Monday, September 22, 2014

Fearlessly Honest

There is a pretty common myth out there about being creative and being messed up, in that it seems that we create better art if we are wrecked.  

In a way, the myth isn't a myth at all.  We do seem to create good stuff when we are messed up, when we are flayed open and ruined, when the world is a weight and there's nothing to do but crawl into a bottle, to hide behind chemical curtains until things don't hurt anymore. 

We do create good stuff when were messed up.  You can see it in the wreckage that Hollywood serves up, sacrificed for our entertainment, in the suicides and broken homes and arrests of creators.  Brilliant art made by complete and utter ruin, human beings tortured by talent and psychological disaster. 

But it's not about being smashed; it is about honesty.

The greatest, most heart-wrenching things we read and hear and watch come from someone who is just messed up enough to be honest, who is brave enough to just lay it out there for the whole world to see.  But it doesn't come from the thing, it doesn't come from the ruin.  It is good because the creators weren't afraid to be real, to expose themselves, to be hurt and to say honestly that they were hurt.  It's just that for some of us it seems harder to be honest when we're present in our bodies and our psyche, maybe we need a little chemical courage to be open.         

You don't need to be messed up to be honest, you have to simply be brave.  And with some guts, with a strong backbone and thick skin, with a little faith and an unshakable belief in your content, you don't need to be a wreck to make good stuff, you just have to have the balls to be honest.

It's easier when you get older, I think.  I'm married; I dont have to worry about some potential mate reading something I wrote and thinking I'm a tool.  My wife already knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that I'm a tool.  She married me knowing it, and God bless her heart, she has stuck around this long, I doubt that anything I write is going to change her mind. 

And to be honest, maybe adult truths are less exciting than young truths.  I don't consider myself a wreck, not anymore at least.  I live a reasonably peaceful life and my truth has changed.  My truth now is I mostly don't miss the firey passion that drove me when I was young, that led me to do such harmful and willfully stupid things.  I don't miss the fire, and I definately don't miss the ashes, the guilt and regret and the exhausting uncertainty. 

Sometimes though, I do miss the fearlessness, the easy honesty.

Because the best art comes from fearless artists.

           

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Planting Ideas...

So the characters in my book get up to some pretty harmful shit, self harm and vandalism and worse.  The other night, I had a chilling thought: what if I give someone ideas

What if there's a kid out there that just needs the seed, the impulse, the implicit permission and then takes the ideas from the page and applies them to the real world?

There's evidence for this idea already.  About ten years ago I was invited to a fight club.  A real one.  Literally a group of dudes that met up in a basement, put on some thrash metal and just straight up fought each other.  I didn't go, don't honestly know if the guy that invited me was serious. Truthfully the guy could have been just winding me up, or trying to lure me into something unspeakable in his basement.  He seemed sincere, though, like it wasn't something crazy he and his friends were getting up to, like it was simply a good way to pass a Saturday evening.  When he wrote Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk touched on an idea that had lain dormant in the hearts of a generation of young men, and they acted on that idea, they took his fiction and made it real. 

What a result.  I can't say for sure because I have never had the chance to ask, but I sincerely doubt that that was the plan, that it was Palahniuk's intention to spark this action, this blurring of the lines between reality and fiction.  Maybe it doesn't matter; there were fight clubs all over the place whether he wanted it or not.   

As a writer, you want to move people, to convey your ideas in a way that speaks to people, that impacts them somehow.  As a human being, I'd be horrified if some kid took the ideas in my book as a good way to pass a Saturday evening. 

Maybe Mr. Palahniuk is responsible for a few knocked out teeth, a few stitches and black eyes.  Maybe someday when my book is in print, some kid will read it and think its a great idea to destroy beautiful things, to intentionally hurt himself.

And maybe that will be my fault.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

Knock, Knock

I used to feel directionless.

For most of my life I have felt like this, that there was something out there, some bigger destiny, some way for me to prove my worth to the world.  I would take stock of my god-given talents and look at other, more successful people in the fields that I am interested in, and ask myself, why not me?

I genuinely had never understood why not me until recently.  Until I had the Realization.  I capitalize Realization on purpose, because it was a singular thought that arrived in my head and though it is terribly obvious to everyone, everywhere, it has been revolutionary for me, a transformative notion.

The answer to why not me is simple:

Not me because I had never finished anything for people to grab on to.  I was not a successful novelist because I had never written a novel.  I wasn't even a failure; I was an absence.  The reason those other people were more successful had nothing to do with talent or opportunity or networking or serendipity.  First and foremost, it was because they had done stuff.  They had worked for it, they had believed in themselves, they kept going even when people told them to quit. 

Not me because I had a half written novel, a handful of half-assed songs, an unfinished painting gathering dust in the basement. 

Not me because I lacked the courage to say that I cared about anything, that I would be dissappointed if it failed.  Not me because I was not brave enough to try.  It is part of the outsider's make up to stand outside looking in and to say we don't want in, that we prefer the cold, we prefer the dark.  For better and for worse, it seems part of my make up that I am an outsider.  I have spent my life shivering in the dark, afraid to knock on the door, to ask if I can come in.

I don't feel directionless anymore.  I know what I'm doing now.  I care about this.  I believe in this.  I want in.

Knock, knock.           


 
     

Monday, September 8, 2014

It ain't over yet.

I'm not done.

This is what I have been fighting:  the feeling that I'm done.  I mean, I wrote the damn thing, I edited it, I gave it to readers for feedback, I changed, re-wrote, and polished it, I let it sit for a couple of weeks and then re-read and re-edited it. 

I'm done right?  This is the part where I can relax and start something new, right?

Actually not really.  I've got to send query letters to agents.  If I want to get a fair shot at finding a agent that will represent me, I have to research a little, have to go to the website, find what they are looking for, make sure they are even accepting queries, make sure they don't specialize in anything my book isn't.  Hopefully I find someone that says in their bio something I like, or something that leads me to believe that they might take a chance on an unproven and unknown writer that has just sent an email query.    

And the worst is, I have to wait (unless I get rejected in record time).  I have to send out a couple more letters, wait some more.  I don't want to flood the entire industry with queries; I'm not looking for just anyone, I'm looking for the right someone.

And all this means that I am filling my very limited time with all this stuff, the researching and sending, and the tracking, and I'm still not writing anything new.  I work a full-time job.  I value time with my family.  I also, somewhere in there, need to sleep occasionally, need to play my guitar, and kiss my wife, and take out the garbage, and feed the dog, and remember, we're going over to the in-laws because someone is doing something that we need to witness, and the neighbor needs help moving a refrigerator, and really, sometimes I just need to unplug, walk away from the computer, check out, watch a movie or play a game.

I have outlines for three new novels.

I have two children's books that need illustrated and polished

I have a beautiful idea for a series of short novels for older children.

And I'm spending my time sending letters to agents and clicking around on agency websites.

Again, I know this is part of it, but it feels like busy work, administrative nonsense, like I'm spinning my wheels when there is real stuff that needs done.  Even without writing, I would consider myself a relatively busy man, even without trying to shoehorn this into my life, trying to find room where there really is none, I would have a pretty full dance card.  The work that I'm doing now isn't the work that I want to be doing, the good stuff where you can get lost in your world, and you hit that sweet spot where you forget that time is passing and the words pour out they way they were meant to.

Ideally, I would be doing this for a job, quit the 9-5, drop the hour of driving, put on my headphones in the morning and not come up for air again until lunch.  But I have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and as much as I want this, I am not willing to sacrifice everything, not willing to miss the life I have while I search for a way in to the life I daydream about.  This comes first, this phase, where writing is what I do when I'm not doing other things, instead of the other way around.

But it's hard sometimes.  Damn hard.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rejected!

I got rejected in eight hours.

The first agency I sent a query to preferred electronic communication.  I sent off a query letter with a sample of the manuscript as per spec, and by the morning already knew that they did not want to represent the book. 

I have mixed feelings about this.

First, I know its not personal.  Getting a form letter from a robot first thing in the morning, however encouragingly it may have been written, is decidedly impersonal.  They didn't say that they didn't like me.  They didn't even say that they didn't like my book; they just said that it didn't match their needs and good luck finding representation.  It's not personal. 

But dammit, it feels personal.  If feels like they're saying that they don't like me, that my book isn't good enough for them, it feels like I should just walk away and never write another word.  And as much as I was expecting it, as much as I knew that I wasn't going to find an amazing and dynamic agent that not only will sell my book to a huge publisher for a fortune, he or she would also sell the movie rights and I could quit my job and get a corduroy jacket, start smoking a pipe, move to a secluded but charming cottage in the country  and just watch the checks start rolling in, as much as I knew that probably wouldn't happen, I also knew that it might.  I've seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I mostly knew there wasn't a golden ticket in that response to my query, especially not one that came back that quickly, but I still held my breath as I opened it, still held hope for that little glimmer of gold in the corner.

Also, I suspect that a monkey that smashed his head against the keyboard for an hour and sent the result to that agency got the same exact letter that I did.  

On the plus side though, I'm not waiting around for a response.  I can move on and send it off somewhere else, and maybe find someone who is willing to take a chance on my strange little book, who loves it like I do, who wants to see it in print as much as I do.

As much as it stings my oh so delicate pride, I know this is a part of it.  I know its not personal.

But it sure feels personal.  

 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Antiartists: The Beginning

Like a lot of people I have always wanted to write a book.

Unlike most people I actually went and did it.

What I want this to be is a chronicle of what happens afterward, when you have a manuscript and you want to see the thing in print.  And that is what I want.  My goal is to be able to walk in to a bookstore and buy my book, which means traditional publishers.  Which means agents.  Which means rejections.  Which blows.

Because even though I work a professional 9-5 and am a suburban father and husband, even though I drive a ten year old Honda,  I remain a punk somewhere in my heart, and the whole 'hat in hand, please Mr Traditional, would you be kind enough to consider considering to consider my heart and soul for your soulless corporate greed' still stings quite a bit.  If I was going to make music, I would DIY like a punk; I'd press my own vinyl, I'd tour, I'd hit up other like-minded guys and work the grass roots, because even now I still believe that it's not about the money, it's about the expression, about the soul of the thing.  Agents will want a piece and the publisher will take most of whats left; I will in the end, be the creator of the thing and will get mostly nothing.

But still.  I have always, always wanted to be a writer, a real one, that people like to read and pass their paperbacks on to friends and say holy shit man you've got to read this.  I do it.  I pass on my copy of Breakfast of Champions to people.  I don't ever expect it back; I'll just buy a new one when I want to read it again.  That's what I want.  A real physical, book, made of paper and everything, that you can hold and smell and accidentally drop in the toilet when you are reading and trying to brush your teeth at the same time.

So that means traditional.  And that means agents and publishers.  And that means rejections.  Which blows.

So I hope to record here what it is like to try and do this, to get a book published.  It's good, in case you were wondering.  I really believe that, heart and soul.  It's called Antiartists, and it's good.