I don’t know that people take walks of any length on piers these days, short or long

I walked four miles yesterday, in a sudden fit of “I am going to be fucked when I go on vacation and have to walk all day.” I brought my old iPod and left my phone and wallet at home, so I would not lose them in a mugging (I’d just lose my own life when I got shot for being cheap enough to only have an iPod that’s 17 generations old, which is like two steps better than walking around with an old Victrola that only plays 78s.)  Anyway, the iPod had a Henry Rollins spoken word album I’d forgotten I had, his first, called Short Walk Off a Long Pier, which Rollins himself says “It’s just awful.”  I would agree, but it was entertaining to hear, because at the very start of my writing career, I spent so much of my waking time walking, and listening to early Rollins spoken word, and it was interesting to revisit that, twenty years later.

I have been writing.  I don’t like to talk about works in progress, but maybe if I mention it, I will keep going.  I am writing something completely different, and it is very plotted, and is more or less a genre book.  I spent a few weeks on a complete start-to-finish outline of this incredibly linear and non-Konrathian plot, and a week and a half ago started the actual writing.  I just crossed the 20,000 word mark, and am past Act I, so that’s the good news.  The bad news is that I’m certain the writing is very wooden and passive and scary.  But I need to get a framework down, then I will go back and weird it up.  It’s very different writing this genre stuff, and it’s in third person, which I have little experience with, so it’s working a very different set of muscles. But it’s getting there.

Still have not planned much in Germany yet.  I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and looked to see what Germany books they had, and other than those “learn German in 12 seconds” CD sets, they had either books on Berlin, or books on all of Germany, of which like 12 pages of a 500-page book covered the towns I would be in.  There’s more online, but I am lazy and have not gotten to that point yet.  I did briefly fall down the k-hole of thinking I needed a new computer bag, and then needed all of this various travel tactical gear.  It’s too easy for me to spend all day on Amazon, thinking “hey, this alcohol stove only weighs 8.2 ounces” when of course I’m going to eat all of my meals at KFC and it’s not like there will be a sudden snowstorm and I’ll have to produce my own fold-up titanium cot and deep-sea fishing kit including shark knife and wind-up emergency weather band radio.  All I really need to bring is cash, and lots of it.  And headphones, I guess.

Do not download the game 2048.  Do.  Not.  Do.  It.



My Writing Process, 2014 Edition

Okay, so there’s this thing going around, a #MyWritingProcessTour thing, and you know how these memes work – someone nominates you to answer a bunch of questions, you nominate a few other people to do the same, and so on.  I’ve written a lot about process here, and I talked about it in an interview last year, but the tools always slightly change, and so does the writing structure, so maybe it’s a good time to visit the topic again.

I was nominated by Sam Snoek-Brown – go check out his answers there, and also take a look at his latest chapbook, Box Cutters, over on Amazon.  Okay, on to the questions.

What Am I Working On?

I just published Atmospheres in the beginning of March, and I should be publicizing that, but that didn’t work out and I fell into a deep post-partum depression, like I always do.  I stumbled with writing something similar, which started to catch, but it’s hard to plod forward on a book that’s essentially the same as one you just wrote that didn’t sell.  (And I know this isn’t about how many books I sell, but it wouldn’t be bad if a few people actually read them.)

Anyway, I sat around the house watching old movies and taking notes.  Even though I’ve burned a lot of cycles writing about how books don’t need plot and we’re all fucked because plot is a crutch for dumb readers and eventually all novelists will be doing nothing more than writing the book equivalent of stupid half-hour sitcoms, I still have this sick desire to write a well-crafted, heavily-plotted novel.  About once a year, I get this bug stuck in my ass and come up with a half-baked idea and start writing it and then flame out after 50,000 words, a solid Act 1, a broken Act 2, and 17 words of an outline of an Act 3.

(I don’t know what the desire is on doing this.  I think part of it is that I get so much shit for writing “plotless” books, as if that’s a pejorative term, and I think it isn’t.  But every time I get that, I feel like writing a heavily plotted book as a big fuck-you to show that I can do it, and then I’d write another ten books that didn’t do this.  Because I can; it’s just I feel like I’m not pushing the envelope when I do.)

Well, right now I have an 80%-baked idea, and just started work on it, and have a much more solid outline and the first 10,000 on it.  That’s about all I can say about it right now, but if it still has momentum in a month, it could be good.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of its Genre?

I don’t really fit into any particular genre, so I don’t know how to answer this.  I can probably answer by saying why my work doesn’t fit into specific genres or communities, and that would define the differences in my writing.  So:

  • I don’t write genre fiction, so I don’t write high-concept stuff that can easily be pitched.
  • I feel like most experimental writing is an academic study in form, and not necessarily written to be entertaining. While I think that kind of writing is important, I’m not an academic, and I write to entertain, so I think the readability level is much higher in my work.
  • I’m often called an absurdist, but there’s a fine line between satirists and absurdism (i.e. Vonnegut, Heller, Tom Robbins, etc.) and I think when people think of absurdism, they’re really thinking satire. I think more of the Dada and surrealism movements in art, but the word surrealism has been overloaded and destroyed in modern culture to the point of meaningless, and I think any time someone sees something weird or freaky or psychedelic, they call it surreal, (i.e. locking a bunch of has-been celebrities in a house and making a reality TV show is “surreal” now.)
  • I’m often lumped into the Bizarro fiction world, but I haven’t published anything with Eraserhead or their imprints, which is the difference between bizarro and Bizarro.  I also feel like at this point, half of bizarro is horror fiction with a certain Troma-esque sense of humor, or it’s a very set form of “let’s take Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and make Tom Sawyer a talking anthropomorphic penis, and it’s set in Nazi Germany” and that’s that.  There are exceptions to the rule, but I’ve never fell into the groove with that, and I don’t write horror.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I wrote a big post called Why I Write, which partially answers this.  If I were to riff on this for a minute, I’d give the stock answer of “I write what I would want to read” which is a bit of a cop-out, but is true. I mean, when I read or re-read a classic book like Naked Lunch or a more contemporary one like any of Mark Leyner’s stuff, I always think “I really like this — who is writing more stuff like this?” and the answer is nobody.  So, that’s what I need to write.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Okay, here is the rundown, 2014 edition.

First, I write here and write on Facebook and twitter, and those don’t really feed into my actual writing; they are just distractions.  I also keep a personal journal, handwritten in little moleskine books, and I try to write in that every single day, but it’s mostly just about day-to-day happenings and not about writing, except maybe how much I did or did not do.

I use a MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad, and I use the Notes app to keep track of ideas or write down things as they happen in the wild, like little phrases or title ideas or things to research later.  These sync across all of the devices, and I currently sync them through Gmail, which means in theory I can access them even if I’m somehow away from all three things but still at a computer.  (I might research how to change this to iCloud, because every time I rely on a Google service for something, they decide to cancel it.)

I use Scrivener for everything.  So I have a big Scrivener catch-all project that contains nothing but bits and pieces, leftovers from published books and ideas for characters and lists of random objects and places and little phrases I want somebody to say at some point and title ideas.  It’s basically a hoarder’s house of words.  Every month or so, I scoop out the running Notes file of ideas and drop it in there.  When I have time, I sometimes move the pieces into the proper places, and if I was smart, I’d do that religiously.  But I’m not.  I am about 17% confident that the best ideas float back out of the scratch project when I skim it looking for things to rip off in a current project.  And I’m learning that not every idea that comes out of my head is golden and 90% of them should probably die.  But that’s always a struggle.

For writing plotted stuff: I will probably go into this in greater detail after the book is done.  But I’m using a program called Scapple, which is by the same company as Scrivener, and it’s a sort of mind mapping thing.  You draw little circles on a big blank canvas and put text in them and connect them together and shuffle them around.  Once you get the order correct, you can either export it into OPML, or just drag and drop it into Scrivener.

Scrivener uses this concept of scrivenings, which are little chunks of text.  You can view all of the scrivs sequentially, like a big, flat file.  You can then create folders and a hierarchy and move them all around and give each one a cute title and have them be your chapters or parts of chapters or scenes or whatever.  You can also switch to an outline mode, or to an index card mode, that uses a different piece of text per scriv (a short description) so you can plot your story and move things around.  It’s confusing until you get the hang of it, and then you never want to go back.

For plotted stuff, I moved the Scapple map I plotted out and dropped it into Scrivener, where each little scene bubble became a scriv.  Then I organized things by Act and got the order all correct, and started writing from page one, sequentially.  When I get done, I can shoot the whole thing out in .DOC format or whatever.  I use Apple Pages instead of Word for layout, because I hate word.  And Scrivener is able to output eBooks pretty much perfectly, so that’s what I do.

When I do the more non-linear writing, I typically have a project and I free-write every day, 500 or 1000 words.  When I wrote Atmospheres, I would listen to the Sleep album Dopesmoker all the way through every day, and write, with my only rule being that I couldn’t write about not writing. I mix in pieces that are in that scratch project, and I later cut out bits and pieces and split things up.  Sometimes, I’ll write for a given day, and I’ll split out a single paragraph or even sentence from that entry, and create a new scriv from it, maybe gluing in pieces from another one, and eventually fill it out until it’s a longer piece.  It’s like songwriting, collecting riffs and eventually gluing them together and smoothing them out until something larger appears.  This takes forever, but it would take longer if I was doing it in another program.

I usually have a hair-brained scheme involving color tags on the project outline that determines what’s part-done and what’s almost-done and what needs a total redo.  I also set up a NO folder outside the project and start chucking things into it that I can’t look at anymore.  Eventually it comes down to PDFs that are printed and red-penned and mailed to readers for comments.

Okay, I’m supposed to tag a bunch of people here to answer the same questions.  I have not asked any of them to do it, so they probably won’t but here you go:


The market for YA books about euthanasia is going to be huge someday, so get on that now

So I booked my trip to Germany this week, which was a huge hit on the credit card, but at least I figured out the dates and times.  I’m going to be in Nuremberg for basically a weekend, and then Frankfurt for a week.  Travel times screw with that a bit, though.  I couldn’t figure out a flight to Nuremberg on a Thursday, and my first strike on all of the deal sites ended up looking like this: Wake up early for work on Thursday, work all day, take a twelve-hour flight from SFO to Zurich, then sit for eleven hours until I took an hour-long flight to Nuremberg.  Um, no.

I eventually found a trip where I left a little later on an SFO to Frankfurt flight, then sit around for almost seven hours until a half-hour flight to Nuremberg.  If I was smart, I’d skip the connecting flight and take a two-hour train ride, but I don’t know how to deal with the customs, luggage, tickets, etc.  I know everyone speaks English, but even in the same scenario in America, I’d get stressed out.  All of this means I have to sleep on the plane ride out, because there’s no way in hell I will be able to power through two days of no sleep and airports.  Sonata, take me away – I need to sleep on that flight.  And I will probably pay to get into one of those lounges at the airport and take a long shower and curl up with some WiFi and a power connection for the layover.  Hopefully there will be plenty of cased meat German goodness for me to consume during my wait.

Speaking of Germany, we bought a second car, actually a new primary car for S.  It’s the Jetta sportwagon, which is pretty nice.  It has all of the extras, like a huge moonroof, leather heated seats, and a whole armada of lights and motors and switches I will never understand.  I am fine with the Prius C as my daily driver, mostly because I don’t drive daily.  I’ve had the car for three months and put 800-some miles and only two tanks of gas in it.

I’ve started a new book, which is good.  It’s a lot different than my other books, and that’s about all I can say about it, except that it’s been a little slow out of the gate, but is very heavily over-outlined and planned from the start.  It takes place in Seattle, which has been interesting for me.  Although I’m only a few days into it, I am hoping to keep up with my current rate and maybe get a draft done before Germany.  Fingers crossed on that.

Atmospheres has not sold at all.  It hasn’t been reviewed or mentioned or purchased, aside from one or two brief blips on the radar.  It’s fallen completely flat, and I went into a huge post-partum depression over that.  There’s nothing I can do about that except go out and try to write another book, but it’s extremely depressing to finish something you really love and then realize you have no audience at all for it.  I realize it’s a hard book to read, but it’s got some of my favorite writing in it, and went in a new direction for me, with a lot of rawness and honesty I haven’t been able to work into other books.

But it’s a tough sell, and it’s not the kind of thing I can shore up with ads and targeted mentions to communities like it’s a YA vampire book, because there isn’t really a community for this kind of shit.  I’ve been greatly distancing myself from the Bizarro community and the literary fiction category, and have completely forgotten about the alt-lit thing, because I’ve realized I don’t fit into any of those, and I don’t feel welcome.  This shit is high school all over again, and I’d rather write.  So, that’s what I do.

Not much else is up.  Still taking bass lessons, which has been good, except that my teacher let me play his Precision bass, which is one of those 50s reissues made in Japan in the late 80s, and it’s such a phenomenally awesome bass that I immediately want one.  I’ve got four basses, three that are never played, and I’ve been scheming some way to arbitrage my way into something else, maybe sell three and build one.  I should just fucking practice and stop thinking about it, but those vintage frets and lightweight bodies full of punch make me jones for something else.

It’s quickly becoming summer here.  It’s gout season right now, and I’ve got stiff joints and fingers and a clicky neck that makes me think I should just move into my chiropractor’s office.  Been reading that new Barry Miles bio on Burroughs, which I’m enjoying.  I have read too many Burroughs bios in the last six months, but this one is pretty solid.

I’m starving and 1500 words in for the day, so I need to look into some waffles or pancakes or bacon or all three.


Happy birthday, Wrath of Kon

This site has been here, in one form another, for 17 years now.

In 1997, I got together a couple of half-baked elisp scripts and installed them on my shell account over at Speakeasy. This was before the word ‘blog’ was invented.  Mark Zuckerberg was 13 and Facebook was nowhere near an idea yet.  Social networking consisted of AOL chat and not much more.  56K modems were just hitting the scene, and some people had moved up to 800×600 screens.  Google didn’t exist, and everyone used Alta Vista.  There were about a million and a half web sites, compared to the three billion we have in 2014.

Back then, WordPress was not an option. LiveJournal had not been invented. Blogger would not launch for a few more years.  But I wanted to keep an online journal somehow.  My friend Bill Perry helped me come up with a script in emacs so I could hit a key combo and it would open up a file, named with that day’s date, with all of the HTML at the top and bottom of the page, so I could easily type that day’s entry and have a page per day.  I then wrote the world’s shittiest C program to generate the index, which sat in the left frame of the page.  (Remember frames?  Shit.)  My goal was to telnet into Speakeasy every day, and use my lunch hour to practice writing, with little public entries about current projects or observations or whatever was going on in Seattle.  I’d have no way to write about my travels – laptops were huge and expensive; mobile internet was not a thing; phones were giant bricks; PDAs were either being figured out or were the Apple Newton.  And photos were not much of an option, unless I took them with my 35mm, scanned them with a scanner I did not own, and then smashed and flattened them so they’d download on a slow modem.  Text was king, and my plan was to keep writing short essays and updates, even if my life was boring and I didn’t have some hook or theme to the whole thing.

After I moved to New York in 1999, blogs became A Thing.  I resisted calling this a blog for a long time.  (“It’s a journal!”)  Teenagers started livejournals.  The Blogosphere happened. Due to the Iraq war and W and all of that, the news cycle became bloggy or gave blogs legitimacy or whatever.  Every engineer that got laid off during the 2000 NASDAQ crash and bubble bursting started a blog company and then sold it to Google for millions.  Professional blogging became a job.  All of these niche blogs happened, and if you were a twenty-something and had a quirky blog and were a Cool Kid, you’d get a book deal to scrape your text into print.  Maybe it would become a movie.  (A blog where someone cooks all of the crap in a cookbook?  Really?)

I had good years and bad years of blogging.  There were a couple of times I stopped, and went dark.  (1998, 2000)  There were years I barely entered anything.  And there were years where I had daily entries, huge essays, long trip reports, and pieces of fiction that ended up in books.  I did a book of blog entries from 1997-1999.  I like it, but nobody bought it.  (It’s out of print now.)  I often thought about doing another book, but the blog-to-book model is annoying to me, and nobody buys my books anyway, so it’s not worth the time.  I often struggle with what to write here and feel bad that I don’t blaze away daily like I did ten years ago, but I eventually do come back.

Those scripts went away a few years ago, and I switched to using WordPress.  And I eventually stopped resisting the term blog, although I did it just in time for blogs to be dead.  I guess I still have some readers here, but it hasn’t been about monetizing this, and it’s never been my main writing project.  It’s not here to sell my books (it doesn’t) and it doesn’t get the attention my other writing does.  But it’s been around long enough that it isn’t going anywhere.  Even if the blogging culture fully dies and everyone spends time on some new site where you just record a grunt and exchange them with friends who grunt back, I’ll still be here typing.

But yeah, 17 really puts the zap on things.  I remember when I was 17.  A lot of people I know were still shitting in diapers in 1997.  And there’s this strange wave of 90s nostalgia, a “hey, remember…” movement for a time that feels like it was a week ago to me.  Time’s strange.

Anyway, thanks for reading.  I’ll keep writing if you keep showing up.  And even if you don’t, I’ll probably still keep writing.