me a little about your magazine Wednesday Night Writes? What is your role in the magazine's organization? How far do you plan to take this magazine? What are the magazines objectives for the future? What do you think are the roles and responsibilities of literary magazines?

MLW: Wednesday Night Writes all started on Wednesday nights after our weekly night class. We went to the local Denny’s and talked about class, other stories/books we’ve read, and publications. We finally decided we wanted to start our own literary magazine. There are six of us on staff currently and we all play the role as co-editors. It’s a new magazine and we’re trying our best to work out the kinks. As for the future, we just hope to publish as many great and upcoming writers as we can. I’ve learned that lit mags are A LOT of work. Between reading submissions, editing, formatting, building a website and a following, it’s hard to sit back and admire all the work you’ve already done. It takes a lot of responsibility and dedication to keep a mag up and running smoothly.

AFI: I too have found literary magazines to be a lot of work. You seem very new on the publication circuit. The half dozen publications you list on your CV have happened very quickly. You seem to be on your way to success. What is the end goal and what is your current process? Many poets and writers have publication as their ambition and yet so many poets and writers don't even bother to submit their work. What is your advice to someone who wants to be published? Which of your publication experiences has been the best?

MLW: I like the think I’m on my way to success, and yes, everything has happened very quickly. I didn’t start publishing until about two years ago and since then it’s been a real rollercoaster. My goal in life is to be on the New York Times bestseller list. Maybe not as popular as JK Rowling, but definitely a mentionable name in the literary world. I love being published. It brings such a sense of accomplishment knowing that my work is being praised by people outside my comfort zone. My advice is to never stop trying; someone is going to like your work, it’s just a matter of finding the right publisher. My best experience is when I actually had a book launch this past summer for Enigma at the bookstore/publishing house I was interning at, Rocking Horse Publishing.

AFI: Motherhood, your second chapbook, just released. How much different was the process with this publication from Enigma?

MLW: Motherhood was actually a mini-chapbook that started off as an art project. It’s only five poems and I didn’t have any plans to do anything with it other than hand it out to a few friends. I really made the book just for my own pleasure. Now I’m in the works of listing it on Amazon as an ebook. The difference between Motherhood and Enigma is that I had a common theme in mind when making Motherhood, and the poems are much more up to date. Lately, my poems have been about motherhood (even though I myself am not a mother) and what it means to be a mother. The description of the book pretty much summarizes up my thought process: “The collection highlights the author's fascination with the idea of what it means to be a mother with pregnancy scares, miscarriages, and abortions in mind. To her, simply loving a child–born or unborn–considers you to be a mother.”


AFI: Enigma starts with a Charles Bukowski quote and you inscribed my copy with a Ernest Hemingway witticism. If you will indulge me, leave me with something good: give me some serious Whithaus wisdom.

MLW: I love Bukowksi. I’m such a fan girl that I actually have a bluebird tattoo because of his poem “The Bluebird”. I can honestly say haven’t read much Hemingway, but I have great respect for him. Some of my own advice? Whithaus wisdom? Haha, I’m not my father! But I guess my best advice is going to be lame advice, and that is to never give up. Believe me; I know what it’s like to be your worst critic, especially after being diagnosed with depression. Just keep trying and prying and begging and writing and networking and you’ll eventually get noticed.

AFI: Thanks again for participating in this interview.

MLW: No, thank you for interviewing me! It was a great time. Thanks again!


Melanie Whithaus is currently studying for her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Southeast Missouri State University. Her work has been featured on websites such as deviantart.com and fanfiction.net, and her blog can be found at melwhithaus.wordpress.com. She has poetry published with Umbrella Factory Magazine, Scapegoat Review, and 1of25 magazine; short stories with Crack the Spine literary magazine, The Rusty Nail literary magazine, and Palaver Journal; and her self-published chapbooks Enigma and Motherhood. Her writing is known for its raw, straight-forward voice, and her “no holds barred” style.


Anthony ILacqua believes in the independent press, small or large, as the best representation of modern literature in America and the ideal place to connect well developed readers to the best writing available. Anthony's novels Dysphoric Notions and Undertakers of Rain are available from Ring of Fire Books. His screenplays have been made into widely praised animated films at Rocket House Studio. He currently works as fiction editor for Umbrella FactoryMagazine.
Blog: http://anthonyilacqua.blogspot.com

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus Part 3: Enigma, a review.

Available HERE
Enigma is slim volume of 12 poems by Melanie Whithaus. When it came to me, by mail on that hot-end-of-summer September day, I was immediately drawn to the cover photo (also by Melanie) of raindrops on a window, possibly a windshield. These raindrops gave me the feeling of something far away and foreign to the hot September I was experiencing.

The writing of Melanie Whithaus is known for its raw and straight-forward voice, and her “no-bars-held” style. These words are written at the end of her bio on the back cover of the chapbook. So, here we are, a sunny September day, Enigma and me.

The first poem is the title poem for the chapbook. “Enigma.” This is a scant piece: Were we once dinosaurs/or are we merely/ fantastical creatures,/longing to be real? I'm left dumbfounded. This is a quiet, nearly peaceful piece. There is nothing raw about this poem. This poem is not a hot sunny September day, as I am living it. This poem is not a raindrops on windshields sort of day either. This poem is something softer, something remarkably more vulnerable. This poem begs of cloud watching or pillow talk. On my first reading of this poem, I know that I should find a different place, both location and head-space to read the remaining 11 poems.

A sultry end of summer evening led me to the walled in cement backyard of our North Denver abode. In the dwindling daylight I resumed the reading of Enigma. In a way, I was waiting for the rawness. I found the straight-forward voice. I gave up on the “no-bars-held” style. What I found was a tough-as-nails feeling in the poetry (and possibly the poet herself) that successfully wove vulnerability and sensuality in the continuity of voice.

“Dear Lover” and “Blood Rush” quickly stand-out. Both poems have a narrative quality to them, they each tell a story. The story goes on for a duration of time that, like a raindrop reflecting the image of the world inverted, goes on forever, maybe even within the walls of second. “Dear Lover” starts last Tuesday, the narrator and the lover are both eight. They live an entire life, “a happily every after” sort of life complete with a white farmhouse and seven children (an eighth on the way). But what's so striking is the ethereal longevity of it: last Tuesday...we were eight. It begs the notion that even at a young age, the uncertainty, the severity of life plays on our daydreams and builds our short unions.

Melanie Whithaus gives us 12 poems in this chapbook. The reoccurring themes: love and loss of love, death, childhood reckonings of disasters and triumphs and living life as an adult with love and loss of love, death, childhood reckonings of disasters and triumphs. “Intoxicated” is not only my favorite poem, but I think it's one where we meet the poet, the vibe and it combines all the above mentioned themes. “I'm ten drinks down the line/and I'm running out of time,” starts the second stanza. We get the idea that the narrator, much like the drunk woman who tells her to live her life, is doing anything but. Ten drinks down the line, and it's really heartbreak for a person, a place and a time. Ten drinks down the line maybe there's a resolution. But what makes “Intoxicated” so extraordinary is at it's basic level it is cathartic like a soiled love affair and it's the comfy buzz that was two or three drinks ago. It's the uncertainty of age, which is so easily toiled with self-doubt. The poem has a careful construction. The poem is a promise of the poet's future too, by which I mean, Melanie Whithaus here in “Intoxicated” is only a fraction of the poet she is going to be.

Enigma has the startling moments of the raw, straight-forward voice, as promised. It also have more lucrative moments rich in white-space and wonder. It is a great mix of tough-as-nails and vulnerability.


Next: An interview with Melanie Whithaus.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus Part 2: Poets and the importance of the literary magazine.

Available HERE
On my first day of graduate school, I could hardly contain my excitement. It was a cold Vermont January. The Goddard College campus was not only very far away from my home of Denver, Colorado, but it was nearly foreign when compared to my daily existence. And the wildest part of all, that first day, I checked into a dormitory room. It was the first dorm I ever used. And my first roommate was already there. “Hello,” he said. “Hi,” I answered. “What's your focus?” he asked. “Focus?” I repeated. “Yes,” he said. “What do you write?” “Oh,” I said. “Fiction.” “I'm sorry,” he said. “What?” I asked. “My condolences,” he said. “What's your focus?” I asked. “Poetry,” he said. I recall the conversation here in exact clarity, this was the only conversation I had with that particular roommate. He and I did not room together after that first semester. Sadly, this conversation became the embodiment of poets for me.

I had been to poetry readings. In the early 1990s I went to the poetry slams that happened in the darkened late-night coffeehouses that skirted my neighborhood. The poets there were edgy, I thought, dark maybe. There was a black T-shirted guy at the Mercury Cafe one night who single-handedly ended my curiosity about poets, poetry readings and “the scene.” He stood at the mike and took a long pull from his cigarette and reflectively leaned in: “This poem is about yuppies and why I hate them!” he began. It's been well over 20 years since that night and I still remember that line.

But these are only two poets. And I've only explained two experiences. I still read poetry: Baudelaire, Longfellow and Rosetti are on my nightstand. So is Melanie Whithaus's book Enigma. There has never been much of a shift, not for me. I read Elizabeth Bishop in bath a few years back and I read Langston Hughes over the few days before my son was born. I've always gotten something from my reading of poetry. It makes me think differently about images and it makes me feel differently about words. I know that poetry is important. Do you?

At the onset of Umbrella Factory Magazine, Mark Dragotta and Janice Hampton and I talked in pairs or all three about the magazine's concept. We talked about what a magazine should be. We talked about expansive growth, possibilities and taking over the world. Our conversations never left the world of prose: fiction and nonfiction. I think it was Mark who, almost as an afterthought said, “what about poetry?” Blank stares. What about it? None of us knew the first thing about it. Partly because it was not our background and partly because it was not of interest to us, poetry and its place in UFM was now subject for debate.

And really, there was no debate. We found a poet who started with us. His work was invaluable to the formation of the magazine and our role in the system of literary magazines. When our first poet left, he went to become the head editor of another magazine. And Julie Ewald, our current poet and poetry editor has been with us since issue 3, and her influence has shaped not only my impression but the flavor of our magazine. In the 16 issues of Umbrella Factory Magazine there has always been room, and plenty of it, for poetry and for poets.

For a moment, it's probably prudent to break down both sides: the poet and the literary magazine.

The poet has more work to do than the “why I hate yuppies” guy. Sure, there is the raw emotion, the truly uncensored heart of the artist that fits into the strophes and staffs and stanzas. I suspect this is only a small portion of the work that's done. Yeah, reading at the open mike night, or an organized poetry event is part of it too. The readings must be rehearsed. I know in early days of UFM when we hosted readings, many of the poets who read were very polished, professional, well spoken (even when reading). The work of a poet may well start with the raw energy of “yuppies and why I hate them” but this cannot be where it ends. A successful poet is one who reads poetry incessantly. A successful poet is one who labors over a piece, a stanza, a line or a word. A successful poet probably will not begin a poem with “yuppies and why I hate them.”

What becomes of a poem? The way I see it, the poet has three options for a single poem. First, the poet gets involved in the reading circuit. In this regard, the poem will get a revision during every read which means that the poem then becomes fluid. Second, the poet can take a handful of poems and assemble them into a larger project called a chapbook which I discussed last week. And third, the poet gets involved in the literary magazine circuit.

Literary Magazines are not altruistic affairs.

Let me tell you who I think the market is for literary magazines. I think the sole market for literary magazines are for the writers and poets who submit to them. Oftentimes, I wonder if these writers and poets even read the magazines they submit to. And if there is a reader who is not a writer or poet, this reader is related to the writer or poet who contributes to the magazine.

So why do it? Why have a magazine? Well, I'd think that most magazine founders, not unlike us, believe that they are doing something different, revolutionary and important. Of course, there is a selfish side to it. When you work a magazine, you work a magazine. It's great for the CV, networking and meeting other editors and other magazines. It's a great place to meet other writers and poets. It's what we do. It's a vehicle to get a wider audience for both the magazine itself and the writers and poets within it.

It all begins with the literary magazines. This is the place where writers and poets get started. Smaller journals, especially the independent magazines, make the evolution of literature possible. Without the work done by writers and poets and distributed by the literary magazine, what we read, I believe, would all become corporate template literature. And that's not literature at all.

Next: Part 3 :Enigma, a review.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus: Working in Projects

Available HERE
One of the editors of Lenswork magazine, Brooks Jensen, explains in issue #107 (July-August 2013) “Problems with a pile of prints.” Jensen explains that photographs, piles of them, present a problem simply because there seems not to be a “finished” project. Dipping further, it's simply this, a vast amount of pieces and no real whole. The idea of a project, according to this editor, leads to artistic growth. I suppose the idea of a stack of photographs is simply this: there is a stack that a viewer must wade through with no real direction. Jensen goes on to suggest that the photographer complete a “book” of photographs. Book, here is loosely assigned names such as Blurb book, a folio or a chapbook. And elegantly stated: “The photographer who finishes a book is not the same photographer who started it—.” (P 10)

I do not disagree with Brooks Jensen. I have been delighted to read the editor's comments in this beautiful bimonthly photography magazine. I think that Lenswork is a wonderful commentary on the creative process. And the photographers they feature have been challenged by the magazine's high standards. And incidentally, the photographers they feature have to think in terms of a project because each contributor provides a finished portfolio of work.

I don't think the creative process is very different between photographers and poets. It's a funny comparison, I know. But let's consider, for a moment, the notion of an individual poem and an individual photograph. Either can be a work of absolute brilliance, beauty and a complete-sovereign work all onto itself. However, can you really know the artist by just one small piece?

As many of you know, I am the editor of Umbrella Factory Magazine. We feature fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art. We do not often get much art, (or photography for that matter) which is unfortunate. Poetry, however, is the bulk of our submissions. There are so many poetry submissions that it oftentimes takes three of us to wade through the work. I can comfortably say that we publish about 1% of what we read. On one hand, it's fierce competition for poets. I think this is probably true with all literary magazines. There are just more poets than magazines. I daresay there are probably more poets than readers of poetry. This does not make poetry any less important. On the other hand, poets who carefully read, and follow the submission guidelines and artfully craft or tailor their work to an individual editor/magazine's tastes have a higher rate of success in publication. At Umbrella Factory Magazine we require 3-5 poems in our submission guidelines. You can image a poet who sends us one poem gets a quick rejection. We believe, as I'm sure all literary magazines believe, you cannot know a poet from one poem alone. 

Can you know a poet from 3-5 poems?

The limitation of 3-5 poems in literary magazines is simply due to layout, size and aesthetic. It makes for a more diverse and readable magazine issue to have three poets at four poems each than one poet with 12 poems. This is the magazine aspect to it. And I think we do get acquainted with a poet with this small amount of work. This is not where the poet should end. A publication of 3-5 poems in a literary magazine is not the end all product a poet should produce. Rather, this should be the launch pad for a larger piece of work, or a project.

Going back to Brooks Jensen's suggestion: a Blurb book, a folio or a chapbook how does this fall into the world of poetry? Seems pretty simple to me. In the earlier statement, let's pull out the title of photographer and insert poet. “The poet who finishes a book is not the same poet who started it—perhaps one of the best reasons to produce something like a Blurb book, a folio, or a chapbook.” A chapbook, a brief primer.
Definition: a small book containing ballads, poems, tales, or tracts. History: A chapbook is a pocket-sized booklet. The term chap-book was formalized by bibliophiles of the 19th century, as a variety of ephemera (disposable printed material), popular or folk literature. Many different kinds of literature have been made into chapbooks, such as pamphlets, political and religious tracts, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children's literature and almanacs. When illustrations are included in chapbooks, they are considered popular prints. The term is derived from chapmen, chap coming from the Old English céap meaning "deal, barter, business", a variety of peddler, who circulated such literature as part of their stock. The term is also in use for present-day publications, usually poetry, of up to about 40 pages, ranging from low-cost productions to expensive, finely produced editions. (Wikipedia)
A couple authorities on chapbook: Ohio Reading Road Trip.
Keith Wilson's writeup is brilliant.
If you want a downloadable template try this form.
And if you want to formulate your chapbook because of a contest, look here: newpages.‎
Or the Poetry Society of America.

Why now? I bring it up only now because I've just spent some time with Enigma poetry by Melanie Whithaus. It's a slim chapbook in the classic format. It's also a great introduction to the poet as she is now. It's a snapshot of a moment in the evolution of the creative process. It is, as we'll discuss in the coming weeks, a group of poems formed into a project that is a final, completed project.

Next: Reflections of Enigma the poetry of Melanie Whithaus Part 2: Poets and the importance of the literary magazine.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: The process

Available Here
As a writer, I've learned that it's only the first draft that's any fun. After that it's self doubt, tedium and a certain level of suspicion that torture is waiting for you at ever turn. That being said, if you are a writer, or if you know a writer please know it's only the first draft that's fun. I'm amazed at the writers I know, or even the would be writers I know who labor over the first draft. The first draft is not for self editing, self doubt or self censorship, these things only lead to bad ends.

When I consider the first draft, for anything I've ever written, well, it was good times. Every manuscript is a pile of notes and grand ideas and endless possibilities. Every first draft is like endless gin and tonics on a clear bright warm summer afternoon and it's the sort of gin drinking that is a comfy buzz, never a drunk, and never a hangover. The first draft is the only part of writing that's any fun, have I said this already?

There is plenty of time for tedium.
There is plenty of time for self doubt, self censorship. There is plenty of time to think about how horrible it is, how awful, how short of the mark. This is the second through three hundredth draft.

The second draft.

The time comes to start working. That pile of notes and the endless possibilities begin to become a short list of notes and limited possibilities in the second draft.

Choices. Decisions. Realities. That's that.

Then comes the formation of a manuscript. Here things must be in a reasonably readable form. For me this happens long after the second draft. It happens after the third draft. In fact it comes much later on. Undertakers is not exactly different. I remember being very keen on this manuscript after the third or fourth draft.

Here's what happens when the excitement clouds good judgment:

September 2009: The first draft completed
December 2009: After a few revisions, I thought this was ready publication.
January 2010: I let a few trusted friends read it.
April 2010: I submitted this to a small press contest. It was rejected, thankfully.
April 2010: I submitted this a literary agency. It was not a blind submission, I knew someone there. Again, a rejection; again, thankfully.

The manuscript got one or two reads and revisions in 2011, and again in 2012.

January 2013: I submitted it again, this time to Ring of Fire. There are a couple of reasons why the manuscript was accepted this last time. First, it had several revisions over a period of three years. Second, I already had a relationship with Ring of Fire because they published my first novel, Dysphoric Notions in September, 2012.

For those of you who have never thought about the process of publication here's a thumbnail.
November(2012): I received an email from my publisher that they wanted a second novel.
January: I submitted the novel.
February: It was accepted. We drew up the contract.
March: It went to the publisher's editor.
May: It came back to me. I reread the novel, I looked over the editor's notes. I sent the novel to my editor (That's Janice). I read the novel again and looked over Janice's notes.
June: I sent the novel back to the publisher.
July: I got the electronic version of the novel and reread it again. I sent a few changes to the publisher.
August: I got the “PROOF” copy of the paperback. Those beautiful letters P-R-O-O-F, those five letters meant only one thing to me—I would not have to read the novel again. I read it for the last time then.
September: I sent the last changes and corrections back to the publisher.
September-October: I got some input on the cover. As a bragging point here, the cover image is one of my photos. Steve Penner, my publisher, designed the cover. We came to the final product some time in early October.
November 1: The book released.

The whole process took four years. I wrote the first draft in the first 8 weeks of the four year process. And the last several steps to the novel's release took an entire year, and that is very-very quick by comparison. So, that's the process.

The whole process has really yet to begin by November 1, 2013, when the novel released. Now comes the marketing, now comes the promotion, now comes the selling of the novel. This process, although a direction relation between action and results, is not what the first days of the writing of draft number one.

The process of a novel is not dissimilar, I'd think, to the process of anything. The process of writing a novel seems to be of interest to many people. I think about National Novel Writing Month, also in November, and I think of the number of people who do it. I recently looked at a continuing education catalog and I was both surprised and delighted to see the number of novel writing courses offered. True, it is an incredible process, the writing of a novel, and that process takes patience, vision and discipline. But, writing is only a small part of it.

Anyone out there endeavoring to write a novel, this is all I have to say to you: just write it. Write it no matter what. Write it knowing that it may never get read. Write it because you want to write it. Write it because you must. I have long held the belief that there are two pursuits: making love and making art. Write your novel because it's the right thing to do.

Last thoughts


Thank you for your support. Thank you for buying my book. Thank you for reading.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: Passing the Rubicon.

Available Here
The Rubicon is a short river in Northern Italy. Caesar made this a part of our speech today when his army crossed this river in 49 B.C. His action created civil war. But we know it today as to pass the Rubicon, this means we reach a point of no return. We've set a course of action that cannot be changed.

I think in the construction of a novel, there is a point of no return. The opening days of work are days filled with excitement, with endless choices. But after a number of days when the material is accumulating there comes a point when the project just has to grow and become finished. Flowery comparison, I know. But I do feel like writing is war, and some days the writer wins and some days the writer loses.

There is also a Rubicon in the manuscript itself. There is a point, and I think this is in any good piece of fiction where the main character changes, and must go forward, transformed, new, different. This is the defining moment in the story. The defining moment in Undertakers is the night in the bar. We know that John has hang-ups with hippies from the first page. Of course, we don't know why, and the night in the bar he really makes it clear how much he hates hippies.

Any course of action in fiction, as described by John Gardner in chapter seven of the The Art of Fiction has reactions. Under the model of the Fictean Curve, there is the event and what the character should do to resolve the event, but we know that what a character should do is not always what a character does. This track of what the character does is what makes mini climaxes within the course of the plot. I know we've all read books, or seen movies where we (as readers or viewers) know what the character should do. We sometimes will even voice aloud what the character should do and we're somehow appalled that the character chooses another, less obvious course of action.

The bar. In the bar a fight ensues. It isn't like John is xenophobic, although Maria calls him out as such. The fight goes one way, and the course of the story changes.

I shared this particular scene with a few friends during the early drafts of the book. I had spent almost 20 pages letting John and Sam beat the bejesus out of a group of hippie kids. 20 pages. I must admit, it was cathartic, in a way. I don't really have a problem with hippies, or hipsters, or cowboys, or any other sub-group of mainstream people. Perhaps it was just that by the fall of 2009 when I was writing this story, I had not been in a fight for years. At any rate, I was told that the scene was excessive. I was told that the scene was a little too brutal compared with the rest of the text. I was told that the scene was in desperate need of revision. Begrudgingly, I acquiesced. I could not remove the scene. Not entirely. I paired it down to about three pages. I had to keep that much.

This is the event: John and Sam and their bartender Josie fight a group of kids. John's girlfriend Maria looks on. She's horrified, and rightly so. This event is the reason why she breaks up with him, and this break up causes John to become introspective.

Have you ever noticed that when you learn about yourself, it's generally not the learning of something good?


Monday, November 18, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: The novel

Available Here
This is a novel about returned war veterans. True enough. But my intent when I started Undertakers was to write a book about jewel thieves. Jewel thieves. This was because of a dream I had. In the dream I was hiding under a staircase with someone, a woman, I think, and we were waiting out the war with a pile of jewels. I think there was more to the dream that just this.

I had to ask myself, why write a book about jewel thieves? I took a couple of points: the jewels, the male-female relationship and the backdrop of war.

The writing process, I suspect is different for every writer. I also think that the process changes for each writer. At the time I drafted Undertakers I was writing close to 40 hours a week. They were just about 40 uninterrupted hours too. This was 2009. I had just got out of graduate school. As the case with most grad school graduates, I two things going on: 1) I felt like I had something to prove. And 2) I was in a heap of debt. The writing process in 2009 was this: wake up, fire up the computer; make the coffee, get the notebook open to the right place; begin draft two. A couple of hours working on the latest draft and then lunch. I got dressed at this point and left the house. I went to a park, the backyard or a coffeehouse and with my notebook, I began to work on the initial draft again. Late in the day, I headed off to work. I did this seven days a week for most of the year. The fall of 2009, I taught two classes at the community college and I got nearly twelve hours a day to write. It was a hell of a time. I was turning out 50,000 word manuscripts every 6 to 8 weeks. Undertakers of Rain was the August-September project.

Back to the jewel thieves. They made it into the story. They are, in fact, a big part of the plot. But the jewel thievery is not the major focus of the book. The major focus of the book are the two main characters, John and Sam and the way they reconcile the past.

So, I set the story ten years after the war. I set the story in Portland, Oregon. I set the office building where these two work in the office building where I worked. John lives in the house where I lived in late 1999. This is about where the autobiography ends.

The construction of characters is a process in itself.

As many of you know, and as the all of you will find out, I dedicated this novel to my buddy Chris Howk. Chris and I met in college. He was still in the Marines at the time, and I had been out of the Army for a few years. We did not go to war together, as the two characters John and Sam did. But Chris is a integral part of the construction of my two main characters. In real life, Chris and I had adventures that lasted a decade. In that ten years we lived in Denver and Portland. We worked in fantastical places like Elbert, and Willamina. We squatted on the beach at Rockaway and we were homeless in Denver. Ten years is a long time. I love Chris.

Much like a war memoir, jewel thieves, and my life with Chris, these do not make a good story and they do not make good fiction.

I took every negative quality I saw in both Chris and me and put them into one character. I took all the good qualities that I perceived in both of us and put them into the second character. This was the birth of Sam and John. I gave them failed relationships, bar fights and stressful jobs. Nothing too far from real life. And, as it was, the book wrote itself.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: Veterans Day

Available Here
The armistice with Germany went into effect in the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. 11/11 or November 11th is Veterans Day here in the United States. This day is known in other countries as remembrance day, or armistice day. At any rate, it should be a solemn day because of what it commemorates. On the one hand, Veterans day is the ideal time to thank a vet. I get plenty of thanks. I thank other vets. On the other hand, perhaps Veterans Day should be a time to openly display gratitude for all ended wars. And perhaps we can show gratitude for all wars that need ending.

It was sometime in the early 2000s when I met Frank. He was a patron in the bar where I worked at the time. He had spent a number of years in the 1980s in the Persian Gulf monitoring the war between Iran and Iraq. My relationship with Frank was an interesting one. Sure, we shared a common past in the middle east. We also shared a small level of fury about the war in Afghanistan and the mounting acceptance the new war in Iraq was gaining. Frank and I and others openly protested the war. Many of these people were very politically minded, they protested George W. Bush and his administration. I just didn't want to see war happen in Iraq again. There was no need for it. The last war there proved to be nothing more than a way to sow seeds of uncertainty and instability in a place that never had much else. It's over now, and we'll be paying for it for a very long time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: Leaving the War

Falling Soldier: Magnum
Photographer Robert Capa, born Friedmann Endre on October 22, 1913 died on May 25, 1954 from a land mine in Vietnam. In his 40 years, he participated in five wars: The Spanish Civil War, the Second Sin-Japanese War, World War II, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and his last, the First Indochina War. His weapon, of course was the camera. It is, perhaps, a gruesome thought to consider the carnage of five wars. I would think it's one thing to participate in the carnage, and it's something else entirely to record it. The 20th century brought us enough wars to make a concise understanding of war, everything from petty skirmishes to entire world wars, not to mention the one war that really cold one, that fortunately, no one acted on. And as long as we're introducing the concept of war with photographer Robert Capa, let's just say that the record of war, and the method of documenting war changed considerably from the beginning of the 20th century to the end of it. Early photographic prints around 1900 were significantly different from satellite digital imagery complete with ticker-tape CNN banners so prevalent in first world homes by the 1990s. And I cannot speak of the technological advances we see today. Today we have more than Life Magazine, we have more than TV. Computers and smartphones give us video and news as it's happening. It sends us war from the remotest parts of Earth instantly. So, the recording of war has change, and war itself has remained the same. 

Images are one thing. War is one thing. What we're talking about here is something else. This is the question I pose today, much like Robert Capa's famous Spanish Civil War photograph, The Falling Soldier, we retain war images long after the war is over. After peace treaties and armistices are reached, we still have images of the battle. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Projects, The Sophia Ballou Collaboration

It was one of those warm autumn days back in October 2009. The crisp air was far more crisp in the shade of trees that dropped still leaves in a slight breeze. Somehow in the sun, there was a remembrance of summer who had not been forgotten and a dread of winter which was knocking at the gates of the mountains some miles to the west and considerably higher in elevation. It was an October day in 2009.

The day was a stew pot. I didn't exactly know it yet. Rather in October of 2009, Umbrella Factory Magazine was still several weeks before conception. I was teaching, much to dismay, at an “early college.” The very concept of the early college really turned me on in August, but by October, the reality of it was something less than disappointing. Perhaps that's life.

I'd wandered into Marlowe's for an afternoon refreshment. I ran into my old roommate Holly Miller. She was sitting at the bar with two friends. She introduced me to Corrie Vela. Although I had met Corrie a few times before, this was the day that the two of us really met, spoke and became acquainted.

On the TV the newscasters were busy upping ratings and selling more ad-space. For some reason, a child climbed into a high atmosphere, experimental balloon and had flown away from home. Disturbing as it was, why would anyone have such a balloon, and why would anyone put their child into it?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Yes You Can, part 3

In a way, I've grown old before my time. When this statement comes up in my mind or out through my lips or keystrokes, I then need to remind myself that I am, in fact, still a young man.

Before I go any further, let me preface this piece with this statement: I am a young man.

Some recent goings-on in my life have led me to these thoughts. Yes, the conversation a few weeks ago with Chris and Roxxi and Mark. And I have not forgotten Chris's story or how and why it should be written down. Overlay this with my current living situation and work situation and the added bonus that yes, this is what I'm doing, but not who I am.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Making of Deja Vu: Hera's Odyssey

Some time back in the recesses of my personal history, I worked schlepping coffee at a fashionable coffeehouse in the uptown neighborhood just east of downtown Denver.  The time, seeming long ago to me now, represented a rather odd time in my personal history.  We all have these.  We all have those times when plenty happens, and we know that plenty happens but nothing seems to remain in the personal repertoire after the time is over.

It was there that I found myself on a busy Saturday afternoon hustling lattes and bagels when I met the two driving forces behind Blue Whale Productions. They were about to make a film called Deja Vu: Hera's Odyssey It was early 2004.  I had met the writer/director Isabel and the leading actor Kimberly at a party a few days prior.  I knew they were in Denver from some place far away a strange and that they were scrambling to get the last minute items for their movie shoot.  When they came into the coffeehouse, I had no time to chat with them.  In fact, as I recall, I was trying to get they whatever it was they wanted so that they might get going and leave me to the line of coffee customers behind them.

Near the end of my shift, I spoke with them as they sat nervously sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes over mountains of paperwork.  "Anthony?" Isabel asked.  "Yeah?" I said.  "Do you want to be in my movie?" she asked.  I hesitated.  In the hesitation I just stared.  She began to pitch it to me in such a desperate way: "We'll play.  $100.  We'll feed you."  I was thinking this: hell yeah, I'd do it for ten bucks and a hamburger.

I got the gig.  Three lines.  Fifteen words.  Nothing too exciting.  The set was a dirty road somewhere outside of Carrizozo, New Mexico.  I was there three days.  I was treated well.  And this was my first experience with film, acting and filmmakers.  Film people get up very-very early in the morning and they go not stop until very-very late at night.  Carrizozo is a beautiful place and the the night sky in May is something beyond words.

But all of this took place ten years ago.  I was a very different person then.  And what I remember most about the whole thing now has very little to do with the film itself.  I left Denver with Xandy on a sunny morning.  We drove south on I-25 in his van.  Sometime in the afternoon we ran out of gas just north of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Ever been to Las Vegas, New Mexico?  We hitchhiked in.  We got a can of gas. We hitchhiked out.  When the second car stopped, the driver was a priest.  Xandy said: "You ride in the front." Father Michael made small talk.  We told him what we were doing.  We were a couple of young dudes down from Denver driving toward the middle of somewhere deep New Mexico to be in a film.  He asked what the movie was about.  Xandy had to tell him because he had read the script in its entirety.  I had only read the three pages that applied to me.  In listening to Xandy's description I suddenly felt like I was part of something important.

The other thing I remember with fondness is that after I was done on set my first day, I went into town.  The town of Carrizozo has enough things in it to make it a proper town.  It has shops and a restaurant and a gas station.  It has a bar too.  And on this day, I drank the town of Carrizozo out of gin.  I thought this odd at the time, but not entirely out of the usual.  A few years later I would drink another town, Plainfield, Vermont, out of gin too.

This all happened in 2004.  In many ways, 2004 was before I gained my consciousness as a writer.  Yeah, sure, by 2004 I had been writing for a good number of years.  I had a few publications.  I had the experience of a few longer texts that I considered novels.  I had a few things going for me.  And in 2004 I was not without the means of doing what I was about to do.  And at this time I was not without the interest in film, filmmaking, acting, directing or writing.  It was just something that I was not yet exposed to.

Within five years of the Deja Vu: Hera's Odyssey endeavor, I did gain my consciousness as a writer.  I pursued some training.  And nearly five years to the day of my Carrizozo experience, I was on the set of another film: "Pastrami on Rye" in Denver, Colorado.  I did not act, nor did I direct that film, but I did write the screenplay.  Did it have anything to do with Deja Vu?  Maybe.  We all start somewhere.

I bring it up today because I was wandering through the web looking for Blue Whale Productions and Deja Vu: Hera's Odyssey recently.  It seems that they fell into obscurity.  And the most depressing part about all of that is, of course, the worse thing that can happen to any artist is the falling into obscurity.  I was able to find a few links to a few things.  2004, although not before digital time, was far enough back that there was not widespread use of digital markings like there is today.

Curiously, I found this youtube video.  That's me, in my favorite yellow t-shirt.  I show up again about minute 8:30.  It's a fun video someone made who felt a little nostalgic too.



I suppose the punchline to all of this, or the reason behind the why blog this is simply because this one Carrizozo experience really got me started in film work.

And for all of you out there who may want to try working in film, why wait?  These folks from Blue Whale Productions did it.  I know they saved money for a year, got all their friends to invest and just made it happen.  If they can do it, then you can do it.  I say this because there are so many more options available in 2013 than there were ten years ago when Blue Whale Productions got started.  Technology is better and more accessible.  Social media has increased marketing, fundraising and awareness.  The time has never been better.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Yes, You Can: Part 2

I've had about a week to think about my story-swapping-you-should-write-this conversation with Chris and Roxxi and Mark. I've come to a few conclusions.

I'm not altogether sure when or how I adopted the supportive attitude toward other writers, would-be writers or some day in the distance want to become writers. It may go all the way back to Vance Aandahl at Metro State. He was about as supportive as they come. Even if a student struggled to write three very terrible sentences during a directed writing workshop, Vance would find kind words to say about something. He would mention the highlights and how, should the student feel inclined to pursuit that particularly bad three sentence struggle, one could capitalize on the good. He was disarming, gentle and ultimately kind and loving. I think Vance understood that writing is not easy.

I may have adopted the supportive attitude during my brief reign in Tucson, Arizona. As many of you know from my series Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona I had a wonderful network there. My network, ultimately came down to one person, Juliana Spallhloz. She invited me to poetry circles, she served me endless cups of tea and glasses of beer as we discussed our words. She made me feel like my time writing was not lost time and that my words were the ultimate work of all mankind.

I may have adopted the supportive attitude during my time at Goddard College. As I look back on my graduate school experience, I realize now, just now, how very cool it was. We were all in this struggle together, but not a single pair of us shared the same struggle. Strange, really strange. Everyone said kind things, and most gave good advice.

But as I'm thinking about it now, my supportive attitude is vastly different from many of those who I've met along the way. Many I've met have been kind about what has already been written. Many have been supportive and offered criticism on how they think it should be rewritten. And others have just been plain kind.

I am none of these things. Rather, by supportive attitude I am a very specific sort of supportive. I don't think feelings really work into it. In a way I wish I had kind words to say about what others share with me. In a way I wish I could celebrate the holy process of writing and see inclusion. I wish I had the encouraging urgings as part of my repertoire.

But this is just not who I am. I'm a pull yourself by the bootstraps sort of supportive. I am get it going, because that's how it's going to get done sort of supportive. I am a just write it down because that's what you do, what you're supposed to do sort of supportive. I feel, and I really do feel that the rest of the population is not worthy of your worry, not worthy of your praise. I believe that when faced with it you have only two things to do: make love and make art. And, unfortunately, those who do not do this have less purpose on this world than Earthworms. Earthworms, at least, preform a function. Human beings who do not make love and make art are not leaving anything remotely worthwhile behind. Rather they are consuming resources and leaving waste in their wake. Unfortunately enough, that fucking to-go corporate coffee cup they drank out of this morning will still be present in the landfill long after their body has decayed.

I digress.

Make love. Make art. Write it all down. And know this, if today is your first day, whatever you write today you will find silly, trite and embarrassing 20 years from now. This does not lessen the importance of the act, your process or your purpose. I believe this: if you have to be chained to an institution, should it not be one of you're own invention.


I urge you to write a page today. Write one tomorrow. In a year you'll have 365 pages. And in twenty years you'll have 7,305 pages. Believe me, not all of them need to be any good.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Yes, You Can

I feel like every couple of years I get involved with a conversation like the one I'm about to tell you. This conversation is usually with someone I don't know very well, and this conversation is generally with someone I already like. This conversation happens after we've swapped outlandish stories.

I love the outlandish stories because, well, they're outlandish. For my part, I was telling my new friends Chris and Roxxi “my favorite lithium story,” It's funny because I introduce it like that but the truth be told, I have only this one lithium story. Now, two things before I go further: first, my grandfather, Frank Aiello was a storyteller and I have always wanted to have people listening and laughing at my stories like he did. And two, I have or I will use most of my life experiences as fodder for the fiction I have or will write. The lithium story, however, is fun to tell at the right times but it will probably never make it to the paper. Well, I guess I'm alluding to it now.

So, the punchline of the story, “I didn't know that they were still prescribing lithium,” I said. “Oh yeah,” Chris said. “They'll give it to you now.”

A little while later, enter Mark Dragotta. Everyone knows Mark Dragotta. If you do not, you should. So here comes Mark. Chris says, “Since I got both writers here, you have to hear this.”

And those are the words that spark the conversation that seems to pop up every couple of years.

I like Chris. I like Chris a lot. He and I have similar views on the world. We're close in age. We have similar sensibilities. That says a great deal, I think. And along with all of this, Chris, like Mark, or like me, has had interesting experiences along the way. In many ways, this is a criteria for prospective friends. I like interesting people who have lived lives. So here we were, Chris and Mark and I.

Chris begins to tell us about his late teenaged years. He tells us about this epic hitchhiking trip all over the United States with a friend of his. He tells us about the people he met, and the shading circumstances of the road trip's purpose. He explains that what we need to do (Mark and me) is write a series of short stories. He gives us the premise. He nearly explains how to do it. Mark and I stay silent. I know if I have had this conversation every so often, I know Mark has had it too. All we do is listen to Chris.

During all of this, I think I'm hearing more than Chris thinks he's telling me. At one point he mentions the friend, who has either just died, or has died in such recent times that it's still close under the surface. I know how old Chris is now, and he tells me how old he was during this crazy road trip. Half of his life has gone by since these misadventures with a dear, now dead friend. And he's trying to tell Mark and me how to write this story.

Neither Mark, nor I will write this story. There's now way. This is Chris's story.

It was not the right time, nor the right place, not last night anyway, to tell Chris you can write this story. I mean hell, there are all the right elements to it: youthful rebellion, travel, drugs, and now half a lifetime interceding adding a dead friend. The one person he had as a connection to that time is now gone. If there is a question of “why now?” as there should be, I think it's fairly obvious.

I realize that not everyone is a writer. I think everyone should be. I think that all it really takes is the inclination, the time, add a good reading list and practice, practice, practice. Can anyone become Michael Chabon? No, chances are you won't win the Pulitzer Prize, or even get published. But when I have these conversations with people, I don't think the Pulitzer Prize or a New York Times Bestseller is what they're after.

Rather, what I think they're after is to see their story on a page. I think what they're after is to have their story told. Why? Because I think people who have experiences like Chris believe (and I believe it too) that others can learn something from them. And if nothing more, it's important enough to share.

I think Chris can write this story.

This is the way I would directed him:

Read. A few suggestions I have off the cuff: Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Denis Johnson's Jesus's Son; John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and perhaps everything or anything by Jim Carroll and Augusten Burroughs. I think there is so much value in reading similar or similarly set stories. The case with these writers and these books is simple enough, road trips, drugs, returning home, etc. All expect the latter these are writers of fiction. Although the work of Johnson and Carroll are thinly disguised works of fiction. I'm constantly delighted by Augusten Burroughs, he writes memoir.

Write. There is no real recipe here. I imagine that a road trip as the one Chris has told me about can have plenty of ways to organize it. It can be organized chronologically, or by location. It can be organized by experiences going from the easy to the tough. It can be told in any way. But this is not going to help Chris write his story. When I say write, I mean just that, write. Do it daily. One small scene at a time. One small vignette at a time. But this needs to happen daily. Daily. One hour, twelve hours, twenty minutes. Whatever, daily. In this way, over time, there will be a mountain of material. And then, then, the actual organization of it will become obvious.

Don't be discouraged. Writing is not easy. But it gets easier. Readers are critical. But they are not nearly as critical as the writer is when it comes to our work. It's tedious. But fuck me, life is tedious. The first word is the toughest. The first page is the toughest. But it gets easier.

Fiction or Memoir?

Good question. I'm inclined to say fiction. I think there are more truths, universal or whatnot in fiction. Fiction writers have the privilege to add, juxtapose or make composite: characters, scenes, locations, etc. Read Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. This is not a work of fiction, but you cannot say what is real and what is journalism. I bring it up because in his story, Thompson has laid two different events (that happened several months apart) into one story. Perhaps I should add Fear and Loathing to Chris's reading list.

There are good aspects to memoir too. My work at Umbrella Factory Magazine has soured me on memoir somewhat. But I loved The Film Club, Stop-time and Running with Scissors. These are great books, these are great stories and they're wonderfully written. The case with David Gilmour's The Film Club we not only get the story at hand, the writer and his son working through tough times, but we get some great film history and information.

Where to from here?


One word at a time. One page at a time.

Monday, September 23, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: The conclusion-The Lovecraft

From: http://www.johncoulthart.com
Sometime, in the recesses of my personal history, I found it pleasant, if not a little unnerving, to relish the macabre. This may have stemmed from attic readings of Greek tragedies. This may have stemmed from the very nature of the world I grew up in as a kid. Who knows? But I think the darkness and the macabre way of seeing the world really came shortly before, certainly during, and mostly after my stint in the middle east.

The shortly before would be the teenage nightclubs and the music I was listening to in the late 1980s. The certainly during, would be the few tapes I brought to Desert Storm and the nights listening to Love and Rockets, The Cure and Front 242 whilst watching the missiles flight and feeling the bombs drop. And the mostly after would be the teenage nightclubs throughout southern Germany and the music we were listening to in the very early 1990s.

But war and dark pop music does not make one macabre. I know this. I think war and dark pop music can accentuate a dark and macabre person. I do not claim to be so dark and macabre anymore, but I know this is where I came from. I am certainly not known for my sunny disposition now, but I keep the darkness at bay with romantic hopefulness and furious social thought. Be that as it may, this is not about me.

Monday, September 16, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: Ring of Fire

Amazingly enough, our Portland existence was brief. Just under three years. At the time it was going on, though, the time seemed to stretch on all the way back to the recesses of the beginning and seemed like they were never going to end.

We left Goose Hollow. Thankfully. I just couldn't bare to climb that huge hill one more time. I could not bare the leaf blowers, the buses, the semis and the excavation trucks. Believe it or not, at the time we left Goose Hollow, I was sober—this means no hangovers, and I still felt like I would crack at any moment due to the noise.

Janice found us a nice apartment right downtown Portland. We were two blocks from the Portland State campus and about four blocks for her office at The Oregonian. In fact, we moved to SW 4th Ave. SW 4th is a big street cutting through downtown. A three lane wide one way street with parking on both sides. The freeway is just three blocks way and all the normal stuff associated with downtown areas are ever present: fire trucks, police sirens, nearby hospitals, train whistles and all the helicopters that land at the helipads just a few blocks away. Being a new building and constructed of concrete and triple pane windows, the place was quiet.

Monday, September 9, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: Where there was once 2 there are now 3

In the days leading up to it, Janice kept telling me there was something wrong. She was even blaming it on menopause. Menopause? Really? You're too young, I kept thinking, kept saying. I thought it was a combination of stress, because the woman had a very stressful job. I also thought it was because her forthcoming birthday. Whatever the reason why she was late with her period, I never thought it was because of pregnancy.

I left Portland City Grill on that Sunday night in December. The walk home through the rain was nothing more than what it was, a walk home. Getting home meant getting back to my book. At the time it was A Coney Island of the Mind and On the Road and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Yes, the December books were pretty cool. I sat in the living room at the corner of the sofa under the lamp as the rain fell in sheets outside and Janice slept peacefully in the bedroom.

But on this night, things ended very differently than they began. I turned out all the lights, brushed my teeth and headed for bed. As an afterthought, I decided to floss my teeth. When I tossed the used dental floss in the trash, I saw the pregnancy test. “What the fuck is this?” I said. As I examined the test stick, confused on more levels than one, I noticed the second test in the can just under it. I looked through the medicine cabinet for the directions.

Sleep was not with me that night.

In the morning, I thought I'd just ask: “Janice, are you knocked up?” I was back on the sofa and she was just out of the shower. “Evidently,” she said. It was a bit of a snarky reply.

There is something very amazing about pregnancy. There was for me, at least. The two of us talked about the events to come, the doctor visits, the classes, the change of lifestyle, and the eventual addition to our very small group.

Monday, September 2, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: “Reading the Library of Congress”

There are days off and then there are days off. It was one of the latter for me on that mid-December day back in 2011. Janice had gone to Denver for the weekend. This meant that I was not only left alone in Portland, but I was completely unsupervised. And to make the whole ordeal all that much better, I did not have to don my white polyester dinner jacket and go to work.

I started in the early afternoon at The Commodore. Bobby and I had made plans to meet for drinks at The Rose and Thistle on NE Broadway. Afterward, we planned to see Brian's band play over at The Ash Street Saloon. Seems like a regular sort of day. Just a day off, and a plan to do a little drinking and honky-tonking.

Admittedly, there comes a point in the night when I say yes to everything. I don't say yes to everything because I'm a pushover. I do not even say yes because I'm drunk. No, I say yes because, there is adventure lurking behind ever y-e-s.

I made it to The Rose and Thistle. I met Bobby there. On our walk back we happened to find a little money in the gutter which translated very easily into a few Dewar's and rocks. We made it to Ash Street Saloon. In the men's room there, I pissed in the urinal while some crazy woman pissed in the toilet next to me. It was a strange shared experience that I have not said anything about. Soon after Bobby left on some “family” business, and I secretly suspect that they were off to hide a body—an experience I wish I could have shared. I went to Shanghai Tunnels with Brian and Rose and Andrew. After a shot, Andrew and I went into Chinatown (something I never do) and hunted up a dance club he knew. I danced with very tall girls there. Then, out the side door, we went to an art opening where we were separated. I got mixed up with crazy artists. Now, twelve hours into this adventure, this unsupervised journey, I went to the Silver Dollar II to see if anyone was there. There, I met Caroline, my MFBF, Jenny and Eric. With them, I left the comforts of downtown on a December night and went to some undisclosed neighborhood bar where I sundowned the night with Frito Pie. All in all is was a great day. I saw boroughs of Portland I would not otherwise have seen. I hung out with friends. I meet fun people. If anything, I'm still bitter that I did not hide the body with Bobby and his clan.

Monday, August 26, 2013

1012 Days of Portland, Oregon: The Chapbooks of Goose Hollow

Whereas the Wood Village days became idyllic, I do not have a perspective as such to make the Goose Hollow days anything other than what they were: long days and longer nights. The Goose Hollow neighborhood is just west of downtown Portland between the Jen Weld Field and Washington Park. We came to live in the 1950s vintage apartment building called Vista St. Claire. We rented the place on a Sunday. “Is the place quiet?” Janice asked the leasing agent. “Oh yes,” he said. “This is a quiet residential street.” “That's good,” Janice said. “Anthony is very sensitive to noise,” she said. That's right, I thought, I'll crack like a fucking dry twig.

Mexico City. Tokyo. London. Do you know what they have in common? Between us, Janice and me, We have lived in each of these cities. Do you know what else they have in common? They're quieter than the corner of SW Vista St. and SW Main. I can tell you with absolute honesty, I have been in combat zones quieter. Quiet residential street?

There were other draw backs to the Vista St. Claire. Namely the idyllic location did not seem so far away from work. I had just started my gig at Portland City Grill at this time. I still worked a great deal of shifts including lunches and double shifts. It was exactly 1.5 miles to and from work. And the hill at the end of the day was misery.

So, there I was, Portland City Grill and Vista St. Claire. I don't know how you deal with situations as such, but I took to drinking. This, of course, was the best thing I could have done. I became reacquainted with The Commodore. It had been well over twelve years since I'd been there. As far as my Portland existence goes, I met some of my closest and coolest friends there. Bobby and Kenny, Kristina and Tiffany, Jason, Brian and Ollie and Andrew. The bar stool is always warm, I know this. Perhaps they feel the same about me, or perhaps there is someone else in my stead now. But at the time this all went down, this Goose Hollow existence, The Commodore, if not exactly heaven, made for a pretty close facsimile.

I was making money. Janice and I were getting established. The Commodore was home. And during the days, at my desk, I tried to write. The world outside the window, lacking only the gunfire and screams of agonizing pain, was the violent cacophony of the daily drama: two buslines, endless excavation trucks, grocery store semis, jack hammers and the endless parade of leafblowers which have become so commonplace these days many people are numb to it. I am not numb to the noise. But everyday, I did my best.

The efforts of my labors at this time were strange little pieces, chapbooks as it were. I have 13 of them at Sophia Ballou, should you want to read them. The three I'm most proud of are: The Befuddled Seahorse, In Search of Basho and 13 Miles.

13 Miles, after looking at it again some two years later is a pretty accurate description of the time. There were homeless people everywhere. The occupy movement was in vogue. I saw junkies passed out in the shop entrances with needles still attached. I worked at a fashionable restaurant, a busy, expensive one. I got to see a suicide as it happened on my way to work one day. It was such a strange time. And this particular chapbook summed it up.




"Ravel has vanished. Bartok takes its place. But not one particular Bartok mental soundtrack record, but fifty of them and they're all playing at once."



For at least nine months, April until December, I wrote these strange little things. They were sometimes all new material. They were sometimes re-purposed old stuff. I had intended to write only one, In Search of Basho, but I could not stop. In the end, I wrote 25 of them. What they all had in common was this: I wanted them to be approximately fifty pages. The first one took months. By the 20th to 25th one, I was building them in a day or two. Aside from a few short stories, this is the work I did during my Goose Hollow days. Each night, I went to work. And each night I went to The Commodore. And the grand sum of it? Good friends, and 25 chapbooks.
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Next:
“Reading the Library of Congress”
Where there was once 2 there are now 3
Ring of Fire
The Lovecraft