Sunday, February 12, 2017

Art and Hope

Cynicism must be a gene buried deep in the cerebral DNA. That tiny nodule has a pretty good hold on my outlook. How much of our condition is nature versus nurture? I look at my kids and think: Jeez, they turned out so much differently than each other, and yet they essentially had the same environment.

I'm seeing the world change. I wonder if the '60s felt like this, a similar kind of sweeping tide of impossible politics and public distaste. My parents were not protestors. My dad was too old to go to Vietnam, and my mother was busy with two little kids. Domesticity occupied them. Not that they weren't smart and didn't have opinions, just other obligations took up their time.

Asheville protest, Jan 2017
There's a collective call among my friend base to get off our duffs and do something. My plug-in goes right to the news feeds, the ones that legitimately offer objective reporting. I hear you laughing. Objective? Right, you say. But the notion floating around from on high that credible journalism doesn't exist is false. Good reporting is still out there, and the cretins who suggest that all journalists are not worth a dogpile is itself a dogpile. Facts are still verifiable. Eye witness accounts matter. Seeking the input of many sources to put news together is fundamental. Be skeptical of what you read, but be smart. Read broadly. Understand the law. The law may be our only buoy in this sea change.

Our freedom to speak and to do it in public with a poster board may look and feel whiny, but I'm glad we have the right to whine. Let's whine with all our hearts.

Last month, at the Asheville Fringe Festival, I heard protest poetry. Art becomes a tool for the political. Weave a few words into a piece, and suddenly the writer becomes an activist, a visionary, a hope-giver. In a larger sense, isn't the art of great people or the great art of unknown people what we remember? A powerful phrase? Or a compelling photograph that changes public opinion? Or a novel that raises the hair on our perspective? An unforgettable speech? Or maybe just a poster.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Back to Look Ahead: 2017

Never you mind all the unfinished projects in your life going into 2017. If you don't have a few things left to do, what's the point in getting out of bed?

Happy New Year, or maybe scary new year, depending upon your perspective. I tend to take the long-view of life, see events on a long arc of history, but this doesn't always happen, and often, nagging thoughts about my to-do list get the best of me. My to-do list never ends, and this makes me feel unproductive. But moving into a new year, let's take stock.

Overall, 2016 was a poor writing year for me. Personally, I wrote zero fiction. Zero fiction is not a new genre, like emo manga (which by the way, may or may not be a genre; it just sounds like it should be). Zero fiction, if I were to invent it, would be fiction without punctuation marks. Probably already exists and is labeled something else.

"Licking Flames" Diana Kirk
No, what I mean is that I didn't write anything last year that could be classified as fiction. This sounds as if I were a lazy bum in 2016, but in fact, I was busier than ever. I went back to school, foolishly, to study IT. Guess what? I'm a better writer than a computer programmer. PHP made me crazy. Bleech.

Fortunately, I kept my little micro-press engines boiling by editing and publishing a really great collection of essays by Diana Kirk, who lives in my adopted second home, Portland, Ore. Her project, of the many in my 2016 planner, took a great deal of focus because we essentially started from scratch. She didn't have a manuscript, per se. She had a loose collection. Her book came out Dec. 1. All of you, go buy it. She's outrageous. Strong. Ballsy. Hilarious. She's a go-getter who pushed Black Bomb Books (BBB) to a new level. Her book is "Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy" and definitely A+ material.

"Diamonds and Moths"
Next, I worked with another writer, my friend Steve Wechselblatt, on a book of short stories, which will be published by BBB this March. He'd been running several short stories through a critique group that we'd formed, and I thought they deserved an airing. His book "Diamonds and Moths" will be the fifth title for BBB.

I've also been reading manuscripts because I'd like to publish a memoir. Two submissions on are on my list to read this month. I read one in October by a woman who was a dominatrix for most of her adult life. And, she had already written about the subject successfully for her own small press and is considered an authority on the pleasure of pain in sex. Wow. It was a pretty interesting subject, but in the end, I decided against it. It was written well, but I look at new work and ask myself, 'Do I want to spend a year on this?' And sometimes my gut answer is no. Selecting material is all subjective and gives me a new perspective on why agents and publishing houses don't say yes very often.

Frances Figart "Seasons of Letting Go"
I spent a considerable part of the summer working for a few magazines, specifically The Laurel of Asheville and Carolina Home + Garden, both wonderful regional publications. The Laurel work led me to help the new editor, Frances Figart, publish a book about her perspectives on grief. She helped her mother during the final months of her life. I worked as a publishing consultant to funnel her book, "Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die," into channels for publication. It's available now and is selling well.

I also finally started the motions to layout a non-fiction book that has been put away in a folder for some time, one of my own, a compilation of magazine articles about artists in the Northwest from my reporting for a trade journal about leather goods. While living in Portland, I met many people who make a living with their hands creating boots and saddle and tack, beautiful stuff, and now that book will come out in 2017. I had a draft of it finished two years ago. But, good intentions often fall to the wayside.

"The Gulf of Folly" Doug Storm
I would be remiss not to mention the poetry collection BBB put out last February, a fine volume of work by Doug Storm in Bloomington, Indiana. As a set, like Steve's essays, Doug's poems work some sort of magic when grouped together. Maybe my long-view of life also informs my editorial self. On a side note, Doug resisted titling his book "The Gulf of Folly," a reference to a Melville passage, but I finally convinced him it was the strongest one of a long, long list. Those damn lists, again.

All this happened in 2016 while I moved back into the professional sector. I'm lending my skills to improve understanding of the science behind climate and weather, and oh, the many new things I've learned tell me the world is in a tentative place.

I will be returning to writing fiction again this year. I'm clearing space to finish my last Musketeer book. It's taken me a while to create the time, but this will happen in 2017. And then, there's that novella on my list...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Urge to NaNo

NaNoing in the writing world has nothing to do with the study of very small things. NaNoing has an entirely different meaning and, ironically, entails the production of a large set of words within a short time period. If you participate in National Novel Writing Month, you are NaNoing.

Last year, I NaNoed (is the slang annoying you yet?) and attempted to write my last Musketeer novel in the month of November by hammering out 1600+ words a day until I reached the 50K-word mark. I fell 15K words short. (This very day, I'm about 13K short. I know, I know...) Thanksgiving arrived, and that put a meat fork in my productivity.

The exercise challenged me to not belabour any details and keep moving. My crit group read sections as I moved along, and the story almost moved along too quickly. It seemed to keep the same pace as the month, fast and sloppy. It's an attractive exercise in no regrets, no layers. You just go for it. I've heard lots of names for this type of writing: stream of consciousness, downloading, free writing (which can be more personal), or the ever popular, puking on the page.

Now that fall has come back around and the days are closing in on Nov. 1, I'm thinking again about whether to give it another try. My story could use an ending and NaNo focuses the mind on the task: writing the draft. This is such an important, crucial step in a book. You have no book if you don't have a draft. That idea gurgling around in your head? All you have is an idea, mildy formed, amusingly mythical, until you put words on the paper. Then you have something. It might be trash, but it's trash in actual black and white that can be edited, revised, manipulated. In my case, layered. I need to add layers and details and give the story a little heft.

Maybe the turn of the season or the way light is starting to diminish more each day causes NaNo to pull at me a little. C'mon, Do It. The challenge and the companionship (because there are thousands participating and a networking website) change the lone-writer reality into a competition and a virtual party. That said, I don't think I'll ever write a book in a month. My habits (bad, maybe) and thought processes don't support a high daily word count. I like thinking about my sentences/plots, and finding the best way to tell the story and its nuances. I'll sit for 10 minutes on one sentence. It's not painful. It's particular. I want to tell the story the way I feel the story.

But, boy, NaNoWriMo makes you write. And right now, I could sure use a little virtual party and an ending to my book.