Sunday, December 23, 2012

Poet Who Did Know It

One of the aspects of my writing career that hasn't been emphasized here is that I am a poet.

I know, it caught me by surprise, too, when it started taking shape.  The first poem I remember writing of any note was about Lee Harvey Oswald in eighth grade (seventh?).  It was an aberration.  After taking a trip to Boston in my freshmen year of college, I struck on the idea to commemorate it by writing a series of poems about it, and got pretty far along, but...still didn't feel like an actual poet.

Then I started attending the University of Maine.  For some reason, much as my home town of Lisbon, Maine, inexplicably experienced a surge of musical talent in the early 1990s, the Orono campus practically fell face-first into poetry during my time studying English.  There were a number of teachers who were themselves poets, and I took classes from them, but it was the students who kept taking the same ones, and who formed such a close-knit group that several of us launched a short-lived literary journal of our own that really solidified the time for me.

When I graduated, most of these classmates had also moved on.  By the time I moved out of state a year later, I saw the journal come to an end, despite my best long-distance efforts to keep it afloat.  I started composing new work in earnest, thanks to my emerging habit of keeping a notebook on me at all times, so I could always make a note of inspiration.  In March of 2005, I composed "(The) Beat," the first of what I considered my mature poetry.  And I just kept writing the stuff.

Eventually I started a personal challenge of writing a poem mostly on a daily basis, one hundred at a time, the first beginning in the summer of 2007.  I've since completed five of them.

I'm mentioning this now because I've just made the first of them available as a collection, Terror of Knowing.
The funny thing is, the only piece of advice I got just before graduation was to try and make an official career in the world of poetry.  I had just finished participating in a class that explored the vital world of contemporary poems, during which I was able to write a number of essays, and the advice was to submit these around.  At the time I didn't take the advice seriously, since I wanted to pitch a book called Tug Rushmore and had actually asked advice about that, and I didn't feel comfortable enough in my comprehension of poetry outside of that class to consider asserting myself in any regard.

Besides, I had tried submitting poems to publications outside of the UMaine system and come up empty.  (The same reaction that would greet so many of my later literary submissions.)  Perhaps a little like Emily Dickinson, I might be doomed to be a poet not read in their own lifetime.  (This is the only mark of comparison I'm willing to make between myself and Emily Dickinson, by the way.)

Like all of my poetry, rhyming is not the first rule of Terror.  In fact, there's little rhyming to be found. As my descriptions for the collection assert, the major theme in the major poem is the Metaphysics of Value, my extrapolation of Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book I discovered at UMaine, by the way).  Much of my poetry is simply my experience of the world, and mostly thought-wise.  What distinguishes Terror of Knowing is that there remains a significant remnant of the experiments I studied in UMaine classrooms.  Basically philosophy from your average joe.

It's marked as the first volume in the New Fade cycle, which links Terror to a poetic statement that predates "(The) Beat" (which is not in this collection), titled appropriately enough "The New Fade."  This is my conception of the modern age.  "New Fade" roughly translates to the increasingly quick way we cycle through eras, believing that we're escaping the barbarous past even as we complain about all the barbarity around us.  I wrote "The New Fade" in 2002 following a trip with my brother to New Jersey to visit relatives (including my godfather, a concept that seems strange today and not just because I myself am one), during a summer that saw some of my first independent experiments as a poet.

Why am I putting this out now?  I guess more or less to assert this part of my literary life, much as I have as a novelist (The Cloak of Shrouded Men) and short story writer (Monorama), all in the self-publishing realm.  Being a poem has dominated my self-identity for a decade.  It only felt right to make at least one record of it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Writing Patterns

I wonder sometimes whether I'm a bad writer.

Even though I've been writing my current WIP (Seven Thunders), I am not following the old adage of writing every day.  In fact, my current strategy works so far against that grain that I'm wondering the above thought.

As I've discussed before about the evolution of my writing book-length manuscripts, I started very much on the writing-every-day pattern, but especially with last year's lessons I've backed away from that to a considerable extent.  What that means is that I write less when I have the time to and more when I make the time.  What that means is that I'm continually fighting a panic.  I know there are no deadlines in writing other than editorial mandates and personal goals, and since I don't have the former I'm only working on the latter.  But I still sometimes wonder if I'm doing it wrong.  I have eight chapters left to write to complete the book by the end of the year.  I began in October, and in November unofficially participated in NaNoWriMo partly to keep myself on track because I did not write what I would've liked the first month.  This month I'm learning more and more that my strategy both works for and against my goals.  I'm reasonably certain I can do what I set out to do, but all the while fighting the urge to call myself a failure because it seems like so much of a struggle, when it really shouldn't.

Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that I do not make a living writing, and the stuff I do for a living is not personally fulfilling and barely pays the bills, and I've been blogging to an increasing extent over the past few years to help compensate, but all this blogging also seems at times to be a distraction from the creative writing that I know I want to do.  But what if it's not a distraction?  I've been struggling to figure out who I am as a writer ever since I graduated from college without any clear plan as to how to use my degree.  That's what a lot of English Majors do, I guess, because there is no English profession, only a series of compromises, work-for-hires and contracts that you have to continually work toward just to try and get, because there are millions of competitors (even if that number isn't accurate, it surely seems that way), and if you don't get on that right away, you end up with a lot of jobs the few skills you have aside from writing allow you to get.

I don't know what the majority of my blogging friends do to make the money that allows them to blog and be aspiring full-time writers.  I continually fight the feeling of jealousy for those who seem successful enough that they have legions of supporters and established indy writing careers, but how much of that is a digital illusion and only in my own head, I don't know.  Some of these guys are doing stuff during the day that I couldn't begin to imagine myself doing.  A lot of the people I went to school with do the same thing, and I have no idea how it was apparently so easy for that to happen, or so easy for me to fall so easily off that track.  I'm not one to complain too much about that, because there are hidden developments to everything and I like to find them, and what I like to remind myself is that I would not have written (or be writing) any of what I have if I hadn't done exactly what I did, even if I have no awesome publishing contracts (so far) to show for it.

So while I'm busy sweating the maneuvering of how to write those eight chapters (5,000 words each) in the remaining weeks of December while apparently procrastinating as long as possible, I have to keep reminding myself that this is exactly what my life is and that I shouldn't complain too much.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Seven Books That Follow "Seven Thunders"

With a nod to PT Dilloway's recent Scarlet Knight timeline/outline for future volumes, I thought I'd give you a sneak at the bigger picture for my current WIP, Seven Thunders, which is part of the greater Space Corps saga, which is something I've developed for almost twenty years.

Before doing so, however, let me just put in a word or two as to why I'm finally writing Seven Thunders, after initially conceiving it in 1998, and why I feel like announcing the rest of the series.  For one, I've written a number of manuscripts at this point (including Modern Ark and Minor Contracts, which I've talked a little about previously, as well as the Yoshimi trilogy, but more on that in 2013), and so have gained a certain level of confidence in my ability to write books I'm satisfied with.  But I'm also beginning to see where my vision can fit in.  Thanks to certain movie and television developments of the past ten years, I've been able to see past some of my original sources of inspiration, Star Trek and Star Wars.  Peter Jackson's Tolkien films, for instance, or Harry Potter, even George R.R. Martin's newfound wide success thanks to Game of Thrones on HBO.  These have widened the public's popular reception for science fiction and fantasy (at a certain point, Space Corps really starts to blend the two genres).  It's not hard to see how the recent past has made it cool to be a geek.

Anyway, that's not really here nor there.  Space Corps is my baby.  I've nursed it to the point of obsession.  It's time to start introducing it to the world.  Seven Thunders, as I've discussed in the past, owes a great debt to the War of 1812, so it's only appropriate that I've begun to make it known in the world in 2012, the bicentennial of the conflict.  It's about two brothers, however, caught in the cross-hairs of a war between civilizations.  I've learned a great deal about this story I've only thought I've known as I've been writing it.  There were some things about it that could only have happened once it became a reality rather than something floating around in my head (and various notes).

And yet Seven Thunders is only the beginning.  One way or another, the saga will continue:

  • The Dark Side of Space, which in many ways is a direct prequel to the story.
  • The Fateful Lightning, which in many ways is a direct sequel.
  • A Tremor of Bones, which in many ways is my favorite Space Corps story.
  • The Feud We Keep With Space, which mirrors many of the elements of Seven Thunders.
  • Dead Letters, which brings the timeline into entirely new territory.
  • The Second Coming, which plays even wilder games with the timeline.
  • The Universe and You, which is an indirect prequel to Seven Thunders.
 Should be fun.  You have the Space Corps scoop right here.  Years from now you'll thank me!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem" now accepting submissions

That's the extremely lousy publishing label that exists on the back of Monorama for anyone who's gotten the print edition.  It's also going to be my new zine/anthology title.

The idea is simple enough.  Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem" is going to feature micro fiction of 250 words per story, and it is now open for submissions.  You can write whatever you want, whatever genre, just so long as it falls at or under 250 words.

There's no trick at all to this.  If I like what I read, I will print it in the zine/anthology, with whatever editing is necessary.  I will provide feedback to every submission, whether accepted or rejected.  All you have to do is email your entry to and we'll go from there.  Put the submission in the body of the email.  Submissions will be open through the end of the month, or as long as it takes to get a good amount (I guess I'll find out).

The zine/anthology will be published via CreateSpace (in print) and Kindle (e-book).  There will be no pay upfront, although let's be serious, you're writing a tiny amount of words.  If you make any money off this, you're already ahead in the game.

As a special bonus, if you want to provide a picture or snapshot along with your entry, it may be chosen as the cover of the collection (because I am not a qualified artist) and you will have my undying gratitude (although if I become a zombie, this contract will be null and void).

Bottom line, this should be fun!  Pass word along and thanks a million!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Age of Convolution

We're living in a weird kind of world.  I'm sure most of you know that already.  Part of the benefit of enjoying the arts is getting to be entertained rather than frustrated by this.

Here I'm thinking of Oliver Stone's new movie Savages, which was released over the summer and has just come to [insert home video market of your choosing].  There're a lot of ways to view it, either as the latest of his mostly-violent-popcorn-flicks (see: Natural Born Killers, U-Turn) or as the latest of this year's mostly-violent-popcorn-flicks-by-various-directors (see: Seven Psychopaths, Killing Them Softly), or even as a new version of Traffic (which was itself based on a prior incarnation of something called...Traffic).

Savages is about the modern drug trade scene (as opposed to the '70s drug trade scene as seen in American Gangster, or the '80s scene as seen in Scarface or the '90s drug scene as seen in Trainspotting or the '00s scene as seen in...Traffic), but it's not just that (although Stone and some of his critics who've softened since some of his more polarizing efforts, which culminated in Alexander, would have you believe it's just a mostly-violent-popcorn-flick).  It's about the horribly convoluted business of the drug trade, but it can also be about the horribly convoluted business of any business.

I think we're living in an age of transition.  I think most people can see that, but even after the great recession begun in 2008 that exposed the horrifying number of ways that lots of businesses were doing business very badly and are still trying to get away with it today (Occupy Wall Street, which ultimately failed, was an attempt to remind everyone that we have definitely not solved those problems, although peasants have been revolting ineffectually against the system for many centuries).

The reason why I say that we're in an age of transition, which anyone can see for themselves, is that more and more the little people are attempting to exert themselves.  The big people are certainly fortifying themselves, but the little people are trying to operate more and more on their own.  That's what the fad of crowdsourcing is all about.  It's the next iteration of all the illegal file downloading people were doing at the turn of the millennium, which caused such a revolution in the creative business model and brought us a lot of things with a small "i" at the start of it.

The short of it is that the little people are trying to get control of their own affairs.  This works really well, to a certain extent.  Of course, these little people realize from the start that this is only possible by building a huge network of support.  This is of course what brought us the old model that got us to where we are today.  The difference is that these people are theoretically learning how to do this without any one person gaining an inordinate share of the profits.  It's about the work more than the money.

Basically it's the monetary system that's in a form of transition, but because there are a few people (as there has always been) who really, really believe that money is the ultimate goal of everything, this is a process that is going to take some time.

Anyway, the Age of Convolution happens when all the people scrambling to figure out their place in the new system butt heads.  In a lot of ways, Breaking Bad has been demonstrating this for years, and a lot of TV viewers really enjoy it.  Savages is like the movie version of Breaking Bad, if that makes it easier for you.  Instead of a cancer patient looking to solve his problems by (to my mind illogically) creating bigger ones, we get two young guys making their money and also becoming involved in something far bigger than they realized.

Stone often makes movies about people falling into situations they did not expect and being swallowed whole.  It's practically the only movie he makes, actually.  In Savages you mostly don't have to worry about the politics.  One of the young men is a former soldier, however, and so our current wars are at least name-checked (the connection between war and drugs is not made as clear as in American Gangster, but it's the same; it's worth noting that the current comic book Before Watchmen: Comedian has touched on the same subject).

The problem is that these guys can't exist in a bubble.  They're closely monitored by an agent of the DEA and are actively being recruited by a Mexican drug cartel, the latter of which leads to a situation very similar to No Country for Old Men (the one actor I will reference directly is Benicio del Toro, who in this particular role is very similar to Javier Bardem, a physical presence, as del Toro always is, that haunts the movie and defines it without having to do much more than be the manifestation of the violence at the heart of the story).

What looks at the beginning of the movie like a fairly simple living arrangement for our two young guys (and their beach bunny mutual lover) quickly devolves into, yes, a convoluted affair.  Not convoluted as in Stone doesn't help us figure it out, but that he lets us know all too well what's really going on.

That's what makes it topical, that's what draws me back to my point about the changing nature of the world we're living in.  That's basically what's going on everywhere.  Everyone's trying to get their piece of the pie and they don't really care who they step on.  They're stumbling around.  That's the nature of a transition period.

In a lot of ways, Stone is most closely echoing Shakespeare.  I'm not calling Oliver Stone our modern William Shakespeare (that's an argument for another day), but that's exactly what Shakespeare was doing in his plays.  Think about it.  Romeo + Juliet is all about two families that outmaneuver themselves so cleverly, with so many convoluted things going on, that they don't realize the biggest losers are the smallest pieces on the chess board, the title characters who are just a pair of lovebirds.  That's Hamlet, that's Othello (though admittedly it's Iago pulling all the strings), that's King Lear, that's Macbeth, that's every single one of them.

Shakespeare was writing at a time where England was in a marked transition thanks to Henry VIII's religious reforms, which caused a cosmic shift in the balance of society.  Elizabeth I caused a lot of stabilization to occur, but she was also reigning at the start of the the exploration of the New World, and massive changes were still on their way.  In each of his plays, Shakespeare writes about a paradigm shift.

Our shift is all about globalization.  Some of us embrace it, some of us fear it, but it's an inescapable fact that it's happening.  It's drastically affected the economics of every nation in the world, and we're still trying to figure out how to stabilize the process.  It's mostly a problem of figuring out how we can begin to respect everyone and where their specific productivity exists.  So much of the past was defined by physical resources, and yet now we're discovering that more and more it's the intangibles that we must depend on.  Everyone knows the statistics that show how the physical resources are consumed unequally.  That's what's a part of the transition, why so many people are warning of environmental catastrophe (to force those consuming more to rethink their policies).

Anyway, the convoluted nature of the world is something that's surfacing again in our fiction.  Savages is one example.  I'm writing about it in my writer's blog because this is exactly what I do in my fiction.  I guess I tend to write stories of this nature because that's what I've known in my own life, how forces that have been building to this moment and continue to develop have affected me throughout my life.  I guess I didn't really realize it until now.  I'm not plugging a book.  I just renamed one of my manuscripts, Finnegan.  It's now going to be known as Modern Ark, for any number of reasons.  That's a title I've been playing with for years.  I named a poem after the term.  It refers in one sense to the biblical tale of Noah's Ark, which was all about God's wrath and how a few people escaped it along with a lot of animals.  I've read a number of books that reinterpreted it for modern readers (the two best being Not Wanted On the Voyage and The Preservationist).  Modern Ark is not about Noah's Ark, however.  It began as a vampire story.  I thought it was going to stay a vampire story.  I proved myself wrong fairly soon.  There ended up being a lot of convoluted relationships that consumed the story, some associations that Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers comic would appreciate, characters that never meet because some of them are biblical and therefore thousands of years in the past.

Not all of my manuscripts are like Modern Ark, but it's an effort that I've tried selling to publishers with no success.  I guess the recent developments concerning the fate of Yoshimi (which I'm now thinking I'll either sell around or sell myself in installments, the latter of which is similar to how Stephen King did The Green Mile and Michael Abayomi has done his science fiction epic).  I'm beginning to see why it's so difficult, because not many people write like that.  But there's an audience.  If Oliver Stone can make Savages (and there being any number of examples of other filmmakers making similar movies, and even William frickin' Shakespeare), then I'm not so far off the mark.  It's a direct reflection of the world we're living in, after all.  Maybe it's not always popular to be such a direct reflection of complicated times, but that's another thing that makes the whole affair so brilliantly convoluted.

Maybe you're free of such relationships.  Maybe everything runs smoothly for you.  Maybe everything is simple.  But I doubt that.  Everything about everything is increasingly convoluted.  Sometimes it's beneficial to shine a light on a giant mess.  You'll see a lot of ugliness.  But you'll also see beauty where you never thought it could exist before.  One man's trash is another man's treasure, after all.  It's all a game of perspective, and that's what art at its best can give you.  I like escapism as much as the next guy, but sometimes I like to have a little more.
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