I recently started moderating a new writing workshop for high school and college students. (There are a few a non-traditional students, too.) I wrote this up for them because it's what I try to keep in mind when I'm writing my own bullshit.
Eight Moralities for Successful Writing
1) Write as if you don’t need a metaphor about writing to help you write, because you don’t.
While I hope this list and the other methods of motivation help, they’re reminders, not keys to the company car. You’re either putting words to paper or you’re not, and once you do, you’re in the club. Simple as that, if you’ve ever said anything about always wanting to be a writer. So write something, come on in, and have a seat next to Hemingway. Don’t let him touch you.
2) Write from Olympus, edit from the Dairy Queen.
Letters to words, words to sentences/lines, sentences/lines to paragraphs/stanzas. At the end of it all, you want it to look like one piece made in a single swipe on your first try. So after you figure out how to make the world, figure out how to make some fries.
3) Figure out what words look like when they’re a part of written work.
Read a lot. Voraciously, if that’s your thing. I’m not saying you should rip other writers off, just that you should know what the options are. People didn’t know that you could make a guitar sound like an elephant until Adrian Belew did it, and despite any potential lack of practicality, it added another inch to the workbench.
4) Mostly, people don’t want you crashing on their couch.
Nobody minds a 400 page book that should be 400 pages. Everyone minds a 400 page book that should be 300 pages. If you can say it in twenty words instead of thirty, do it. Don’t choke your meaning off or cut yourself short, but, unless you’re writing about Austrian Economics, maybe skip the parts about Austrian Economics.
5) You have something to write about even though you haven’t been married, lost a loved one, been to France, or done acid.
Life is going to have a lot of major, important experiences that will change you, but instead of waiting for them to show up or, in what could take even longer, waiting to realize they’re here, you need to start writing now, if for no other reason so that you can be technically prepared. Also, if you can’t write about the bird in your backyard, you can’t write about the bird at a hostel in Tuscany.
6) Instead of being boring, don’t be boring.
Sometimes a door just needs to be opened—“I opened the door” is a perfectly wonderful sentence—so this isn’t a plea for complexity as much as it is telling you that there better not be two pages of expository feelings behind the newly opened door. Some people need a lot of dry information to get their point across, and most of them write instruction manuals.
7) There are so many people who shouldn’t be flying spaceships.
I once told a friend of mine that I like the music of Bob Seger because he tries hard. My friend responded by telling me that he could go down to NASA and try really hard, too, and see how that works out. Some stories are there right away, others never will be, and I can’t tell you when it’s okay to call it a wash, I can tell you it’s okay to call it a wash.
8) If it’s not in you, you can’t write it.
Best I can tell, being a janitor and not a neuroscientist, writing is based around pathology. A lot of empathy and sympathy goes into figuring out what is wrong—trouble is necessary for writing—and why something is wrong—questions are necessary for writing. People say write what you know and write what you love and the opposites of both, but if you can make the most human parts of you relate to the most human parts of others, the size of your writing world becomes almost as big as the world itself, as if you get a square foot for each person understood.
In conclusion: I never bought into the whole mysticism of writers feeling compelled to write unless they mean that they feel better when they write. If compelled means that dealing with the not-so-fun parts that get me to a point of temporary satisfaction I can only get from writing and it’s better than most television and all radio, then sure, I guess I’m compelled to write. It just takes time. If you don’t have time, you’ll be fine with just the first three items on this list. Also, if you don’t have time, you might just be better off enjoying the possible personal and financial rewards of hanging drywall.
"Coca Cola" by Pity Sex, from their debut EP Dark World. I'm working on a story about this song for WhiskeyPaper.
Has it really been four months already? Here's some shit.
1) The job I spoke about previously as being a possibility, barring background checks and whathaveyou, totally happened. Now I spend five days a week telling four-year-olds about wrestling and Ozzy.
1b) I acted like I only tolerated it at first, but it's really awesome. I wore an Anthrax shirt in my school pictures, because time won't change for me and vice-versa.
1c) My phone is a veritable cesspool of adorable pictures of kids helping me cook lunch. I'm worse than a grandmother.
2) I got the NUMBER ONE HIGH SCORE on the South Park pinball machine at the bar. Suck it, automated high scores that come pre-loaded onto the machine.
3) I've been watching a lot of wrestling. I realized there's a lot of stuff from right before the Attitude Era that I haven't seen all the way through. Here's to Survivor Series '96 and The Rock looking like a Ribbon Dancer tried to fuck a pineapple.
4) I started a band and joined another one, bringing the count to an unnecessary, over-committed FIVE BANDS.
4b) This is much less impressive when you consider that, much like other prolific songwriters--not that I'm really one of them--of previous and current times, I really only write three or four different kinds of songs. I just sort of change the nuances a bit to fit what I'm doing, because I'm a liar, essentially.
5) My friend Kylie and her friend Matt (who is kind of my friend, too, though I barely know him) made a documentary about me. It's just called Werner and it's about twelve minutes long, which is all it takes to sum up my life, including gag reel.
5b) It's actually a really well-made documentary, and Kylie and Matt did a great job. I was worried I'd look like I was too serious or too much of a joke, but she blended it well. Better than I do in my life, at least.
5c) It'll be available to watch online sometime in the near future once all the paperwork and red-tape of whatever goes along with these sorts of projects is cleared. They're film students and this was for a class, so I'm not sure exactly what needs to all happen. Other than CGI enhancements of my abs.
6) I saw Charles Bradley play a show in Madison and it was pretty incredible. I still need to see the documentary about him.
6b) I missed Lee Fields the month before, though. Only so much soul I can handle, apparently.
7) I downloaded Snapchat and don't understand it. Why wouldn't you just text someone? On the bright side, I wish all selfies had a built-in disappearing point.
8) My computer died. Just flat-out fucking ate shit. Luckily, I have most of my important stuff--music, wrestling, writing, porn--on an external hard drive. The stuff I deserve to get bummed about losing is some writing and pictures. Everything else was pirated. Even I'm not delusional enough to think I had a right to that.
8b) David Atkinson is a beautiful man with a heart of gold, and he hooked me up with a replacement right quick. Buy him cigarettes and coffee and build a statue of his out of a meat of your choice. Then feed it to a homeless person, because the world needs more people paying it forward.
9) I got a hat that says BOOB POLICE on it for Christmas. Happy birthday, Jesus.
10) I became an uncle. My brother and his girlfriend had a kid and named it Maddux, which is a cool name spelled in a fucking dickhead way.
10b) My brother spells his name "Nikolas" with no "c" in it, so whatever. Hereditary, I guess. I'm just glad I'm not "Ryen" or some shit.
That's bad, right?
Writing-wise, I'm doing better than I was when I last checked in. I've written six stories since then and five of them have been picked up. The sixth one is a really bad retelling of a Kenny Loggins song about Winnie the Pooh that Matt Burnside suggested I write about for Cloud Rodeo
, and I never submitted it because in addition to being mind-numbingly shitty, I lost it in the computer crash. If I need to find it, I'm sure it's in an e-mail or Facebook message, but I might just call this one a loss. (Sort of.)
Some of the stuff I wrote is already up. The surge in writing came from the Cease, Cows contest for Halloween. They had a 1000-word cap and a theme of "hallow/hallowed" that stories needed to fit into. One submission for $5, three submissions for $10. I wrote three stories and got an honorable mention with one. (And a Pushcart nomination!)
The winner of this batch according to Cease, Cows was the story "Atavism." I started writing this under the theme of "hollow" instead of "hallow" because I'm a goddamn idiot. I gave the woman empty bones and then, when I realized I was writing about the wrong word, just decided to keep that idea and work around it. So, a haunted house, some hollow bones, and the things people do when they're afraid.Melanie thought that humans descended from birds. Back in the middle of her snap, she paid an old man strung out on heroin fifty bucks to read her past lives, to do a palm reading on the place where her hand was supposed to be but wasn’t. So he ran his finger down the scar that sealed the end of her arm up and then he told her that God created sparrows and some evolved into humans.
The other new thing that went up already is the story "My Friend Wallace Eating a Candy Apple at the End of the World." I wrote this last for the contest, in a quick burst. It's the shortest thing I've written in a long while, maybe the shortest thing I've ever had published. As is the way with DOGZPLOT, it's under 200 words, so I'm not going to excerpt it. You've got time to click a link."My Friend Wallace Eating a Candy Apple at the End of the World"
The non-story I got published recently is a review of my bro Dena Rash Guzman's debut poetry collection Life Cycle
. It's a damn fine book made by a rough-neck that might also possibly be a red-neck. Part ghost and part glitter, part sweet and part bitter. (Not everyone gets the Macho Man Randy Savage-style intro, DRG.) Check it.Guzman’s vision is true to itself, right down to the faults. This is proof that the book has been nurtured and then shot out, more creation than craft and goddamn all the better for it.
I almost forgot that I had a story get published right after that last blog went up, the aforementioned "There Is No Joy between the Last Thing and the Next Thing" up at Jersey Devil Press. It's about friendship and trust and moving forward, always.When they called on me to testify, I told them I didn’t know Eugene to have a history of violence. What I meant was that spent knuckles and a dozen years of broken glass don’t add up to bank statements or toe tags, but, there they are.
You see, I used to have a bunch of rad photos saved to my computer and I'd just pop one in a spot like this as a little space break, something semi-related I could make a joke about. Thanks for nothing except leaving me with pictures of me being a fat fuck, computer crash.
The rest of the stories will be up in the months to come. "If There's Any Truth In a Northbound Train" was the second story written for the Cease, Cows contest and it'll be up at SmokeLong Quarterly in the spring. It's about twins and fate and what it means to be an older brother, if it means anything.
I also got solicited for a couple stories by Meg Tuite, one for the Sante Fe Literary Review
and one for Connotation Press
. SFLR will be publishing my story "Mexico," about sleep and reality and what happens when the amounts of each get thrown off together. Connotation nabbed up my story "Banzai Skydiving" about the difference between a lack of opportunity and a lack of skill. Both of these will be up fairly soon, if I understand it right.
The Indiana Review with my story "Shoot Out the Bright Lights" arrived in the mail the other day and it looks awesome. I've never been in a big journal like this, something with history and very slick production values.
Also, I'm the first person to mention Krokus in the Indiana Review, as confirmed by the IR staff.
I can't really do a year-end book round-up because I didn't read shit this year. Or, to be more specific, I read a bunch of shit this year, but not a lot of it in book form. I spent a fair amount of time reading manuscripts for Passenger Side and reading stuff online trying to find stuff I loved to solicit for manuscripts, but as far as books go, I didn't have a lot of luck or time.
The two books I put out on PSB that weren't my book are my favorites. They had to be and have to be and are. Justin Lawrence Daugherty's Whatever Don't Drown Will Always Rise
is brilliant, the biggest heart of the hardest warrior. Matthew Burnside's Infinity's Jukebox
is really that: the tunes of a lifetime, every lifetime. (ORDER HERE!
Aaron Teel's Shampoo Horns
is my favorite book I had nothing to do with other than sitting down and reading it cover-to-cover. It's dirty and tender and says a lot about what it means to grow up with nothing more than yourself and the people around you.
I read Brian Allen Carr's Vampire Conditions
, too, and really dug it. Blake Butler's Scorch Atlas
did nothing for me. I didn't even finish it.
I don't know why I didn't read, other than time. I know my old job killed a lot of my creativity and ability to focus on creative endeavors. Maybe next year will be better. It kind of has to be, right?
I always forget that reading and writing go hand in hand, and in a year when I played a bunch of shows with a bunch of different bands and wrote a lot of music, some strange and some in the box, for several groups, I can name a list of a dozen killer records I spun over and over again. One feeds into the other, which doesn't make it less of a struggle to think of something to pull from the air, but it does make the air a bit thicker.
There's a stack of books I bought this year from a lot of great writers. Amber Sparks, Matt Bell, Jon Konrath, David Atkinson, Sam Snoek-Brown and on and on. I know they're all talented and enjoyable. This one's on me.
Hopefully I'll tune in sooner than every four months to this thing, but incase I don't, here are my new tour dates, reading in a city near you. (Maybe.) March 2014! NO COAST SPRING BREAK!
Thursday, March 13: Rock Island, IL
Friday, March 14: St. Louis, MO
Saturday, March 15: Carbondale, IL
Sunday, March 16: Nashville, TN
Monday, March 17: Louisville, KY
Tuesday, March 18: Cincinnati, OH
Wednesday, March 19: Fort Wayne, IN
Thursday, March 20: Grand Rapids, MI
Friday, March 21: Chicago, IL
Saturday, March 22: Madison, WI
More info as it comes. Booking a DIY book tour without doing Universities and trying to avoid book stores and the (somewhat justified) 40% cut they take from sales is hard. I knew that going in, having booked the tour this previous summer, but I forgot how often writers don't leave their house and how many places don't have reading series. I've talked to a lot of cool, helpful people in booking this, but I've also hit a lot of odd, dead ends.
Regardless, I'll be in the car on March 13th and I'll be in these cities, doing my thing. Join me if you can.
Until then, party like you want it.
"Jamie" by The Bismarck, from their new album "Wild Prairie Rose"
I guess it's been about three months. Lots of things have happened.
1) I quit my job as a janitor at Wal-Mart. It was really bumming me out because, in addition to the inherent shittiness of a title like "Wal-Mart Janitor," my boss was a dick, I was forced to do things that were blatantly not my job, and I didn't have time or patience to write or read anymore.
1b) To be fair, I spent the majority of my four years there sneaking off to a non-monitored office or the family restroom (which locks) and reading books. I still did some work occasionally, at least as much as they deserved for the shit pay and shit treatment, but that majority is barely a majority. Most of the fuck-around time took place in the first two-and-a-half years. After that it was Buttfuck City.
2) I went on a cross-country tour of the US with Justin Lawrence Daugherty. We did readings in ten different states over the course of two weeks, putting almost 4000 miles on his Toyota Corolla, also known as the Toyota Rock 'n' Rolla. A full recap of this will be up on the Sundog Lit blog soon.
3) I moved out of my parents' place.
3c) It's not that I didn't like living at the farm, something I hadn't done in about eight or nine years, but the driving was killing me. And I hate my mom's cats and choice of television shows that she must blare on televisions in two separate rooms simultaneously. But yeah, I fell asleep at the wheel a couple times from the half hour drive back and forth on long, boring country roads and was spending so much money in gas each month that I could actually afford to rent an apartment in the city I was driving to and come out ahead on cash.
4) I went on a week-long tour of the Midwest filling in on guitar with the Oakland-based band Victory and Associates. I also did some sitting in with our tour-mates, Louisville-based riffers Trophy Wives. Playing a lot was rad, but even better than that, I met a bunch of cool, old school punk rock dudes who proved my theory that punk rock and having your shit together are not mutually exclusive.
4b) We played with a band in Minneapolis called Gay Witch Abortion.4c) We also played the surprise 50th birthday party for Jeff Moody, one of the coolest dudes in music. He's the sort of guy who only wants to talk passionately and positively about the things he loves, and is worth listening to for those and several other reasons.4d) Kentucky seems like an odd place.5) I got a rollerdog grill. It's like the ones in the gas station but it has a bunch of gaudy plastic shit all over it to make it look old-timey.6) My girlfriend moved in with me. We're currently arguing about who is more poorly dressed in an attempt to get out of answering the door, which has been being knocked on for a minute or two now.7) Summerslam was great, I just wish Randy Orton wasn't the guy they're going with for this "Daniel Bryan is a B+" thing. He's fucking boring. I think the "R" in "RKO" stands for "resthold." And he looks like the wall of a tattoo shop threw up on his arms. He's six or seven years past his two or three year prime. The angle is good and it broke my heart in all the right ways, but Orton's a clowndick.7b) If any of this results in the Evolution theme being used again, all is forgiven.
8) I got the number 4 score on the South Park pinball machine at the bar I work at. That means I'm fucking awesome.9) Barring a background check and fingerprints and all the paperwork that needs to happen when you're going to work with kids, I might have an additional job as a cook at a Montessori school, because life is weird.9b) I was going to just work at the bar and tighten up spending-wise and then just tour as much as I can, but this kind of seems like an opportunity I can't pass up. It's only thirty hours a week and I'll be done at 1:00 every day. That means I can still work at the bar and have time for band practice. Plus, with seasonal breaks and all the other times kids get off for essentially no reason, I'll be able to tour about as much as I would anyways. My only real sacrifice is having to hang out with kids all the time and make up lies out stuff that they will no doubt believe, because they are dumb.
10) Gwen Beatty got published. This is cool because she's a great writer and that aforementioned girlfriend and there's no better return on the good karma she's created by having to see me naked on a regular basis than by having her talents be recognized. You should read her story "I Thought About How the Sea" and then send her stories to read for her new gig at the journal Cease, Cows.
Do you even be gross, bro?
In this time, I've done very little writing. Or reading. I've read manuscripts for PSB and done edits on other people's stuff, but I haven't done much of anything for my own work. This is called an "excuse" because I'm "lazy" and "currently mostly playing computer games."
The whole "write every day" thing is an idea I try to live by it. It seems to be the one piece of advice that almost everyone agrees upon. There a part in the Comedians of Comedy documentary where Patton Oswalt talks about being obsessed with doing stand-up, to the point where it was all he did for two or three years. Open mics, crafting jokes, listening to other people do it. He says that every serious artist probably goes through this at some point, just drowning themselves in their craft.
I did that already. I did that when I was 20 and 21 and 22 and 23. I stayed home on weekends and revise stuff. I spent my entire Spring Break when I was twenty writing for six or seven hours day. I wrote before work and after work and couldn't think of anything but narrative and character whenever I watched television or a movie.
This was to no immediate benefit to the outside world. I was working on a novel that I knew wouldn't get published, something uneven and very blatantly the first thing I'd ever written. The last page is infinitely better than the first page, because I learned everything I know about writing just by working on that one giant thing.
Then I fell into an easy sort of routine--Mark Doty said he only write 400 words a day, so that's what I did. I've even shortened it in the past year or so: 100 words a day and one perfect sentence. I usually end up doing more than that, but sometimes I don't, which is fine. The one rule of writing is "feel good." I figured out how to write--or at least how I write--and I do that and it's very satisfying, the ways I still manage to surprise myself, running with the same themes and motifs and building up a series of personal archetypes the way Bob Dylan or Jason Molina or Raymond Carver did.
That I do the same thing they did, on a smaller, less successful level, is still incredible to me.
But recently, I haven't done shit. I've been preoccupied with other endeavors, some creative and some not: bands and a micropress and Twin Peaks and making dinner and pinball and all that stuff. Even now that I've been working a mere twenty hours a week I've only been writing four or five days of it.
Back when I was neck deep in my writing, I couldn't go two days with getting panicky about not writing. I just went a few months without doing much of anything, and I feel all right.
I'm not sure what this has to do with anything other than I don't know if I'm becoming less self-obsessed or if I actually might not write forever. I don't like to think that I can be perfectly happy not doing something I spent so much time grinding my life around.
"There's too much fucking perspective now."
Still, I managed to write a few things during a brief explosion of productivity. One of the stories will be for a special issue of Jersey Devil Press. I get my old Our Band Could Be Your Lit project up and running again for ONE NIGHT ONLY, thanks to a suggestion of "write about a Lita Ford song if you can't think of anything" by Mike Sweeney. From that has come the story "There Is No Joy Between the Last Thing and the Next Thing." It's based on "Shot of Poison" from Lita's pretty-awesome album Dangerous Curves. It's about friendship and emptiness and the big, scary future. Look for it soon.(Unfortunately, I missed Lita Ford when she came to the casino in town. I made a promise to my pubescent self that I would have sex with her, but bailed at the last minute because I didn't want to take off work and Lita kind of looks like old dinner rolls now.)Another thing I wrote and managed to get published right away in a kind of silly "the internet is a wild place" sort of way is an essay called "How to make -$1377 the Hard Way" about starting a micropress, booking my own cross-country book tour, DIY attitudes in indie lit, jealousy, success, satisfaction, and other things I secretly and not-so-secretly obsess about when it comes to writing. The ever-badass Jennifer A. Howard picked it up immediately and pushed it through to publication right away for the Passages North WRITERS ON WRITING column. I'm very happy to be a part of it.Punk rock means that not only do all the eggs go in the basket, but you decide what the eggs and the basket are. Anyone who understands this probably doesn't need the reminder and anyone who doesn't understand it probably isn't going to have a revelation concerning it, so I’ll stop being indignant before I get wet under the arms about it.
Some other things I wrote awhile back that were published during my period of soul searching/watching Agent Dale Cooper eat pie include this story about brothers and pro wrestling and what the truth really is and what it's good for. It's called "A Comprehensive List of the Least Worst Way to do Everything" and it's up a Necessary Fiction.I watch my dead brother’s wrestling matches and try to count the number of times he gets hurt for real. In one, a wispy tattooed man hits him with a monitor from the commentary desk. In the rematch, he hits him with the commentary desk.
I’ve got one of his boots on either side of the television. Maybe there’s a heart attack resting in my chest, too.----------And this review of Ken Nash's The Brain Harvest, also up at Necessary Fiction.What this really taught me was the same thing that The Brain Harvest by Ken Nash taught me: precision and compression and crazy hope, how if we zoom in far enough in anyone’s life, the absurdities reveal a depth of honesty and wonder. There’s something amazing in everyone’s life, something historic in everyone’s town.----------And, lastly, this review of Adam Marek's wonderful short story collection The Stone Thrower, up now at Heavy Feather Review.Before even reading Adam Marek’s short story collection The Stone Thrower—a book that openly states its themes of parental protection and vulnerability right on the back cover—I began to worry that I would be slogging through a dozen or so stories written by someone who has been made soft and sentimental by the idea of what they do to nurture their offspring or, perhaps even worse, stories written by someone who has been made hard, writing for the aforementioned softies.
Thankfully, The Stone Thrower is none of that.
Most of any tour is a variation on this picture of an unclean Justin Lawrence Daugherty devouring a burrito with gravy in it at a truck stop somewhere in northern Idaho at 8:00 AM shortly before describing some guy's balls as smelling like nuclear fallout.
A very nice review of my chapbook, Murmuration, went up at Heavy Feather Review. Austin Hayden was too kind.Ryan works life’s incongruities. The Midwest he puts on the page is at once vast and closed-off. Even (at times, especially) alongside his friends, or girlfriends, or family members, his speaker is alone out there. His POV character is calloused but endearing. Both sarcastic and earnest. The yin and yang of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld meshed into one voice.
And, actually, now that I think about it, a killer review of Justin Lawrence Daugherty's Whatever Don't Drown Will Always Rise went up at HFR a bit before mine, thanks to the wonderful Kate Kimball.There is a bridge that dogs jump to their deaths from that symbolizes the broken heart of a man. A man swearing there is a bomb on the lawn, which later, the character who believes him tries to pry the metal from the earth. A teenager works on competitive eating to impress a father who is a Marlboro Man in Japan. Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise introduces unexpected situations, but is able to create a strong affect in those situations. Daugherty’s characters are believable, endearing, and refreshing. His use of ironic humor, believable dialects, and uncanny conflicts work to symbolize the innate human quest for rediscovering nature.
----------And while I'm on the subject of all thing Passenger Side Books, Matthew Burnside's Infinity's Jukebox has a birthday and artwork! September 9th, people. Here's one of the covers we'll be using in addition to seven other killer color schemes.
After that Passages North essay went up, I got a lot of traffic to this site, and most of the information on it was from months ago. I'm going to try to not make it that long between updates. If you're new here now, take a look around. I'm doing things, occasionally. I hope you are, too.
"Younger Days" by Mount Moriah, off their new record Miracle Temple.
Another month gone that I'll never get back, because that's how time works until you're dead and it doesn't matter anymore. Here's what I've been doing.
1) I went and talked to a temp agency about getting me work in an office because I hate my job at Wal-Mart, mainly because I can't fuck around as much anymore.
1b) I realize this makes me sound incredibly lazy and part of a much larger problem concerning the new adults of America, but it's a matter of right more than anything. I signed up for a shitty job that pays under $10 an hour and has no responsibilities. Being a fuck up is built into it. It's a job for retired people who want to push a broom all day or kids in high school who are waiting for their lives to start. I'm using it as a way to have a job I can leave there when I walk out the door, which it hasn't been, thanks to a clause in my "Wal-Mart contract" that says I agreed to help out where needed, meaning that if this fucking dildo assistant manager I hate tells me to eat shit and bark at the moon, I have to eat shit and bark at the moon.
1c) That dude's a dick.
2) I saw Bret Michaels of Poison at the casino in town. It was one of the worst shows I've ever seen. He opened up with two Posion songs, so fine, I wasn't pissed. Then he went off stage to change his shirt and came on to play "Sweet Home Alabama." Then he dedicated "Something To Believe In" to the troops and the people of Boston. His twelve-string acoustic sounded like Steve Albini's Shellac tone, which was kind of awesome but entirely inappropriate. Then he changed his shirt again, came back out, and played "What I Got" by Sublime after giving a shout-out to Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray. He played for under an hour, which is kind of an odd thing to complain about--"This food is terrible, and such small portions!"--but he didn't play "Ride the Wind" so I'm pissed.3) Some dude came into the bar I work at and stole my screen-printed, hand-numbered Melvins poster from the wall in the little room I do door in. We took a screenshot of the security footage and did a public shaming of him online. I happened to run into him the next day on the street, where I called him a fucker, asked him where my poster was, and then opened up the back door of his car to grab it while he made excuses. He's a white dude with dreads, so fuck him.3b) I put the poster back up and it disappeared that same night. I asked the owners to check the footage the next day and they never did, so I assumed they just didn't care. A week later, I saw the poster hanging back up in the room. The middle of it was completely burned through and then entire thing was ruined. I was immediately bummed. Ten minutes later one of the owners comes through the door holding the real Melvins poster, then explains to me that he saw it on the ground that night and took it home. He went to CopyWorks, made a cheap black and white copy, stained it with coffee, colored it with colored pencils, and then burned out the middle. He and the other owner were watching the security footage to see my reaction and he ran down to the bar as soon as he saw I was about to kill myself. A total dick, but what a wonderful prank.4) I've been eating people's ice cream out of the freezer at work because I'm a rotten human.5) I started writing fake horoscopes under the name Dr. McCracken for a local entertainment magazine.5b) Here are three of them:Aries: You will argue for forty-five minutes with an IKEA representative about the best way to design a pit. Enjoy naps in lieu of the sun, which will eventually burn out anyways. Someone in your professional life will dream of lighting your shoes on fire. Life is debatable.
Taurus: A new love interest will appear and replace all of the light switch covers in your house with photocopies of your baby pictures. Do not be shaken by the unknown. Cry in your bathtub at every opportunity.
Gemini: More than ever before it is important to remember that the human body's age limitations are ultimately usurped by the fact that cancer is unavoidable in all life forms past the age of 150. You will drown your motivation with ice cream.6) My buddy Zach made me a custom leather guitar strap that has my name written in the scoops of an ice cream cone.7) I started watching this video series on YouTube where some Irish guys talk about old wrestling PPVs for like an hour and a half over-top the footage they're talking about. I'm halfway through the Wrestlemania I episode and yes, they make an interesting point with the placement of Lord Alfred. Very odd. And yes, my life is disappearing.8) I found out that I'm Jewish. My mother was explaining something about my grandmother being an old Jew, which made me realize--thanks to David Cross--that if her mother was a Jew, then that means she's a Jew. That means I'm a Jew. A loophole Jew, but still a Jew.8b) Nobody was surprised.
After what felt like a million years but was actually only like two months of minor complaining about not being published for two months, I got e-mails telling me that my story "Go Says No," about pinball and the doldrums, will be going up at BULL: Men's Fiction and my story "A Comprehensive List of the Least Worst Way To Do Everything," about a dead wrestler and his brother dealing with it, will be going up at Necessary Fiction, both in the near future.
Part of why I went so long--"so long," I guess, since it really wasn't a very long time--without getting anything accepted for publication was because I didn't have a lot floating around out there, and what I did have floating around was at the big-time journals that take at least three months to respond. Nothing was helped by the responses I actually was getting, which were all rejections, one of which addressed only to "Dear [name]." I am a human, I swear.
But anyways, those should be out soon, and I'm sure I won't shut the fuck up about them once they get here. "A Comprehensive List" is the first story (that I have written, maybe not the first story in the collection) in a pro wrestling based chapbook I'm working on called The Road Becomes What You Leave, a title I pinched from a Magnolia Electric Co. song lyric, one that was actually already pinched several years ago for a short documentary about the band. (Magnolia Electric Co. singer/guitarist Jason Molina recently died after a long battle with alcoholism, and though I've been planning on using the title for years and years and Molina probably wasn't a huge wrestling fan, I'm still very dedicated to the idea of using it.)
"Go Says No" isn't a part of any collection, at least not yet, and that's somewhat exciting, because it means that in a few years, if I can keep writing, I'll hopefully have a handful of stories to pull from to make a new collection. It'll be interesting to see what themes emerge from the group of stories. I plan out what I'm writing about, at least in terms of what I want to get across emotionally or thematically, as much as I can ahead of time, so the idea that a book that doesn't exist yet is going to come together from a bunch of stories that also don't exist yet kind of blows my mind.
How inexplicable shitty this Tom Keifer of Cinderella solo album is also kind of blows my mind. For some reason.
The Passenger Side Books website is finally up and running, and the first two titles are available as fuck. Justin Lawrence Daugherty's Whatever Don't Drown Will Always Rise and my Murmuration are$5 shipped each or $9 shipped as a bundle. People said nice things about each of them, like this from Amber Sparks about Justin's book:"Justin Lawrence Daugherty has not just a voice, but a hulking, goose-pimpling presence on the page - like something buried in the earth too long and about to burn its way out. He is an acute and devastatingly honest observer of the current human condition, and his characters limp and bayonet their way through Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise like soldiers of some wounded new century."Or this from Mary Miller about my book:"The five stories in Ryan Werner's Murmuration, which are dedicated to the Midwest, bring me into the heart of a world where boys drive cars off cliffs and have least favorite strippers, where dreams must be revised into "necessary shapes" by playing guitar in the street at night. Ryan writes with authority, skill, and passion, not only about the Midwest, but about youth and what it means to be young."Get them both right here at the Passenger Side Books site.Also, Murmuration is on Goodreads.
And so is Whatever Don't Drown Will Always Rise.
AND ALL THIS SHIT IS ON TWITTER NOW.
Here's our logo. Isn't it rad? Order now and get a free sticker or two with this on it.
I had a couple things go online recently, despite my endless whining about not being published. The first one, my story "Back and to the Left" up at Jersey Devil Press, I totally forgot about because they're the ones who published my first book, where this story originally appeared. We worked out a loose arrangement and now it's here and I'm stoked. It's like finding twenty bucks in an old pair of pants. Anyways, this story is based on the song "Brain of J" by Pearl Jam, and it has to do with the idea that JFK didn't really die--until now--and wasn't really up to anything anyways. OR as I like to call it, REALITY, DUDE.Aside from his relations with Marilyn Monroe and being the most powerful man in the United States for a little bit, JFK wasn’t the luckiest guy around. He was accident prone, more than anything. Still, he kept his humor. He’d call me a few times a year and say something like, “I just slammed my hand in a car door. First I get shot in the head and now this.”The other thing I had go up is a review of Roy Kesey's Any Deadly Thing up at Heavy Feather Review. I didn't really like the book, but here's me being diplomatic.In these large, faraway places are usually two people experimenting with the space they’re forced to cohabitate. In the portion of their lives we’re presented with, the good stuff often seems ready to arrive despite the stories all beginning and ending in odd spots, the story going on, always.
If you liked Roy's book and you're upset that I didn't, keep in mind that this is just one of many pictures of CC DeVille I have saved to my computer.
I didn't talk much about what I'm working on because I'm not working on shit. I've been busy finalizing the PSB stuff and working and playing in four or five bands. And I hate reading more than one book at once, so I've been stuck on Ken Nash's The Brain Harvest, trying to read it at the slow points in my work day, which isn't exactly ideal or productive. However, I just finished the review for The Brain Harvest (and a review for The Stone Thrower by Adam Marek, which was wonderful), so I'm going to reread The Watch by Rick Bass and some new shit by Gary Lutz and I'm going to generally get back into the swing of writing again. Because I like writing. I think.
All right. Let's get incredible.
A live version of "Hey Nineteen" by Minutes, who are super rad.
Two months and I've been busy doing everything except writing and talking about it on my website, leading to the predictable downfall of my author brand and my rapid crawl back into an even darker obscurity. Meanwhile, this shit happened over the course of the past sixty days or so.
1) I watched Wrestlemania. It took me most of the card to find a good stream of it because I wasn't going to pay $70 for a glorified Raw, not to mention that I'm a terrible person with an unjustifiable sense of entitlement. I found one that held strong through Punk/Undertaker, so that's all that matters. Looking at the talent pool and the lack of good storylines lately, I don't think it's out of the question to call it match of the year already, probably the best WM match since HBK/Undertaker a few years back.
2) I started working another janitor job in addition to the janitor job I already have. I'm cleaning a bar at this one, which is incredibly less gross than the Wal-Mart I have to clean up otherwise. Other than the glitter I can't get off the stage thanks to the burlesque show we hosted last weekend, things are fine.
3) I went on tour with Victory and Associates. It was awesome. Rock and roll is cool. I ate so much ice cream and saw so many killer bands. Can't wait to do it again this summer. Maybe I'll have the songs learned by then.
4) My roommate fell in love and now he's engaged and now he's not my roommate anymore because he wasn't so much my roommate as much as he was the dude who owns the house I was living in the basement of. Let this be a reminder that love is dumb.
4b) Now I live at home. My mother calls me from the grocery store to ask if I want cottage cheese and then calls me again ten minutes later to ask if I'll split a sub with her if she buys one.
4c) This is not as adorable as you think, so just stop thinking that.
5) I bought $14.46 worth of discount Easter candy.
6) Doritos Locos Tacos are delicious.
7) I tweeted Billy Corgan six times in a row and then got bored with trolling him and tweeted Chuck Billy once just to tell him that he's cool.
8) Literature was apparently declared dead, again. The nerds got pissed.
And I saw Queensryche and I'm pretending like I wasn't stoked and it's not important enough to be actual #9 when really the opposite is true.
One thing that hasn't happened in the past two months is me getting published anywhere. I got a pretty big acceptance from the Indiana Review, which is rad even though I have my doubts as to whether or not anyone actually reads those fancy university print journals, but other than that it's been rejection city.
I've gotten fourteen rejections on seven different stories. That's about two rejections per story, but some of these are only one rejection each, so a couple of them are more heavily rejected than others. Not that any of it really matters, because one acceptance cancels out a thousand rejections, but it's times like these when crunching numbers feels like a really good solution to the problem.
The real solution is to write more, submit more, and hopefully, eventually, do both things better. I haven't finished a story in almost a month, and it's a story I started over a month prior to that, the first story for the wrestling chapbook I'm working on. The only other story close to being done is also for the wrestling chapbook and it keeps adding up wrong, not working as flash fiction, stuck in that odd 2000-word length purgatory. There's a first sentence to a story based on "Shot of Poison" by Lita Ford sitting in a Word document and that's about as far as it goes. I started on a novella told in these little fragments that are somewhere between micro-fiction and severed, re-conjoined thoughts, but that's kind of stalling, too.
The first chapter of that novella is making me fucking nuts trying to figure it out because even though I think in those weird pieces, I don't often write in them. When I do, it's for effect, not as a new medium for creation. Imagine Dinosaur Jr. taking all those little pieces of noise from You're Living All Over Me and making an entire album out of them. The risk/reward is about the same, as is the possible stupidity of the idea. Even though other people have done it, it's not necessarily the thing I do--or Dinosaur Jr. does, if you want to carry that comparison through--so who the fuck knows if it's going to be worth a goddamn.
Sometimes experimentation is a wonderful thing. Sometimes it's just a thing.
Cover art by the incredible Matt Kish of One Drawing for Every Page of Moby Dick brilliance.
Ten stories of myths and the roads that sprawl out from them. These are not the stories of Greek and Roman gods, but of the daily hurts and hopes people cling to in lieu of a simple other, the apparitions and rumors of science and tradition that can give or take away. Get it soon.
But for now? Just get rad. Always get rad.
"If You Want Blood" by Mark Kozelek, because who the fuck knew there'd be so much pathos hidden right there in an AC/DC song?
It's been about a month. Here are some things that have happened since then.1) I watched Summerslam 2005 and didn't cry when the giant electronic American flag unfurled behind Hulk Hogan during his entrance. This is a semi-major life-improvement.2) I applied for a job stocking ice and beer at a casino. I didn't get it. Two weeks later they called me and asked if I want to work part-time checking coats.2b) I told them to fuck off.2c) What I actually did was just not call them back after they left a voicemail.3) I searched for "Iowa" and "Wisconsin" on PornHub. There were a bunch of videos for Iowa and all the chicks looked pretty hot. There were like seven videos for Wisconsin and all the chicks looked like they were made of stale biscuits.4) Several dumb old photos of me were uploaded to Facebook by other people, such as this one where I'm wearing an XL Pantera shirt and standing next to a cardboard cutout of Shaquille O'Neal and this one where I'm wearing a winged battle-suit I made out of Construx.5) I locked my keys in my car twice, once behind the coffee shop and once a week later in front of the coffee shop. The same guy from Master Key came to my assistance both time. The first time he was wearing a pink mesh shirt underneath a button-up tank top and when he went into his trunk to get the tools he needed to get into my car, he had to first take out two huge chainsaws and set them on the ground.
6) I got ordained. I'm going to marry so many drunk people at the bar.7) I met Mick Foley.
I MET MICK FOLEY, DUDE.
I had some stuff get published recently. It seems like I used to be stoked for weeks after something got published and now I've had three things go up this past month and I'm already back to feeling like I haven't done anything. Writing is better than meth, but only because it doesn't ruin your teeth.
----------In a rare showing, I was able to write and publish an essay. It's about Neko Case, and though everything I do is, on some level, about Neko Case, this is blatantly about Neko Case and how her album Middle Cyclone made me learn things about living in and around solitude, the extent to which I should love myself, and respecting fear as it arrives in all humans. It's up over at The Rumpus, and I'd love for you to read it.
"The year 2008 tumbled out of itself and took with it the things that consumed my days. Within a month I had lost my job to the upholding of liquor laws, my college education to an unavoidable graduation, and my girlfriend to youth and general apathy.I spent a lot of time in bed, not depressed, but reading depressing things—Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems 1966-1987, William Matthews’s Search Party, Rick Bass’s In the Loyal Mountains—often out loud. I read Heaney in an impassioned Irish accent, Bass with a gruff-yet-kind tone of wonderment. I read Matthews sitting up, as if at a podium, addressing a faceless sum of the discontinued millions.There were certain lengths I was willing to go to in order to not be myself."
I also had a story called "Trace" that I've talked about here before on the subject of "revising old stuff I wrote and wondering if it's all just a big waste of my fucking time." This one turned out decent for being around so long and going through so many drafts. It's up over at 10,000 Tons of Black Ink, and it'd be really great of you to read it.
"My grandmother spent her last several thousand mornings highlighting the obituaries."
Lastly, the fourth story in my chapbook/cycle Murmuration is out there in the world now. I'm happy with how this one turned out and, like most of my stuff, it ties in with another story: The Honeybreakers are the band that had dissolved and reassembled in my story "Sometimes We Were Young." Here we find them merely dissolving, as seen through the eyes of our faithful narrator. Please read it over at Bartleby Snopes."Revising my dreams into the necessary shapes involved going out to the van every night and playing guitar in the street. I waited until after the show, after everyone had locked into the distractions that would take them through to morning. I would strap on whichever guitar I grabbed first and commence to shredding first against the van and then eventually to the center of the street. This was a small reassurance that my life would eventually resolve itself if attacked from compromising angles."
The chance of me or my buddy Josh actually learning German: 0%
I've spent so much time playing music that I haven't really had time to sit down and write anything. This isn't really a very good excuse. "Write every day" is kind of the only semi-infallible writing advice out there, and I'm totally blowing it. If this new country-rock project gets off the ground, I'll be in a total four bands in addition to working 40+ hours between two jobs. My options in life turned out to be "one band that does a lot" or "four bands that don't do much." Regardless, none of these bands are getting me laid, so it doesn't really matter.I'm also going on a micro-tour with the Oakland-based rock & roll band Victory and Associates as a hired gun to replace their real lead guitarist who can't make it because he has a real job, unlike us. My band Legal Fingers played with them back in October and we hit it off and I've been on their podcast not once, but twice, and now we're going to christen our union by piling into a van and making it smell bad for about a week. I've spent the last month learning how to play a dozen or so of their songs and in less than a week I've got to prove that I won't fuck it up. For those not in the know, this is what volume was invented for.
Well, and this.
But still, I haven't had time to write anything because when I'm not at a band practice I'm making a flier for a show or I'm being a fucking dickhead on Twitter or I'm watching The Family Feud at the coffee shop. Murmuration has been done for months now, which means I've been slacking on finishing the wrestling-themed chapbook. One story called "A Comprehensive List of the Least Worst Way To Do Everything" is done and making the rejection rounds, but "Waiting for Andre"--the story about a rich man with a bone disease who learns about and becomes obsessed with the anecdote of Samuel Beckett giving Andre the Giant rides to school--is stuck in revision hell. I've just finally got a decent grip on it after weeks of picking at it here and there, but it's still not close. The title story, "The Road Becomes What You Leave," exists only in the form of an aborted story from years ago. If I finish this book before the end of the year, I'd be surprised.And I'm working on a novella, but the truth is that I'm not working on it nearly as hard as I'm working on my tweets, which is fucked up.I hope I have something to show the next time I check in, but I'll probably just have more stories about how drunk girls in bars yell at me and then later on get my phone number and pretend to be Stoya. Mario Kolaric is doing the artwork for my chapbook and Matt Kish is doing the artwork for Justin Lawrence Daugherty's chapbook that I'm putting out through Passenger Side Books. So there's that. But still, I can't take credit for that. All I did was send some e-mails. I did that to Christina Hendricks and NOTHING.That's it for now. Be wonderful.RWFollow me on TwitterBecome a fan of my micro-press, Passenger Side Books, on Facebook
"Fuck All the Perfect People" by Chip Taylor and the New Ukrainians
BEST BOOK THAT MADE ME WANT TO WRITE A BOOK LIKE THAT
[Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison]
This book isn't disjointed--it's shattered. Mary Robison had writer's block for years and years so she just started writing down individual thoughts on notecards. After awhile, she assembled them into this book. As a base-level theory, that's somewhere between genius and fundamentally retarded, but Robison is too good. The narrative isn't buried or secondary. It's right fucking there. It just happens to be delivered in the form of 530 short short short stories.
I want people to quit writing stories and poems and collections that try too hard at sounding disjointed and come off as sounding like Mad Libs for MFA dickheads. But, since they probably won't, it really made me want to do it. So I think I'll try that in 2013.
BEST BOOK THAT MADE ME NEVER WANT TO WRITE A BOOK LIKE THAT
[A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley]
Definitely a book I had to slog through at points, but when I finally just gave in and started high-lighting the best lines and paragraphs, everything unlocked. Exley seems like a terrible, wonderful mess: alcoholic, sports obsessive (hence the title), destructively impulsive. I will never write like this, partially because I just don't, but mostly because I can't put my life through the wringer like he did and come out with enough energy--or whatever it is that it takes--to document it, to essentially go through it all over again.
BEST NOVEL BY SOMEONE WHOSE STORY COLLECTION I DIDN'T LIKE VERY MUCH
[The Ask by Sam Lipsyte]
Am I missing something with Venus Drive? I just can't get past the terrible people never learning anything. I went into it after reading (and loving) Homeland and was beyond excited. Venus Drive felt like pointless nihilism to me. I read The Subject Steve next and began to think Homeland was a fluke. Then I read The Ask and realized that Lipsyte is the real deal, beyond capable and into the realm of crushing. His dialogue is unfuckwithable and in The Ask is a grand realization of the promise Homeland delivered on originally: what in this goddamn life is worth it and what is "it"?
BEST NOVEL BY SOMEONE WHOSE STORY COLLECTION I FUCKING LOVE
[The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson]
[Barely edging out Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, which is brilliantly constructed and written and worth it]
The comparisons to The Royal Tennenbaums are unavoidable, but when it comes down to the meat and mystery of the book, the similarities drip away. Whereas The Royal Tennenbaums was a family torn apart and eventually reassembled by its figurehead, The Family Fang is a family torn apart by art and reassembled by it in a completely different way. The abstractions are big, but Wilson's smart enough to not let them drive the story. I don't think it's as good as his collection Tunneling To the Center of Earth, but I don't think many books are. The point here is that The Family Fang delivers.
BEST CHAPBOOK I CONTINUE TO TAKE EVERYWHERE WITH ME
[Less Shiny by Mary Miller]
It's a tiny, perfect thing. I keep it in my computer bag and use the book more than I use my computer. Everything Mary writes seems like a streamlined play-by-play into a real woman's mind. There's impulse and focus and the magic is that I can see them and not understand them. This book could be a thousand pages and I'd know nothing more and be no less captured by it.
BEST OTHER BOOK BY MARY MILLER I'M LOOKING FOR AN EXCUSE TO PUT ON THIS LIST
[Big World by Mary Miller]
I ordered Big World and spent two days at my shitty janitor job reading it, sneaking off to unmonitored offices to devour it. It makes me want to call up all of my ex-girlfriends and then hang up the phone right away and then do it again. Is there higher praise?
BEST BOOK I DIDN'T REALLY UNDERSTAND
[The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell]
[Barely edging out Variations of a Brother War by J.A. Tyler, which I understood a bit more and liked just a bit less than The Book of Freaks.]
I read other books this year that I liked more, but few of them were as interesting as The Book of Freaks. Iredell's a wizard. It's not unlike Louie in the ways in which it shows how each of us, if you move slowly and look hard enough, are special. Louie tends to focus on the ways in which we are individually incredible, whereas The Book of Freaks is a stripped-down outing of just that: freaks. Meaning, of course, all of us. The narrative junkie in me wanted more of a story-story or a character to latch on to, but even those things emerged in time. The story is my life, the character is everyone. I'm not claiming to understand it or its fucked up bits-and-pieces structure, but thinking about this book is one of my favorite things to do.
BEST BOOK ABOUT BASEBALL AND THE MIDWEST
[The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by WP Kinsella]
Baseball stories are great and the Midwest is great. And, except for the time when he ends up sounding like Garrison Keillor--Box Socials fucking sucked--W.P. Kinsella is great as well. This definitely revisits the sort of magical realism of Shoeless Joe (the Field of Dreams book), which is the sort of magical realism I can handle.
It's hard for me to sit through an entire sporting event, but I'll read a good sports story any day. This is one of them.
BEST BOOK I FORGOT I READ UNTIL LOOKING BACK OVER THE LIST OF WHAT I READ THIS YEAR
[The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera]
Not only did I forget I read it, I forgot entirely what it's about. Let me take a shot at this:
A young/old man has a sort of existential crisis regarding his age or relationship. A somewhat-tangential side-story about sexuality/politics runs through the entire book and becomes less and less tangential for some odd, philosophical reason.
Close? Probably. I liked the book, but I don't think Kundera's going to blow me away like he did back when I first read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I gave up on expecting the sort of love I was in at age 20 to keep coming back, and I'm giving up on Kundera "really opening my eyes, man" now that I'm almost 30 and living in a basement and haven't had a blowjob in like five years.
BEST BOOK THAT COMPLETELY CHANGED THE WAY I WRITE SHORT FICTION
[Stories In the Worst Way by Gary Lutz]
Those sentences. Holy fuck. I read A Partial List of People to Bleach before this and liked it, but I wasn't blown away. It took a whole book of Lutz to show me that his compact non-sequiturs run so deep they end up meaning more than any narrative. If Barry Hannah made it off feeling and style, Lutz makes it off style and more style. People complain that he's all voice and no story (on the rare instance I hear people complain about Lutz), but those sentences. Holy fuck. What else is there?
BEST BOOK THAT MADE ME HAPPY I WAS YOUNG AND EVEN HAPPIER THAT I'M NOT ANYMORE
[Legs Get Led Astray
by Chloe Caldwell][I reviewed this at length over at [PANK].]
Chloe and I have led vastly different lives in terms of sexuality and experimentation, but her feelings are so big that I see myself in these essays--in my early-twenties, not waiting, but actively searching for the next thing that will change my life. Every five minutes.
It's manic and impossible and real and only getting better from here. I think one of the reasons the book works is that those big feelings are their own end at this point, the period in life Coco's writing about. Eventually, she'll have to learn to process all of that into a bigger meaning, tighten things up and strip away the listing and the sections that feel like journal entries, but in Legs Get Led Astray
, there's a ghost with too much energy making it all fit together in the scariest, most joyous of ways.
BEST BOOK OF POORLY-DISGUISED AND HIGHLY-EFFECTIVE WITCHCRAFT
[Tongue Party by Sarah Rose Etter]
Sarah, dear, you freak me the fuck out. Never go to Salem or read me a bedtime story. Also, never stop writing, because these stories are like rock candy the dark house on the street gives out on Halloween, and I couldn't be more thrilled about it.
BEST LONG BOOK I DIDN'T THINK I'D FINISH BUT ENDED UP NOT BEING ABLE TO PUT DOWN
[Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S by Jeremy Leven]
Satan getting psychotherapy, as narrated by Satan, who is embodied in a hand-assembled super computer. (This book came out in the 70s). For like 500 pages. I wouldn't have picked this up on my own, but a friend with excellent taste (aside from his dislike of Rush) sent it to me insisting I read it. And he was right. It's excellent and worth the time.The narrative aside from Satan shows the effects of fate and happenstance as they fight against human-made decisions, as embodied in the life of one man, the aforementioned unfortunate Dr. Kassler. All of it together is a solid mix.
BEST BOOK WHERE SOMEBODY DIES IN PRETTY MUCH EVERY STORY
[Phantasmagoria by Thomas Cooper]
Life is a dream and you wake up when you die. Either that or the exact opposite are true. Phantasmagoria doesn't answer the question, but there's so much loss, so much funny magic, that it makes the question an enjoyably honest one, if not full of odd hope. Stories like this made me start to understand flash fiction back when I was just starting to write it. The only ting better than unpacking these stories for study is simply reading them for the reasons I'd take in any sort of a masterwork.
BEST BOOK THAT MADE ME REALLY EXCITED FOR CONTEMPORARY SHORT FICTION AGAIN
[Short Dark Oracles
by Sara Levine][I reviewed this at length over at [PANK].]
With everything being on the internet, I'm just like everyone else in that i read tons o awesome stuff and tons of bullshit. Every once in awhile, whn the bullshit outweighs the good stuff, I start to wonder if people are interested in writing pure fiction anymore. (I don't mean sci-fi or fantasy, which I've heard people argue is the "real pure fiction" because these people are assholes.) Sara Levine's writing is vibrant and creative and funny and there's a goddamn story there
. It has nothing to do with oblique narratives or writing from a constructed personality. Let's hope she writes forever.
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL I FINALLY GOT AROUND TO READING
[The Watchmen by Alan Moore]
I'm the last person in the world to read this. I think it's great. Go somewhere else for real thoughts.
(Except this one: who picks a fucking owl as their superhero character? Come on.)
BEST BOOK THAT I WROTE THAT WAS PUBLISHED
[Shake Away These Constant Days
by Ryan Werner]
I sold a few of these. I think people were mostly neutral towards it. Mostly, I really like the book.MAYBE YOU SHOULD ORDER ONE FROM ME.
The Sword, covering ZZ Top and doing a fucking awesome job of it.
I don't have shit going on to promote of my own, so here's a few rad things other folks have going on.
Matt Burnside has a continuation of his sage writing advice up at [PANK]. This is "11 More Inflexible Rules For Upstart Writers." The title is either misleading or I actually (sadly) know less than I thought I did, because I'm learning things, too, from reading this. Matt's fucking funny on top of being a super appreciative weirdo, on top of being incredibly smart, on top of being an exciting, solid writer. Some guys have it all. I bet he's got a dick like a Pringles can, too.
Anyways, here's my favorite of this newest batch of inflexible rules:RULE: Fight the urge every day to be cynical
It’s easy to be cynical, but better to keep your sense of humor/humanity through it all. There are days I wake up and want to beat up a phone booth, but if I can stand back long enough to realize how bad it really isn’t, I can find it in my heart to forgive that phone booth. Cynicism is a virus from hell. It may feel good to blast the world for all its bullshit, but where does that get you, really, in the end? It gets you beating up phone booths, and they hardly deserve it. Negativity has never and will never be sexy. Not only that, cynicism has a way of digging its nasty nails into your work. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We certainly need that in literature, and I’ve written a lot of cynical stuff, but of late I’ve found it’s much harder and rewarding to write something more earnest because the stakes are higher. Work that approaches the heart of things without all the venom and razors – like walking through a minefield where the slightest misstep could result in sentimentality – is more risky than writing something extremely dark and nihilistic and full of fucks and death and postmodern lines like: LANGUAGE WON’T SAVE US, which I’ve literally written in my work maybe five times now. Because the thing is, language will save us. I think as a writer you’ve got to believe that, even as you suspect how foolish it may be.
Read the rest right here at [PANK].
And speaking of [PANK], they've got a cool holiday deal going on where you can a bunch of stuff for like $50 shipped. I think it's three print issues, a shirt, a book, a sticker, and a button. You'll save a little over $20 and all that stuff should be pretty rad. Myfanwy Collins (Hey, anyone reading this: What the fuck is with that name? I don't want to e-mail her and ask because I'm sure she's been getting shit about that name forever. Can a third party explain this to me? Welsh? Is it Welsh?) wrote the book, called I Am Holding Your Hand
. I bet it rules, because Randall Brown said it does and he rules. Simple math. And the shirt's got a typewriter, so, you know. Whatever.Buy all the things right here.
Chloe Caldwell of Legs Get Led Astray
fame and general fucking awesomeness has a new eBook over at Thought Catlog. It's called "The New Age Camp" and I can't read it because I don't have a Kindle. I'm working on getting a PDF or whatever guys like me who still do stupid shit like listen to music on Windows Media Player need to read non-Kindle eBooks. But you should buy it and read it if you can. When has Chloe ever let you down? (I mean that as it pertains to the realm of literature. If she owes you money or puked on your rug or something, I'll apologize right now on behalf of her.)Buy Coco's eBook right here at Thought Catalog.
(EDIT: If you don't have Kindle, download Cloud Reader
and you're all set. Not sure if they have it in a fancy alpine white iPhone color, but use your imagination.) (Dickhead.)
This is all actually just a ploy to quickly regenerate my karma after changing the background of my parents' computer to a picture of a chocolate butthole.
Steven Gillis has a new short story collection out called The Law of Strings
and it's worth reading, worth obsessing over. My full review for Heavy Feather Review
went up Monday. Read this opening section to his story "The Society for the Protection of Animals."Uniss had a plan. The situation was dire. No one refuted this, though we knew at first only what Uniss told us.
In her cage, on the floor of our apartment, Uniss did her best to turn. She said it was important to feel as they did, to better understand. I questioned the necessity, wondered, “If we’re supposed to be sympathetic, shouldn’t we be motivated more by instinct?”
Uniss told me to “Think about what you’re saying. How can you understand what you haven’t experienced?”
I could have argued the point, said many things were intuitive, like hunger and love and the want to survive, that understanding them was overkill, but I knew what Uniss would say. She had a way of moving inside her cage, naked and on all fours, up on her toes and fingers, her spine arched as she had learned to do, leaving room so when invited I could scoot flat on my back and lay beneath her, staring directly at whatever she chose to offer.
Wasn't that wonderful? Of course it was. Order the book from Atticus Books right here.
I like to pretend that string third from the left is that dude's dick, because I'm nine years old.
The only story I've got floating around right now is a 1300 word story called "Go Says No" about old men and pinball and being 27 years old. I didn't realize the title was so similar to Monster Magnet's (not that great) album God Says No, but I'm not too worried about it. It can get rejected on its own merits instead of having an ill-conceived title.
I felt good after I wrote it, but I'm worried about the same shit I'm always worried about, namely how many fucking times do I need to write about being lonely and innocent in the Midwest? I realize that lots of writers I like wrote the same thing over and over again: Carver, Updike, Bukowski, Dubus, Ford, Munro (to some extent). I also realize that reading an entire collection by them is often an endurance test comparable to waterboarding.
I don't know about the other ones, but I've read Bukowski's early letters--the ones before he hit it big with Post Office--and he was definitely aware of the ground he was treading, if not worried about wearing it thin. I seem to recall him lamenting over writing another racetrack story or writing in a frenzy to create a dozen or so drunk love poems. Still, he was writing them, and aside from a few journeys into noir, that's all he wrote.
Should I give a shit? Is this sort of deep, unavoidable rumination on a theme a bad thing? It becomes taxing on the reader after awhile, and definitely on the writer, but even if the ratio of good-to-bad ends up looking like shit, the hyper-focus might be its own end. Not Look closely, but look forever.
It's possible that my Midwest is Richard Hugo's Montana, Grace Paley's New York City, Flannery O'Connor's dark south. And I'm fine with that.
It's also possible that my Midwest is Ric Flair's fancy robes, Ric Flair's strut, Ric Flair's WOOOOOOOOOOO!
I started working on the pro wrestling chapbook I've been threatening to write. The first story, "A Comprehensive List of the Least Worst Way To Do Everything," is done. Here's the first section:
I watch my dead brother’s wrestling matches and try to count the number of times he gets hurt for real. In one, a wispy tattooed man named Slash Blast hits him with a monitor from the commentary desk. In the rematch, he hits him with the commentary desk.
I’ve got one of his boots on either side of the television. Maybe there’s a heart attack resting in my chest, too.
I know that only so much of anything is true, but I get lost watching the matches. Rodney knew how to honestly tackle delusion from both sides and I just can’t do it.
Until a lump forms between the top of his trapezius and his Adam’s apple, I really am convinced that nothing is wrong when a hulking Japanese man uses the side of an open hand to knife-edge him a dozen times in the neck.
The thing I'm going to have a hard time with is not boring that wrestling fans--as if any of them will end up reading it anyways--and not going over the head of the non-wrestling fans. (Who also won't read it.) The other stories are "Waiting For Andre" (about how the tangential trivia of Samuel Beckett giving Andre the Giant rides to school severely alters the relationship of a young couple) and "The Road Becomes What You Leave" (about a "loser leaves town" match with more at stake than the results of the match itself). The former will be shorter and the latter will be longer, but either way I'm hoping to have at least two more stories in the collection.
I'm going to go eat ice cream. In honor of the rad date I had Monday with a charming redhead, here's my revised Top Five Fictional Redheads list.
1) Jessica Rabbit
2) Jean Grey
3) April O'Neil
4) The girl on the cover of Candy O
5) The Little Mermaid
The Afghan Whigs performing "66" on Conan O'Brien's show back in 1999. Dulli breaks a string!
I dressed up as the Wal-Mart Santa this past weekend and scared the fuck out of some kids. Dr. Pepper/7-Up bought the rights to Santa (in Wal-Mart), so on either side of the bench I sit on is a stack of about 50-70 two-liters of 7-Up. In addition to mini candy canes, I also gave the kids cans of soda. It was all really fucked.
Of course, this happened, too.
Look at how shitty I look as Santa and then think about the fact that the person who was dressing up as Santa before me is female, stands (literally) around four feet tall, has the mental development of an 8-10 year old child, and kept pulling off her beard to take drinks of water, which would have been fine, except she "was too hot" and "about to pass out" with the beard on, so she just left it hanging from her one ear, including during pictures with the kids.
She also decided it was necessary to wear no pants underneath the Santa pants that are designed to go over the pants you're already wearing. Then she informed me that she "got really sweaty" in the suit. I realize that this has an effect on nobody except me, but come on. Goddamn.
Her intentions were top notch, but none of her physical or mental attributes really helped in the way of keeping the spirit of Christmas. You'd think that with all the fat dudes we have working and frequenting our store that we'd be able to rope someone into doing it, but that was apparently impossible. They all claimed to be bad with kids.
How to Be Santa
1) Don't molest the kid. This is a good rule even when not dressed up as Santa.
2) Ask the kid if they've been good this year and believe whatever they say because who gives a shit.
3) If the kid has a brother or sister with them, ask them who's been the baddest. If they don't have a brother or sister with them, ask their parents. If the mom is kind of hot and the dad isn't around, ask if she's been naughty, because Santa does that on stupid sitcoms and everyone's seen Bad Santa and she'll think it's funny. See if you can ask for a "snowjob" without the kid hearing.
4) Ask the kid what they want for Christmas and tell them you'll get it for them for sure. You are not their parents and this is not your responsibility.
4b) If someone asks for a kidney for medical purposes, just be really nice and tell them you'll try. If they ask for a kidney for weirdo shit, just tell them to fuck off.
5) Ask the kid if they like to play in the snow. Some kids will be a bit gunshy, but, ultimately, kids are fucking dumb, so you can really ask them anything and they'll just answer with whatever the fuck they feel like. Ask them about quantum physics or something. I bet they'll answer with a story about a time they saw a really big dog.
All in all, I'm a really awesome Santa. And you can too.
Tis the season to suck it.
Right as I was complaining that I haven't had any work accepted in a long-ass time, I look like a dickhead by getting three acceptances in about a week.
My story "Reruns" (the second story in my cycle/chapbook Murmuration
) went up at Monkeybicycle. This is a big deal because Monkeybicycle is excellent, and them having faith in my story kind of gives me a little faith in my story. This one is secretly dedicated to my friend Jon Eagle, who loves television shows more than anyone I've ever met."I listened to my family name off local dead people and soon enough began to wish i was one of them."
The other stories that got accepted aren't up yet. One of them is "Pyramid Scheme" (the fourth story in Murmuration
). I'm stoked about this going up (at Bartleby Snopes!) for the same reason as "Reruns." That one's about a band called the Honeybreakers, reprising the role they played in my story "Sometimes We Were Young." (My friend Sam Snoek-Brown
and I do this stupid thing where every story we write is connected to at least one other story we've written. It's pointless and nobody wins, but if they did, I'd be winning.) I'm working with the crew on some edits right now and even the butting-heads that we're doing on a couple spots have gone way too smoothly. The changes they suggested that I ended up taking helped the story immensely, and, as I had thought, the parts I've always been uneasy with have disappeared.
That leaves only one story for the collection unpublished, the stripper story "Cool Tits, Moxie." I've got that out at a few places now, and if none of them pick it up, I'm fine with it going unpublished. Leaves a bit of incentive for buying the book, I guess. I'll probably end up putting it out myself because I'm too lazy to send it off to publishers, but that's fine.
The other story is called "Trace," going up at 10,000 Tons of Black Ink. I've talked about that stupid asshole story on here before as being a revising nightmare. I actually even revised it after sending it off, because that's what nightmares are for. I'm wondering if I can actually broach the subject of having 10KTOBI publish the revised version without pissing them off. I'm totally going to try.
I've also gotta remember to make a stupid 10,000 Maniacs joke in my next e-mail to them.
I added some friends to the (Has Friends) page. Justin Lawrence Daugherty is a fucking incredible writer who I can guarantee you will hear more from/about very soon. He takes myths and turns them into realistic stories of the absurd. Matthew Burnside is another wizard working with myth and sorrow, one who I didn't even realize until today that I've known for years and years from a guitar forum we both frequent. (Or used to frequent, in my case, as I was perma-banned years ago for several different things, one of which included posting under the name CC DeVilled Eggs and ruining every thread with pictures of Poison's CC DeVille.) Mary Miller wrote two of my favorite books in recent memory, the full-length Big World
and the chapbook Less Shiny
and I'm kind of in love with her. Check these wonderful people out.
While you're checking things out, go to the website for the micro-press I've started for Passenger Side Books and consider sending me a manuscript. I've got some good work so far and look forward to reading more of it. Let's make books, people.
My (Is Published) page and my (Has Friends) page have both been retooled to be more readable. So read them.
Also, I appeared on a podcast being hosted by my tight bros in the band Victory & Associates. It's called You Can't Stop the Signal
and is a must-listen for anyone who's into podcasts or has been in a band or likes talking about ASCII-styled dicks or thinks I'd be a good guy to talk to on the phone for a half hour. They play a bunch of killer angular indie rock and roll, too, so do everyone a favor and listen.
Oh yeah. And this:
Seasons beatings, y'all.
"No One Gives a Hoot About Faux-Ass Nonsense" by Don Caballero, from their second, aptly-titled, album, Dob Caballero 2.
It's been a month. Here's the loose ends of what happened:
1) I went through a long streak of not writing any fiction, making me go insane and start crying while watching Wrestlemania 21, specifically the part where Hulk Hogan comes out and flexes in front of a giant, electronic American flag.
2) I started trying to watch real films so I have something to offer in conversations aside from Nicolas Cage movies. I'm starting with the works of David Lynch. Blue Velvet
was good once it got into the story. Eraserhead
was up its own ass. I'm watching Wild At Heart
next, starring, oddly enough, Nicolas Cage. Life is a circle/highway.
3) I posted on the Facebook page for the German thrash metal band Kreator, asking if I could join their band. So far, no response.
4) I had the official book party for Shake Away These Constant Days
. It went well. In the words of my friend Bob, "It wasn't runnin' a train, but it wasn't a trainwreck."
5) I bought a package of pizza flavored hotdogs, which was the second grossest food-related decision I made all month, right behind eating a pancake that I found.
6) I went to the Goodwill and saw this bootleg Michael Jackson hat
, which I bought for $1.50, wore for a weekend, and then sent to Sarah Rose Etter
Seriously, it doesn't even say what kind of pizza.
I had the first installment in Love Dumb
, my all-too-thorough chronological journey through the complete song library of KISS, go up a bit ago. There was a slight hiccup in the posting schedule, but from now on, every Thursday there will be a new column. Check out the first one:“Strutter” makes considerably less sense than the song it started out as, a little Gene Simmons 60’s psych-rock ditty called “Stanley the Parrot.” This is significant, considering “Stanley the Parrot” had an oblique narrative about the influence of summer in making a man and a two-minute non-sequitur intro and odd bluegrass solos and it’s called fucking “Stanley the Parrot.”
I also had a review of Gregory Sherl's debut full-length collection, Heavy Petting
, go up at [PANK]. I was mixed on it, for sure, but the gist of it is that the good stuff was brilliant and the bad stuff was bullshit. There's plenty of both, but as far as first collections go--especially such long ones, it seems--Heavy Petting
is as intriguing as it gets.I say this not to slight his work or age—I liked his poems and he’s only two days younger than I am—but Gergory Sherl is a poet of youth, which is to say that his debut collection, Heavy Petting is saturated with a holy-fuck-I-hope-I’m-right sort of faith.
Lastly, I'm probably the only person to who's done an interview with UW-Platteville--the college I graduated from several years ago--and referenced Motorhead and girls who do cocaine if it's free.Q: Can you tell us about one or two high points of your life since you’ve graduated?
A: I didn't get married or have kids and it's awesome. I listen to Motörhead as loud as I want, whenever I want. If that sounds like something a fifteen year old kid would say, that's probably because it's all I've ever really wanted since I was fifteen.
Not that I wasn't a fucking dickhead back in college, too.
After I stopped crying and started writing fiction again, I turned out a short story without a title (I'm soft-positive on "Old Winners") that leans pretty heavily on Barry Hannah, specifically his story "Water Liars." He's got an old guy going to the docks to visit other old men who lie about shit in a jovial way. I've got a young guy who goes to an arcade to visit old men who tell him how to win in a competitive-yet-empty way. There are buried problems with women leaking out of everything in both. I'm hoping that using "Water Liars" as a jumping off point--Amy Hempel calls it "response writing"--won't be obvious. But, if I'm going to rip something off, I want to rip something off that rules.
I'm finding that I like style more than I like substance, which isn't to say that I like no substance, I just like style more. There's Van Halen and there's Elvis Costello. Neither one is without traces of what makes the other untouchable, but they are genius opposites.
I haven't submitted this story anywhere yet, but I'm back on the submission train, so I'll be sending it out shortly. I've got every eligible story in my chapbook, Murmuration, out at several places each right now, just sort of waiting on replies. Of the longer pieces I worked in as a second section for the Caketrain contest, only one, the aforementioned story about a millionaire and time zones and girlfriends and ex-girlfriends and a mute Italian girl called "Run the Daylight Down," isn't out anywhere yet. Once I get done watching The League DVDs a co-worker loaned me and insisted I watch, I'll send them out.
It is pretty fucking funny, though.
I started up the micro-press that I've been threatening my life with for the past year or so. This essentially just means that I ordered a printer and a long-arm stapler and have begun the long process of trying to figure out how to use a bootlegged copy of Adobe InDesign, but those are all big, necessary steps.
I'm planning on doing 20-40 page chapbooks of fiction and non-fiction. Magic Helicopter Press and Future Tense Books are both great examples of micro-presses putting out killer chapbooks. I've read their work and am learning from it, and I hope to put out a quality piece of work sometime early next year.
I've accepted the first manuscript to be released, but what little details I have aren't worth spilling right now. I will say that, in , and a human goddamn being.Passenger Side Books.
(Real website--or at least a blogspot--coming soon. Facebook will do for now.)
Validate me, internet.