Controlled Abandon

emo-kid

I bleed words, dudes. I BLEED them.

I got a few responses to my previous blog, mostly concern from other authors hoping I’m alright. I guess that’s what I get for a dismal title like “We’re All Going to Die, etc.”

I guess I should have prefigured that post with a warning. Coming to the realization that many of the reasons we do what we do might not add up at the end of the day, or at the end of one’s life, isn’t for everyone. I’m just trying to explore why I write, and in doing so realizing that many of the reasons were pretty vacuous when it came right down to it.

One of my biggest realizations was that my “selfless” motivations for writing, like leaving something for my kids, was actually relatively selfish. I do think it is important to leave some writing behind for my kids, but in retrospect, I can’t imagine them spending a large portion of their lives sifting through my word-shit, trying to understand who or what I was.

There have been times where I’ve stayed at my office late to write a book while my kids are at home. How can I really convince myself I’m “writing for them” in a circumstance like that? Since then I’ve borrowed a habit from one of my co-workers. He doesn’t take his work home with him. It never occurred to me that this was a possibility. But for the past year or so I have left my work at work, and most of my creative writing time at work. It works wonderfully and has reduced my stress levels immensely.

There was a time when I could delude myself into believing writing was the most important thing in my life, because it directly contributed to every other important thing in my life. I was a good father in part because I wrote for my kids, etc. Now I realize that’s bullshit. It’s a delusion onset by selfishness, just like working your ass off for money and never seeing your kids is “working for your kids.”

Do I write less after removing this potential motivation from my roster of inspiration? Yes. I do write less now. But when I write know I do it for the right reasons. And when I’m digging through my shit loads of story ideas late at night, I keep them for the right reason, and I delete the shit I’ll never work on.

Cutting Bullshit Motivations for Writing Helps Cut Shitty Story Ideas from Your Well of Ideas

For me, motivations for writing work in the same way motivations for keeping story ideas do.

I look at an old file, open it up. Ask myself:

“Is this story original?”

Answer: not really anymore.

“Am I trying to say something important?”

Answer: others have already said it. I just didn’t know they said it because I isolated myself for years when I was younger to preserve my ego.

“Does it say something about me?”

Answer: yeah. It does! It humbles me, and reminds me of who I was. It might provide my kids or family with insight into who I was some day. I better keep this!

That’s the one I always fall back on, that last question.

Yep! This is my magnum opus . . . one of them, anyway. Better keep this around!

Yep! This is my magnum opus . . . one of them, anyway. Better keep this around!

But there’s plenty of work I have had published that does the same thing. There are other aspects of my life that speak to my flaws. I don’t really NEED to keep this old fucking story about a delusional kid who has hidden away in the confines of his mind to preserve the delusion that he’s a God, but then it turns out he actually IS a God in this world he’s created. Shit’s been done before. Withdrawing in an attempt to preserve ego is a part of the human condition. Most people go through it at some point or another, in some way or another. Toss it.

One of my old NBAS buddies recently wrote a blog post about minimalist living in the digital age. You can check it out by clicking

RIGHT HERE

The post addresses a lot of things, but the one thing I took away from it was that there’s something very tranquil about turning on a computer and seeing only a few folders. There’s something valuable about letting go of shit, literally shit that we ascribe value to.

This concept isn’t alien to me. I have tossed so many books over the years it isn’t funny. Last year my wife and I started going through all of our possessions and donating them to charity. We did this because we lost a lot of things to mold in our basement. Most of it, we realized, wasn’t really that important to us in the long run anyway. It was just shit.

Same thing happened to me when I was in 10th grade. Our house burnt down, and while I was sad that I lost a lot of stuff, I remember walking away from it with a guitar, an amp, a microphone and an 8-track mixer/recorder. And for the next few years, I had a greater level of focus than I ever had before. I dove into recording head first instead of dabbling in different shit and being a jack of all trades. Now when I look back, I can count on one hand the things I regret losing in that fire, just sentimental shit. I lost two book shelves worth of books and probably 100 CDs. I can’t think of one that was irreplaceable. Come to think of it, I have virtually none of those books or CDs in my small collection now. They couldn’t have been that important.

Anyway, since I abandoned several of my motivations for writing, I’ve also scrapped several motivations for keeping old stories. Subsequently, I’ve scrapped a shit load of old stories and blog posts and other junk that I’ll never use. It felt great to objectively look at the old entries I wrote for a feminist encyclopedia that lost its publishing contract back when I was in grad school. I was never going to publish those anywhere else. Sure, they took hours to write, but why keep them? Trashed.

Or the articles I wrote for a Magic: The Gathering website back when I was really passionate about the game. I had close to ten and had planned on doing a monthly article for the website. Then I lost interest in the game for a year and by the time I returned the articles were essentially obsolete. Why keep this shit around? I will literally NEVER use it. The only thing it does is soak up time while I’m looking through my files trying to figure out what to work on next. Junk it.

Or the essays I wrote for my college newspaper that I never published because I got caught up in other things. They were too juvenile to publish, even on my pretentious, self-absorbed blog. Why were they still around? I remember thinking I could scrap valuable insights from them to use in stories. But it just made me stagnate, relying on things that I had already thought about. Tossed.

A lot of this material kept me looking back instead of looking forward. I was losing steam, but still caught up in a mentality that I could dig inspiration out of old stories instead of coming up with new ones. I noticed this when I started digging through old pitches to try to “create” new ones. I knew I needed to purge this shit.

I’m willing to bet there are a lot of writers who already made it past this part of their career. But I’m also willing to bet there are quite a few who haven’t.

I’m also sure there are plenty of people who don’t need this in their writing career. Maybe they still dig from their well of tales. Maybe they need their assortment of motivations so they can write every day. I know there are folks who say “who gives a shit why you write, as long as you write!” I respect that, but it isn’t for me.

I needed to abandon some of my motivations as a writer, thus my previous blog post. Though I write less now, when I do write, I know it is something that is valuable to me for all the right reasons. It has abolished self doubt. It has taught me which genres will work best for me. It has helped me delete countless files I’ll never use due to my improved focus. It has provided me with an improved sense of direction. Most important, it has allowed me to accept my place in the world, separate delusion from reality.

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We’re Going to Die. Everyone Reading Our Work Will Die. And That’s OK. Write On.

All roads traveled . . .

It looks like a few more of the publishing houses I’ve had the pleasure of working with have died. I just acquired the rough equivalent of a death knell from one of my former publishers, which I’ll leave unnamed because they haven’t given up the ghost yet. Obviously it is NOT EP or NBAS. They will live on FOREVER! I also found out that Pill Hill Press is no more, which is sad because I just barely got my hands on Shane McKenzie’s Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, which one of my stories appeared in quite some time ago. I hope it doesn’t go out of print. Shane did an awesome job on that one, and it was an honor to be included in an anthology with some of the greats in horror.

Found out a few months back that my second book, accepted last year, likely won’t be seeing the light of day any time soon. If it does under the publisher I’m currently (presumably) under contract with, there’s a chance it won’t get many sales due to author-publisher conflicts in the community I’m a part of. CLICK HERE for more info on that. This is the second time this damned book has been delayed due to folding presses. Black Sails expressed interest, then disappeared. It’s starting to become fairly common.

Of course it is time to re-evaluate my approach . . .

I’ve been thinking of carving my next novel into a fucking rock ledge somewhere, maybe an Adirondack slide or something. It should have some staying power then.

You won’t forget my bizarro cautionary tale of masturbation now, fuckers!

I think for many authors, the allure of the printed page surviving us is part of what drives us to write. Ever since I was 18, I’ve been obsessed with leaving more behind than two dates on a marbled stone with my name above it.

For a while I took solace in family. You know, at least our offspring will give a shit about the legacy we leave behind, right?

Then, when my grandfather died, I remember my father digging through a pile of trash to extract letters and pictures from our ancestors. They were discarded during auction because they had no monetary value. My dad fished them out, thankfully. Three or four generations go by and the legacy means little to most. Put all your eggs in the familial basket, you’re rolling the dice to lose. You become a footnote in your progeny’s legacy.

Friends are the same way. We can invest in others socially. We’re physiologically driven to do so. We can reinforce the importance of our peers. But when it comes right down to it, even if we outlive our peers by a decade or two, we’re all going to boil down to a pile of bones and a series of ideas we shared with others who also end up as bones. But don’t get me wrong. I still think there’s got to be something more, perhaps a selfless dedication to humanity as a whole.

Butterfly effect optimism. Some sort of pay it forward policy that can live on and make the world a better place.

There comes a point where we have to come to terms with the fact that we’re all going to end up as dust. The older I get, the more delusions start to become outweighed by reality, the more I’m reminded of Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” His kingdom turned to dust, and he was so arrogant and prideful that he never conceived of its demise. I’m not a big fan of classic poetry, but this guy hit the existential nail on the head. Pride, in all manifestations, is shortsighted at best.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

I find it amusing that in mythology, we conjure up these images of the muse, the timeless Calliope who grants us inspiration. Imagine: immortal beings concerned with scriptures that last only a handful of lifetimes. Any manuscripts that live longer are perverted into tools that cause pain and suffering just as often as, if not more than, enlightenment, (e.g. The Bible). Why would immortals ascribe so much importance to things that in the grand scheme of things are so insignificant?

Even more ironic is the fact that over time these legendary characters have become mere footnotes in modern fables that are little more than compilations of past lore. Calliope is relegated to cameo appearances in “high brow” popular fiction.

I like to believe that if she existed, she would have moved on to better things by now.

“Let me double check . . . yes. It says here that I give 0 fucks about your creative endeavors. I’m too busy helping Maroon 5 make timeless hits. Lolz. Just kidding. I don’t give a fuck about them either.

Despite this seemingly dismal foray into the reality of writing and publishing, I can’t stop. Like many of my friends, something compels me to move forward. But I’ve reached a new stage. I’m no longer infused with the sense of self-importance that once inspired my writing. I write expecting to fall on deaf ears, so that every time my voice is heard, it propels me forward. I feel like my stories and I are comrades in battle, and I become more of a veteran of the small press scene every time I see one of my stories go out of print in an anthology no longer published. I feel like a hero in some small way when I rescue a story or novel from imminent death. I’m hoping I can do that next year with the book I was supposed to publish with Spectacular Productions.

In a fucked up way, authors all like catchers in the rye for our stories. We stand at the edge of the field, trying to save our ideas from falling over a great precipice into non-existence. Each one is a part of us. Self-preservation is our instinct, and it is wonderful that artists have transcended the need to preserve only our biological kin, that artists produce ideas, images, experiences as offspring. There’s something romantic about the futility of trying to outlive ourselves against all odds.

Writing, Networking and Publishing Before & After The Internet Era: An Interview with Steve Lowe

I tried to get a bulge shot for the 10 people who visit my site daily for "hot bulges." But this one cuts off just below the waist. Sorry, pervs.

When Steve Lowe signed on with the New Bizarro Author Series last year, he brought nearly a decade of networking experience to the table. His experience has given him the chance to get to know writers and editors in the small press world in personal and professional capacities. While networking has admittedly provided him with a plethora of insight into publishing, at the core Lowe’s success stems from his personality, and his ability to treat fans, friends, fellow authors and editors as they should be treated: like people, a feat which is surprisingly difficult for some beginning authors to grasp.

The fact that some authors struggle with networking shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Rumors and stories of famous authors who flourished prior to the internet era generally construe writers as introverted, socially awkward, and wholly reliant on their publishers for promotion. Those days are gone, and without proper networking/marketing skills, the next J.D. Salinger could be left by the wayside. The internet has forever changed the face of publishing. Steve watched this shift take place, and his survival in the evolving market is testament to his intuition and ability to adapt.

I had a chance to sit down and chat with Steve about his experience writing, publishing and networking on Friday, September 1st. Throughout the conversation we discussed the evolving market, our experiences after the transition from print to electronic submissions, and the mistakes commonly made by beginners after the transition took place.

KJ: When did you start writing fiction?

SL: I’ve always written fiction since I was a kid, but I didn’t really start trying to get anything published until about 2002.

KJ: Do you remember some of the first places you submitted to?

SL: Man… not really. I had a short story I wrote as a teenager (and extensively rewrote later) published on a long-defunct webzine in the early 2000s, but I don’t recall the name of the pub. After that, I subbed some children’s stories to pro-type publications. That was brutal – mailing stories off and not knowing if they even got the submission until 8 months later when I would get a rejection back in my mailbox. I welcomed the advent of email and electronic submissions.

KJ: Agreed. The response times were nightmares. SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelopes), reprinting query letters, what a nightmare. At least we don’t have to worry about getting mustard stains on our submissions anymore, and editors don’t have to deal with submissions garnished with perfume.

Do you remember your first acceptance letter?

SL: My first acceptance was actually for something I hadn’t written yet. I pitched a national high school sports magazine a story about baseball base running, with tips from University of Notre Dame head coach Paul Manieri (who went on to win a national championship at LSU…). The magazine only lasted about a year, but I still have it somewhere. It was my first experience with being published in something aside from our local newspaper, so it was a good experience overall.

KJ: What was your first acceptance for fiction, and when?

SL: That would be the aforementioned story from my younger days. I think the ezine was called Dark Horizons or some such thing – really low tech looking website in around 2002ish. It was a story about a guy who thinks he’s reliving the same dream over and over only to realize that he’s actually dead and reliving the moment when he caused his younger brother’s death in a sort of purgatory or hell all his own. It was pretty weak from what I remember, but I got $5 out of it, so that was my first fiction pub and also my first paid piece of fiction. It also prominently featured a big wheel, one of my cherished possessions from about age 8 or 9.

KJ: Prior to the internet, authors tended to stick to a particular genre once they became established. Today many authors are starting to branch out and explore multiple genres. So far you have dipped your fingers in multiple genres. Do you find yourself focusing more on any particular genre right now, or do you foresee yourself sticking to a particular genre as you move forward in your writing career?

SL: I don’t rightly know, to tell you the truth. My way of writing has always been just writing the story that comes to mind, which tends to be down a darker path more often than not. I like writing horror but I don’t really consider myself a horror writer because most of my stories don’t necessarily fit within the recognized confines of one specific genre. I love writing humorous fiction that makes people laugh, but I’ve also found that to be extremely hard to do on a consistent basis. Above all else, I want my work to be entertaining. And I also subscribe to the “wife response factor.” Every story that I’ve written that has produced audible laughs or groans of disgust from my wife have eventually found their way to print, so she’s a fantastic barometer. If I can’t move her in one way or the other, I have a pretty good idea that it’s not up to snuff.

KJ: You have a pretty extensive network in the writing community. Every time I break ground with a new publisher or editor, you have had encounters with them in some capacity, and generally know exactly who I’m talking about. I mention a publisher and you can tell me which editors work for them. My estimation is that you’ve been networking for some time. When did networking become an integral part of the writing/publishing process for you?

No secret identity: The writer Steve Lowe is the same Steve Lowe people call a friend.

SL: The moment I joined Coppola’s Zoetrope writers community back in ’02. The main part of the site was random people reviewing work and posting their own, hoping for some feedback and I stayed there for a long time. But in 2007, I discovered a vibrant community within the site’s private office feature, where people could make their own private message board groups (usually based around genre or poetry, short stories, novels, etc.). That’s where I made probably 90% of my contacts and met some truly talented writers and genuine friends. It’s a much looser vibe in the private offices, especially the Liquid Imagination office. LI is also a webzine run by John Miller (JAM to his friends) and filled with some outstanding folks who work very well with each other. Lots of critiquing and suggestions and feedback that has made the difference between an acceptance and a rejection on basically all of my work that has been published since I joined. Which is to say, the vast majority of my work that has made its way into print. Finding a writers group, whether online or in your local community, is a fantastic way for writers to not only improve what they produce, but as you mentioned, network and make contacts with people all over the publishing spectrum.

KJ: I had no idea how interconnected the small publishing world truly was before I started shopping my material around. The more I submit and get to know people, the more I realize how deep the ties are. We’ve both had quite different experiences in that you networked around the time you started publishing, and I’m just starting to establish a network now.

I have had the opportunity to watch you broaden your network on Goodreads. You move fast, and work with genuine interest in networking with people, not to further your career, but because you’re interested in people and getting to know people. I’m trying to find a way to prompt you to give the folks on my blog the same advice you gave me, but damn it, it isn’t working!

Hmm. Well, I’ll just ask this: what are some tips for networking you can provide to beginning authors?

SL: Definitely find other authors and join a critique group of some kind. Not only will you get the benefit from others’ opinions, you’ll also learn where they’ve subbed or been published, who responds quickly or doesn’t, who responds with advice or feedback, etc. Also, using sites like Duotrope to find not only pubs in the genre they’re looking for, but also contact names, information about the publication, if they’re even over for submissions. These are great places to start from.

KJ: I’ve read a few blogs on the topic of networking blunders that authors sometimes make. The most notable I’ve heard mentioned is the ever-popular Facebook spam approach. There’s a pretty interesting discourse that crops up on Facebook from time to time, in which authors will post the link to their book, blurbs relating to their book, etc. Then other authors will respond in their own posts, lamenting the lack of tact fellow authors exhibit. Can you add any networking blunders that you have encountered or heard about?

SL: Blogs can be dangerous things for writers, especially the comment section. The worst thing a writer can do is seek out a bad review of their work and get into a pissing match over it with the reviewer. Childish arguing with someone over their opinion of your work will travel around the Internet and the writing community at light speed and could destroy years of positive networking and relationship building in an instant.

There was one such incident a few months back involving a self-pubbed romance writer who did just this on a reviewer’s blog. It did not end well and that writer has no one to blame for it but herself.

KJ: I remember that. It’s legendary now. Whenever there is mention of disputes between reviewers and authors, this incident always comes up. I have heard about it several times on numerous threads on Goodreads. For the rest of us, it’s like watching a fight at a high school dance. You just feel awkward and nervous.

SL: indeed, and sad for the writers, who seem to have no clue the kind of damage they are doing to themselves.

KJ: The internet really has changed things for writers. In high school and college, we hear about these socially awkward, reclusive writers who end up being extremely famous for their great work. But that doesn’t happen much, if at all, anymore, especially online and in the small-press world. You have to network and you have to be a people person.

SL: And it continues to evolve as more traditional publishers and book stores go down and more independents come into play, not to mention the self-publishing side of things.

KJ: Probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve acquired from you is to treat potential readers like people. It’s amazing how often this can be forgotten by some authors. I remember when our books first got published, I was posting updates about my book on Facebook too often. It finally occurred to me that I could sell more copies by just being myself and not mentioning my book. The information is there if people want it, but shoving it down their throats isn’t going to work. I don’t think I ever went as far as force feeding my friends, but I got a little too enthusiastic for a while.

. . . then of course, there’s the awkward entry into a network. Remember that fellow who spammed the NBAS group on Goodreads with his book?

SL: There have been a couple who have done that, actually. One realized the mistake right away and took down her post, and has made an attempt to be part of the community, which is what she should have done in the first place. The other simply made one post and then disappeared. You want to earn yourself a bad reputation really fast? Post-and-run spam about your book. Another recipe for failure.

KJ: I’ve been seeing this on various groups on Facebook as well. There’s a writer’s group on there that has been issuing warnings on their page due to the heavy spamming.

To raise the bar on lack of tact, some authors spam groups that discuss genres not related to their work, science fiction writers spamming horror groups, for example.

Facebook can be rough because it blends a lot of the social frames that used to remain separate and distinct offline. One’s professional life, personal life, life with family and their life as a writer, it all gets mixed together. An author makes a post with people from one of those frames in mind and loses sight of the others.

SL: I’ve definitely struggled with how much is too much when it comes to Facebook. There is a point where constant posting just becomes spamming, and I’ve probably been guilty of that on FB. But at the same time, it’s a great resource if you can connect with people who would be genuinely interested in your work, so it’s not perfect, but it can’t be discounted either.

KJ: Well, our books hit the shelves for the first time last October, I think we all posted a lot about our books at first, but we pulled back after a month or two.

It was exciting!

SL: I tried to pull back, but not stop completely, adhering to the advertising rule that someone needs to see an ad 5-7 times before they act on it. I try to post a little something every couple weeks or so, but nowhere near what I did in the beginning. That’s been part of the learning process as well – finding out what works and what doesn’t and then adjusting my approach.

KJ: Any closing words of advice for new writers?

SL: You absolutely MUST develop thick skin. If you can’t take criticism, you won’t last long, especially on the Internet.

This concludes my first interview with the NBAS crew. I have a few more authors who have signed on as well, meaning this series should at least survive for a few months and hopefully longer. I’m hoping to bring publishers, editors and reviewers into the mix to get viewpoints from all sides. Next up is Nicole Cushing, who I hope to discuss marketing strategies with.

Taking the Plunge: Getting Published

After making every mistake possible trying to get published, figuring out why I wanted to write and what I wanted to write, I was finally on the right path. My only problem was that I didn’t have anything written that was worth submitting. I scrapped most of my older material and started writing again from the ground up. I entered the fray, again armed with my interest in poetry. I added to my arsenal a strong interest in flash fiction, and still I was rejected by quite a few places. But this was validating, because I wasn’t getting form letters as often as I had been. Editors were writing to me to let me know they liked my work, but wanted something just a little different. One of my favorite rejection letters was from Byline, in which the editor said my short story didn’t quite fit the needs of their magazine, but if I had any longer mystery stories she’d love to take a look. I should have jumped on that opportunity, but I didn’t know mystery and didn’t want to take a stab in the dark only to disappoint the editor. So I continued submitting the stories and poems I had written and revised, and continued to get the “close but no cigar” responses from editors. But they were signed, and featured comments from editors.

Eventually I decided that the problem wasn’t my writing style or my approach to publishing (It had been in the past though!). The problem was that my stories weren’t staying comfortably within the parameters established by editors. I had to make a decision as to how much I wanted to compromise. Did I want to tone the weird elements in my stories down so I could get published with some of these magazines and journals, or did I want to continue writing as I was and keep searching. Since there were literally thousands of publications I had yet to hit, I decided for the latter of these two options.

Creating a Submissions Bank

I also decided to create a submissions bank, a set of stories to submit to different publications. As I saw it, I had two choices. I could either complain about no simultaneous submissions policies and long waits for response, or I could generate a pool of stories and send one or two out every few weeks. Eventually I’d be acquiring a few responses every month while revising the rejected stories to resubmit them to other publications. Creating a submissions bank also helped when my inspiration dried up. I seem to be a seasonal writer, probably because I work spring and fall and have summers and winters off. But when I’m not writing I try to keep my skills sharp by editing for friends and students, revising my stories for submission, and getting what I have polished out for consideration.

Before bizarro, I wanted to write like Zindel.

Creating a submissions bank forced me to put submitting my work on hold. I was also getting more ambitious and my stories were getting longer. I wrote a few YA novellas and one YA novel. The novellas I submitted to small presses. The novel I submitted to agents. But, as an avid reader of Judy Blume and Paul Zindel, my YA material was pretty passé according to most. People were looking for the next Spiderwick or the next Harry Potter, not the next Pigman.

Long story short I put that material on hold after about a year of writing, revising and submitting. My novel, after shopping it around and getting a few rejections, is still sitting on an editor’s desk a year after my submission. It’s on a short list . . . I don’t think it is ever going to leave that short list, but I’m not in too much of a rush because I’m working in other genres now and doing other things.

In order to expand my submissions bank, I decided that I would start writing for multiple genres. Whichever one I finally fell into, that’d be the one I’d stick with. That or I decided I’d use different pen names for the different genres if I was lucky enough to get published. After YA I jumped into science fiction. Unbeknownst to me, I was writing what I would later identify as bizarro science fiction. My first is still one of my favorite works. I submitted it to a few (very few) science fiction publishers who accepted novellas. Too weird for them. I tweaked it and sent it into a publisher specializing in strange homoerotic science fiction and fantasy tales. Turns out I’m not very good at detailing homoerotic love scenes. I dropped the story and started writing a movie script. I was younger and figured it was time to broaden my horizons and find focus later. Then a blessing in disguise hit me. I was about 60 pages into my script. I got up and accidentally kicked the charge cord out of the back of my laptop. The battery had been dead, fully dead, for weeks. When I plugged the computer back in, the script was corrupted. It took me six months of searching the internet to find a program that could retrieve the file’s contents.

Anyway, I took it as a sign that I should go back to science fiction. I started expanding the science fiction novella, and I discovered Eraserhead Press. I have told the story in multiple interviews. I searched “weird shit” on Google. Carlton Mellick III popped up in the results. I viewed his page, and for the first time in a long time I saw a publisher that I wanted to write something for.

In the past I had written material and then submitted it to places that seemed to match. That doesn’t always work, especially if you query or ask editors what they want. Some are vague. They’ll tell you, “we’re looking for anything of high quality.” My suggestion is to stay away from places like that because what they’re looking for is a goldmine, anything that will launch their publishing house and will determine their future focus.

This book let me know Eraserhead Press was where I wanted to be.

Eraserhead Press knew what they wanted. They had a few pages dedicated to exactly what they were looking for, in fact. The books I read (one of the starter kits and CM III’s Steel Breakfast Era) matched EP’s mission statement. They also had an online application process, so I applied, thinking I’d never have a chance in hell.

I befriended a few of the folks online. Like Green Jelly, they responded. They added me. I wanted to talk to them, but really couldn’t get past the “hey I liked your book” line. I was too nervous, and didn’t know how to approach them. Sometimes I still don’t know exactly how to approach the authors I admire after befriending them. Then I end up making jokes about stomach vaginas and rubbing folks the wrong way.

A little while later I got an invitation to submit to NBAS. I submitted a set of proposals to the publisher, who kindly directed me to the editor. I thought I was screwed. I had hastily read the directions for submission and sent the material to the wrong person. As a result, the person at the top of the chain at EP saw my first fuck up. Luckily, that person was Rose O’Keefe, and she understood. I apologized several times to her, and to the editor, Kevin Donihe, whose book, The Greatest Fucking Moment in Sports, I had just read.

For me, this was probably one of the most exciting and frightening times in my life. Not only was I submitting to a place that was giving me a shot. I was submitting to an author whose book I really enjoyed.  That fear was soon squelched when Donihe wrote me back saying he’d like to take a look the complete manuscript I had for one of my proposed projects. It was the weird science fiction manuscript, the one I probably wouldn’t have edited further if my film script file hadn’t been corrupted.

I sent it to him. It wasn’t quite bizarro enough for what Kevin was looking for, but it was good enough for him to encourage me to submit another set of proposals. I had previously written a short story about a man who had been transformed into a pile of excrement, so I sent him a proposal which fleshed out the story a bit and he asked to see it. Not surprisingly, the story struck my editor as too excremental. And I’m glad, because one of the few things in terms of content people have complained about in my book is the vomit troughs. It was just too sick for them to read about. If the protagonist had been rendered from excrement, I think I would have lost a lot of readers.

It never occurred to me at this point that I could suggest revising the book. I decided to send in another set of proposals. He picked another and I wrote it. I knew even upon submitting that it wasn’t very bizarro. In fact, it was less bizarro than the first I submitted, but my style was improving and I sent it in.

He told me it was the best of my three manuscripts, but again, it wasn’t quite bizarro. My well of inspiration was running dry. I was short on bizarro ideas and didn’t think I could produce six more proposals. I almost gave up. Then, as a last ditch effort, I asked if we could return to my second manuscript. I gave him my proposal for submissions. I’d turn that boy made out of poop into a boy made out of vitreous humor. It’d make for a stronger metaphor anyway, because he’d be essentially invisible, and when someone looked through him they’d see the world through a distorted lens, which was exactly how people see the world when they look through the eyes of another. I didn’t think he was going to agree to it, but he did.

I spent some time revising the content, making no changes in terms of proofreading. I set the story in 19th-century America because I wanted to touch down on the themes I discussed in my M.A. thesis about identity loss for the factory worker.  This historical setting also made it easier to finish within the word count required for publication, because taking over “America” would only require taking over a handful of states, rather than the entire country.

From that point on, Kevin didn’t give up on Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, and he didn’t let me give up on it either. He was not just my editor at that point. He became my one-man pep rally. He became my e-psychologist. He was the Obi-Wan of Bizarro, guiding me in the ways of the writer.

But I was not the Luke Skywalker of Bizarro. I was dismissive when it came to some of the suggestions made, primarily because, like I said in my first entry, I just wanted to get something published. I just kept thinking, “ok, this is the last draft.” Not “this is the last draft so I better put everything into it and make this the best it can possibly be,” but, “this is the last draft and then I’ll be published.” That second vein of thought is a dangerous one. It’s the one you get when you’re eager to get some work out there and break into the market. You start to lose sight of your audience, primarily because it hasn’t been constructed yet. Your audience is hypothetical at this point. After you become published and see reviews and get to know the people reading your material, your audience becomes real. If you don’t do your best coming out of the pen, your audience becomes frighteningly real, and I definitely had a reality check once the book came out. Luckily, with Kevin’s help, it wasn’t as harsh a reality check as it would have been if I would have decided to self publish.

I lost sight of a lot of things, as I assume others have when they start to get close to their goal. I tasted the glory perpetuated by my delusions of grandeur. When I was about to get published, the disparity between the reality of being published and the fantasy of being published had not yet been reconciled. And the delusion can outweigh your better judgment. After getting published, the reality set in. I think at this point an author can go one of two ways, they can get incredibly discouraged when things don’t go the way they hope or they can stand up to the challenge and realize that the work is not over.

I chose the latter of those two options. My audience became real, composed of real individuals. This is something that small-press authors get more of a chance to experience. Almost as soon as the book came out and I got a chance to look over it, I realized I should have put more in pre-publication, so I decided to double my efforts in promotion. With the help of a lot of people, it paid off.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There was a short time where I lost contact with Kevin. I hadn’t heard from him in a few weeks and was starting to get worried that he had given up on me and my book. I was getting ready to head back to college and I wasn’t keeping up on things. The first year’s NBAS crew was about half way through their promotions and planning for BizarroCon 2010 was well underway. I thought, like the previous year, I wasn’t going to make the cut. Once school started I knew I’d have little time to revise and I was starting to lose hope.

Then the letter came, about a week before the summer semester started. Kevin was going to take Uncle Sam. It still needed work, which we’d resume in September, but I was on board.

This was extremely gratifying. I was going to get published. The time between that letter and the book coming out were probably some of the best times, because I knew the book was going to hit the shelves, even though I did pester Kevin a few times late at night during those months to make sure I was still on board until he assured me that I was on board and would remain on board unless I tried to harm his cat. The validation of being accepted was there. Now was the time for me to let my delusions of grandeur loose, and I wish I would have held those delusions at bay until this point instead of letting them feed my hasty and sometimes non-diligent work ethic throughout the process. I imagined how this publication would influence my writing career down the road and jumped the gun again by coming up with ideas for future books.

After Being Published

I learned to put those ideas on hold and work on promotion and getting published in anthologies and magazines. After getting published the most important thing to me was getting my book out there. Next in line was my desire to show people that I had stylistic range. Uncle Sam is written in a style unlike most of what I normally write. I generally write in first person in a casual, conversational tone. Uncle Sam was written in third person, and I tried to parody the style of long-winded authors from the time period I initially intended the book to take place in.

Since publishing Uncle Sam, my work has been accepted for inclusion in 9 anthologies, most of which are non-bizarro horror anthologies. They’re starting to hit the shelves and I’m extremely excited to show how I’ve grown as a writer. Now I’m trying to expand the presence of my material online so readers have free access to my writing and can make sound decisions about purchasing my books. I think as authors, doing this serves as testament to our confidence in our writing abilities. It also ensures that the people who would spend money on our book and be disappointed don’t have to encounter that experience. Instead they can read our online material and decide we’re not for them, which saves us from getting some harsh reviews and saves them from spending their hard-earned money on a book they might not like.

As for my next book, I’m working on a few slowly and meticulously. I’m putting more effort into these works than I did with Uncle Sam. When I wrote Uncle Sam I started with a general premise and then each night I would write 7 to 10 pages and write an outline for the next day’s writing. I didn’t have a full, well-developed outline when I started. In the long run this meant a lot of the time I could have been focusing on revising Uncle Sam for other things I spent revising the plot, working out kinks, rethinking the story and looking for contradictions and continuity errors. Simply by producing more detailed outlines and really thinking about what will happen to my characters, I have had to focus a lot less on continuity errors during revisions. And I don’t run into road blocks in which I think, “this isn’t going to work with what I did previously in the story.”

And if I do get signed on board to do another book down the road, I’m going to treat every draft like it is the last. But this time, it’s going to be the “this is the last draft and I better give it all I’ve got to make sure this is as good as possible” vein of thought rather than the “damn I want to be published, right now!” vein I worked in before.

Sometimes I think authors do their best work before they know they’re in the running for publication, or after their first book. When we don’t know if we’re going to get published we don’t generate that sense of deadline and urgency. Once we’ve been published, that “I just want something out there” mentality takes a back seat to “I want something out there, but because it is going to be out there for a long time, I want it to be as good as possible.”

I look forward to seeing how I grow over the next year, and how the editing, revising and promotion for my next book goes. Nothing is set in stone yet. The NBAS team doesn’t find out until November if they’re going to make the cut or not with Eraserhead Press. The audience I have constructed has been great. Many people have been honest with what they’d like to see change in my future work. The fact that they take the time to tell me that tells me that they’re willing to give me another chance, and I plan on making that chance count. I now count many of those who truly enjoyed my work as friends who I respect deeply. This is one of my favorite parts about small-press publishing. As my audience grows, I continue to meet more and more people. I know many of my readers on a first-name basis and have tried to foster an environment where they can be honest with me about my work.

Alright, that’s my story. Now over the next few weeks (or more) I’m going to be interviewing folks about their story. The first few folks on board are my fellow NBASers, and I’ve selected certain elements of small-press publishing I’d like them to address. First up, I’ll be getting questions out to Steve Lowe about networking, because that is something we can begin before we’re even published and it can be very beneficial. I’d like to try to get a publishing horror story, or a blunder each author learned from as well. Come back and check it out!

NBAS book, Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals

My first book, Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, is available at the following link for pre-order:

http://www.amazon.com/Uncle-Sams-Carnival-Copulating-Inanimals/dp/193638325X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1287852773&sr=8-1

To celebrate, I’ll be posting links to various websites dealing with issues related to the text, ranging from the practical to the bizarre.

From the back cover:

Reborn as an oozing humanoid composed of vitreous humor after a sudden death via a disembodied hand and a wood chipper, Gary Olstrom found no difficulty in saying goodbye to the life he once knew. After all, he had become quite adept at saying goodbye, to his right arm in a hardware store accident at eight, to his parents in a fiery car crash, to his right leg in a factory mishap, and to the only person who ever tried to help him in an untimely bus collision. What he never prepared for was saying goodbye to misfortune, until he found Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals. Therein, Gary finds refuge training furniture to copulate before spectators who vomit in applause. But while Gary’s luck shifts for the better, cities left in the wake of the carnival’s visits disappear; many are murdered. With his pet desk Akimbo and his empty-socketed girlfriend-turned-futon, Liberty, Gary attempts to unravel this mystery, culminating in a re-imagining of America to rival that of Benedict Anderson’s! Well, not quite…but there is furniture porn.