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Radio, Weight, and Ron Artest

June 19, 2010

So much talk about and so little time, so here it is, presented in glorious low definition for your approval: The Weekly Wrap.

  • Why is it that, if you’re black, when you think about Atlanta you also think about Lithonia, but Douglasville is “way out there”?  By my calculations, Lithonia is 19 miles east of Atlanta and Douglasville is 22 miles west — but Douglasville might as well be in Alabama for all most people care.  Why that is, I don’t know, but it doesn’t really seem like that big a difference to me.
  • I listen to radio now, believe it or not.  In Tennessee, I’d stopped doing it.  There was just nothing on the air waves for me.  But now I’m back in Atlanta and when I’m driving I actually turn on the radio.  It’s a big development in my life.  It’s a good feeling, but now I realize I’ve been in a time warp for the past ten years.  The music that was hot when I left in 2001 sounds nothing like the stuff that’s hot now.  I listen to the radio and scratch my head.  My God.  Has the music changed that much in ten years?
  • Besides the fact that I’m starting to sound like an old person — you know, one of those “music ain’t as good as it used to be” geezers — I do find that I keep up with current events more now.  I tend to avoid the evening news because it seems to promote unrest and negativity, so without V-103 I wouldn’t have heard about the  Seattle police officer who made me think about Wayne Brady choking a bitch.  Nor would I have heard about the recent study that proves, without a doubt, what I already knew: Overweight men can sexual partner faster than overweight women.  As if I needed a scientific study to tell me that.
  • (Also, check out my recent vista: Less is Not More.  Except when it comes to value meals, it seems we’re prejudiced against “surplus” of any kind in this world.)
  • Last but not least, in honor the Lakers victory, the Comment of the Week via Ron Artest: “I just got to thank Coach Jackson for having me and Kobe and the Lakers for giving me this opportunity, and I’m really, really just enjoying this, and I just can’t wait to go to the club.”

And that’s the Weekly Wrap.

Next Vista: Wednesday, June 23, 2010, “The Power of Cheese Grits.”

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Take a Lick, Keep on Ticking

June 16, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 16, 2009: Success at the Pitch Conference… but not totally.

What a difference a day makes.

Last entry, feeling as if a frog had pissed on my writing dream, I wrote a despondent entry about scratching my plans for The Twin Paradox and moving my efforts instead to a rewrite of Michael’s House that I’m calling The Inner Limit.  Today, some three days removed, this entry will be decidedly more cheerful, and more thoughtful as well, and the reason is simple: an editor at the conference gave me his email address and told me to send him the manuscript.

Before I get to the specifics, I should first tell you that I went into the Sunday morning pitch session as confident as the day before.  Writing in this journal Saturday night helped restore my confidence the way writing throughout my life has helped during periods of setback and disappointment.  Writing is more than a creative process to me, there’s also a measure of healing that occurs when I put my words on paper, when I transform emotion into elegant thought.  As I soon as I finished the last entry, in fact, I felt completely healed, and ready for another row in the ring with self-doubt.  Writing, at least to me, is like the helm of Jesus’s robe: All I need do for salvation is reach out and touch it.

Competitiveness plays a factor, too, I’m sure.  Though I’ve never been the trash-talking, finger-in-your face guy, there was always a quiet fire inside of me.  I think some of it has to do with a similar affliction among younger siblings, an issue I refer fondly to, at least in my case, as LBS: Little Brother Syndrome.  I may exhibit all those other typical competitive traits, but you better believe at the end of the day I’ve always believed I was going to be first and you were going to be second — in school, in sports, in love, in anything.  The way I saw it, I had already been born second in my family; damn if I was going to be second to anyone else.

So it wasn’t too surprising when, after I had written my entry and watched a little of the NBA Finals with Dwight Howard, [2009] NBA leader in blocks and Defensive Player of the Year, that I found myself thinking about resiliency, and how it is not only crucial to dream-achievement, but in life as well.  There’s a great line in Rocky Balboa, which aside from its weaknesses as a movie franchise that won’t die, has always, always been about the importance of grit and determination over skill.  In a dramatic conversation with his son, who doesn’t want Rocky to get back in the ring, Rocky says (paraphrased): “Life’s about how hard of a hit you can take and still stand up again.  And trust me, no one in the world is ever going to hit you harder than life’s gonna hit you.  No one.”

Amen, Brother Stallone.  Amen.

I’ve been hit so hard by life that even I don’t know why I talk like this.

Some of life’s hardest swings are the character building food that has shaped me into the person I am today.  From piano to sports, and even in my love life, I’ve taken blows across the chin.  Falling down, I’ve found, is simply the +1 Game of Life.  When you fall down, even if you get knocked down, the game is even: 0-0; 2348-2348.  By standing up again you always get +1.  You always win.

The disappointment of Saturday was another swing from life, a vicious left cross that looked like several of the haymakers that I’ve encountered over the last seven years trying to do this writing thing.  And, truthfully, some of the pain didn’t have the noblest of origins.  (The truth is I thought I was better than eighty-percent of the people in my group, and knew I had been at it longer).

But I got another chance on Sunday and as I have been doing all my life, I was confident, poised, and this time an editor at Random House, although he said The Twin Paradox might be too sci-fi for his tastes, asked to see the manuscript.

Now for the second hurdle in this publishing maze: What to do about the fact that The Twin Paradox isn’t finished since the topic didn’t come up while the editor and I talked.  It’s exactly the kind of dilemma I wanted to have when I went to the NY Pitch Conference, but now that it’s here — like a lot of things in life — shit, I’m reconsidering.

Maybe pitching a book that is less than 30% finished wasn’t such a good idea.

New York Pitch and Shop

June 9, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 9, 2009: THE INNER LIMIT is born (or, depending on how you choose to look at it, reborn).

Dashed Dreams.

First things first, today is actually Saturday, June 13, 2009.  It’s raining slightly, as it has been all week, and my shirt is moist from the jaunt back from Utica Avenue station.  It’s 5:19 PM.

I’m depressed.

I’ve been rejected once again.

Well, truthfully, rejected isn’t the word I would use.  As part of the New Pitch and Shop Conference, I’ve pitched three agents/editors over the past three days, as have the rest of my group of sixteen or so.  I pitched The Twin Paradox as you should already know as a soft science fiction novelization of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” If I do say so myself, it was one of the best pitches at the conference and didn’t change much during peer review.

Our workshop leader, who’s worked with Eric Jerome Dickey, loved it, and when I finished my pitch off to the editor with my two-line summary of the novel — “Some people lead double lives.  Others, like Kendall, have two to live.” — I got unanimous “Wows”.  Three other people, including a girl I helped improve and craft her pitch, got business cards.  Me: I got nothing.  Not even a sniff.

Thus: depression and the self-pitying jaunt down diary lane.

Of course, I have one more editor pitch tomorrow morning and I knew coming in with a half-completed and genre-skewing novel, it would be a tough sell.  But still… I’m disappointed.  I had only one hope coming in to this conference, and I’ve said it before: Contacts.  I hoped the pitch/concept of The Twin Paradox would be appealing enough that an editor would have the forethought to say, “You know, this is good, when you finish it send me a copy.”  Perhaps it was foolishness, and even naive, to hope for such a thing.

And I know the truth of the matter:  To become a published author it only takes one editor, and tomorrow could be the day I find the one.  But it was hard today.  I got asked twice today if I was a published author and I was able to mention the Honorable Mention in New Millennium Writings and even being a finalist in the Author! Author! censorship contest (which I found out about on Monday), but none of it helped.  The editors said “Good,” but apparently when I left the room, the next word out of their mouths was “Next!”

So I rode the fabled A-train home with my head down.  Thought about my future.  Since we were in Ripley-Grier Studios with dance and singing auditions all around us (the location, according to the website, of American Idol tryouts), I thought about all the people in the world who are trying to achieve their dream, and how many of those dreams must inevitably be dashed upon the pavement.  Perhaps I’m one of the ones who’s not meant to make it, the bridesmaid that never becomes the bride.  But I don’t want that to be the case, can’t accept it if it is.  All I can do is proceed forward, and I think I know what I’ll do.

Michael’s House.  I’m bringing it out of the closet.  I’ve been thinking about it off and on now, and even though it didn’t work with The Twin Paradox, I know how to pitch a novel now.  I see how I can rewrite Michael’s House with improvements, change the name to something like The Inner Limit, and keep going forward from there.

It’s all I can do.

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 9, 2009: THE INNER LIMIT is born (or, depending on how you choose to look at it, reborn).

First things first, today is actually Saturday, June 13, 2009.  It’s raining slightly, as it has been all week, and my shirt is moist from the jaunt back from Utica Avenue station.  It’s 5:19 PM.

I’m depressed.

I’ve been rejected once again.

Well, truthfully, rejected isn’t the word I would use.  As part of the New Pitch and Shop Conference, I’ve pitched three agents/editors over the past three days, as have the rest of my group of sixteen or so.  I pitched The Twin Paradox as you should already know as a soft science fiction novelization of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”  If I do say so myself, it was one of the best pitches at the conference and didn’t change much during peer review.

Our workshop leader, who’s worked with Eric Jerome Dickey, loved it, and when I finished my pitch off to the editor with my two-line summary of the novel — “Some people lead double lives.  Others, like Kendall, have two to live.” — I got unanimous “Wows”.  Three other people, including a girl I helped improve and craft her pitch, got business cards.  Me: I got nothing.  Not even a sniff.

Thus: depression and the self-pitying jaunt down diary lane.

Of course, I have one more editor pitch tomorrow morning and I knew coming in with a half-completed and genre-skewing novel, it would be a tough sell.  But still… I’m disappointed.  I had only one hope coming in to this conference, and I’ve said it before: Contacts.  I hoped the pitch/concept of The Twin Paradox would be appealing enough that an editor would have the forethought to say, “You know, this is good, when you finish it send me a copy.”  Perhaps it was foolishness, and even naive, to hope for such a thing.

And I know the truth of the matter:  To become a published author it only takes one editor, and tomorrow could be the day I find the one.  But it was hard today.  I got asked twice today if I was a published author and I was able to mention the Honorable Mention in New Millennium Writings and even being a finalist in the Author! Author! censorship contest (which I found out about on Monday), but none of it helped.  The editors said “Good,” but apparently when I left the room, the next word out of their mouths was “Next!”

So I rode the fabled A-train home with my head down.  Thought about my future.  Since we were in Ripley-Grier Studios with dance and singing auditions all around us (the location, according to the website, of American Idol tryouts), I thought about all the people in the world who are trying to achieve their dream, and how many of those dreams must inevitably be dashed upon the pavement.  Perhaps I’m one of the ones who’s not meant to make it, the bridesmaid that never becomes the bride.  But I don’t want that to be the case, can’t accept it if it is.  All I can do is proceed forward, and I think I know what I’ll do.

Michael’s House.  I’m bringing it out of the closet.  I’ve been thinking about it off and on now, and even though it didn’t work with The Twin Paradox, I know how to pitch a novel now.  I see how I can rewrite Michael’s House with improvements, change the name to something like The Inner Limit, and keep going forward from there.

It’s all I can do.

Less Is Not More

June 2, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, June 2, 2009: Nothing of interest, although I’m two weeks away from attending the New York Pitch and Shop Conference.

Of course it isn't, stupid.

I read a lot of reviews, okay?  I call myself researching the market and considering the range of stories, mostly on the New York Times, that are considered worthy or intriguing enough to have a hyperlink affixed to them.  I’m a human and I have an engineering background — I notice patterns.  Overwhelmingly, I notice a preference among reviewers for writing that is concise and works that exhibit an “economy of words”.  In other words, the message I’ve gotten from reading reviews these days: Less is more.

I don’t know why I bristle every time I read a review promoting this weltanschauung.  As I like to say: Revision is my Muse.  Sometimes the only solution for a problem in the text or the manuscript is simply to cut it out and start over, or cut it out and leave it gone.  Stephen King, one of my mentors (unofficial, of course), uses a 10% rule on word count when he’s editing a work, and although I’ve made no hard and fast rules in the process of rewriting, I’m always looking for ways to express my thoughts and ideas in fewer words.  There’s power in trimming the fat.  I cannot, and will not, deny it.

It’s not too far-fetched to say we are prejudiced against ampleness in books the way we are, especially in Western society, prejudiced against obesity in people, most notably in women.  And since women are the largest buyer of books…

Yet, even though I know this, I still bristle when reviewers praise sparse word use over verbosity.  On one hand, since I’ve seen it so much, I get the impression that book reviewing, like publishing itself, like expert analysis in any field it seems, is a copycat trade that has only gotten more pandemic with the speed of information transmission.  One reviewer says something unique, and then every reviewer or expert says a derivative of the same thing, as if the repetition is more indicative of truth than it is of brainwashing.

For instance, in the NBA play-offs [last] year, the Orlando Magic was branded as the team that couldn’t be “trusted” by one ESPN NBA analyst, and then before you knew it every ESPN analyst was saying the same thing, as if “cannot be trusted” was the ESPN-approved view of Orlando. It didn’t matter that such statements flew in the face of observable evidence to the contrary.

Orlando beat Philadelphia in Game 6 in Philadelphia without Dwight Howard — but they couldn’t be trusted to beat the Celtics.  Orlando beat Boston in Games 6 and 7, with Game 7 in Boston — and yet, when they were up on Cleveland 3-2 heading back for Game 6, in Orlando, they couldn’t be trusted.  I’m not an Orlando Magic fan, but the more I see of this critical copycat analysis, the more I am convinced that I have to make my own decisions about what is good and what isn’t, and leave the speculating to the so-called pros.

But, back to the taintless world of publishing and NYT peer and expert reviews.  I suppose this is a very fitting discussion since last week I presented an article on the subtle censorship that exists in trend analysis and forecasting based on historical data, and how that subtlety, especially in the subjective fiction ranks, gets more pronounced when race is an added variable.  It would appear from everything that I read that reviewing is also a subtle form a censorship.  Write a book longer than 450 pages and, tsk tsk, you just haven’t done your job as an author.  On the other hand, write a trim, powerful, 254 pages and, my God, all praise the second coming of Herman Melville.

Oops.  I meant to say Hemingway instead of Herman, but more than likely you don’t believe I made any such mistake; you believe there was purpose, perhaps even prestidigitation, in my name-dropping.  Yes.  I admit it.  I wanted to place Moby Dick and A Farewell to Arms in the same sentence, see how many modern readers and reviewers cringed at the juxtaposition.  I wanted to show how length alone, even in the face of modern fiction’s skew toward Hemingway’s economy, can never be the sole measuring stick of excellence.  Just ask Shakespeare, Alex Haley, or Tolstoy if they feel any differently.  I’m sure they’ll side with me.

Less is more as a modern publishing zeitgeist isn’t even uniform across genre.  For the past two weeks I’ve been preparing for my trip to New York.  We leave Saturday, June 6th [2009]; the conference starts Thursday, June 11th [2009]; Monday, June 15th [2009], we return.  I’ll take with me the pitch that I’ve rewritten over the past three weeks using examples gleaned from the local library, a local Books-A-Million, and the books that I own.

One of the things I learned: the novels in the Cleveland [Tennessee] Public library aren’t very indicative of what’s selling now, and in some cases, what’s been selling for the past two decades.

Second lesson: Even though I thought I had done it before this was first time that I thought critically about where my book should appear in the book store, how it should be categorized, what titles I want to appear next to The Twin Paradox.

Which led to the last realization, which I stated three paragraphs ago: Genre implies length and in some genres, like science fiction and fantasy — which is where, for wont of a more fitting better category, I will market The Twin Paradox as — historically speaking, less certainly isn’t more.

I read more than the New York Times, of course.  As my essay stated last week, I also read Publishers Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, and pretty much anything that I can find with reviews and insight into the state of the industry I’m trying to break into.

Word is, there’s pressure from bookstores on authors of the sci-fi and fantasy community to write smaller books so that more product can fit on the bookshelves.  Moby Dick is great, and so is The Fourth Saga of the Elflund Dragon, complete at 1251 pages; but it costs the same price as Lisa’s New Boyfriend: Or How to be Swanky, Fabulous and Bitchy, Lose Fifty Pounds, Smoke Tobacco-less Cigarettes and Get Any Damn Man You Want and All the Other Haters Can Kiss Your Ass and Blog About it if They Want, You Don’t Give A Shit, which is a crisp, rollicking 212 pages.  So the bookstore can fit 10 of Jenny’s New Boyfriend on the shelf while they can only fit two of The Elflund Dragon.

An economy of words, they claim?  Yes, indeed.  If I’m reading the present trends correctly, before long the subtitles will be longer than the books themselves.

Furthermore, it’s not too far-fetched to say we are prejudiced against ampleness in books the way we are, especially in Western society, prejudiced against obesity in people, most notably in women.  And since women are the largest buyer of books…

I don’t, of course, want to appear insensitive to the needs of bookstores.  If I was a bookstore owner, and was faced with living and breathing extinction as nearly all of them are, I’d want to hedge my bets, make sure my offering was diversified.  I cannot, and do not, blame them for taking this stance.  And, at the same time, as an author who swears by revision (which is why I haven’t published a blog by the way) [it should be obvious why I marked through this statement], I understand the power of redaction, and see my writing improve with each word I erase.

But it is categorically irresponsible, from a reader’s standpoint, for a reviewer to defame a book on the basis of length alone, or make side-angle comments that decrease luster because there were, in the reviewer’s opinion, 10K more words than there should have been.  Perhaps I show readers too much credit and not enough to those who do the reviewing, especially since there are more books on the market and nowhere near the number of reviewers to do them justice.  I just know that, as a reader, if the story is good, if the writing is compelling, I am unconcerned with length.  As a reader, when the story is good, you never want it to end, and the really good stories stay with you long after you’ve finished.  So how, in this context, could less ever be more?

The Weekly Wrap Returns

May 29, 2010

Missing in action but not soon forgotten, The Weekly Wrap returns like Superman on a five-year search for planet Krypton, or Batman returning to face a darkly comic Joker, or like me retuning to Atlanta after 9 long years away.  I’ve been silent, but trust when I say I have been busy.  Excuses aside, it’s time to get this ball rolling again, so without further ado here it is.  I can hear the rumble in your stomach: The Weekly Wrap.

  • I came across this story in CITY JOURNAL while reading comments at Dar Kush, which ultimately led to this story, which ultimately led me to save CITY JOURNAL in my favorites.  I can’t do either article justice here in the Weekly Wrap, but Benjamin Plotinsky’s got some very thought-provoking suppositions.  I’ve seen something similar to the black angel premise in the NEW YORK TIMES piece How the Movies Made a President, but still, that’s like comparing the words Jeep and jeepers (as in jeepers creepers).  Obviously, there’s a relationship, but both words — and both articles — stand on their own.  And the Sci-Fi/Religion piece was phenomenal — just up my ally.  I’ll be watching Plotinsky and CITY JOURNAL in the future.
  • Is the world getting more religious?  That’s a question I hadn’t thought about until reading Plotinsky’s “How Science Fiction Found Religion”, but that got me wondering.  I’ve spent the last nine years living in Cleveland, TN — home to the headquarters of Church of God International, and Lee University, a Christ-centered liberal arts school.  Bradley County, where we lived, was a dry county, so to buy cooking wine we had to drive to Chattanooga.  Maybe I don’t recognize the influx of Christianity because I’ve lived so close to it, and also because, personally, I’ve chosen to go in a different direction.  But I’m in Atlanta now — again, anyway — and I woke up at 6:30 AM this Thursday, turned on V103,  and there was Frank Ski doing a devotional.  An hour and a half later, there was Ricky Smiley playing “Order My Steps” and talking to a pastor.  The Ricky Smiley incident was particularly humorous because as soon as the religious segment was over, the next thing they talked about was Role-Playing in the Bedroom.
  • But the supposed increase/perceived need of religion in the world has been high on my radar all week.  I walked into Chik-fil-A and saw their mission statement bold and clear: “That we might glorify God by being a faithful steward in all that is entrusted to our care…”  As I was driving to Asheville, NC this week I happened upon 106.9, the Light, and listened as I drove.  Was my heart convicted to the point of conversion?  Nowhere close.  But still I listened.  Still I wondered if there was something that I was missing or being stubborn about.  Especially with in comes to New Age Christian rock music.  As I listened to the Light I found myself thinking about the so-called Motown sound, and particularly, the Motown drummer.  All Christian rock music sounds the same to me, just like how all Motown songs sound the same.  And don’t even get me started on the fact that not once in four hours did I hear a Christian song from another genre — not even Yolanda Adams.  But I suppose it wouldn’t be in rotation if there wasn’t demand for it.  Apparently, that demand isn’t coming from me.

And that’s the Weekly Wrap.

Next Vista: Wednesday, June 2, 2010, “Less Is Not More.”

The Words Not Written

May 19, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, May 19, 2009: I finish writing The Words Not Written, which in hindsight may be the turning point in my maturation as a writer.

A road diverges...

As you can tell, my weekly discipline over the past two Tuesdays has declined and furthermore, if you can’t see the evidence, I’ll share a secret: Today isn’t really Tuesday, May 19 [2009] as the header says; today’s Wednesday, May 20!  A Tuesday Times entry written on a Wednesday — for shame.  For shame[Blogging is still a few months away, and I’m still thinking of this as a personal journal called The Tuesday Times.] You could almost think since I barely remembered beyond the last possible moment to fulfill even this entry that perhaps the timing and energy for the project is gone, and that soon the entire enterprise will implode for lack of enthusiasm.

But I wouldn’t go so far just yet.  A brief recap of my activities shows that last week I was in Fayetteville, NC for my job and the opportunity to write escaped during late night dinners with the team.  And don’t even get me started there.  The topic of discussion among my co-workers, always of peculiar interest to me since I am one of the few people in Corporate America (indeed in the world) who does not drink, was a shot called A Finger in Your Ass that someone had had at a club in Florida and liked.  This person being male, well… perhaps you can see what path this conversation went down without much more, uh, prodding.  Human resource types the world over are shuddering at the thought.

And on top of that I was once again testing myself literarily, finishing off a piece on censorship that was, at the time, due on May 18th.  (Since then I learned that the deadline has been extended, because of judge unavailability, to June 1st.)  In any case, Author! Author! is an excellent blog in my humble opinion, and I’ve learned more about authorship and the publishing dating game reading it than any before.

Even in the last week, because of what I read on Anne Mini’s blog, I changed my standard manuscript format — because it wasn’t until then that I realized underlining text to signify italics is old hat.  The wealth of information on this blog (and passion, lest we forget) is truly staggering, and for those who know, being confident in format is just as crucial as confidence in authorial voice.  Because if the work isn’t in the format the gatekeepers except to see, they just won’t read it.

Welcome, my pretties, to the world of the beautiful girl who everyone wants to be with, and who can therefore be selective and unreasonable in her demands.

The surprising thing is it’s a contest on censorship and prior to reading about it, which supplements monetary awards with publication on a super-well read blog and barter-esque editorial phone consultations, I hadn’t thought formally about censorship much.  So when I say it was a test it literally was: I wanted to see what I could come up with off the top of my head.  So here it is.  As a treat for me missing the last two weeks and slouching on this entry, I’ll include the entire 1000-word piece as a supplement to this entry.  What else can I say?  Enjoy.

[In lieu of writing the excerpt below, you can also click here and show Anne Mini some much-belated Internet love.  And for the record I don’t like the picture, but that’s another story.]

The Words Not Written

I’m black but I don’t wear it on my sleeve.  With a post-racial president in the White House it’s not the chic thing to do anyway but inevitably when I write, query, do all of those decidedly non-author tasks like considering audience and marketing, I find myself at an all too familiar fork in the path — a choice between what I think is acceptable for a writer of my genus-blind talents and what the publishing and literary magnates are slobbering (or, more often, not slobbering for) from a writer like me.  I make a choice between the branches because I have to, going with my gut.  Not surprisingly, I write to match.

In addition to my race, I’m also the gambling sort who often mistakes his recklessness for confidence, but I feel neither reckless nor over-confident by claiming a fraternity among authors.  Authorship is a solitary path but far from peculiar.  If you’re reading this then surely at some point in your journey you’ve come to a similar fork in the path — you’ve made a choice.  We all have.  Maybe you recognized when it happened and maybe you didn’t, but the capital A Author you dreamed of being as a child and the adjective author you’ve become as an adult are two separate authors altogether.  Be it romance, sci-fi, black, [fill in the blank with whatever your group is, italics please], or, for the special major among us with many affiliations, MFAs (multiple flouncing adjectives) — whatever the case may be we are a family so lost in the winding forest of specialization and genre and the subtle censorship it employs that our readers need prescriptive directions on how to find us.  Conversely, despite all that flouncing, the adjectives make us that much easier to ignore.

The reasons for this I will leave for an anthropologist to explain (perhaps from the fossilized remains of another unheard traveler who has died along the way) but I recall a famous adage about authors striving to remove themselves from story, which guides my decision at the fork but presents a dilemma when art meets market and the gatekeeper at the conference is saying, “The writing’s beautiful, but [your group]… they don’t necessarily constitute a book-buying majority, do they?”, and I’m saying, stifling my anger because what I’ve written has implications beyond the group(s) I nominally represent, “How do you know that?”, and they’re replying, definitively, “BookScan, of course.  Seventy percent of all hard cover book sales.”  When you’re faced with that kind of irredactable evidence of what the market will support how do forget about the MFA author that you’ve become?  And how do I, when the black, male, married without children, thirty-one year old cheese grits lover that I am says so much about what I should be writing, and what I shouldn’t?

I am, of course, being facetious about BookScan and any other self-corroborating market analysis that willfully ignores the chicken-or-the-egg paradoxes their numbers represent.  That’s a mouthful so allow me to translate: Self-doubt’s a predator in these here woods, and if I spent my energy viewing the future from an outpost constructed from the past I would’ve succumbed to the nighttime caterwauls and weariness a long time ago.  Instead I prefer to believe in a different future, a different world where possibility, even in publishing, is not restricted to those things that can be plotted on a moving average trend chart.  I prefer to be as delusional in my belief as the gatekeepers are willfully ignorant and trusting in their data.  I prefer, in short, to believe in truth that is stranger than fiction.

Just the same, though, as any unpublished author is told to do, I pay attention to national and regional bestsellers lists, and stay abreast of deal making through Publishers Marketplace.  I read the bets that are being made by independent and major bookies alike; I recognize the regurgitation of theme and plot and an infatuation among many for old stories newly told.  I’ve become aware through observation of something I never expected when I was learning to read with Dick and Jane — storytelling as the original green industry.

And I have my moments of weakness.  Gatekeepers want comparables so they can link historical data and establish precedence, but book and author are inseparable entities.  My novel can be similar to another but I have yet to find an author whose passion for cheese grits matches my own, and that difference (among others) invalidates the comparison, and possibly the sell.  Not so in post-racial America, you say, but I’ve been told fiction is a subjective category, and in matters of subjectivity I have to wonder when and where the data parsing stops.  Which makes me linger occasionally at the fork in the road when most of the time the choice is unconscious.  There’s a way to end this interminable wandering, a novel I could write.  I see pieces of it through the undergrowth down the other path, the byproduct of scientific prognostication and market-savvy adjective art run amuck: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man… with fangs.  This high concept novel may be self-explanatory but allow me to translate anyway: Are you telling me in this perilous market climate that some literary honcho wouldn’t clear his or her schedule to read about a teenage, 1930s vampire in an inter-racial relationship (meticulously researched, of course) whose need for blood is just as conflicting as his need for social justice?  Is that your stance?

Wait.  Before you answer, someone in the peanut gallery just keeled over from The Wiz revulsion.  For those who don’t know, The Wiz revulsion is a gag response brought on by an acute sense of entertainment embarrassment that makes your unprocessed food want to get on down get on down the road…

But I’ve lingered at the fork too long.  In truth, the shunned path is neither commonplace nor unremarkable and it’s a lazy man’s game classifying it as such — it’s a personal choice.  Like everything else in these woods the difference between something familiar and something merely cliché is subjective.  I, like every other traveler, must make that distinction and I’ve made it, following a creative process the US Banking system could’ve benefited from, booking my value as an artist on my ability to be original rather than derivative, an A Author rather than a MFA author.  Oh that I have chosen wisely and there is a sigh in this for me somewhere ages hence.  I don’t know that there is — I don’t know if there can be.  I have a feeling, though, that if there is, I’ll rejigger the facts in hindsight à la BookScan and say my choice made all the difference.

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Notable News from a Year Ago, May 19, 2010: I finish writing The Words Not Written, which in hindsight may be the turning point in my maturation as a writer.

As you can tell, my weekly discipline over the past two Tuesdays has declined and furthermore, if you can’t see the evidence, I’ll share a secret: Today isn’t really Tuesday, May 19 [2009] as the header says; today’s Wednesday, May 20!  A Tuesday Times entry written on a Wednesday — for shame.  For shame[Blogging is still a few months away, and I’m still thinking of this as a personal journal called The Tuesday Times.] You could almost think since I barely remembered beyond the last possible moment to fulfill even this entry that perhaps the timing and energy for the project is gone, and that soon the entire enterprise will implode for lack of enthusiasm.

But I wouldn’t go so far just yet.  A brief recap of my activities shows that last week I was in Fayetteville, NC for my job and the opportunity to write escaped during late night dinners with the team.  And don’t even get me started there.  The topic of discussion among my co-workers, always of peculiar interest to me since I am one of the few people in Corporate America (indeed in the world) who does not drink, was a shot called A Finger in Your Ass that someone had had at a club in Florida and liked.  This person being male, well… perhaps you can see what path this conversation went down without much more, uh, prodding.  Human resource types the world over are shuddering at the thought.

And on top of that I was once again testing myself literarily, finishing off a piece on censorship that was, at the time, due on May 18th.  (Since then I learned that the deadline has been extended, because of judge unavailability, to June 1st.)  In any case, Author! Author! is an excellent blog in my humble opinion, and I’ve learned more about authorship and the publishing dating game reading it than any before.

Even in the last week, because of what I read on Anne Mini’s blog, I changed my standard manuscript format — because it wasn’t until then that I realized underlining text to signify italics is old hat.  The wealth of information on this blog (and passion, lest we forget) is truly staggering, and for those who know, being confident in format is just as crucial as confidence in authorial voice.  Because if the work isn’t in the format the gatekeepers except to see, they just won’t read it.

Welcome, my pretties, to the world of the beautiful girl who everyone wants to be with, and who can therefore be selective and unreasonable in her demands.

The surprising thing is it’s a contest on censorship and prior to reading about it, which supplements monetary awards with publication on a super-well read blog and barter-esque editorial phone consultations, I hadn’t thought formally about censorship much.  So when I say it was a test it literally was: I wanted to see what I could come up with off the top of my head.  So here it is.  As a treat for me missing the last two weeks and slouching on this entry, I’ll include the entire 1000-word piece as a supplement to this entry.  What else can I say?  Enjoy.

[In lieu of writing the excerpt below, you can also click here and show Anne Mini some much-belated Internet love.]

The Words Not Written

I’m black but I don’t wear it on my sleeve.  With a post-racial president in the White House it’s not the chic thing to do anyway but inevitably when I write, query, do all of those decidedly non-author tasks like considering audience and marketing, I find myself at an all too familiar fork in the path — a choice between what I think is acceptable for a writer of my genus-blind talents and what the publishing and literary magnates are slobbering (or, more often, not slobbering for) from a writer like me.  I make a choice between the branches because I have to, going with my gut.  Not surprisingly, I write to match.

In addition to my race, I’m also the gambling sort who often mistakes his recklessness for confidence, but I feel neither reckless nor over-confident by claiming a fraternity among authors.  Authorship is a solitary path but far from peculiar.  If you’re reading this then surely at some point in your journey you’ve come to a similar fork in the path — you’ve made a choice.  We all have.  Maybe you recognized when it happened and maybe you didn’t, but the capital A Author you dreamed of being as a child and the adjective author you’ve become as an adult are two separate authors altogether.  Be it romance, sci-fi, black, [fill in the blank with whatever your group is, italics please], or, for the special major among us with many affiliations, MFAs (multiple flouncing adjectives) — whatever the case may be we are a family so lost in the winding forest of specialization and genre and the subtle censorship it employs that our readers need prescriptive directions on how to find us.  Conversely, despite all that flouncing, the adjectives make us that much easier to ignore.

The reasons for this I will leave for an anthropologist to explain (perhaps from the fossilized remains of another unheard traveler who has died along the way) but I recall a famous adage about authors striving to remove themselves from story, which guides my decision at the fork but presents a dilemma when art meets market and the gatekeeper at the conference is saying, “The writing’s beautiful, but [your group]… they don’t necessarily constitute a book-buying majority, do they?”, and I’m saying, stifling my anger because what I’ve written has implications beyond the group(s) I nominally represent, “How do you know that?”, and they’re replying, definitively, “BookScan, of course.  Seventy percent of all hard cover book sales.”  When you’re faced with that kind of irredactable evidence of what the market will support how do forget about the MFA author that you’ve become?  And how do I, when the black, male, married without children, thirty-one year old cheese grits lover that I am says so much about what I should be writing, and what I shouldn’t?

I am, of course, being facetious about BookScan and any other self-corroborating market analysis that willfully ignores the chicken-or-the-egg paradoxes their numbers represent.  That’s a mouthful so allow me to translate: Self-doubt’s a predator in these here woods, and if I spent my energy viewing the future from an outpost constructed from the past I would’ve succumbed to the nighttime caterwauls and weariness a long time ago.  Instead I prefer to believe in a different future, a different world where possibility, even in publishing, is not restricted to those things that can be plotted on a moving average trend chart.  I prefer to be as delusional in my belief as the gatekeepers are willfully ignorant and trusting in their data.  I prefer, in short, to believe in truth that is stranger than fiction.

Just the same, though, as any unpublished author is told to do, I pay attention to national and regional bestsellers lists, and stay abreast of deal making through Publishers Marketplace.  I read the bets that are being made by independent and major bookies alike; I recognize the regurgitation of theme and plot and an infatuation among many for old stories newly told.  I’ve become aware through observation of something I never expected when I was learning to read with Dick and Jane — storytelling as the original green industry.

And I have my moments of weakness.  Gatekeepers want comparables so they can link historical data and establish precedence, but book and author are inseparable entities.  My novel can be similar to another but I have yet to find an author whose passion for cheese grits matches my own, and that difference (among others) invalidates the comparison, and possibly the sell.  Not so in post-racial America, you say, but I’ve been told fiction is a subjective category, and in matters of subjectivity I have to wonder when and where the data parsing stops.  Which makes me linger occasionally at the fork in the road when most of the time the choice is unconscious.  There’s a way to end this interminable wandering, a novel I could write.  I see pieces of it through the undergrowth down the other path, the byproduct of scientific prognostication and market-savvy adjective art run amuck: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man… with fangs.  This high concept novel may be self-explanatory but allow me to translate anyway: Are you telling me in this perilous market climate that some literary honcho wouldn’t clear his or her schedule to read about a teenage, 1930s vampire in an inter-racial relationship (meticulously researched, of course) whose need for blood is just as conflicting as his need for social justice?  Is that your stance?

Wait.  Before you answer, someone in the peanut gallery just keeled over from The Wiz revulsion.  For those who don’t know, The Wiz revulsion is a gag response brought on by an acute sense of entertainment embarrassment that makes your unprocessed food want to get on down get on down the road…

But I’ve lingered at the fork too long.  In truth, the shunned path is neither commonplace nor unremarkable and it’s a lazy man’s game classifying it as such — it’s a personal choice.  Like everything else in these woods the difference between something familiar and something merely cliché is subjective.  I, like every other traveler, must make that distinction and I’ve made it, following a creative process the US Banking system could’ve benefited from, booking my value as an artist on my ability to be original rather than derivative, an A Author rather than a MFA author.  Oh that I have chosen wisely and there is a sigh in this for me somewhere ages hence.  I don’t know that there is — I don’t know if there can be.  I have a feeling, though, that if there is, I’ll rejigger the facts in hindsight à la BookScan and say my choice made all the difference.

Arizona Iced Tea, Arizona Jeans, Arizona Discrimination

May 3, 2010

Picture from CNN Headline

I remember when I saw this story last week: Arizona passes law aimed at illegal immigrants.  I was unemotional at first because Arizona, to me, is famous for iced tea, blue jeans, and Steve Nash.  Now, it seems, Arizona has come to represent a growing animosity in this country, a supposedly fact-based discrimination.  I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Arizona the same ever again.

I didn’t write at first because I was wordless.  I’ve done more reading since then.  I had a Weekly Vista entry prepared for this week — something about how a year ago to this date I was accepted into the New York Pitch and Shop Conference — but in light of this story, that memory seems flaky, self-centered.

And perhaps because of the job implications of this law, I’m thinking about my own employment.  Nine years ago, when I got my job with 401K STALWART out of college, their policy was 2.75 GPA or higher.  Which was great for me because, at the time, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of a 2.95, and their offer was the strongest I received.

But then, after I signed the dotted line and became a part-time (upon request) campus recruiter and interviewer, 401K STALWART upped the policy to 3.0.  Which meant I wouldn’t have qualified for employment under the new policy.  Which meant I was judging hopeful candidates, the threat of pending student loan payments in the whites of their eyes, by criteria I never had to live up to.  It made me feel like a hypocrite.  Reviewing resumes at career fairs, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had “gotten mine”, and that I couldn’t care less how anyone else “got theirs”.

When I think of this new Arizona law, when I think of the mindless debate in this country about who is a legal American and who isn’t, this is what I think about.

In my opinion, what’s lawful should never be confused by what is moral.  If it were otherwise we would’ve never had need for the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, or any other movement against the impassionate laws of the majority.

And what a difficult place it is to be one of the I Got Mines, and to be faced with teeming masses that desire — who dream in their cribs the dreams transferred from mom, father, grandmother — to follow in your footsteps.  Policy alone can never be sufficient for human problems.  It makes it easier, of course; and it makes it seem, to your constituents, that you are being scientific, and have a grasp for the no-nonsense realities.

But I’m a believer in compassion.  I believe that most of the supporters of this bill who claim their tax dollars are being spent unjustly to support illegal immigrants are mad at a phantom enemy.  I’m willing to bet most of these supporters got a tax return last month; if you asked them on their way to buy a new LCD TV for a dollar figure for how much of their money was spent on so-called illegal aliens, they couldn’t tell you.

So what are they mad about?

They got theirs and they have no qualms about changing the rules of engagement after the fact — that’s what they’re mad about.  In my opinion, that’s not the way to be.