Blast from the past: Morgenstern’s

Here is a receipt I found recently:

Morgenstern’s was an interesting book store in Bloomington that came and went in the 90s, but was pretty central to my experience at IU.  I don’t remember exactly when they opened, but it must have been around 1991 or so.  There were no big box book stores then, aside from the Walden’s in the mall.  The town had no shortage of used book stores filled with old books dumped by students in need of ramen or beer money, and I spent many hours digging through them for anything interesting, but Morgenstern’s was where I went to score the latest new stuff.

I never read or collected that many books prior to becoming a writer, but I still went to Morgenstern’s to look at computer books.  They were the only place in town other than the IU bookstore with a solid collection of all of the latest O’Reilly stuff, so that’s where I went to ogle all of the C++ and Perl books.  They also had a full newsstand with a lot of obscure zines, so when the zine bubble was happening in the early 90s, that was the place to grab Factsheet 5 and all of the other rarities.

Once I did start writing, all of my obsessions came out of this place.  Between 1993 and 1995, I bought pretty much every Orwell book; every major Henry Miller title; almost all of the Vonnegut books in one quick swoop; and I bought my first Bukowski there.  I got going on Douglas Coupland and Henry Rollins, too.  They had a punch card system, where you got I think a punch for every ten bucks, and if you got ten or twelve punches, you got a free book, so any time I had spare cash, I’d walk out there and try to do as much damage as possible to those little pink cards and earn some freebies.

Morgenstern’s was in this strip mall just east of the main College Mall, a place that also held a laundromat, a Service Merchandise, and a couple of other stores.  There was a cheap Chinese place there (Grasshoppers, maybe?) and many times, I’d buy a couple of magazines, and then get some fake Sweet and Sour chicken and sit down to read.  They also had a Long John Silver’s, which served a similar purpose.  Morgenstern’s had its own big comfy leather chairs and coffee bar, so you could also crash out there and page through books, which was somewhat of a novelty at the time.

I vaguely remember this 1995 trip to the store, although I vividly remember the weekend.  My friend Larry Falli had graduated, skipped town, and left me his apartment for the rest of the month, as a place to write or crash or whatever.  I bought those two books on Friday night, and stayed up all night reading Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland, and liked it enough that I wanted to go get a copy of Generation X.  I went to bed right before daylight, woke up at lunch, and jumped in my car to go back to the mall and grab a copy, but a few blocks away, my car inexplicably died.  I had to get it towed to this auto place out by the mall, and it turns out the timing belt had snapped, and they had to keep it a day or so to put a new one on.  So I walked over to Morgenstern’s, got a copy of Generation X, then went to Larry’s unfurnished and vacant apartment, and sat on the floor of the living room with a bag of takeout from somewhere, reading the Coupland book and writing in a notebook.  I then walked the three miles back to my place and got started on the Orwell I’d bought the night before.

A month and change later, I flew out to Seattle, got a job, then flew back, packed up a U-Haul, and left Bloomington.  Not long after that, Borders put in a store right next to Morgenstern’s, and Barnes and Noble built a megastore just across the street.  And not long after that, Morgenstern’s was having their big everything must go sale.  And now the Borders is gone, and I’m sure the B&N does slow business selling lap desks, bookmarks, and the occasional 50 shades book.

I still find these receipts tucked into books, though.  And I’ve got a few titles on the shelves that still have their dot matrix-printed UPC stickers on the back corners.  I even have a punch card with two punches on it, which will never get filled.  It’s a bittersweet end to this old place.

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Why I’m not doing KDP Select free giveaways for Kindle anymore

OK, so I have a new book out.  And one of the things I’ve done for the last few books is have a free giveaway of the book on the Kindle. I’m not doing that for this book, and I won’t be doing it in the future for other books.  Let me back up and explain why authors do these giveaways, and then explain why I’m not doing it anymore.

First, an explanation of KDP Select.  KDP is Kindle Direct Publishing, the service you use to self-publish books to the Kindle.  Select is a program where you can sign up your books, and get three benefits.  One is that if your book costs $2.99 or more, your revenue rate changes to 70%.  The other is that Amazon Prime members can borrow your book for free, and you get a small kickback every time that happens.  (So borrow my books!)  And third is that for five days every month, you can have a free giveaway, where the cost of your book becomes $0.00, and people can purchase (and keep) the book for nothing.

The downside of KDP Select is that you have to promise that your book is not available electronically anywhere else, and that includes posting it for free on a web site.  It’s Amazon’s golden handcuffs to limit your product to their ecosystem, and keep you from publishing it on Kobo or Apple or Nook or Sony or anywhere else.  It essentially creates a bunch of Amazon-exclusive content.  It’s just like how if you loved all of those Mario games, you were screwed if you bought a PlayStation instead of a Nintendo.  It locks people into their platform.  I’m not 100% fine with that, but I am into the idea of the 70% royalty.  So my plan is to have books available through KDP Select initially, and then later move them out of the program and make the books available on other devices.  The Prime borrowing thing would be great if more people borrowed my books, but none of you do, so I don’t care about that.  (Honestly, since you can only borrow a book a month with a Prime membership, I understand why people save their borrow for an overpriced mainstream book.)

One of the reasons to make a book free is to build your brand.  It’s like when Pepsi comes out with a new drink and sends you a coupon in the mail for a free two-liter.  You get it from the store, try it, become addicted, and buy more of their product.  With books, you probably aren’t buying repeat copies of the same book (although please don’t let me stop you, at least with my books) but if you read one book and like it, you’ll either buy other books by the author or press, or tell your friends to buy it.  Another related reason is the hope that people will review your book, either on Amazon or at other sites like Goodreads. (Goodreads is now owned by Amazon, but for the time being, the reviews are separate entities.)

The other, less obvious reason why authors do Select giveaways is to game numbers.  Writers, especially genre writers, rely heavily on Amazon’s search and recommendation system to get sales.  The game is to get your book more heavily weighted so that when someone types “murder mystery” into a search box, or looks at the books related to whatever Davinci Shades of Hunger Games title that’s blowing up right now, their book floats to the top.   If you read any “you can make a million dollars self-publishing” web sites, there’s a lot of advice given that involves somehow manipulating the system to ensure your book gets seen by more eyes.  It’s why there’s an AAAA locksmith in every city, and it’s why people do giveaways.  All of those $0.00 sales count as sales in the system (or did – read on…) and sales ranking is one of the variables in the formula that determines how search results are shown in Amazon.  Giving away a thousand books over a weekend can cause a huge surge of sales right after that, until the algorithm catches up with you and your sales rank drops back down again.  (There’s also a chance that if your book is advertised as free over a weekend, and someone blindly clicks the link on Monday morning and downloads it after the sale, they’ll accidentally drop three bucks on it.  You’ll be told you’re being charged, but nobody reads that shit.)

One of the big reasons I don’t like giveaways is that it’s not fair to the people who pay for my book.  I have a small handful of loyalists who will buy my book the day or week it comes out, and gladly pay full price for it.  I love these people, and I don’t even care about the money part – if we bump into each other, I’ll gladly buy you drinks until we’re even.  I appreciate when people buy my stuff, not because it’s making me rich (it isn’t) but because it shows that they want to read my writing.  And I always feel bad when I say, a week later, that the book is now free for five days.  While a small percentage of people downloading a free book are people who want to read my writing, or maybe are people who have heard of me but are on the fence about trying out my work, the majority of the people who download free books are digital hoarders that download every free book they can find simply because they are free, and almost never read the book, let alone buy more or tell their friends or write a review.  I hate the idea of screwing my loyal fans in order to give away a thousand books to 999 people who don’t give a shit and maybe one that might actually read the book.

As far as brand building, there are plenty of my stories available online for free.  If you’re not familiar with my writing, you can always go to that page and click on most of the stories there and read them.  You can also get previews on Amazon and start reading a book, and if you like it, you can buy it.  And like I mentioned, Prime members can borrow my book.  My work is out there for you to check out before you buy it – I don’t think that’s an issue.

Also, the KDP Select salad days are over.  Amazon tweaked their algorithm so that giveaway sales are not the same as purchase sales.  They also split up their paid and free best-of lists.  That means that giveaways have much less impact than they used to.  Also, there are way more authors self-publishing, so there are far more giveaways going on at any given time.  And more and more of the free places you can advertise a giveaway are either not listing as many giveaways, because there are so many happening, or have switched to a paid advertising model to reap the benefits, and make it more cost-prohibitive to get the word out.

There’s this larger argument about why the hell people spend time building platforms and marketing brands and using all of the same tactics as aluminum siding and timeshare salespeople to sell their books.  And we could go down a huge rabbit hole about the value of work versus the value of items offered for free that would eventually end up in some convoluted meta-argument about capitalism.  The more time I spend writing about it — and I’ve probably written five drafts of this and deleted them all because it always goes too Lars Ulrich in the end — is the more time I don’t write about what really matters to me, which is aliens shitting on escalators and satanists killing babies and nailing their corpses to a huge Wheel of Fortune wheel for a new game show called Fetus of Misfortune.  I won’t get into any more if it, because it’s all inconsequential bullshit. I hope you read my stuff, and I wish there was a better way to get the word out on my stuff, but I’ll look into it later.

I hope this doesn’t piss off anyone who wanted the book for free.  I’m always open to trades and looking for reviewers, so if you want a copy of the book and don’t have the three bucks, you can always drop a line and make an offer.  But I’m hoping you do check it out, and understand why I came to this decision.

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LA Weekend

I had an unexpected trip to LA last weekend.  It wasn’t unexpected as in bad; S had a Monday work thing at the last second, and she extended it and I tagged along, leaving Friday after work and coming back Sunday morning.  I always like to go to LA, although the trips are always far too short, and it always leaves me with that hollow feeling that maybe I should have stayed there instead of moving up north.

Anyway, we stayed in Long Beach this time, a new one for me.  I think I went to Long Beach once when we lived down there, on a trip to bring the Subaru to the dealership for maintenance, and that was way the hell north, up by the Long Beach airport, and not really in the city proper.  The actual city, on the water, reminds me a lot of San Diego.  It has the same kind of modern openness to it, a downtown that’s been scrubbed clean and revitalized, the new businesses poking through in the main drag of older buildings.  Our hotel sat by the water, among this strip of chain big-box restaurants and carnival rides and roller coasters, a fairly sterile convention center vibe.  Outside our window, a massive Indian wedding happened Saturday morning, the whole nine with the saris and the white horse and everything.  Later that day, some kind of bible convention was going on, so we got two very different vibes going on during the stay.

We landed at LAX just in time to hit the rush hour traffic on Friday, so we went to the Veggie Grill in El Segundo.  I spent a lot of time in that area when we lived in Playa Del Rey,  because that main drag on Sepulveda had our grocery store, drug store, bank, Petco, Frey’s, and a host of other regular destinations.  The Veggie Grill is this place with all vegetarian food that’s got fake meat in it, but it isn’t like most health food stores, which are typically these run down retreads of 70s hippie joints, with dim lighting and patchouli smell and a shelf of strange astrology books about fasting and crystals.  It’s a very modern-looking place that resembles a Chipotle more than anything, with lots of bright colors and a smart interior.  I got this huge kale salad and sweet potato fries, and gorged on that stuff, wishing I could eat there every day.

I always associate LA with healthy food, because it’s where I lost so much weight, and if you want to do a vegan, gluten-free, macrobiotic diet, it’s the place to do it.  But it’s also interesting, because it’s the fast food capital of the world. I mean, you don’t see all of the people who live on it 24×7 in morbid obesity, like you do in the Midwest.  But everywhere on the main drags through town are taco stands and burger joints and diners and every possible chain you could think of: In-n-Out, Jack in the Box, Rally’s, Fatburger, and all of the usual ones.  I guess I started my 2008 stay in LA eating everything and everywhere, but then graduated to just the healthy stuff.  It’s really both ends of the spectrum.

On Saturday, we ate at a mostly forgettable omelet place in Long Beach, then went on a long drive into Orange County to see a friend of S’s.  We drove back into Culver City to eat at Leaf, this raw food place.  I’m not a huge advocate of raw food, and I think some of the claims are dubious, but I also like it when it’s done right. I first found out about this place because I arrived in LA for a week-long apartment hunting mission back in 2008, and stayed at a crappy Econo-Lodge right across the street.  I went there a few times that summer, and even when I was on a fries-and-burgers diet, I always liked the food there.  Unfortunately, the place is closing down this week – they are razing the whole block and building a giant apartment complex.  But we got there just in time, and I had a falafel and a sampler plate of hummus and chips and rolls, and although the service was terrible, the food was great.

That’s one thing that’s always night-and-day for me when I go back to LA.  Oakland can be a real shithole when it comes to urban renewal.  Like our neighborhood doesn’t even have a grocery store, and every time someone starts talking about building one, it always gets derailed with discussions from causeheads about whether or not it will have locally-sourced organic nut-free options serviced by transgendered indigenous peoples or whatever the fuck, and it drags on for years.  There’s something fundamentally broken in Oakland’s zoning or local government, and I think it prevents any development or major investment in the city.  Right across the line in Emeryville, things have absolutely exploded with new development and businesses and construction and offices and jobs.  The only thing we’ve seen new in our neighborhood is a tent city full of homeless people that shit in a field next to an overpass.  I think when we moved here, I had high hopes that the neighborhood would get gentrified and cleaned up, and five years later, I have pretty much given up hope for that, and drive to Emeryville or Berkeley for everything.

Anyway, when we’re in LA, I always see that insane urban development, with every square foot suddenly spouting up new businesses and mixed-use developments.  On one of our previous trips, I think 2011, I was on a sort of depressive riff in my head about the economy and state of the union, and we went to Santa Monica and walked around the promenade at night, and it was absolutely out of control there.  They built this giant addition to the mall, all filled with high-end retail, and every spot of the old main drag had some kind of store in it, selling high-ticket items or hand-crafted clothes or super good food, and the streets were filled both with tourists dumping cash at every turn, or locals driving their fine European autos and wearing expensive clothes to go spend serious cash on drinks and dinner.  And just outside of the bustle, every little area that was vacant was currently under construction, erupting with new retail space.  It reminded me of New York, the parts of New York that were always expanding, always growing, like the quick cell growth of some mutant superhero, constantly replicating and strengthening.  Compared to our neighborhood, which is nothing but empty lots and vacant warehouses, it was astonishing.

Anyway, very far off topic here.  We also went to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which is… interesting.  It’s a very meta art project more or less, a museum poking fun at museums, filled with exhibits of questionable verifiability.  I don’t know – it might be a little over my head, but the basic gist of it are that there are a lot of freaky exhibits, and you don’t really know what’s real and what’s completely fictitious.  The whole thing reminded me of walking around a living Tool video of some sort.  I bought a book about it, and will read and review it later, but it’s worth checking out if you’re ever in Culver City and have eight bucks to spare.

The trip was, unfortunately, over just as fast as it started.  I had to fly back Sunday morning, and Sarah dropped me off at LAX after an unprecedented drive up the 405 with no traffic whatsoever.  When we zipped past Carson, I saw the GZ-20 Spirit of America, better known as one of the three Goodyear blimps, which is always nostalgic, because I was obsessed with the Goodyear blimp when I was 5 or 6.  I got through security at the airport in record time, and got to camp out and get my day’s writing done before the flight.

And like I said, I got that bummed feeling after getting back home.  I know you’re supposed to hate LA, and all of the people are “fake” etc etc, but I really do like it there.  I now must resist the urge to go to redfin and start looking up house prices there, and try to get more work done on the next book.

Linky links for you:  go check out my new book, Thunderbird.  Like it on Amazon, add it on goodreads, help a brother out.  I’ve also been stepping up my review game on Amazon a bit.  Check out my reviews, and click that like button a few times and show some love.  Also, if you’re a writer and you’d like to swap books for review, leave a comment or drop a line at jkonrath at this site’s address and let’s set up a trade.  Thanks!

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My new book, Thunderbird, is now available

Over the next few months, I chipped away at The Perkins Declaration: a 1400-page, ten-part handwritten epic that told the secrets of a military tribunal executing a group of Pakistani filmmakers who were shooting a DeLorean biopic movie in rural Iowa before getting nailed by the Department of Agriculture on charges of aggravated sodomy and interstate commerce fraud. It was a love story, sort of.

I’m proud to announce that my ninth book, Thunderbird, is now available. It’s a 26-story collection of short stories and flash that blends Kafkaesque insanity, paranoia, nightmare surrealism, and scatological dystopia. It’s got FDA drone strikes against weight-loss clinics, amputee porn, a celebrity kickboxing match between Yo Yo Ma and Manuel Noriega, and hobby shop exorcisms.  It takes place in Jeff Spicoli-themed restaurants, indian casino abortion clinics, and the bizarre landscapes of extreme heavy metal album covers.  It’s filled with insane humor and nonstop non sequitur references to pop culture, medical technology, military machinery, and GG Allin albums.

If you’re a fan of plot-driven detective stories with relatable characters and realistic, believable scenarios, you will not like this book.  This is experimental, demented, obscene, and a lot of fun.  I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Check it:

Thanks in advance to everyone who helped me with this, especially Ray Miller for his help on the cover, and John Sheppard for all of his various editorial advice.  Please, check the book out, and help me spread the word!

 

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CreateSpace covers and Pixelmator for Mac

I ran into some problems when doing a wraparound cover for CreateSpace using Pixelmator on the Mac. This is one of those “note to self” posts so I remember how to do this six months or a year from now, but maybe it’s helpful to others that run into this, because I couldn’t find much in my frantic last-second google searches on this.  This is also sort of a capture of me trying to figure this out, so sorry about that.

Background: 6×9″ cover, wraparound, 186 pages, spine text. After the book was submitted and it ran for 12-18 hours in the queue, it got kicked back saying the cover was sized incorrectly, and it was resized with the front of the book offset by a half inch or so, screwing up the centering.

Potential issues:

  1. First, this cover was on a white background with white bleeds. I’ve heard this can confuse the process.
  2. There’s some confusion (and I don’t know the real answer) on the size of the PDF you use for the cover. If you download a template, the crop/bleed lines are on a PDF with a page size of 19×13 or 18×12. With that, it appears you lay out your cover in the zone in the middle and at the bottom of the page, with this giant blank spot above and on either side. I did that, and it didn’t work.
  3. The other alternative, and something I’ve seen with lulu and others, is to make your cover the size of the cover plus bleeds. So .125 + 6 + .41 + 6 + .125 by .125 + 9 + .125. I did this, and it didn’t work.
  4. I think I may have had some issues with 72dpi vs 300dpi. If you ask experts, they’ll tell you “a PDF doesn’t have resolution” which is semantic bullshit, because a PDF is a two-dimensional object, so it has to have something.

The PDF size thing: I don’t know if this was Pixelmator’s fault or mine.  But when I clicked the PDF and did a Get Info, it said it was 3798×2775, which is 12.66×9.25.  I open that PDF in Preview, do a Tools > Inspector, and there’s no “resolution” shown, but the document size is 52.75 × 38.55 inches.  Divide that out, and… 72 DPI.

I reopen my Pixelmator image, do an Image > Image Size…  52.75 × 38.55 inches at 72 DPI.  I don’t know if I just didn’t notice this and it’s a relic of me opening up the PDF template and Pixelmator assuming it’s a huge 72 DPI image, or if I just screwed it up at some point and set it to 72 DPI, or if Pixelmator automatically flip-flopped it.  All of these would be an issue, and I don’t have the patience to test all three.

Here are a number of fixes.  TL;DR: the first one works.  The other ones, well, read on.

  • Use the Cover Creator and put an image of your whole wraparound cover in it.
    1. Instead of doing an “upload your cover” click on the thing to use Cover Creator.  One of the covers (I forget the name, it’s on the second or third page) is one that lets you upload your own wraparound cover.  It’s set up to overlay spine text in the wizard, but you can shut it off and keep your own text.
    2. Take your cover in Pixelmator.  Image > Canvas Size and resize the canvas.  The cover creator wizard tells you how big it wants it.  In my case, it was 13×9.5. Center your cover in that.  You’ll basically end up with a cover with more bleed than before on each side of it.
    3. Export as a TIFF, and you’ll need to turn on compression, because there’s a 140 MB maximum file size, and it’ll be bigger than that unless you’re doing a book version of Smell the Glove.
    4. Upload that into Cover Creator.  Make sure to shut off the options for title and author spine text, and your text will show up with nothing on top of it.
    5. Done.  This worked for me.
  • The obvious way to do this would be to make your cover 300 DPI in the first place.  Or barring that, do an Image > Image Size, clear the Resample Image box, and change the 72 DPI to 300 DPI, which would change the document size accordingly.  BUT, if you export this to a PDF in Pixelmator, it downsamples to 72 DPI.  Export it as a TIFF, and it’s 300 DPI and the right page size.  In Preview, make a PDF of that, 72 DPI.  Thanks, Apple?  Sure, but thanks CreateSpace for only taking a PDF for covers.  If you bought a full copy of Acrobat Pro for your Mac, you could potentially output a PDF at the right resolution, but it would take you five times as long, because it would stop and make you download updates to all of your Adobe software 14 times during the process.  And Satan forbid you accidentally hit F1 and launch the help – that will straight-up lock your computer for an hour while that stupid Adobe help opens.  Also, $321, unless you have a student ID or otherwise hustle the ed discount.
  • My backup plan was going to be outputting a PSD from Pixelmator, then taking it to my work machine running Windows and use Photoshop and Acrobat Pro to resize from 72 to 300 and output the PDF.  For kicks and as a backup, I tried this, and it did produce a PDF that was the correct resolution, but I didn’t try submitting that, because the CreateSpace 12-796 hour delay for approval is unfathomable.
  • I tried using the Abracadabra filters to output the PDF, but it insisted on outputting to a 8.5×11 page with the PDF resized to fit.  I screwed with making a custom page size, and that worked, but the output was 72 DPI.  There might be some way to edit these quartz filters to change it, or maybe something something ColorSync Utility, but I don’t have time to screw with it.

Anyway, there.  This all probably could have been alleviated by CreateSpace taking a TIFF cover, some better instructions, and some sleep.  I need to investigate how to do a 300 DPI output of PDFs using Mac tools, but I’m done for now, so screw it.

 

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Why I Write

So the next book, which is titled Thunderbird, is done and moving through the steps in publishing.  The cover is ironed out, the interior is done, and the kindle version is being tested and tweaked.  It’s entering the phases of waiting on robots and meatgrinders to finish churning on what I gave them so I can approve the output and push it live, or make changes and wait another 12-296 hours for things to get stuck in a queue.  But, all of that’s good, and aside from all of the publicity stuff on the horizon I don’t want to deal with, this lets me shift my mind back to writing, and to the next book.

The next book – that’s always a tough one.  Each time I finish the current book, I do a post-mortem and try to figure out what went right and what went wrong, so I can figure out what should be next.  I don’t write genre fiction, so it’s not a matter of saying “what crazy adventure or sinister villain is Dirk Johnson, Vampire Gunslinger going to get into next time?” And I’ve given up on the modernist semi-autobiography stuff, so I’m not looking at a specific era of my life to strip-mine for ideas.  It’s usually a matter of thinking about form, and what container will be used to pour my ideas into to shape them into the linear thing we call a book.  And that’s always hard.

I don’t like traditional story structure.  I know you’re supposed to use it, and every self-publishing site talks about how it’s *required* for you to follow some plot arc of rising and falling action and blah blah blah.  If I was trying to write the next Wool, I would pay attention to that stuff.  But I’m not.  And you shouldn’t.  If you want to make white bread because being in Kroger is important to you, then by all means, make white bread.  But that’s not why I write.

I recently finished reading the JG Ballard Conversations book by the fine folks over at Re/Search, and there was an answer JGB gave during a Q/A for a book tour that really grabbed me.  It’s this:

“I’ve always assumed that for the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is a sort of necessary part of the way the central nervous system functions.  This separates the imaginative writer from the realistic, naturalistic writer in a very important sense. […] It seems as if the imaginative writer’s nervous system needs to run a continuous series of updates on the perception of reality.  And just sort of living isn’t enough — one feels one needs to remake reality in order for it to be meaningful.

This.  This. This. This.

I started writing in 1993.  I mean, I always wrote, but that’s the point where I got a notebook and a pen and decided I was going to stop trying to play bass guitar and stop trying to write video games and stop trying to… whatever the hell I was trying to do twenty years ago, and really try to dedicate myself to getting the thoughts out of my fucked up head and onto paper.  I was chronically depressed, didn’t know who I was or what I was doing, but had this idea that I needed to process what was going on in my mind, and going to group therapy or trying to date the right person or take the right meds was not going to do it.  I didn’t know if I was going to write science fiction or romance or journalism or kid’s books; I didn’t think about money or career or the publishing game or becoming famous or rich or any of that.  I just knew I needed to write.

And what happened is that I became addicted to writing.  I did it every day, at first forcing myself, but then turning to it as a way to process my feelings, and exercise my imagination.  I didn’t do it as a form of work or craft, but as a method of therapy, and expression.  I did write some of that modernist creative nonfiction stuff about my life, with mixed success, but it wasn’t until I started exploring the fringes of experimentalism, when I started reading guys like Mark Leyner and Raymond Federman, that I found ways to transfer my subconscious onto a page in a way that worked.  And when I successfully do that, I think it not only produces a product that’s different than other stuff out there, but it makes me feel more complete as a human being, probably in the same way that building a boat out of raw lumber helps someone find themselves.  It’s very much a “journey not the destination” thing, but completing these projects and moving on to the next one helps me benchmark my progress.

On the days I can belt out a solid thousand or two words that works, I feel great.  On days when stupid appointments and unplanned emergencies eat up my time and prevent me from getting to the computer, I feel like total shit.  I’ve tried taking time off between books, time to go wander the town or just play bass and fuck off with video games, and I can’t do it.  I know it’s supposed to be helpful with writer’s block, and I do get crippling writer’s block, especially right after projects, but taking time away like that is like when you are forced to wake up every hour or so, and you never enter REM sleep and give your brain that time to heal or regenerate or process or whatever the hell REM sleep is supposed to do.  I feel like something in my subconscious is lethally gone, and I can’t sit still.  Even if I have no idea what I am going to write, I have to write.  Even if nothing is going on in life except 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, a couple hours of dumb TV, and a few hours of showering, shitting, shaving, and cleaning up cat puke or whatever, I still need to find something to write about.

I don’t write to sell books.  I don’t write to further my literary career or hob-nob to a bigger publisher or better bragging rights or a more prestigious magazine to pick up my stories.  I hope some of you do check out my writing and maybe it entertains you.  But if this was a Twilight Zone episode where I was asleep in a bank vault during a nuclear war and the only one alive, the first thing I’d do (after breaking into a LensCrafters and making 20 backup pairs of glasses) would be to find a pen and a notebook and keep writing.  I don’t write to sell.  I don’t write to feed a publishing machine.  I write because I write.

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Before the chop, noise labels

I just finished reading the new Henry Rollins book, Before the Chop, which is a collection of his LA Weekly articles from the last couple of years, in their longer, unedited form.  Previously, Rollins would write in his journals all year about his travels and whatnot, and then at the end of each year, dump them into a book.  I liked this format, and was hoping he’d continue to do that, but it’s also good to get the regular dispatches as they happen.  The writing is a bit different between the two, and he spends more time talking about his music collection and infatuations in the column.  This is bad news as a recovering collector, because it’s hard to get through reading this book without spending at least $500 on new CDs.

One of the things that he talked about a few times that really interested me was the concept of Noise, and microlabels that support this genre.  I don’t know the history of noise as a musical genre, and I’m sure there are a million different ways to approach it.  I guess I’m most familiar with the more musically-based grindcore-derived stuff like Old Lady Drivers, and I’m sure to the non-metal fan, any grindcore is considered noise.  What Rollins was talking about though was the post-industrial stuff that came from labels like American Tapes.  For a good example, go to http://www.wolfeyes.net and listen to the videos there.

American Tapes is now apparently done releasing stuff, but they put out a thousand titles over a dozen or so years.  Every title had strange artwork, and was on bizarre formats.  Boxed sets of cassette tapes, CD-Rs sharpied up with artwork, lathe-cut vinyl, freaky-colored 7″ records – they did a lot of weird stuff, all in limited editions, all carped-bombed out at a rate in which even a frenzied collector could not keep up with.  Their site (http://americantapes.us) still has stuff for sale, along with sound samples and pictures of releases and flyers.  Some of their stuff is pure art – miniature sculptures made with glued-on junk and spray paint that just happens to have a music delivery device of some sort wrapped inside of it.

This stuff amazes me.  I mean, I love zines and chapbooks and weird-sized booklets and anything like that.  Even if the writing sucks, tell me your half-digest gold-foil-wrapped broadside is letterpress printed and limited edition, and I’ll paypal you money as fast as I can open the web site.  I love collecting stuff like that, and to see someone who has done a thousand releases like that only makes me feel like a slouch for writing one or two books a year.

I wish I knew how to draw enough to do something like this.  I’ve been looking for some way of putting out cool little books like this, and spend too much time on eBay looking for a printing press, not that I’d know how to use it or have room to keep it.  I want to learn a lot more about design and find some way to crank stuff out like this, but it’s more of a distant dream, because even writing the books that I write takes a lot of time and effort.

I need to research this more, and find more places doing this sort of thing.  God damn you, Rollins.  This is going to be a huge cash outlay.  It’s bad enough a bunch of these albums are on iTunes and can be purchased with the click of a button.

 

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All of the stuff currently on my desk, a list with little to no commentary

This is a list of all of the stuff on my desk.  Note that I don’t always write fiction-type stuff at my desk, because I work all day there, and it usually works out better when I write sitting on the couch in the living room, with actual sunlight and windows and whatnot.

  • Macbook Pro, Lenovo Thinkpad T410 – personal and work machines, respectively.  They both sit on top of each other, the Mac on the top, and run in clamshell 100% of the time, feeding into a KVM switch.
  • USB hub – connected to the Mac.  It usually has an extension cord plugged into it for when my Zoom B3 is sitting on the desk and I’m playing the bass.  It also has a FitBit charging cradle plugged into it.
  • WikiReader portable wikipedia offline reader thing I was talking about the other day, and its manual.
  • A flexible cable tie that I use to hang onto all of the disconnected cords from the Mac when I take it elsewhere, so I don’t spend 45 minutes trying to dig them up again after they fall behind the desk every goddamn time I disconnect the computer.
  • The Mac remote that came with my last MacBook, which still works for the new one, because at some point, Apple stopped including them, which is a damn shame.
  • A printout of a McKinsey report on disruptive technologies which is mostly bullshit about automated cars that S printed out for me and I feel like I should read, but after skimming it, I thought it was mostly buzzwords.
  • A pair of M-Audio studio monitors.
  • A Toshiba 1.5Tb portable USB hard drive.
  • A bunch of different smart vitamins that I never take, because I’m not smart enough to remember.  They currently include L-Theanine, Ginkgo Biloba, and Huperzine A.
  • A set of nose filters, which you are supposed to put in your nostrils and filter out air to prevent allergies.  They mostly work, but are really annoying and they push out your nostrils and make you look like a pig-alien from that episode of The Twilight Zone where everyone was horribly ugly, and the really hot chick couldn’t get surgery to look like them.
  • Someone’s address clipped off of the corner of an envelope.
  • My iPad on a stand that’s actually a wire cookbook holder, but only cost $4.
  • A bunch of Coke reward codes torn off of cases of Coke Zero.  I collect them, but I’m really lazy about entering them, so they accumulate.
  • The iPad to USB camera connector adapter.
  • A pair of foam earplugs, which always remind me of when I worked in a factory and had to wear them constantly.
  • A stack of post it notes, in the following colors: pink, yellow, pink, a white one from Samsung for some “Change and Innovation” bullshit program that nobody paid any attention to, pink, purple, yellow.
  • A bunch of cashed checks and the payment coupon booklet for my HOA.
  • A hexagon-shaped pencil holder with about a dozen and a half pens, a Palm Pilot stylus, a couple of Ikea golf pencils, and a sword letter opener with the handle broken off.
  • A half-empty bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, refreshing aloe flavor.
  • A Verilux table lamp.
  • A goLite M2 full-spectrum light.
  • A Kensington trackball.
  • An Apple Magic Trackpad.
  • A Kinesis Advantage keyboard.
  • A Guitar Center receipt.
  • A cloth napkin.
  • A copy of “Slap Bass: The Ultimate Guide” by Ed Friedland, on DVD.
  • These stupid fucking Virgin Mobile prepaid phone cards, which I cannot get rid of.  (If you use Virgin Mobile prepaid, please email me and I will sell them at a loss.)
  • A pad of paper.
  • A stack of received postcards.
  • The instruction manual to a Meteor USB Mic.
  • The medication guide for Zolpidem tablets, which I do not take, but which I found amusing, because it says “After taking zolpidem, you may get out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing.”  The activities listed include driving a car and having sex.

I also have a monitor and a webcam, but they are not really on my desk; they’re mounted to a stand that is mounted to the back of my desk.

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Sleeping wall of remorse

I always hate dealing with the postpartum depression that follows writing a book.  I’m finding it’s even worse when I don’t immediately publish the book and get it out of my hair. I’m currently waiting for someone else to go through it, and I want to just rip it off like a band-aid on a hairy arm and be done with it, move on to the next thing.  I’m never happy with a book right after I finish it, and I’ve found the best way to deal with that is to really finish it, publish it and close the door on it, or I’ll pick at it forever.

I got this thing that’s a complete mirror of wikipedia on a little handheld computer thing that’s about as big as one of those light-up coaster things they hand you at a restaurant to page you when your table is ready.  It has a touchscreen and a couple of buttons on it, and probably runs some embedded linux thing on a low-powered system-on-a-chip that can run forever on a pair of AAA batteries.  It uses a micro-SD card to hold the entire wikipedia, which means it can be updated and allegedly hacked to work as a cheapie book reader.  I think it cost 20 dollars.  I don’t know why I bought it, but it has a “random” button, and I could spend hours hitting that button over and over, reading about Frank X. Schwarb, the mayor of Buffalo, New York from 1922-1929, or the Inner Dominion harness racing competition in Australia and New Zealand or Sergio Salvati, the cinematographer who used to work with Lucio Fulci.  It’s an interesting distraction.

I saw a friend of mine this weekend who I have not seen in 24 years.  She moved here in 2011, but we kept playing email tag, because I never leave the house, and driving down to the peninsula is something I avoid, probably because I used to do it ever day.  This is someone who was a good confidante back in high school, and I probably drove her nuts with all of my depressing tirades about whatever I was depressed about back in 1988.  It’s strange to see someone after such a long gap now, after we’ve both become adults (well, me only sort of) and we’ve missed those huge chunks of life between 18 and 42.  And there’s a time when I relished swapping tales about who ended up where and who is still stuck in Elkhart and who’s in prison and all of that, but I keep up with that stuff less and less, and feel sort of stupid for even keeping track of most of it.

I also sometimes feel very self-conscious when I catch up with people, because that whole exercise of summing up your life in the last decade or two and trying to make yourself not sound like an idiot and not appear to be an egotistical asshole is a difficult task.  I mean, I enjoyed talking to her, and liked meeting her husband and kid and seeing her house and all of that.  It was good to catch up and we had a good evening together.  But I always find myself wondering if I’m trying to project some kind of fake persona or if I’m going to say something stupid or fixate on some part of the past that the other person wants no part of.  Maybe I think about this too much.

This is related to a thought I had recently about writer’s block.  I recently outlined a book I’d like to write, spent a lot of time with post-it notes and got it all typed into Scrivener, but then couldn’t really get started with the actual writing.  A big part of that was that the writing wasn’t entirely in my voice; it’s an attempt to read a little big beyond my wheelhouse, and the thinking involved in writing like that made me hesitant to actually get the words down on the paper.  It reminded me of when I used to have these bad first dates, and I’d spend the whole time in my head trying to act like the person that the other person wanted to date, so they would like me.  And I’d second-guess everything I said, wondering if it was the “right” thing.  And I’d always fail miserably.  I think writing is a lot like that, because the best first dates I ever had were the ones where I honestly did not give a fuck what the person thought about me, and I just acted naturally.  I think the best writing I ever do is also when I don’t think about it, and just let the words flow.  It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s what works.

Speaking of, I should go do some actual writing.

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