Casual Friday

Casual Friday: double glasses and someone’s underwear

I spent far too much time in 2012 sitting in a little room by myself trying to get people to pay attention to my books and far too little time writing and editing. I had a lot to learn about being an independent writer and publisher. That time was necessary, but it still makes me feel so far behind the eight-ball. It’s a lonely thing, sitting in a little room trying to get people to pay attention to your work.

As last year began, I knew I wanted to publish two sets of stories and my first novel, Beyond the Will of God. I accomplished those goals. The story sets, Trying to Care and Implosions of America, lay out the beginnings of what my true intentions are as a writer. Both of these collections are explorations in writing about emotions. When I think about the 15 stories in those two collections, I realize that each one in its own way is not just about people grappling with their emotional lives, but also about the confusion that comes out of trying to make sense of those emotions. I never felt lonely writing those stories, nor in preparing them for publication.

I am currently working on three other novels that refine this issue of emotion and confusion. Here’s a bit of info on these three novels and then a little bit more on some other stuff I’m working on. My main marketing efforts for 2013 will be centered on just writing and publishing stories. I ain’t gonna worry too much about the marketing end of things.

Market Street

(Photo credit: glennharper)

1. Ex:Urbia: I have always felt there is no way I could write a story properly from a woman’s perspective. And yet, over the past five years, this incredibly amazing, sad, beautiful, and intriguing woman has insinuated herself into half a dozen short stories that are without doubt the best work I’ve ever done. I am busy now adapting drafts of these stories into a novel about life here on the edge of time in the global 21st. Ex:Urbia is just a bit over that edge of time and out in front of where we’re going. It’s about us, though, us adults and our adult struggles with love and commitment, desire, loss of passion, loss of meaning, the significance of driving around, continually finding ourselves in malls, and all the other things we obsess about.

I am confronted by several big writing challenges with this story. It is a love story, but it’s pretty twisted and shaved to the bone. I have struggled as well with figuring out point of view and making structure work for me. I’m certain to screw some things up with this, but I know I’m writing something special here that is unlike anything I’ve seen in the world of contemporary fiction. Emotion rules. Emotion is action. Emotion is character. How do you write about emotion like that? I’m finding out. …it’s hard.

2. Beautiful Morning Blues: Illicit sex goes on in our neighborhoods every day. Your neighbor and the postman may have a special thing that happens just between them every Friday morning. Twenty year marriages are severely challenged by workplace affairs. We chalk this libidinous behavior (male and female) up to selfishness, boredom, disappointment with spouses, enticement, and the old standby “animal instinct.” But there’s a lot more going on there as well. We’re all still looking for meaning in life, whether we know it or not. As you approach 50 and then go beyond it, the question of death looms larger and larger, which also means that the idea of living does as well…and Time. Are people really cheating on spouses and seeking sex out of marriage for shallow, insecure reasons, or is there something far deeper at play here? Beautiful Morning Blues grapples with these issues. Hugh Donovan is a stay-at-home dad, stymied by desire, lust for beauty, fear of death, and the understanding that life in the 21st may simply just be about understanding the blues.

I have been working on this novel since about 2002. Since finishing the first draft (2008), to my dismay the TV shows Hung and Californication came out. I made the mistake of talking about Beautiful Morning Blues in comment sections at back in the mid-2000s. A lot of people were very interested in what I was concocting. Beautiful Morning Blues is certainly a lot like those shows…only more intelligent and less ironic and cynical. I just want to go on record here that I came up with the idea of neighborhood stud muffins helping everyday women get their rocks off first.

The Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News Building ...

The Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News Building in Philadelphia, PA. Taken from North Broad and Callowhill Streets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Dawn of the Summertons: At its heart, Dawn of the Summertons is about family values and the education dilemma. It’s also about the end of liberalism and the rise of something new. Reggie and Twyla Summerton move with their three children out of their expensive home into a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. The Summerton’s are mixed race and proud of it, though quite odd in how they raise the issue with their kids. Reggie was once a promising editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer 

but he lost his job in the economic chaos of 2008. Now he is trying to make it as an independent author while Twyla continues with her art career. They move from the tony Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia to caretake a historic lodge in Germantown. But their main concern is getting their three children into the neighborhood public school after years of paying for private school. The public school bureaucracy is not an easy maze to deal with in the middle of the school year. Frustrations for Reggie mount on many different fronts until he decides the family needs to take things into their own hands. This is a tender story of parental love that may well turn into tragedy as the family tries to take over the neighborhood school by force.

Other Stuff: I’ve also got two unfinished essays — quite long — about this issue of emotion in fiction that I’d like to complete before the end of the spring. My biggest concern about books here in the 21st century is that not enough men read contemporary fiction anymore. I believe it’s partly because stories don’t depict the inner lives of men accurately. I’m not sure they ever did. This contributes to distortions in masculinity and the inability for men (real men) to relate to characters and what they’re thinking about and how they feel about life. The emotional life of the average man is quite extraordinary. We need more innovation and less stereotyping. I think what needs to happen is a flipping of the paradigm for good fiction — it’s not “show don’t tell;” it’s “more tell, then show, then more tell.” Watch for these essays if you don’t get my drift.

As always, too, you can rest assured I will come up with culture commentary at least once a month. This really is a funky, weird, and ridiculously silly world we live in. It boggles my mind, truly, that people continue to inflict pain on each other and act out their own frustrations and fears using aggression and violence. Life is so beautiful. Love is so amazing. This global society teaches mastery of the self and care for others everywhere you turn. And yet there are so many fools and desperadoes. I promise to do my best to speak truth about all this and to offer my 25¢ worth when the spirit moves me.

A Bit More on Marketing and Sales: The point of all my marketing work in 2012, I suppose, was to set up a platform for my work and to register my books with online distribution systems like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iWRR, and the now shuttered OnlyIndie (a noble experiment that sadly didn’t make it). I have also made contact with dozens of other indie writers and book bloggers and other professionals in this new frontier of electronically goosed publishing. But I now see that it’s way too easy to get sucked into using creative energy to market and sell ones work. My guess is that since July when I published Beyond the Will of God, I have spent a good 75% of my time on the promotions and development end of the stick, 10% reading, and only 15% writing fiction. I hope you will join me in a hearty laugh about how easy it is to fuck up when you don’t have bosses or co-workers and you aren’t required to go to meetings, present reports, or develop planning documents to justify your existence to others (and your salary).

Thankfully, I still question myself in a positive and healthy manner every day. I am quite aware that the bulk of my time should be devoted to reading and writing. My instinct right now is that Twitter is a fool’s game if the object is to market oneself. As far as I can tell, it’s supposed to be a communications tool for wise crackers and the witty and the charming (I follow Dave Chappelle, Salman Rushdie, Hugh Hefner, and Ann Coulter avidly). But that ain’t me.

Facebook kind of makes sense as a tool to let friends know about blog posts and articles, but it’s so much more fun to post things about my sons and their girl friends and to tag photos of friends and family. I do have fan pages out there for my books, but it’s clear that no effort should ever go into using Facebook for sales or self-promotion (what was I thinking?).

So, apologies to all my peeps and friends for accostings and sales pitches. No more, for the most part. You’ll see blog announcements and links to stuff I’ve published online, but that’s it. What I do suggest if you want to follow me, however, is to sign up for my occasional newsletter (top of this page in right panel). I promise to make the read fun while I let you know about my books and the like. Also, if you page down on that right panel, there’s a section for signing up to get these blog posts sent direct to your email. I lost a bunch of you when I migrated this site to WordPress in the fall but already 23 of you are back on the trail with me. Thanks so much. You have no idea how much that means to someone like me.

I conclude here after a morning of work on Ex:Urbia. I also added a new widgety thing to this website. You’ll find a Spotify playlist for Beyond the Will of God near the end of the widgets in the right panel –>. If you are a Spotify subscriber (highly recommended) you can listen to this mix of music. I recommend getting ahold of the novel and listening to the playlist while you read.

There’s much more to come this year, but I’ll leave you with this idea: Electronic book reading software is pathetically primitive. So are book authoring tools. On top of everything else I’m doing, I’m trying to figure out how to create something I’m calling Beyond Beyond the Will of God: The Deluxe Music Edition that will have the option of soundtrack music and visuals built into it. I’d like to think that we’ll also be able to get to the bottom of things with Spotify (or something like it) that allows authors to give readers the option of listening to all the songs talked about in a novel. There are over 30 different music references in Beyond the Will of God that truly need a click-and-play option.


Reggies (Photo credit: Gerry Balding)

The funny thing about working in a little room by yourself 10-12 hours a day, 7-days a week is that it actually does become a place you don’t feel alone unless you’re doing the wrong thing with your time. That’s a weird sensation. I spent a 30-year career as a consultant where everyday I felt alone, even in meetings, at conferences, and on the train. I guess the thing about writing is that readers are always their perched on your shoulder (or dancing on your head). That’s a kind of magic to this life that makes it all worth while.

Time to get back to work. Stay tuned. Buy my books. That’s how I make a living. Read them if you’re so inclined. Drop me a line. I promise to answer…

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