Tag Archives: fiction

The Finish Line

This weekend, this happened.

Which is to say, Love and a Short Leash, the novel I wrote about here and have been mentioning obliquely and incessantly in various social media platforms is finally complete. Now it is ready to take flight in this big, terrible world and hopefully find a cozy nest somewhere. Metaphors!

I am not ruling out self-publishing. I’ve seen more and more people go this route, and not just odd cranks and fanfic enthusiasts, but for-real authors. The idea of having complete ownership over my creative output is very appealing to me, and I have the ebook chops to make my own digital novel with ease. However, what I don’t have is the reach, influence, and free time to hustle and get this book into as many hands as I’d like. And I do feel that, considering the insane amount of time and I spent writing this thing, I owe myself the effort of seeing if more conventional channels want to publish it. If that doesn’t pan out…well, I’ll just burn that bridge when I get to it.

This book began in its life as a short story I wrote when I was in the MFA program at Brooklyn College. The head of program then was Michael Cunningham, author of the The Hours (among other novels). In the first class I had with him, a sort of “freshman seminar” for brand new MFA candidates, he told the assembled hopeful writers, “The world doesn’t want your stories.”

What he meant was, nobody is out there begging for you to finish your work. If you set out to write something and you never finish it, nobody will be banging on your door to demand it. This applies to every creative endeavor, but especially so to writing. The world is a big place and it will get along just fine without you and your thoughts and your dreams, thank you very much.

I don’t believe Michael said this to be discouraging or to intimidate us, drill-sergeant-style. I took it as a simple reminder that writing is really, really, really hard (see?), and there is already so much of it, more than any human could read in 10 lifetimes, that one more story is a tiny drop in an infinitesimally large bucket, and you must know this before you pick up a pen or sit down at a keyboard.

When I began writing this novel, I operated under this assumption: Nobody wants this thing. Sometimes this attitude gives you a sense of defiant me vs. the world-ism, which can be useful in the solitary endeavor of writing. But it can also be a crushingly depressing outlook if you’re inclined to dark thoughts, which is me in spades. I blame my genes. My Irish side gets the big ideas, my German side makes me do the hard work, and then both sides gang up to whisper What’s the point, really? That negativity, plus not having long stretches of time to work on this novel, is what caused me to abandon this book at long stretches.

Last year, I resolved to push past this feeling and finally finish a draft of this novel that had lingered on my hard drive and in my mind since 2004. I still had the idea Nobody wants this thing at the back of my head. However, I also began to make regular updates on Twitter and Facebook about my progress. I tried to make the updates an even mix of clinical (how much I’d done and how much I had yet to do) and affirmation/self encouragement (e.g., “THIS IS GONNA MELT YOUR FACE, GUYS.”).

I did this for much the same reason I made similar updates regarding my efforts to get into shape: To create public accountability. (Idea admittedly stolen from Drew Magary’s Public Humiliation Diet.) If I talked online about how I was working out, it’s that much more embarrassing to walk around looking like a land monster, because then people will whisper Oh, he gave up… Likewise, if I kept posting novel updates, that obliged me to continue until I finished. Otherwise, when people asked me about it, I’d have to do the dance of, Yeah, I was working on that book for a while, but you know, I’ve been so busy…

In doing this, I found that many people–real-life friends, online friends, and virtual strangers alike–were both supportive and curious, sending encouragement while wanting to know more about the novel. Especially since I finally completed my first draft, I’ve gotten heartening pats on the back and atta boys from so many people, which is amazing motivation for an endeavor where the payoff comes much, much later, if at all. And as I reached the home stretch, with the end in sight, I got some genuine I can’t wait to read this thing notes from people I love and admire. This, more than anything else, enabled me to power my way to the end.

I still believe it’s best to approach the whole writing business–particularly the novel writing business–assuming that no, the world doesn’t want your stories. But I also found that when you share the journey, even in the most cursory way, the world might like to hear those stories anyway.

So, anybody wanna publish a novel?

What’s Been Doin’

Hey! I haven’t written here in a while. Nor have I been writing all that much at Scratchbomb in calendar year 2012. One large reason is that, for the last bit and a half, I’ve been concentrating alternately on finishing my novel and working on a large-ish non-fiction thing.

As far as the novel goes, it is 98 percent done. I’ve completed a second draft, and will soon begin a third so I can dot the i’s, cross the t’s, remove superfluous adverbs, and so on. However, all the really hard work (the actual writing of stuff) is done, and very soon I will send it out to the world and onto a slush pile near you. I am close enough to completion that I feel confident enough to tell the world the following facts about this novel:

  1. The title is Love and a Short Leash.
  2. It is a spy novel that involves baseball.

Speaking of baseball, the large-ish non-fiction thing I mentioned above involves The Great American Pastime and it too has been consuming me of late. I’ve been kinda squirrely about exactly what this thing is on Twitter and elsewhere. I realize that vagueness such as this is maddening and I apologize for that. Here is what I can say about it:

  1. It is called Yells For Ourselves.
  2. It is a multi-volume ebook about the 1999/2000 Mets, or rather, about the narratives and media perceptions thereof.
  3. It will be available in a no-frills version and a souped-up version for the iPad that will include lots of extra goodies, the technical aspects of which I’ve (mostly) figured out.
  4. More details will become available upon the official launch of YellsForOurselves.com. (Nothing there right now, really, except a “watch this space” notice and one of my favorite Mets-related pics ever.)

I am pursuing traditional channels to get my novel published. (Speaking of which, if you’re involved with traditional channels, hey, hit me up, wouldja?) The non-fiction book will be self-published, more or less to prove that the souped-up version is something can be done, from a technical standpoint.

The other big reason I’ve been delinquent in my posts here is because I’ve been writing for other sites. (Scratchbomb and I have an open relationship.) I realize this has endangered my goal for Scratchbomb to be the M*A*S*H of the Internet (“where hilarity meets brooding introspection!”). However, I’m pretty proud of the stuff I’ve done elsewhere of late. Apart from my regular stuff at Amazin’ Avenue (which should ramp up now that spring training is upon us). here’s where you could have seen me so far in 2012.

  • Last Friday I eulogized Gary Carter at The Classical. The Kid was the first athlete I loved, and his death, while sadly unexpected, hit me hard. I hope did his memory justice here. On a less serious tip, I also took a look at how Ray Manzarek’s brought an otherwise fine HBO doc about John Wooden and the UCLA basketball dynasty to a screeching halt.
  • For Vice, I penned a brief assessment of the Marlins’ home run monstrosity as a sign of the impending apocalypse. If you think that take is a bit hyperbolic, I assume you have not seen this thing.
  • For Splitsider, I looked back at the Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special, possibly the greatest thing Bill Murray has ever done, if not humanity itself.
  • Last but certainly not least, I’ve scribbled a few things for Low Times: a review of Mitch Miller’s prog record, and an in-depth study of which exact city was built on rock and roll. And if you’re not listening to the Low Times podcast, get on the stick, fella. I have to say the Worst Lyrics discussion with Ted Leo and DC Pierson is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in many a moon.

Will I be posting here with more regularity in the near future? Possibly. What I can promise is that if I don’t, I will definitely put up another post apologizing for not posting.

Working

I recently acquired new dresser drawers, something I do maybe once a decade. This necessitated relocating the top drawer of my old dresser, which was basically my Treasured Memories Trove. I never looked at any of this stuff, mind you. If I thought I wanted to keep something for posterity, I just shoved it in the drawer, figuring one day I would be able to find it again. A fool-proof plan!

Unfortunately, in the middle of trying to transfer my Treasured Memories to their new home, I stumbled and completely unended the old drawer, spilling tons of stuff I forgot I had all over my bedroom floor. It felt like dropkicking my entire life.

Though I was alone in my bedroom, this filled me with a deep, red-face shame, and I tried to shovel all my Treasured Memories back into the old drawer in the most inelegant way possible. I didn’t dare glance at most of them, save for the most valuable items that caught my eye. A silver bracelet my grandfather wore throughout World War II. My dad’s last passport. The only foul ball I ever “caught” at a major league baseball game (quotes = long story).

I had to retrieve one errant piece that floated across the room, away from the other stuff, a rectangular swatch of pale posterboard that caught a drift and slipped away. I had no idea what it might be until I picked it up.

It was a postcard I received a long time ago. On one side, tour dates for a band. On the other, a note from one of my heroes, someone I was lucky enough to correspond with for a while.

I don’t mean to be vague or to tease, but for the purposes of this tale, it doesn’t matter who this person is to anyone but me. Suffice to say, this came from someone I admired immensely, and still do. This is what they wrote (in part):

Loved yr last letter. If yr book is 1/2 as good, it will change everything.

My heart swelled. I had completely forgotten all about receiving this postcard, and I felt like I was reading it for the first time, getting this praise for the first time.

And then, I turned over the card and looked at the postmark: 2000. Almost 12 years ago. And as much as my heart had swelled, it sank twice as far, because I felt the crushing weight of how much time had passed since then, and how far back the book it referred to had receded in my memory.

Continue reading Working

A Million Little Pieces of Crap

Right back atcha, pal.

I’ve been writing fiction for a really long time, though not without hiatus. I occasionally go through crises of faith with it, because both market-wise and creatively, this is probably one of the worst periods for fiction in America, possibly ever. After The Baby was born, I found my worldview and my time so altered that I felt I couldn’t write it any more. I didn’t see things the way I used to, and I also lacked the acres of time needed to get into a fiction “groove”.

That’s the biggest reason why I channeled my literary ambitions into this blog, because it satisfied my desire to write and didn’t require me to lock myself in a soundproof vault for 12 hours. For a long time, fiction was such a slog for me and with so few avenues for exposure, I simply had no desire to write it any more. It was quicker and much more enjoyable to write funny ha-ha’s here.

Lately, for reasons too varied and arcane to get into here, I’ve decided to dive back into fiction. I’m working on a novel I’d all but abandoned a few years ago when it hit the 100 page mark, because I think the idea behind it is still relevant. I’m trying to power through an admittedly sub-par first draft so I can revise it and hopefully finish it some time early next year. I’ve been feeling really good about it. I’ve received lots of encouragement. I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And then I read this and felt like throwing the whole thing in the garbage. Because when the fiction world can still stomach a vile specimen like James Frey, do I really want to associate myself with it?

For those of you don’t want to read the whole article or don’t enjoy vomiting, I’ll give you the gist of it. It’s a piece in New York magazine by Suzanne Mozes about Frey, who you may remember from such frauds as A Million Little Pieces (the “memoir” that turned out to be largely made up). What’s he been up to, other than not acquiring any sense of shame? He’s established a company called Full Fathom Five.

The firm specializes in YA fiction series, on the principle that if you sit a thousand struggling, desperate writers in front of a thousand typewriters, eventually one of them will write the next Harry Potter. It is the fiction equivalent of a veal pen, and is as much of a shell game as anything Bernie Madoff ever cooked up.
Continue reading A Million Little Pieces of Crap