Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Next Big Thing (or Thanks for the Memeries)

Here's something for another damned project I can't talk about... It's noir, though.  Believe it or not.

My pal Miranda Suri has tagged me for a meme -- it's called The Next Big Thing, and it's all about people's works in progress.

I wish I could discuss my Big Secret Thrilling Adventure here, but that's still under wraps. But this is a pretty thrilling adventure in itself -- this is something that's changing my life.

And if it sounds interesting to you, you can get a taste of it this Saturday, when I perform at Litquake's Litcrawl in San Francisco. Check it out, and come on down.

(If you want a sample of what might be in store for you, here are two of my previous performances.)

So, Oafboy, what's the next big thing?

Ten Questions for the Next Big Thing
1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Bone Chips.

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

A number of currents in my life intersected. My novel, Ghost Rock, originally had a lot of autobiographical material in it that got cut, and there were a couple of sections that seemed to stand on their own. I wound up getting in contact with a writer I admire, John Shirley, about a blog post I'd made, and the end result was my attendance at a couple of readings in which he participated. Plain and simple, I wanted to be on the stage instead of in the audience. A local writer I've worked with, Allison Landa, performed at a local reading series called Lip Service West that specializes in edgy memoir. I submitted one of the deleted chapters from my novel, and it went over fairly well. And I found out that I love performing.

I have a friend who is going to take videos of me performing these pieces, and I'll release them on the net, then compile them into a DVD. We've begun work on this already.

This book is going to be a collection of these short pieces, edited to form a cohesive narrative.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Nick Mamatas called it misery porn, and said that it's unusual to see a guy writing it. Which is interesting, since it's specifically masculine. I think of it as confessional memoir.

The missus calls it autobiographical horror, and she's actually closest to the truth.

4. Which actors would you chose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

What the hell kind of question is that to ask someone about a memoir?

Okay, a young Brendan Frasier. The missus had a thing for him back in the day, and it could work out for me.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

A man struggling with alienation and mental illness resulting from childhood abuse and neglect connects to others and heals himself through art.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It is intended to be professionally published, and I'm feeling some hubris over here. (Knock wood to propitiate the gods; just kidding, fellas.)

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

How long is it going to take, not how long did it take. It depends. It could take years if I dribble it out just as fast as I can get performance gigs, it could take months if someone started signing checks. I'm thinking a year or two until I've got a solid wad of manuscript, but I've got a good start already.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Spalding Gray's Sex and Death to the Age 14 would be the best fit for structure. I'm not thinking of any voices that really resemble mine -- there's a sort of brutal erudition (I kind of hate myself now, and am ending this sentence).

9. Who, or what, inspired you to write this novel?

A couple of years ago, I was hospitalized for a stress-related medical condition. In the wake of that drama, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things. One of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder is a disorganized personal story. PTSD sufferers don't have a clear narrative about themselves and their lives.

In my case, I tend to maintain ambiguous views about myself and the events of my life, and to turn those ambiguities over and over in my mind, compulsively. I try and find every possible misstep I've made, everything I could have done better or should have seen differently.

And this made it impossible for me to write memoir in a really substantial fashion. It was all fluff and vagueness and 'what the hell are you saying, here, anyway?'

While I am struggling to remember things accurately and tell the truth to the absolute limit of my ability, veracity is not the goal. The goal is to choose a personal narrative, a simple declarative story about who I am and where I came from, and then forget about it and move on. It's already working. Since I've started the project, I've grown a lot more comfortable in my skin, and the people around me notice it.

A lot of people write from their trauma. I think there's a point where you're just reinforcing old patterns. I'm writing this stuff out as form of catharsis, so I can go on to write about other things. I want to be able to write from a place of contentment, or even joy.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I have experienced race, class, culture, and gender in a fashion alien to that of most white guys. Growing up in a matriarchal family of working class intellectuals, in a community where the population was mostly black and latino has given me a view of life in the US that seems upside-down and inside-out to a lot of people.

Include the link of who tagged you, and an explanation for who you have tagged.

I repeat, it was Miranda Suri who tagged me.

And when I went to think of people to tag, they fell into two classes. People Miranda already asked, and people who would have every right to kill me if I tried to add any more labors to their current burden.

Then I remembered my new crew at December House!

Neil Vogler!

P.T. Dilloway!

What the hell are you guys up to, anyway?

(Oh -- and yesterday I ate

1 strawberry Ensure

A couple of gulps of almond milk and an apple off the tree

Two hot dogs (Nathan's Famous) on spouted wheat bread and a mixed green salad

A couple of gulps of almond milk and another apple

A slice of salami, a slice of cheddar cheese, five crackers, and two celery sticks.

Sprouted wheat toast, homemade black beans, two fried eggs and salsa verde on a bed of mixed greens. I ate two-thirds and gave the rest to the dogs because I was too full.

I ate like a responsible person. I hated it.)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Over the past couple of years, I've learned that I actually do have some specific deficits that cause me problems. One of the worst and most persistent is a lack of appetite.  I've recently written a piece on my relationship with violence (I'll be reading it at the Litquake Litcrawl next week in San Francisco. Please come!), and it brought home to me my disconnection from my body.

Lately my eating habits have been thrown off, and I started drinking again. Not getting shitfaced, but solitary drinking is bad, period. And I'd been doing so well, for so long.

I looked at it, and realized I've been delaying eating until I'm uncomfortable, then drinking to get an appetite. Keep in mind that my back pain plays into this -- if I followed doctors orders, I'd be a Vicodin addict. But this is the behavior that triggered the vomiting that eventually caused my ulcer a couple of years back, and I'm doing it again.

And it's exactly what my mom would have done.

Mom's been on my mind. The anniversary of her death was last week. When we found out she was going, it was because her neighbor called me and told me someone needed to come put my mother in the hospital. When we found her, she weighed less than eighty pounds.

She had piles of Gourmet magazines all over the house, and two outbuildings full of shelves full of cookbooks.

My mother hated eating, threw up more than anyone I've ever known, never weighed more than a hundred pounds unless she was pregnant. And I'm just like her in a lot of ways.

The missus recently pointed out to me that as an adult, unless I have a woman taking care of me, my weight drifts down to about a hundred and forty-five pounds. For someone my height, that's painfully, visibly underweight. Since my injury, my weight went from a low of one-forty-five to a high of two-fifty-five. Right now, I'm going about two-oh-five, but these days I dip below two hundred during times of stress.

Since my ulcer, I've been eating a lot of processed food. It costs a lot, and it can't possibly be good for me, but the convenience has meant the difference between me eating, and me not eating.

What threw me off? Stress, and the missus has started making herself salads for lunch instead of having me make her vegetables. As a result, I'm no longer tied to a specific lunch time, and she's in the kitchen when I'd be cooking and it just throws everything off. Once I started skipping lunches, I started skipping breakfast as well, which means that I couldn't be bothered to open a bottle of the Ensure I keep at my workstation.

It's nine in the morning, I've been up since seven, my stomach is twitchy. I haven't peed and I haven't had my Ensure. This is exactly what I'm talking about. I'll be back in a moment.

Leak taken, and a strawberry Ensure has been cracked. (Strawberry Ensure has a flavor best described as 'uncanny,' and I won't be having more once this is gone.) But this is the kind of thing I face. If I hadn't been writing on the subject now, I would have blandly sat here until I was in danger of peeing my pants. That is the level of motivation I require. And if the result of not going to the bathroom was injury rather than embarrassment? I'd only pee when things became unbearable.

That is pathological.

I was talking to my counselor about this. One of the main focuses of my therapy has been improving my self-esteem, and I had decided that I was ready to start working toward loving myself, "Look, it's really hard to take care of a human being," I said. "You just can't do the job unless you love the person you're taking care of. It's an indispensable motivation."

When I engage in self-destructive behavior, it hurts the people around me in a much more direct fashion than I'd imagined. Now that I'm starting to take this in, I find my concern for others mandates concern for myself.

So I need to find a way to crack this nut. I need to be able to feed myself, and I especially need to be able to feed myself when I travel.

Thankfully, I am in a better position to hack this than I was a year ago. I've learned a few tricks.

Here's one. I need some sense of outside contact in order to make this change, so I'm going to keep a food diary on the blog. So:


A vanilla Orgain nutritional drink.
A bottle of strawberry soda.
A bowl of beans with a couple of slices of bread.

That looks fucking awful, doesn't it? No wonder I feel shitty. Hopefully, today will be better.

The goal? Three small meals and three snacks a day and no eating three hours before bed is recommended for ulcers. Given my sleeping schedule, I'll cheat a little on that last one. No more processed crap, no more sodas. Just eat like a fucking grownup for the first time in my life.

One day at a time, isn't that what they say?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My New Publisher

Here's one of the big pieces of news I've been holding onto. Do not panic, oaf supporters, I am still diligently pursuing traditional routes of publication.

But, yeah, I am now proud to be a December House writer. Wait a minute, they've upgraded me. I'm an author now! I am now proud to be a December house author. And how I got to be a December House author is a perfect example of the ruling principle of my life: every day is backwards day.

Let's get a little perspective here.

When I started studying writing, there was one type of e-book available, the electronic Bible. E-readers were a prediction, and not a convincing one -- the monitor issue was a long way from being solved.

Then the Kindle hit, and things changed. For better or worse -- I hear good arguments for better, I have good arguments for worse -- e-publication is now part of the publication world, a strange kingdom to itself.

I should say -- the last time I had an argument on e-books? I argued against, my new friend argued for, and we were standing in a bookstore that I had patronized since I was a teenager. The bookstore was closing. This is the world I'm entering as a writer.

Given the relative ease and affordability of the process, an lot of writers have gone to self-published e-books as a major part of their careers, including my pals Samuel T. Crown and Barbara J. Webb. Since I either have or have access to the full range of skills necessary to produce a finished publication, this tempts me.

But I don't trust the world of e-publication. I once had a career as an internet animation writer, and it evaporated overnight when the dotcom crash hit. But I started getting curious. People were claiming they had careers doing this stuff. And then there's the whole, "It's only cowardice that prevents self-publication," argument.

Yeah, cowardice and an interest in bookstore sales and critical recognition. Like it or not, e-publications are at a distance from recognition by the literary community. Right now, I'm seeing bookstores going down, and a digital literary culture forming around the concept of writing fast crap for bargain hunters with specialized tastes, kind of like porno. It's pretty depressing.

And exciting. It is a frontier... and it isn't going away any time soon. The market is real. The market is here.

So while I was sweltering during the last throes of Ghost Rock, I would fantasize about writing fast crap and throwing it out there, pulp-style, just to see what would happen.

The project I had in mind was inspired by some of my favorite books from childhood passing into the public domain, and by my rock alter-ego, Dethro Jethro Peckerwood.

The book was going to be called A Princess of Yuggoth, and it was going to be a white-trash extravaganza meshing A Princess of Mars with The Whisperer in the Darkness. It would open with Dethro Jethro explaining to some Fungi why we no longer call that creepy piece of space trash Yuggoth a planet, and the probable climax would be when Jethro actually gets to grips with Dejah Thoris, to discover, during an act of oral sex, that egg-laying mammals are monotremes.

It was going to be filthy.

Write it in one shot, don't even do spellcheck. Not only would I be doing e-publication, I'd be doing culture of appropriation. Hitting up all my taboos.

Of course, I chickened out. The last thing I want to do is make myself less interesting to the Big Six publishers, and self-publishing willfully incompetent trash seemed a little off.

Then Neil started bugging me. You know Neil Vogler? Writer and musician? An internet pal of mine. Neil had a brilliant plan, which also involved writer P.T. Dilloway. Neil's brilliant plan was appealing to me because it was a perfect example of my leading principle. He found a major event, and figured out how to do the opposite of the approved behavior in order to get attention. (Every day is backwards day.) Neil's brilliant plan involved me doing some writing, and I said no.

A few times.

Neil is both persuasive and tenacious, and if you're willing to work at it, you can pretty much get me to do anything. And one of the reasons I have friends is because they get me into trouble. So I agreed to a semi-commitment. I'd do some, but not all. Just a taste.

Wafer-thin. Just messing around, no big deal, just keeping myself busy between drafts. Nothing to see here.

So I started thinking about what I could do, and I started to get a few ideas percolating, and then Neil went and sold the damned project to an e-publisher. December House, as it happens. And December House had a...

Let me put it this way. December House is not an amateur-night outfit. They are serious. They have real-world experience and tradition-busting approaches. They value the writer. I'll go further. This is the first contract I ever read that felt author-friendly. I might not like the ocean, but this is a hell of a boat. Getting in early with an ambitious crew is not a bad thing at all.

That kind of killed my casual, throwaway attitude. It is now incumbent on me to write a full sequence rather than the half-portion to which I had committed, and to write it well enough to bring credit to my name.

I, being who I am, figured this meant that I was endangering my relationship with the mainstream publishing world, that it might not be good for my reputation, that...

I've got a publisher! This is a career disaster!

(Every day is backwards day.)

Then I remembered my dreams for A Princess of Yuggoth,  And my curiosity about the e-market, which despite my preferences has been the dominant force in my writing career thus far. And all of a sudden, my situation stopped screaming faux pas and started murmuring, 'plausible deniability.'

I have no idea where this is going. But the fun has already justified the work. I love that I signed the contract before I even came up with the ideas for most of the stories. It totally pressed my 'Pro from Dover' buttons.

I will provide further details when the security clearance comes through.