Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Your Digital Footprint Or Finding Brad Land

Writers of fiction generally try to build a platform somewhere online. Be it Goodreads, a blog, an active Facebook page, a smart-ass Twitter account. But then there are the ones who don't. If I could ask Brad Land why he's not online, I would, but he's not online to send him an email or a snappy tweet. He has no digital footprint. Or he doesn't have one that I can find. He might be lurking under a psuedonym, like my kids do on Tumblr, but again, no one can find him that way.

Granted, a few interesting articles are available online about this enigmatic writer, but much of it is old, from when he became well-known in the literary world. He wrote a best-selling memoir in 2005, Goat, published by Random House about young adulthood and violence and two incidents that shaped his life. First, he was abducted and beaten by strangers from a party he attended; then he was hazed at Clemson University while pledging his brother's fraternity, Kappa Sigma. I read the slim, brooding book last month, and his writing threw me back to my own angst-ridden college experiences of trying to fit in (I rushed one fall but didn't pledge. It was a stomach-churning mistake, and sorority life wasn't for me.)

Land wrote his memoir while nearing the end of a graduate program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. It became a national bestseller and next month, a movie will be released based on the book. I didn't know any of this while I was reading the book, but as I was reading, I wanted to know more about Brad Land and his more recent work. So I started to do what anyone in 2016 would do to find a person: google him.

Mostly, old press from Goat populated the search but nothing about him recently. None of my searches on Facebook or Twitter turned up anything, so I tried emailing the publisher. The only email I could find for Random House Trade Publications was to request review copies of books. I sent an email with a subject line, "Interview with author Brad Land," but I got a disheartening generic robo-reply that said, basically, tough cookies.

In a lucky twist, a writer friend of mine said she had interviewed Land once after a reading he gave in Asheville. A review she wrote about his second book, which is still posted online, gave me the best leads. It sent me to an old website of his, www.goatthebook.com, which must have been Land's attempt at the time of Goat's release to hurry up and put up a web presence. The site has some helpful links, but it's also a convoluted, writer-be-damned, who-gives-a-shit site that really doesn't mention Land by name. One of the links goes to an obvious Q&A about the book. I tried the email address on the site. My mail bounced back, undeliverable.

The last place he was known to have lived, according to my online search, was Carborro, NC, where another writer friend of mine also lives. My friend says that he remembers meeting Land once briefly around the time of the memoir's release. But has heard nothing more.

Why did I go through this rigmarole? Because he was from South Carolina, went to grad school for an MFA in creative writing in NC, and wrote a damn good memoir. (His second book, Pilgrims Upon the Earth, was not commercially well-reviewed.) I thought, why not find him and find out what he's working on and see if he can spare some insight on this writing life?

But he's off the grid. Which made me also wonder why so many of us want to be ON the damn grid. Who wants to be an open public record? Who wants to have to continually market or sacrifice privacy for the sake of the constant need for sales or to create searchable content or to feed the public's hunger for the dish? Not that Land is a celebrity, but he certainly made a splash and the subject matter of his book is intriguingly harsh, and the way he wrote the narrative is worth studying.

I had to stop when I felt the urge to google his obit. He's out there, just not interested in the rest of us.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why Writers Need Each Other

It's official. I now have more writer friends than any other kind. Bully! This means maybe, just maybe, I have a chance at making it.

Here's why: Writers pull other writers outta the gutter, the place we trip into regularly, absolutely sure that's where our work should be, and, oops, there we tumble over our shitty drafts. Once we're soaking in the sewage and our pages are illegible, sometimes we feel that's just where we should stay. But it stinks in the muck. Then look up, and lo, see all the other writers who just climbed out of the same stinky gutter but were cleaned off by a good, hard rain. They're offering you a hand up. Jeez, thank you.

Take the help. Squeeze the mother-loving milk out of it and wait for the next rain to rinse off the stench. You'll need that gang of travelers again and again and again. The gutter has a funny gravity and the road won't be any less slippery. My turn comes to extend a hand.

This year, in addition to launching a micro-press BlackBombBooks.com, I feel a need to start a patronage circle for working writers and artists in my community. We all need help, usually in the form of money, and wouldn't it be good to raise a few bucks for CREATIVITY'S SAKE?  Not for a political agenda, or a church, or a disaster fund, but for people who make art and take risks to expose the human condition, entertain us, and make life a lot more interesting.

Nina Hart is our guinea pig. Nina and I met years ago in a group called Women Writing in Asheville. She read these wonderful vignettes that elaborated on quirky characters and situations the likes of which I had never imagined. Her quirky stories of strangeness usually left us all a little excitedly befuddled and wanting more. She kept working on her craft and decided to start her own business, WritingFromTheTopofYourHead.com, to encourage other creative writers. She's been at it for three years now and wants to go to the next level by taking an intensive, yet expensive, training course. I say, let's help. We'll be having a party for her in the coming months. We'll drink, be merry, talk, recite some lines, and generally make life easier on some level for Nina.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Er, Cat Therapy?

Two months ago, my kids convinced me to adopt a new pet. The day-long search ended by bringing home two new pets -- litter mates. We renamed the long-hair domestic feline beasts Fish (gray) and Slayer (black). At the intro of the new cats, my two-year-old short hair, Ollie, made noises we'd never heard before. Deep, unhappy, throaty growls. We immediately began an on-the-fly program of assimilation. One set of cats on the kids' end of the house; the other younger cat on my end; wet food inbetween. We've seemed to survive Ollie's incessant, instantaneous grumbling phase. Now, he just deals, snout in the air. The cats have formed an uneasy alliance. The dog slinks about, trying not to get in their way.

My project list has evolved into a similar state of d├ętente. I have papers in various forms stuffed in folders and anti-version-controlled computer files (anti-version-controlled is my way of saying, if I bother to open it, it must be the right version). One box holds a memoir. On the desk, a folder barely keeps the loose contents of a precious novella. Another stack is marked non-fiction book. An unfinished novel hasn't even justified the ink. Each book doesn't cross territories. I kinda wander in and out of the words, and generally watch passively as they decide whether they want me to pet them.

At some point, all those projects were something like therapy. Good for the gut and brain to spill out. The stories, whether real or made up, had a point and a purpose. Then they become something else. Real objects to consider. Revisions to undertake. Thoughts to apply.

I watch my cats instead. They're easier therapy. I know what to expect out of the fur fatties and their short lifecycles. The books, less so. I'm still trying to define their territory. Maybe I should just kick them out of the house. Tell 'em to make it on their own. I'd done with you, manuscript! Just get out in the world already. Leave me to my cats.