Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Last Wyoming Days

I never imagined ever loving a place so much I wouldn’t want to leave. I escaped Ohio with a velocity that stalled out many times, always returning to that dismal state because that’s where I was from, that’s where my family ate, worked, slept, played.

Four years ago, stuck in dead end jobs—gas station clerk, pizza delivery driver, and trying to find people to pay me for web design—I made a decision: to return to school, to get my master’s. I thought I’d go to school in Ohio. Wright State, Ohio State, anywhere within driving distance, and my wife looked at me one evening and said, “What about the University of Wyoming?”

“What about the University of Wyoming?” I asked back.

Years ago, my wife drove cross country in her red Cavalier to a Jackson Hole lodge to work as a receptionist. On a day off work, she made it to Laramie, visited the University, and fell in love. She said on that drive out in her mid-twenties—an age really too old to work at a lodge and yet too young to have a decent job—layers of stress peeled off her skin like peeling onions down to their cores.
The return trip for her, how many years later, was not as restorative, with two kids and after having sold everything we owned except what we could manage to cram into a Ford Escort with a smashed front end thanks to a deer and untreated sleep apnea, and the Ford Windstar van with a cracked rear axle and a tail pipe attached with bailing wire neither of which we knew anything about because the dealer said it had all been fixed for us. We never looked underneath the van to really find out because we didn’t really want to know. We were driving to an apartment we had never seen before, and when we arrived the university housing felt like a hotel room, temporary and demanding with crazy strict rules like no drinking alcoholic beverages outside, no grills, no pets—never mind the cracked vinyl blinds, the crumbling dry wall, the bedroom doors without locks. This place became home. I looked out my kitchen window and saw mountains. I drove down the road to drop the kids off at school or dance or any number of activities, and I saw mountains.

The people we met, we will never forget. The support for what we were trying to accomplish out here, what we did accomplish out here was amazing. My wife and I walked together at graduation. She received her bachelor’s in English with a creative writing minor and a professional writing minor. I got my master’s. She was accepted to the University of New Hampshire MFA program, and in a few days we will drive across country one more time. It feels like an exodus. We are packing through the night. We are rushing to leave a place we do not want to leave.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breathing and Unpublishing

I unpublished a book.

I had been avoiding this marketing move. It felt like to me defeat, but the book wasn't selling. Either no one knew about the book, or it was simply bad and there was something wrong with the writing. I am, of course, the best writer there ever was, so that last bit certainly can't be true.

The book was difficult to write. My hometown featured in the piece, and though I often find myself writing about Ohio, I write about the cities--Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland... I don't write about the movie theater I had my first date at. I don't write about the restaurant I met my wife at.[1] These are emotionally charged, highly personal spaces for me. They don’t belong in the public sphere, and that, of course, is the very reason light should be shed on those privacies.

The book was simply not ready for publication. I had not taken the time to write it. I rushed through the story so I could be done. I’ve had more than one industry pundit tell me to slow down, to not be in a hurry. My internal response has always been that they don’t know; the problem is that they do know. They’ve been at it longer than I have. They know more than I, and I need to listen to them.

Self-publishing is hard because it is indeed so easy. You write something and then you hit the publish button, and you are done. You have to watch the temptation to publish before you are ready.

Breathe a little bit once in a while. That’s kind of a life lesson over a writing lesson. Charge in, but charge in prepared. In my teens, I was enthralled with essayist Robert Fulghum of All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame. I owned all of his books. I imagined what it would be like to be Robert Fulghum.[2] In one untitled essay, I continue to remember, Fulghum says he is a professional breather. Unpublishing a book was like that: breathing on the exhale.

[1] Happy Humpty is now a parking lot. We met to discuss the local community college’s newsletter. She wore the reddest, thickest lipstick I had ever seen on a woman. She ordered coffee. I hated coffee but wanted to act grown-up and ordered coffee. Years later she tells me she doesn’t know why she ordered coffee—she hated coffee too. Now, of course, we slurp the stuff down by the gallons.
[2] I just recently learned Fulghum’s on Twitter, and I immediately stalked followed him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Delete All the Words

I used to run. Due to a leg I broke in seven places, this activity is no longer enjoyable. It’s hard and it hurts. My foot falls flat onto the ground and pain shoots up into my brain and I want to cry. I was reminded of the pain last summer, when I tried once again to run. Every few years, I tend to forget how much pain running causes me. I buy really good tennis shoes, shorts, headbands, and load my phone up with Eye of the Tiger.

Running was a passion back in high school, and I was an avid cross country enthusiast and track and field guy, though I was never very good at either sport. I crossed the finish line last every time. I finally lettered my senior year, but felt the school gave me the letter because they had to.

I never quit. I just kept going. I am pretty proud of that letter, and still have it. The letter proves I finished.

As an author, I’v finished a lot of things[1], and I’ve written some good lines:

  • I try to forever hold this visible shape, my name.
  • Old blood seeping into the garden.
  • She returned to become a sickness.
  •  I imagined him with death.
  • She looked at everything in her mind and took a breath.
  •  I crawled into the morning.

I’m being indulgent sharing with you because these are all lines that have been deleted from my published work, and the list is longer, stored in a Scrivener project titled The Great Big Idea File.[2] They are my darlings, but I have not murdered them.[3] I have saved them for future work. They may find a story home yet, although some of the lines are as old as 1991.

When you’ve written something well, but the line doesn’t perfectly fit into the piece of writing you’re working on, don’t delete the words. Don’t murder your darlings. Save them. Place them in a box for later. Let them live and breathe. Go back to them for inspiration.

Listen to your muse; not outdated Edwardianism writing advice from World War I era modernism where real people were murdered across continents. English author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch invented the 1914 advice: “Murder your darlings.”[4] Quiller-Couch’s choice in wording fascinates me. I think of Wendy Darling and her brothers whimsically following Peter Pan through the night sky, second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. I think maybe there was some jealousy there. Quiller-Couch rewrote four fairy tales: The Sleeping Beauty, Blue Beard, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. They weren’t that popular, yet J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was immensely popular, and absolutely soared into the night sky, and, for a hundred fifty years more, continues to be a success, an eternally indulgent, youthful tale. From this perspective, “Murder your darlings” takes on dark connotations.

Authors are insanely jealous people. We always compare ourselves to more successful writers; always wondering why people aren't reading our art. So we give each other bad advice, or continually perpetuate bad advice not realizing it was bad advice to begin with. We turn our art into some kind of bad competition, admiring and secretly hating at the same those ahead of us.
The truth is though, no one is ahead of us. We’re all running, but the finish line does not exist.

[2] For a great article on Scrivener, check out Bryan Collins “Using Scrivener For Blogging: The Ulitmate How To Guide.” I've tried writing posts on Scrivener, but the software is so amazing I fall short of describing its awesomeness. Bryan’s piece gives a down and dirty quick overview.
[3] Forrest Wickman wrote a great piece for Slate in 2013 that discusses where the “Kill your Darlings” writing advice really came from. Please people, stop attributing Stephen King.
[4] You can read Quiller-Couch’s entire Cambridge lectures on the art of writing at

Monday, June 15, 2015

33 Chickens That Look Like Freddie Flintoff--Um, not really

In junior high, I was infatuated with a girl. I asked her out like fifteen thousand times, and she always said no, but was always gracious to me. My best friend and I schemed about getting dates with her, and I wrote love poems I never shared with her. When she went to boarding school, I realized I’d never have a chance with her, and not for lack of trying but simply because of sheer distance. I began writing seriously then, but not for publication. I wrote stories that involved me saving her from school bullies, house fires, and dragons. Then, something clicked in my brain and I just began writing, and I knew then that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—to tell stories. My grandmother purchased a year’s subscription to Writer’s Digest. I poured over those magazines and kept them until my early twenties. I purchased at the age of fifteen Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and I still have that copy, taped up and dog-eared. At sixteen, I don’t think I really knew what a fiction writing career looked like. It involved learning how to type, being alone, smoking, wearing cardigan sweaters, and moving to New England.[1] I imagined my future books on bookstore shelves. 

It was a very romantic idea of the writing life.

Over the last few weeks, I’v been thinking about what it means to be an author of the twenty-first century. I still want to tell stories. I own a couple of cardigans and a few sweater vests.[2] I've been trying to quit smoking for years, I’m surrounded by people, and you can’t find a single one of my novels in any brick and mortar store. You have to buy my stuff on Amazon. I’m okay with these shattered high school illusions because I’m still telling stories, but what I’v realized over the past few weeks is that being an author is not just about writing stories.

We have become what Internet marketing gurus call Content Provders. We’re like BuzzFeed only more personal.

What can get dangerous for the twenty-first century content provider is turning into that 13 year old boy continually asking out the pretty girl in the second row of morning home room. Facebook for a while, for example, was inundated with clickbait:

  • An Out of Work Comedian Tries to Purchase a Bottle of Coke. The Reason Why Will Make You Cry.
  • Emojis That Would Upset an Amateur Clown
  • 15 Sex Tips That Londoners Won’t Believe Actually Exist
  • 33 Chickens That Look Like Freddie Flintoff[3]

Twitter still is inundated with authors screaming “Buy My Book,” and, heck, sometimes I even fall into this trap.[4] What I didn't get when I was 13 is that girls don’t want to be bombarded everyday with the same question over and over—Do you want to go out on a date—Do yo want to buy my book—No. The answer is always no.

At least when I was 13, the girl I was in love with was always gracious. In the real world of the Internet, not so much. People turn you off like a bad TV show.[5] Or move away to boarding school.

[1] Ironically, I’m moving to New Hampshire later this month, but by coincidence only.
[2] I own these items because I livein Wyoming and we have bitter cold winters that get down into the negative twenties. Actually, this is not as bad as it sounds. People automatically think frost bite, but I commuted to work on a bicycle in that weather and have friends that do the same.
[3] To be fair, according to an Atlantic Monthly article, BuzzFeed never uses clickbait, and my clickbait headlines were generated because I’m not that boring creativewise.
[4] Banana Sandwich is only $2.99 on Amazon today. Free for Prime members. ;p
[5] Like Phyllis becaue I’m pretty sure no one remembers that TV show except me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Most Important Thing I Learned From My First Book Launch

I launched Wasteland two years ago. I spent four years writing the novel; longer if you factor in the idea for Jack began in an Iowa Writer’s Workshop as an undergrad. I poured my heart and soul into that book. I bled. It was the piece of writing that pushed me over the edge, made me realize I needed to not worry about what my mother would think if she read what I wrote about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I shopped the novel around to different agents and publishers, and they all told me what I had written was really good, but that I had no audience for it. Wasteland would never sell. I felt like my authorial hopes were utterly dashed.

My wife several years back, when I attempted to write within the romance genre,[1] asked if I would ever consider self-publishing, and I summarily put down anybody and everybody that self-published. I think my exact words were, “People who self-publish aren’t real writers. They’re hacks. There’s no respect there.”  I kept running into people online that were doing really well as independent authors, though: Megg JensenHugh HoweyTamara LinseKsenia Anske, and these are just a few of the people I’ve carried on conversations with via lots of social media. So these authors made me feel better about my decision to self-publish, which was originally an act of self-indulgent desperation.
Today, Wasteland sells about a copy a month. That seems miserable to you—maybe. To me, that sales figure is absolutely marvelous. It means someone somewhere for the past two years has read my book, which means I have an audience, albeit a very tiny audience. As the months progressed though, what I didn’t understand was why my sales weren't exponentially increasing, or at least just increasing. I had read all the blogs that said above and beyond any marketing, the book had to simply be good, and people would find you. I never had dreams of grandeur. No fantasies of becoming rich and famous. I only wanted to pay the electric bill.[2] I figured, if I built it, they would come, you know the movie:

What I didn’t get was that nobody knew who I was. More importantly, no one cares who I am. The publishing world has changed. Gone are the days when one spent leisure amounts of time in bookstores browsing the shelves for new authors. We now have algorithms and online reviews and social media and Goodreads and Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, the list goes on.[3] This is how authors are found now, and no longer can they be the recluse they used to be, hunched over their typewriter pounding out a novel in a night Jack Kerouac style. And even Kerouac found publicity:

It’s thought, by many too, that Hemingway’s tough guy persona was all an act, an ongoing publicity stunt to push more novels.  Indeed, when in Europe Hemingway followed around famous authors like a lost puppy dog, latching onto the fame, looking up to others that had gone before him.

I’m not suggesting you as author or me as author or you as anyone selling anything (and we all sell something) put on a marketing campaign to gain notoriety. I am suggesting  we say hello to each other, get to know each other, to be vulnerable and to let each other into our very private lives.

[1] Um, that didn't work out so well. I don’t care what anyone says, writing romance is hard. Very very hard. And I can’t do it. I just can’t. I've tried. Kudos to all you romance authors!
[2] This is not true. Certainly I want to pay the electric bill, but I have dreams of packed lecture halls while I droned on to aspiring writers about how to make a book. This, at any given moment, is either a fantasy or a nightmare of mine. Either way, I’m considering putting together a udemy course. J
[3] Bookstores are still a vital component to marketing a book, and I don’t think actual brick and mortar bookstores will ever go away—in fact, I believe we’ll actually in the long-run see a rise in the independent bookstores. Sorry Barnes and Nobles, Hastings, Borders, Walden.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Can a Male Author Write a Sex Scene?

Can a male author write a sex scene in first person from a woman's perspective? You be the judge; the scene already has my wife's approval!

I stare at George. He is not the best of looking men. He does not have a chiseled chin. His hair is never combed. His smile is a bit crooked. He is thin and bony. He has taken to wearing glasses Clark Kent style. But he takes care of me and loves me and he is mine. So I attack him. I undo his belt buckle quickly and pull his pants to his knees. I grab a hold of his penis and watch him grow. It is like magic watching him get hard, and like the rest of his body, his dick is long and thin. He pulses slightly at my touch. He makes no noise and lets me do what I want. I take him into my mouth. He tastes of honey and salt, but I don’t let him cum. I sit up and take off my clothes. I climb on top of him and he stares at me in disbelief, like he stares at me every time we have sex, and at first I thought this was cute. A guy who didn't know what to do with a woman, but dammit I’m his woman and he should know by now. He grabs my breasts and fiddles with my nipples like they are radio dials. George I say, and he takes this as encouragement, and tunes in more radio stations. This will have to be something I fix later. Now, I just want to fuck him, so I pin his arms to the bed and keep them there. He smiles like he is sixteen and cashing in his virginity card. I close my eyes. After, we lie next to each other, me naked, him half naked. He is about to fall asleep. I place his hand on my breasts. Relax I say. Like this I say. Slow and soft.  
In the morning, we wake, and he does it right. He nuzzles up to my neck and gives me small kisses. I can feel his breathing, and he is trying to control himself.  I can feel his heart flutter.   
His hands tremble against my body. I tremble. He tugs at my bottom lip with his teeth. His hands are at my hips. He lifts me up, pushes himself into me. One two thrusts. I’m so close and he pulls out. He goes inside me again, deeper than ever before. Deeper than I've ever had anyone. And I want him to stay. I want him to stay with me forever. But he doesn't. He pulls out again and again. I claw at his back. I push him down. He goes in once more, and he stays; he holds still, unmoving. His whole body wet with sweat against mine and I can’t hold on any longer. And then he releases. He shudders, and I can tell he wants to keep going, keep pushing, thrusting. He rolls off me, his breathing—my breathing—erratic. We’re holding hands. The sun shines through the cracks in the vinyl blinds. The dust flotsam dance suspended in midair.
Better? he asks.
Like slow jazz and dark chocolate I say.

The above is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Banana Sandwich. If you liked it, consider downloading free on Amazon beginning June 10th through the 15th. And I’d also appreciate a Thunderclap support at