Sunday, November 21, 2010

ErgoFiction Interview


Last week Letitia Coyne at Ergofiction interviewed me for their Café Monday feature.  It was a lot of fun, and she had some really great questions about the writing process, finding characters' voices, and connecting with readers.  She also managed to coax me into gushing with a troubling lack of abandon about various tidbits of autobiographical trivia, mental illness, punk rock posturing, corporate wealth, gender identity, and similar bits of nonsense.

Here's an excerpt:
I never write characters that are straight analogs of people I know in real life, because frankly real life is boring to me. But I do often base certain traits on things I’ve observed in real people, so one character may be an amalgamation of several people, a friend, an ex, a random encounter, or pieces of myself. Even then, I’ll usually exaggerate those traits and tendencies to make the character more archetypal. I think that fiction should be larger than life, sexier, more dangerous, more entertaining… or else what’s the point?
Read the full interview here.

Ergofiction is a webzine helmed by Jan Oda designed to help webfiction readers to connect with each other, discuss their favorites, and discover new obsessions.

Letitia Coyne is a blogger and author.  Her novels are available for free online and as PDF downloads via her blog

Other Sides is an anthology of independent experimental webfiction compiled and released by Ergofiction.  It's available as a free ePub & PDF download, or for purchase in multiple formats if you want to show some love with currency.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Joy of SEX SCENE | Review

There's something psychologically revealing about the way a writer approaches a sex scene that gives a more immediate peek into their head than straight dialogue or prose. And that's really the joy of reading Robert James Russell's Sex Scene, an anthology of thirteen shorts from independent authors of various backgrounds, nationalities, religions, and orientations.  It's extremely satisfying as a reader to play armchair psychoanalyst while noting the divergent styles and comfort levels in handling the subject matter.

There's very little here that is identifiable as porn or even  "erotica" (which I think is a euphemism for high brow porn, presumably distinguished by the fact that you jerk off to it with your pinky held up like you're at a tea party).  Only a handful of them manage to successfully quicken the heart rate, while many have a clinical or academic feel, almost reminiscent of junior high sex ed.  Some dance around the actual sex as long as possible or try to skirt by with little graphic detail, while others take the plunge with such brashness that they almost border on being disingenuous.  Some choose to decontextualize the sex, providing little or no framing story, while others take great pains to dress up their contributions with a lot of plot and/or literary conceit, like they felt the need to justify or vindicate the inclusion of explicit content.

None of this is meant to in any way denigrate the participating writers, many of whom are among my personal favorites.  In fact, I have a deep respect for everyone who contributed, born of the fact that a Catholic upbringing and an adolescence wracked by extreme gender identity issues have left me largely terrified of sex and sexuality.  I tend not to have the guts to write sex scenes, and when I do I make them as ugly or mortifying as possible.

Which may be why my two favorites are the stories by Dan Holloway and Sarah Melville.  Dan's story, God bless him, is frankly, well... terrifying.  And I hesitate to give you any more details because you really should read it cold and experience the gut-punch for yourself.  And then Sarah's piece is on the opposite end of the spectrum, managing to be so poetic and whimsical and sincere that it almost makes you forget you're reading a sex scene at all.

Sex Scene is available through Lulu:
Free PDF Download
Paperback ($6.50)

For more about editor/ring-master Robert James Russell visit robertjamesrussell.com or @robhollywood on Twitter.

Cover art by John Vestevich


Also, check out the trailer by Sarah Melville:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writing in Exile | The Lenox Parker Interview

Forgive Lenox Parker if she hasn't seemed herself lately. One of the most dynamic, outspoken, and enthusiastic indie authors emerging onto the scene, she had just launched her first book, steadily developed an online following, and plugged away tirelessly lining up readings and getting her book into stores. Then real life intervened and she found herself forced to start over from square one with a new name, a new book, and a new website.  Luckily, she still writes with the same passion, humor, and keen insight, as seen in her new novel, Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn.

The novel follows Howard Kessler, an over-the-hill actor  known for playing the streetwise tough guy.  Having fallen from favor with the superficial Hollywood scene, he decides to go back home to Brooklyn and track down his old childhood gang.  Part of the appeal comes from the fish-out-of-water story as the Hollywood icon tries to adapt to his friends' lives of domestic strife, waning health, and broken dreams.  But it's just as much a character study, as each of the men grapple with their own troubled pasts and Howard's stab at self-discovery dredges up some motives that might not be as Norman Rockwell squeaky-clean as he'd like to believe.

MM: First off, I just want to say I'm so happy that you're releasing Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn. I fucking loved the draft I read late last year, back when it had that other title. Without giving too much away, obviously, have you changed anything drastically since then, or has it mostly been edits and fine-tuning?

LP: Thanks, I'm happy I'm releasing it, too. I really love this story. I changed a couple of the perspectives, which was tough and I'm still not sure I made the right decision, but I decided to put the pen down and just leave it. I tightened the language, too. Going through it word by word, chapter by chapter, I was able to see words that were skipped, double the's, things like that which are a dead giveaway for a book that hasn't been edited professionally.

MM: Talk about the decision to serialize it on your blog how you're approaching the print & e-book release?

LP: Serializing it on the blog so far has netted me about zero degrees of interest, except for a few stragglers. I think it's my failure to publicize it consistently so people can't wait two weeks in between chapters. I don't blame them. I'm doing the "soft" release. I did a blog post a couple of months ago about a book release and what it means and I tried to downplay my own expectations. I had so much excitement about my last book release that when it happened, it was like, eh, fizz out, blah. So I'm not doing a full-blown release. I have a whole philosophy about that. We as writers get all hepped up about our book releases, which is of course justified since writing them took up like a year of our lives. So a reader flips through it in a weekend and moves on to the next thing! I have to get over myself, as a writer, and just pump out the fiction as it comes to me, because readers devour stuff so much now that we can't look upon all our work as pedestal-warranted studies of brilliance. We are producing a commodity. I know that sounds harsh.

MM: Has the promotion of the new novel been impacted by your recent exile/identity crisis/bullshit HR nightmare?

LP: Thankfully not so much. However, before my exile I had garnered a couple thousand "followers" on Twitter and now that's shot to shit. So my "platform" has shrunk. I'm starting afresh. And it's easier to market a novel than a nonfiction humorous memoir anyway, so I expect I'll get more traction on this one anyway. It's sad that I really only had four months to promote my last book before the Gulag treatment happened, but I can't dwell on it. I'm still paranoid though. That's why my web presence isn't where it should be, because I won't log on anywhere on my work computer and I'm paranoid about my keystrokes. (Me = over the top, I know)

MM: How has life as a pseudonym been treating you? Do you find the anonymity liberating, or is it strange not to be able to write as yourself?

LP: I've gotten used to it. It's been nearly four months and I'm Lenox. I'm cool with that. It's a ridiculous name and that was the purpose, to bring attention to the fact that this is not my name. It was weird, I did an author event as my old self a few weeks ago and I couldn't promote Back(stabbed) In Brooklyn at all and it was frustrating because I had a few press interviews, but I had to keep it sealed. At first I was really depressed. But now I'm alright with it.

MM: What about your last book, the book that dare not speak its name... are you still promoting that as well?

LP: Nope. I did my last author event and that's that. It's not dead, though. It can't be, it's my life. I do still have expectations that I'll be able to get that book made into a film too, but that may go along with my general delusions.

MM: One of the things I've admired about you is that while you're fiercely independent, you're also totally uninhibited when it comes to promoting your work. You make it clear you are going after as big an audience as possible, and made clear to use your writing as a springboard to film and other media. Do you think that with the current growth in self-publishing/e-publishing, we're primed for indie authors to start breaking into the mainstream?

LP: I have hopes that the line between mainstream and independent will continue to be blurred when it comes to the publication of written work. Hollywood could give two shits about how a book was published, as long as it can be packaged and marketed the way they like to do things. I love movies. I fucking love movies more than people. I am a wannabe filmmaker. Every word I write I am simultaneously envisioning it as a movie. But as with mainstream publishing, I can't get behind formulaically produced films and I prefer experimental our non-conventional works.

Constitutionally I can't write commercial mainstream stuff. Just can't. I couldn't write a vampire romance novel to save my life. So will I ever see my work on screen? I will have to produce it myself, most likely.

So the short answer to your question is, really excellent independent authors are independent for a reason--they are unconventional. Only snippets of unconventional art are processed and molded into mainstream entertainment. It's how we feed the beast. We will always feed the beast, but we will never be the beast.

MM: What's next for you? More shorts, or are you working on anything big? And really, what I'm trying to get at is: will I ever get to read a full Maggie & May novel?

LP: Maggie & May is next! I'll do a little more research for that and go over to 47th and 9th Ave to the specific bar I'm modeling the story on. So I'm like Woody Allen, I'll release my book next month and start a new project. Ok I'm not really like Woody Allen but still, I'll do the fall project thing every year. After Maggie & May is probably going to be Jean-Baptiste is a Brilliant Liar. I love that character and wrote a few pieces on Year Zero I think, and on my blog. Probably the first one was my old name, but I have to re-release it somewhere.

Lenox Parker blogs at Eat My Book and tweets as @LenoxParker. 
Back(stabbed) in Brooklyn is available as a free e-book at Feedbooks and Smashwords.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sarah & Paulie | Beautiful People That Happen to Ugly Interviews

Reading Sarah E Melville feels like catching up with an old friend - you know, the brainy, artsy one who always rocked the best thrift store finds, the one who used to pass you mix tapes filled with amazing bands you couldn't believe you'd never heard before. Or maybe Sarah's too young to have passed mix tapes, but, you know, whatever the kids are doing nowadays. It's amazing how little details like that can betray your age, even just in the northern end of your twenties -- but I digress.

The point is, it's extremely difficult not to like Sarah's work. Her breezy, conversational style is irresistibly endearing whether she's making you laugh or laying herself emotionally bare. Her prose is like her art, lush, emotive, intricately detailed, and exuding the confidence of a master at her craft.

I had the opportunity to chat with this Fresno, CA native and her alter-ego, Paulie, about her new book, Beautiful Things That Happen to Ugly People.

MM: Okay, so let's jump right into Beautiful Things. Talk a little about what it's about and how it came together.

PAULIE: Beautiful Things is about how awesome I am.
SARAH: Not really.
P: No? I thought it was about how cool and sexy I am and how you should be my best friend and send me money based on the aforementioned qualities.
S: Uhm . . . not really. Beautiful Things is about connecting to others through basic emotions; lifting the veil of individual identities to see that we're all the same, deep down, because we're all alive and we all want to be loved.
P: Is it?
S: Yup.
P: Hm. Well, it's not like I've read it.
S: You haven't read it?
P: Nope. You haven't mailed me a copy of it yet.
S: I thought you'd read it all.
P: I've only seen what you've put up online. Oh, and all those letters that people wrote to me -- I read those. Pretty good, I have to say. Well, some were creepy.
S: Which ones?
P: Like, the one on the passport page? What the fuck is that? "Hush Hush"!? -- we don't like that.
S: Ha, that one's pretty good.
P: Not from my standpoint. Now whoever got murdered because of that note is going to be traced back to me cause I touched it and it's now slathered in "Paulie did it". Such an idiot! I know better than to open stuff you've mailed to me.
S: You're overreacting.
P: I am not -- I'll end up in the slammer!
S: I don't think so.
P: They'll reopen Alcatraz just to get rid of me. And that place is haunted. I'll get ass-raped by ghosts!
S: It's just a note.
P: ASS-RAPED.
S: It's fiction.
P: Are you sure? Do you know who sent it? Can you trust them?
S: Don't worry about it.
P: I will. I'll worry about it all I want, thank you.
S: Okay, have fun with that.
P: Thanks.
S: But, ass-raping aside, Beautiful Things was started in 2008, though I didn't have any plans then to make it into a collection, let alone a book. That was decided in Dec 2009, and the whole thing was put together from Feb to May 2010. It started with the stream-of-consciousness vignette "South of the Euphrates" which I wrote up-side down.
P: That one's about one of my good friends who I haven't seen in about . . . two, three years now. She's clinically depressed, like I was back then. "All the sad things you used to say about your life . . . " I hope she's doing better. I miss her.
S: As you may have guessed, Beautiful Things is from Paulie's POV.
P: But I didn't write any of it.
S: No, you're terrible at creative writing.
P: That I am.
S: Paulie's my alter ego, a "young man very much in love, but also very sad."
P: I am sad, aren't I?
S: Yes.
P: Sad, but hopeful. Then again no one's really happy -- it's just a world of those who have hope and those who don't.
S: This is something you see throughout the book. It fluctuates between being hopeless, or "dark", and having hope, or being "happy". That's all you can really ask for. Unless you refuse to be conscious of the state of the modern world, you're likely to be a little grim. You can be "happy" in ignorance.
P: But who would want to do that?
S: A lot of people, it seems.
P: Hm. That's sad.
S: It is.
P: What's with the title, by the way?
S: The title comes from the idea of beauty meaning truth, and ugly meaning ordinary. It's like, we don't live in the fabricated world that our media presents to us -- we're not all beautiful movie stars and good guys in novels; we don't live in plots and with contrived symbolism and foiled characters and wrap-around irony. We're ugly in the sense that we're complicated, without those logical A=B idiosyncracies that we often give characters; we're contrary and messed up and some parts of ourselves remain secret and unknown even to ourselves. So we're these ugly, ordinary people that are very real, and it's this reality that's the truth, and the truth is beautiful because it's real. In the end, it just means that whatever happens to us that is true and felt and makes us alive is beautiful. Besides, no one wants to hear stories about beautiful things happening to beautiful people. It's boring. Beautiful things that happen to ugly people is a theory of reality for fiction -- as little fabrication as you can get away with.
P: That's because you take a lot from your own life, right?
S: Yes. I think that's the next question, actually.
P: Oh, okay. Let's get to that, then.

MM: Much of your work has a very personal, confessional feel to it. To what extent is your writing autobiographical? Are we talking straight analogs, or are characters and events amalgamations of real life?

S: The fiction I do with Paulie is very autobiographical -- the work outside Beautiful Things more so than in the book itself. Beautiful Things is autobiographical on feelings -- very bare feelings, while the fiction I post on Year Zero and sometimes my blog is much more a straight translation of me and my life into Paulie. Pieces like "California, Sweating Like Fire" and "These are the Sounds We Hate", along with his blog, are probably where the line between my life and his is the thinnest. But everything I write with Paulie comes from my real life in one way or the other.

MM: Is there a point at which certain personal things are off-limits? Has there ever been any tension over real life events that ended up on the page?

P: There should be a limit! Dear god, all I want for Christmas is some goddamn privacy. First it's like, hey, let's air out one of your teenage sexual fantasies in Beautiful Things --
S: He's talking about "Kings of the Wild Frontier"
P: -- then she's drawing weird naked pictures of me --
S: They weren't that weird or naked. He's referring to the "Husbands and Portraits of their Wives" project, that I --
P: They definitely were weird and naked!
S: Calm down. You couldn't see anything exciting anyway.
P: What?
S: What?
P: Did you just call my junk "exciting"?
S: No.
P: Can I quote you on that?
S: No.
P: I'm quoting you on that. Sweet!
S: So . . . yes, as you can see, there's some tension. For me, because I do have an alter ego, and it's still fiction, there's nothing that's off limits. The readers's not sure what's me (real) or what's Paulie (fabricated) so I can really write about whatever I want.

But the more honest you are, especially in your fiction, the more you can connect to others, and the more you start to see yourself in other people, in these mirrored emotions. And that's the connection that I want to create, because it's easier to love someone if you understand them.

MM: Why write under an alter-ego? Does it allow you to establish objectivity or emotional distance?

S: I've always had an alter ego as a writer. He wasn't always called Paulie, though.
P: What? You told me I was your first.
S: Sorry, babe, there were others before you.
P: Ew, that doesn't sound right.
S: Yeah, it kinda creeped me out too.

Having an alter ego does allow for objectivity and emotional distance, though -- there's no emotional distance from what I'm writing about, the actual feelings surrounding what happened. When you have an alter-ego you have to start feeling from their point of view as well as your own, so it becomes doubled, and sad things in my life become even sadder and more pressing when I hand them over to Paulie. There's no release or evasion, so you can't quite call it an escape, even though, when you first think of an alter-ego, you do think of an escape -- like you're trying to get away from yourself. Sometimes that happens, but the more you escape through fabrication, the less of an alter-ego they become, and the more they turn into a character, which isn't the point.

And after saying all of that, I think the point of an alter-ego is to distance myself, at least from my fiction. I'm not one that wants to be close to what I write, so putting Paulie in as a buffer between me and my work, and the truth of it, helps, especially when it is so heavily autobiographical. There are some things in my life that I'd never write about if I were the main character. Some of it is too personal, even for me -- like the story "Air", even though the crux of it is nothing but fiction. I can't read it.

MM: In a recent story, Paulie waxed philosophical about the problems with masculine writing. How much do you think gender informs your writing, either consciously or subconsciously?

S: The gender difference is usually at the forefront when I'm writing for Paulie. Especially when I'm writing his blog, as it's supposed to be him writing, not me writing from his point of view. So I consciously try to phrase things and bring out the tendencies of the masculine style of writing, even though he's hopelessly feminine as a person. He likes to relate to people when he tells a story, instead of just inform. But he's a people person, after all.

It doesn't really change what I write about, though, the gender difference. I'm rather androgynous in personality myself, and I understand men more than I do women, so it's not so much of a stretch. I do let the crass humour out when I'm writing as Paulie, which is something I keep in as myself. There's a part of me that's about as mature as a 12 year old boy who just found out what cussing was, and Paulie displays that probably too much.
I have very little perspective on myself, objectively, but I think I'm funnier when I'm writing as Paulie. Actually, I don't think I'm funny as myself.

MM: Does being a woman writing as a male alter-ego change or influence your perspective at all? Alternately, does being voiced by a woman threaten Paulie's masculinity in any way?

P: My masculinity is so threatened it's gone into hiding. I don't even know where it is anymore.
S: That's what she said.
P: Oh, come on!
S: What?
P: That's so not what I meant. Goodness. Way to insult me on the entire freaking internet.
S: Oh, don't get your panties in a ruffle --
P: You see what I mean? Gosh . . .
You'd think that me being, well, feminine and sensitive would go over really well with the laides, but nope -- I know how to dress myself and that's it -- everyone thinks I'm gay. I have friends that still don't believe me, even though I had a pretty serious girlfriend for about six years. It's ridiculous! But . . . I guess it is nice, in a way, to be hit on by other men. Like, it's flattering and all, but I'm not really into that.
S: Not sober, at least.
P: You said you wouldn't say anything about that. You promised!
S: Sorry. Go on.
P: So . . . yeah, my masculinity suffers quite a bit, being voiced by a 20 year old girl, but as she said, she does have the redeeming feature of being androgynous in personality. If it wasn't for that I'd have ended up gayer than a rainbowed unicorn.
S: Unicorns are gay?
P: . . . yes? I -- I don't know. I'm on so much NyQuil right now I don't even know where I live.

MM: You each have your own blogs and Twitter accounts. Are these types of social media promotional, or have they actually become part of the story, part of the artistic work itself?

S: The last thing our blogs or twitter accounts are is promotional. Mine are personal because, well, I'm a person, not an object or a business or something to sell. I don't see the point in being professional and so business-minded when you're in an art based on connecting with others.
Paulie only got his twitter after months of incessant bothering, and then once he had that he whined and whined until he got his own blog.
P: I only asked, like, twice.
S: Whined like a little girl. I get no rest from this guy.
P: You think I get any rest from you? You're always writing creepy stories about my personal life and putting them online. That keeps a person up at night, you know?
S: Do you see what I mean about the whining? To answer your second question, though, Paulie's blog --
P: Is awesome.
S: -- has definitely become part of the --
P: thisispaulie.blogspo--
S: -- creative work. I've mentioned before how it's --
P: t.com
S: Are you done?
P: Yes.
S: Okay. Paulie's blog and twitter have become this strange novel-in-real-time, like a microbiography at times, except there's no plot.
P: There really isn't. My day to day life is super-fucking-boring.
S: I wonder why that is.
P: Because I stopped drinking?
S: I wouldn't say you've stopped.
P: Because I've stopped drinking every night?
S: That's probably closer to the truth.
P: But, seriosly kids, hugs not drugs. And, uhm . . . shoes not booze?
S: Wow. Powerful words.
P: Well, at least it rhymes.

MM: What is relationship between music and your creative process? Do you have certain things you like to listen to while writing or drawing? Do you both have the same tastes?

S: We have mostly similar tastes in music, except --
P: I HATE THE GORILLAZ.
S: There you go.
P: HATE them. I want to stab myself in the fucking FACE every time I hear that one about the sunshine in the bag --
S: Clint Eastwood. That's a classic! And you love Clint Eastwood.
P: Yeah, the person -- not that fucking song.
S: But you haven't even listened to all their material. You really don't know how diverse they --
P: Blah blah blah.
S: Fine. But me loving the Gorillaz is not as bad as you liking Justin Timberlake.
P: Justin Timberlake is awesome.
S: He is not.
P: There's nothing wrong with liking Justin Timberlake. Come on, Sarah, we're bringing sexy back.
S: That was, like, three years ago.
P: Yeah, well, it's taking longer than expected.
S: We agree on about 80% of our musical tastes. Well, 80% of everything, really. I enjoy electronica and dance and indie, and went through a hardcore/screamo stage back in high school, as I believe most of us did, when we were angry teens, so there's a soft spot in my heart for really noisy stuff. Music, no matter the genre, has always been inspirational to my work because nothing makes me feel more than music does, and that's where my art and writing come from -- feelings. I'm always trying to convey emotion.
With Beautiful Things I listened to a lot of Gorillaz (their last album, Plastic Beach came out in March, while I was working on the book), and Metric --
P: Which is my favourite band.
S: He likes Metric as much as I like the Gorillaz.
P: I'm saving myself for Emily Haines.
S: You do know you're not a virgin, right?
P: And? The way I see it, it's the thought that counts.
S: I don't think you can use that expression regarding virginity.
P: I should. If I could go back in time, I . . . I wouldn't get shi. . . uhm, well, we don't need to get into that. We're talking about music, right? Hey, so . . . my name's Paulie and I like Metric.
S: I also listened to a lot of Sigur Ros --
P: Another good one.
S: Not saving yourself for anyone in that band?
P: No, I don't think so. They're all guys anyway. I think. The lead singer's a guy, right?
S: Yeah.
P: I'll pass, then.
S: And I listened to a healthy dose of ambient/electronica, as well as some of M83's older stuff. But it really comes down to a feeling more than a genre or band. The only rule that seems to exist is that if I'm trying to draw something pretty, I can't listen to pretty music. I thought I'd be listening to lots of Bjork while working on some of these pages, but it never felt right. I had to go to the hardcore stuff to balance it out.

MM: How was the trip to London and performing at a YZW live reading?

S: London was amazing!
P: Except I didn't get to go.
S: No, you didn't.
P: I had to stay home. But . . . it kinda worked out because I have pneumonia -- still -- and have been on bed rest for about two weeks.
S: Are you feeling better?
P: A little. I'm in my . . . third week? No, it's almost been a month now. I just can't seem to kick it. Very tired all the time.
S: It would've been nice if you could've come along, though. I mean, I'd still like to meet you someday.
P: Hm. I'm really mean in person. And ugly.
S: Me too.
P: You seem nice and . . . not that bad looking, I guess. We look like we could be siblings.
S: Really?
P: Yeah. Around the eyes.
S: That's cool. I have yet to see a picture of Paulie, if anyone's wondering.
P: Oh, you've seen a picture of me.
S: When?
P: There's one on my blog! It's my kindergarten photo.
S: What? That doesn't count. You were five.
P: Well, not much has changed. I mean, I'm a little taller, I guess.
S: I sure hope you'd be taller by now.
P: Not by much, though.
S: I still want to see a picture.
P: I kind of like having no one know what I look like. Mystery is sexy, right? But . . . you probably shouldn't be attracted to me. I think that'd be incest or something.
S: Yeah.
P: Because we're like twins. Really creepy twins.
S: Except you're older by about five years.
P: Six.
S: You're twenty-six.
P: I'm twenty-seven.
S: Twenty-six.
P: I thought I was twenty-seven.
S: You think a lot of things about yourself that aren't necessarily true.
P: Hm.
S: Trust me, you're twenty-six.
P: Whatever.
S: But London was really great. We read at The Good Ship in Kilburn on 7 July, and the week before I was in Oxford, doing a reading with Dan Holloway at the Albion Beatnik, which was a much smaller setting (but just as wonderful). I, obviously, read from Beautiful Things at each gig, and Dan did Skin Book, which is marvellous in person -- I really think that's the way to experience Skin Book -- and we had Marc Nash with us at the Kilburn gig doing a section from A, B & E while wearing a nurse's uniform.
P: Really?
S: Yeah. He said he got it online.
P: You asked?
S: Why wouldn't I?
P: You're not getting one, are you?
S: No.
P: Okay, good. I don't want us showing up at a party in the same dress.
S: Nurse's uniform.
P: Is that what we're talking about?
S: Yes.
P: Oh. Oh, okay. I tell you what, Rachel must've swapped my medicine for . . . I don't know what's . . . like Groundhog's Day, I mean, every time I wake up Maury's . . . fucking tv and . . .
S: Paulie did sign a few books, though, before I left.
P: . . . goddamn paternity tests . . .
S: But not many people know who he is, surprisingly enough, so he didn't get to sign as many as he would've liked. (He's a little attention-starved.)
P: . . . and I'm like, condoms, bitches!

MM: Do you think writers are going to need to become performers or entertainers to engage modern audiences?

S: I don't think so, no. The danger is in thinking that you have to be more than a writer. Blogs are nice and twitters are nice and gimmicks and alter-egos and all this is really great and can be lots of fun, but you can't let any of it get more important than writing, because if you're writing's not there, once the entertainment side wears off, well, there's not going to be anything left to stick around for. All you need to engage an audience is good writing, although some would argue you don't need the writing, just the story, which is sometimes true and always sad.

MM: In addition to writing, you're also a visual artist. How does the process of telling stories through words compare with telling them through images?

S: Telling a story through words as opposed to images is, as you can image, almost completley opposite. With words you're giving readers the information to create their own images, and with images you're giving viewers information to create their own words. But I don't see myself as someone telling stories through images -- I don't see myself as an artist. I do art sometimes -- little things, but I'm not an artist. I just do what I need to do to get a feeling or an idea out, and once it's out that's that and I can go back to impersonating a normal person. I like telling stories with words more, so I may be more biased in calling myself a writer. There's more freedom in words, but maybe that's because I'm a visual person and I like having that freedom.

MM: Do you think that multimedia and cross-media storytelling are going to be more of an emerging trend in the coming years? Is it artificial to keep trying to distinguish visual versus literary versus performing arts?

S: I think we may indeed, especially with our readers and iPads and all that. Having the internet so readily available (at least in big cities) means that it's much easier to do and easier for people to access. Personally, I like books being books and movies being movies and podcasts being podcasts. Then again, I come from a dial-up mind-set, where the internet is rarely reliable and not very good when it is around. We've levelled up at my house, but it's still a really sketchy situation, internet wise. So, while I'm not for it from a reader's point of view, I do think it will happen. I'll stick to my books for a very long time.

It's not artificial to distinguish, I mean -- we have different words for the different arts, so obviously they're different things. I can see how someone would argue that there's not much difference in inspiration or emotion, but in form they're all very separate. And it's form that makes them what they are.

MM: What are your plans now that Beautiful Things has been released out there into the world? What comes next artistically, professionally, or personally?

S: There's not much difference between the three, I have to say. Hopefully I'll be doing some local readings, in my close-to-home city of Fresno, California, and I'll still be working on Paulie fiction and a novel set in the Middle Ages, all while going back to school full time so I can get my AA and transfer to study linguistics. But we'll see about that.
Paulie, do you have anything to say?
P: ...
S: I think he's asleep.
P: ...
S: Well, on behalf of both of us, thank you Moxie for letting us take up some of your blog space. It has been a pleasure.

Pre-order Beautiful Things That Happen to Ugly People at Sarah's spiffy new website: sarahemelville.com

Sarah blogs at s-melville.blogspot.com & tweets as @sarahemelville

Paulie blogs at thisispaulie.blogspot.com & tweets as @thisispaulie

And check out Sarah's pieces at the Year Zero Writers blog

All artwork is copyright Sarah E Melville.  The photo of Sarah is by Dan Holloway.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rebels & Misunderstood Creatures | The PJ Lyon Interview

PJ Lyon is my favorite kind of author, the kind you can't read while waiting in line or sitting at the bus stop. He gives himself over totally to his stories and demands the same from his readers. Some burn with raging intensity, some simmer with understated grace, but all compel you to slow down, roll them across your tongue and savor their elegance like a fine wine.

My introduction to him came by way of a collection of shorts called Small Victories.  Though the individual pieces spanned a variety of genres and tones, they were all unified by a central theme: in this world, you have to enjoy your victories any way you can get them.  It may seem hollow or bittersweet at first, but as long as you take a stand, as long as you stay true to your principles, that's one victory no one can ever take from you.

Since then, he's consistently confounded my expectations, eschewing conventions while retaining an unflinching clarity of vision.


MM: Your stories tend to revolve around individualists who stand apart from the herd. Sometimes they're loners, sometimes they're rebels, and sometimes they're just misunderstood. What about this particular archetype do you find so compelling?

PJL: As far as I’m aware (and I’m not very aware most of the time) these characters are me, and sometimes they’re what I’d want to be, and often they’re what I never want to become. It took me a long time to let my subconscious take over when I write, it just so happens that my subconscious produces those loners and rebels and misunderstood creatures that now populate my fiction. There’s a line in the Operation Ivy song 'Knowledge’ and it goes “All I know is that I don’t know nothing.” When it comes to my own writing and the characters within that writing, I believe that quote sums up exactly how much I know about what I do.


MM: While much of your writing can be interpreted as social commentary, The Rorschach Sands struck me as perhaps your most overtly political story to date. Do you think the writer has a role to play in our social discourse? Is it too much to expect fiction to have a tangible impact, to be able to change minds or serve as a call to action?

PJL: Writers have to be involved. They have to show that the world has touched them on some level or other. Writing without this kind of involvement is useless, it is nothing but the buzzing of a vuvuzela horn. I’m not an actively political person, I don’t like politicians and I no longer believe our votes count, but I do believe that fiction (along with music and all the other arts) can be a force for change. Good writing always has a tangible effect on the reader. It stirs emotions, it makes us think, sometimes, if we’re lucky, it will change our whole perception of the world. If we’re even more fortunate it will inspire positive actions in others.

MM: Your stories often involve strong images and symbols - for instance, the photograph of the girl in I Remember Yves Montes or the image of the oil-splattered beach in The Rorschach Sands. Do you tend to start writing with a particular image in mind, or do you start with characters/plot and construct the imagery around them?


PJL: I have absolutely no idea what I’m writing until it is written. I’m entirely driven by what I feel. I never plot, I don’t plan, I don’t jot down notes or character descriptions and I never do research of any kind. If it isn’t there when I start writing, then it will never be there and I just walk away from the story.

I Remember Yves Montes started with the image of the girl (which became the front cover) and the honest expression of love by the photographer in his words to describe that image. That simple declaration, the beauty that the photographer saw in the girl, touched me and all I wanted to do was write a story about that photograph. The story I found was only possible because I didn’t know what story I was writing to begin with. They say write what you know, but I believe I’m writing to discover what I know more than anything else.

MM: You have some of the most gorgeous, striking covers, far better than most "professional" book designs. What makes a good book cover to you, and how important is it to have the right cover for a story?

PJL: A good book cover is something that can be taken away from the fiction it represents and be admired all by itself. I do believe that the best of book covers are artworks. And they are important to the overall experience, but they’re not everything. A good title is just as important to me, or the approach of the author to their creation. The cover could be plain text on a white background if the title intrigues me or the author has some attitude beyond 'buy my product’.


MM: Liseuse seems to be about begrudgingly coming to terms with the technological age, and this plays out specifically embodied by the shift from paper to e-books. Yet, you publish your own work exclusively in e-book format. Is there something bittersweet about the emergence of e-books?

PJL: Oh it’s most definitely bitter-sweet, but no more so than any of the other shifts I’ve experienced in my life. I’m in my mid-thirties, so I’m from probably the last generation that will ever have a reverence for physical books, even to the point of assigning value beyond the words those books contained. But it’s just a form of nostalgia, the same as when I see a DVD or tape cassette.

I own no paper books and I will never own any in the future. Paper is as much a lock on knowledge as DRM or Geographic restriction. It was good while it lasted and I have fond memories, but I have fonder memories of the words within those books. Knowledge and freedom trump nostalgia.

MM: Do you think the so-called e-book revolution is going to make it easier for self-published or indie authors to gain broad exposure and challenge mainstream lit in the marketplace? Is that possible, or even desirable?

PJL: I believe mainstream literature will be dead within ten years along with the traditional publishing industry. We have nothing to fear and they will not be able to challenge what replaces them, but we do have to create our own marketplaces, our own points of interest and influence. And to do this writers have to band together and start their own publishing houses. The overall aim should be to give back the respect to writers and readers that the publishing companies stole from them over the years. If this is done, we’re looking at a very exciting future for everyone.

MM: You've stated before that you don't read "mainstream" authors. What is it that you think that mainstream literature is lacking, and do you think that there are real independent alternatives out there that are accessible to the average reader?

PJL: The fault is that mainstream fiction is about profit not fiction, not stories, but which unit will sell enough to make X amount over the investment. Fiction as a product soon becomes fiction that must appeal to as many consumers as possible, just like any other product. So you’re left with more and more product that apes preceding successes, but less actual choice. The independent author is in a perfect position to offer the variety that the publishing industry is lacking. It’s already happening right now as more and more writers forgo the mainstream and decide to publish themselves. The alternatives are in place and they’re becoming more and more successful with every passing day. Not only are they accessible, but I believe they’ll create a whole new generation of readers who are more open to new fiction.

MM: How much of an obstacle do you see in the issue of gatekeepers or tastemakers to help readers/consumers sort through the wealth of indie lit available? The "accepted wisdom" is that faced with an infinite number of options, readers might become somehow overwhelmed and seek refuge in comfortable and identifiable brands of the Rowling/Brown/Meyers/Larsson variety.

PJL: There will always be a section of the audience who have to be told what to like, who are terrified of anything without an official seal of approval. Thankfully, there will always be people who embrace change, who are willing to take a risk and who will inform others of their discoveries. The gatekeepers and the taste makers will emerge, if they’re not already emerging now, and they will be as varied as the communities they serve.

MM: You are very vocal about your support for Creative Commons and equally critical about the way major publishers use copyright laws to usurp artists' control of their own work. Have we outgrown the usefulness intellectual property rights as classically conceived, and if so, what should take its place?

PJL: Intellectual property is dead. It died in the hands of the Walt Disney Corporation when they resurrected that zombie mouse of theirs for the umpteenth time. It means nothing to the general public and it is a barrier to our progression at every level. Creative Commons is okay as a stop-gap, but it is not the solution. At some point we’re going to have to admit that copyright doesn’t work for either creator or the public at large and we’ll have to put it to rest. Beyond that, I couldn’t even guess what might take its place and I’m not even sure we should put anything in its place, except maybe some much overdue common sense.

MM: Earlier this year, you shut down your old web site, pulled your old works off Feedbooks, and relinquished control over the work to MobileRead. Can you talk a little about how you arrived at that decision?

PJL: I believe it was a combination of people close to me dying and a creative crisis that found me hovering between the writer who I’d once been (striving for the mainstream with thrillers, mystery and horror) and the writer that I was becoming (increasingly uneasy around genre fiction of any kind and completely disinterested in the mainstream).

Looking back I believe I was shedding skin, readying myself on a subconscious level to fully embrace what was about to come next. Giving away copyright, deleting my books were the conscious actions that made that transition final and permanent. Without that decision I would have been stuck ping-ponging between what was and what could be for the rest of my life. That was no place I wanted to be creatively.

Also I gave up smoking and it drove me a little insane. :)

MM: How important are online communities like MobileRead to you as an artist? What are your ambitions in terms of growing an audience and promoting your work?

PJL: I’m convinced that online communities are the most important aspect of our interaction with audiences, and they’ll become even more important once diaspora* is released and we start using the web in a more democratic way. The future, creatively and otherwise, is in the communities we build. Saying all that, I have no ambitions when it comes to growing an audience or promotion. I’m just as happy with one reader as I would be with a million. I’ll continue to write and publish, but the writing has to be my sole focus, nothing more. Whatever good comes from my writing beyond the writing itself, I’ll consider a bonus, but I’m not looking for anything more.

MM: What are you working on next? I'm particularly intrigued by what you've teased about The Pier at the End of the World.

PJL: I have at least twenty or thirty projects going on at once. Short stories, novellas, scripts, poetry, whatever tickles my fancy. Most of it goes left unfinished, or deleted, but at the moment I’m working on two bigger projects that I strongly suspect will see publication.

The first project is a three book meta-narrative. Book one, The Pier at the End of the World, tells the tale of a pulp author writing his last contracted novel in the odd cinema cum café he inherits from his dead uncle. The second book, Fortune’s End, is the pulp novel the fictional author is writing within the first book. The third, The Unfortunate Merman - the life and fiction of Jon Wen, will be a fictional biography of the fictional author. Each are separate, but when read together they should form a richer, more informed narrative. It’s an exercise in different styles, but also a investigation into the three stages of a fictional work - what the writer feels - what the audience receives - how the author and his creation are seen.

I’m about a quarter done on the first two, and the third I’ll write after the first two are finished.

The second project is a collection of short stories inspired by the fifteen tracks on the Tom Waits Album "Swordfishtrombones" which, when collected, will be called “Rainbirds". I’m done with the writing on that project, but I’m letting it cool for a few weeks while I continue with other projects.

MM: I've loved having so many new stories from you released in such quick succession. Have you had a recent burst of inspiration, or is this a planned full court press to market or brand your work?

PJL: I’m more buzzed, intrigued and excited by writing now than I’ve ever been before. But I don’t have any plans to market myself or build a brand. Every plan I’ve ever made has failed. My only concern is writing and publishing that writing whenever it’s complete.


Free e-books from Feedbooks
The Rorschach Sands
I Remember Yves Montes
Liseuse

Corona
A Flag for Mr Bellamy
Toward the Latitudes

If you want to kick it old school, download Small Victories via MobileRead: epub | mobi

All images are the work of PJ Lyon and used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Eddie Wright Is Not Nothing | The Explosive Interview

I got turned onto Eddie Wright via a tweet by blogger Mike Cane, who suggested that the two of us together would be explosive. Naturally, with a teaser like that I had to check out Eddie's novel.

Broken Bulbs is either about a junkie trying to write a screenplay or a writer who thinks he needs to fix in order to create. Either way, it's a compelling meditation about the intersection of art and addiction and the way that both are essentially born of our need to feel like our life has meaning. Narratively, the book plays out like a bad trip, existing in a world that's all blood and puke and festering wounds and desperation. But often it's the worst trips that are the most revealing, showing us the parts of our souls that are ugly and petty, tearing down the barriers between the stories we tell ourselves and the truths we try to evade.

The narrator, Frank, is a struggling writer hooked on drugs marketed as chemical inspiration, instant creativity in sleek corporate packaging complete with a cartoon lightbulb mascot named Bulbereno. He's aided - or possibly enabled - by Bonnie, the corporate rep who's part muse, part pusher, and part unrequited love interest. While administering his fixes through a festering sore in his head, she encourages him to write a screenplay in the hopes that somehow it can imbue his squandered life with meaning. The deeper Frank delves into the fictional world he's created, the more it begins to bleed into his own emotionally-warped reality, forcing him to face personal demons he's long repressed.

It's gritty, it's ugly, it's brazenly experimental in both form and style, it's allegorical, it's satirical, it's as darkly engrossing as staring at someone's disfiguring wounds, and yet it also manages to be profoundly cathartic.

It was so good I had to pick Eddie's brain a little, digging down through the hole in his skull to see if anything would explode.


MM: One of the things that struck me right away about the novel was your style. You have a very compelling rhythm to your writing, short staccato bursts, repetitive phrases, repetitive sounds. Is that something you do consciously, or do you prefer to let it flow in a stream-of-consciousness style? Do you edit much, or is the final version pretty close to how you initially put it down on paper?

EW: It starts as stream-of-consciousness. Puke really. I puke it out then I sort through the puke and shape. "Puke castles" I suppose. I try to figure things out after they're out. The rhythm is there from the start. I want everything to sound good out loud. As soon as I write anything I read it aloud to ensure that it flows and feels right and rhythmic. The editing is very important in trying to understand what I've written. I usually start with an idea, a place to land, and then I run there at full speed, then I look back and see if I can figure out how I got there and what it all means. I don't ponder specific sentences or descriptions. I try to capture a feeling. I cut-and-paste and shift things and delete. If a word messes with the flow, it's gone, or changed, or whatever. I want things to be readable and more importantly, re-readable. I like things can be read quickly and absorbed. That's always the goal.


MM: It felt like there was a lot of intentional ambiguity in the way the narrative unfolded. For one, as a reader you are always one or two steps behind in figuring out just what the fuck is going on. Also, even in the end, it's unclear how we should feel about Frank and Bonnie and everything we've seen, about who was redeemable, who was virtuous, who was hopeless. This seems to be underscored by the repetition and inversion of certain mantras - Bonnie is good, Dusty is bad, You are not nothing, Everything is nothing. Is this ambiguity intentional? Do you as a creator want individual readers to be able to walk away with their own interpretations?

EW: I absolutely want people to walk away with their own interpretations. I have no interest in providing all the answers. There's my interpretation and there are clues that could be clues or could be nothing. This story is about confusion, uncertainty, and a search for meaning. I want readers to feel the way Frank feels. I want the story to smash them and grab them and confuse them, but I want something there that eats at them and makes them think, "What was it all about?" "Why does this matter?" "Does it matter at all?" The repetition of mantras is very much a way to drill certain things into the minds of readers because these are things that have been drilled into Frank's mind...pretty much literally.


MM: I loved how you integrated the screenplay into the prose narration and was intrigued to learn that you are actually turning the work into a full screenplay. Do you think we're at a point where the distinctions between media are breaking down, and do you see more opportunities for cross-platform or multimedia works? Do you have any other plans to experiment along these lines?

EW: Thanks so much. Broken Bulbs began as a screenplay, fell apart, became a book, and is now a screenplay again. I think it would be a good movie and would love to see it that way someday. Media has morphed into this goopy soup of weirdness where everything feeds and spawns and melts into something else. It's terrifying really. But I can't help but be intrigued by it all. The means of telling a story are changing, but storytelling isn't. I think a good story will always be told by using one medium, be it book, TV show, movie, whatever, but it's the additional aspects that can now be added using social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. It's like viral marketing--J.J. Abrams stuff and whatnot--it's fun but it doesn't impact the movie or TV show, it's just a way to get people to pay attention to the main thing. I think the heart of a story needs to exist in one centralized location, otherwise it's severely limited. I'm working on a project right now with a friend of mine that's about this very thing. Using social media to tell a large, multi-faceted, multi-character story. We're trying to wrap our heads around how to make it work. We'll see what happens.


MM: To what extent is the story a commentary on corporate/consumerist culture? There's something both perverse and yet perfectly fitting that a pharmaceutical corporation would try to sell inspiration as a drug. At the same time, Bulbereno made me smile.

EW: The corporate satire stuff was on my mind while writing it but for me, the drug was just a way turn a feeling into a physical thing, inspiration as something you can touch and something that can hook you and eventually destroy you. Bulbereno's cool, man. You should get a Bulbereno tattoo.


MM: This story is one of the best depictions of addiction I've seen/read, ranking up with A Scanner Darkly or Requiem for a Dream. It seems there are several different kinds operating here - obviously chemical dependency, but also Frank's dependence on Bonnie as well as the desperation of the creative struggle are each addictive in their own right. Is there any autobiographical basis for it? I have to admit that personally, several scenes hit far too close to home and left me squirming.

EW: Thanks again. I love both those stories so much and they were both big inspirations. There's a definite autobiographical aspect to this story but I hope any person who's ever attempted any creative undertaking could feel that it applies to them as well. Frank is hooked on seeds, he's hooked on Bonnie, he's hooked on misery, he's hooked on self-hatred, he's hooked on inadequacy, he could really be hooked on anything. We all have our things that we can't free ourselves from and there's a reason for that in all of us. I want everyone to squirm a bit while reading this thing, whether they connect to drug use aspect of the story or not. I'm a writer who fails to get going and when he gets going he fails to complete things. I think a lot of creative folks can understand that.


MM: I love the fan art on your site. Was that your idea or did it arise spontaneously?

EW: I thought fan art would be a nice way to get readers involved and a nice way to keep content flowing onto my blog. The submissions I've received so far are all awesome and all very different and that's incredibly cool because it tells me that each reader has his or her own take on the material. The story is about inspiration and I'd like it to inspire creativity and art. I look forward to future submissions and I'm always open. If it's sent in and applies to the story in some way, I'll feature it. It's all good to me.


MM: Talk a little about your involvement with the Backword Books Collective. How did you hook up with them? What exactly does it mean to be part of an independent writers' collective? Do you think we're getting to a point where self-published, e-published, or independent authors will start breaking into the mainstream - or at least establish a truly viable alternative to traditional publishing?

EW: Backword Books is a group of self-published authors who have banded together to support and promote one another's books. I was asked to join by Henry Baum, who runs the great resource selfpublishingreview.com as well as being the author of the awesome The American Book of the Dead. The idea behind the group is to join forces under one banner and one brand to try to further legitimize self-publishing. Self/e/indie-publishing are all already viable alternatives to traditional publishing. Any type of book can be released regardless of mass or market appeal. It's wonderful. I think we'll see self-published authors break into the mainstream eventually but whether those authors are trying something truly daring, edgy, or experimental, is another story. The mainstream is the mainstream because it's the mainstream and it's never going to stop being the mainstream. Certain types of books will always be on the fringes. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it always will be. It's something to be proud of. I've never had mainstream tastes and have no intention of creating specifically for something that doesn't appeal to me. If someone wants to pay me to do what I do and release my stuff in a zillion places, then that could be cool, but doing it myself and doing it my own way is the only way I know. I grew up listening to and playing in punk bands and I look at this stuff in exactly the same way. You do what you do and you try and hope to find like-minded folks who'll dig what you do. The fact that Backword Books and this interview exists is evidence that I'm not alone in that thinking. This DIY/indie world is already here and we're already part of it. We don't need to discuss if something will exist anymore, we need to discuss what we're going to do with it.


MM: Do you think there's room in the marketplace for cult or counterculture artists, or has the mainstream completely co-opted the counterculture? Is there a place for experimental or alternative fiction? Should authors be artists or just entertainers? Is there even a difference anymore?

EW: Authors are artists. Entertainers are artists. It's not anyone's job to say what art is. Even the most mainstream, watered-down bullshit performer is an artist, he's just not an artist that I give a fuck about. There's room for everybody. There's always going to be room for everybody. There's nothing stopping anyone from putting any book out. We're all free to fearlessly write what we want and to promote that writing in the ways that we see fit. It's hard as fuck, believe me, but the options are all there. It's all hard work and it's all scary and it's all intimidating, but if someone has written something awesome, there's someone who's going to enjoy it. Good writing is always good writing regardless of the means of production. There will always be an alternative, there will always be experimenters. The internet has made everything attainable. Sure, you might not be able to go to Target and get the newest, edgiest, most experimental writing, but who gives a fuck? Who needs Target? The fun is in the finding. Part of the appeal of cult stuff is being part of the cult. Seeking and discovering new and weird shit is exactly where Broken Bulbs came from. And Broken Bulbs is now out "there" and it's attainable anywhere. People just need to find it and it's really not that hard to find. That's pretty awesome, man.


Connect with Eddie Wright online at bonnieisgood.com

Broken Bulbs is available as a multiformat e-book download for the low, low price of $0.99 at Smashwords

Friday, May 28, 2010

Very Short Stories


The #VSS Anthogy Volume 01 is the brainchild of Made in DNA, aka @idiotandroid. It's a collection of tweet-sized fiction from a variety of eAuthors, including Nick Name, Small Stories, Miko Dragonfly, and some cat named Moxie. VSS stands for very short story, and at their best, that's exactly what these pieces are. They have all the same elements you'd expect to find in a traditional short, like conflict, plot, engaging characters, atmosphere, themes; they just accomplish it really quickly.

Of course, as with any anthology, you're getting a mixed bag. Sure, some might be asinine, some pretentious, and yes, some seem kinda pointless... but many are genuinely funny and able to pack a staggering amount of pathos, genuine human emotion, and acute observation into such restrictive confines. And the catch is, I'd be willing to bet that every reader will have differing ideas of which stories fit each of those descriptions.

More than anything else, these pieces demonstrate that obstruction can spur creativity. Every writer has experienced the horror of the blank page - staring at that big empty canvas with no restrictions, no limitations. You could write about anything, and paradoxically, you can't come up with a fucking thing to say. But if someone comes along and asks for a story about a specific subject, or in a specific genre, or with a specific theme, and suddenly the ideas start hemorrhaging out.

In this case, there's something liberating about being forced to stay under 140 characters. There's a built-in focus, you don't have to be all things to all people, you just have to make them smile, make them empathize, make them think, even if for only the briefest moment in time.

For my own part, I have mixed feelings about the handful of stories I contributed. I'm not usually a VSS/twitfic/microfiction author, since I tend to be way too wordy (see also: this blog). But I decided to submit just to experiment with the form, to see what it's like to work with such limited space. In the end, they seem to sit comfortably alongside the other works, and I'm starting to feel just the slightest temptation to dip my toe back into the VSS water.

Download #VSS Anthology Volume 01 for free at Smashwords.

Cover designed by Nick Name.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This Unhappy Interview - Marc Horne Speaks


I am a huge fan of Marc Horne. And it's not just because he's been known to write homages to Stan Lee or name books after Morrissey songs, or even because he's been known to say a few kind words about my own work.

His new novel, This Unhappy Planet, is a satirical dramedy about two guys who hatch a scheme to open a chain of spiritual fitness clubs, hoping to get rich quick off of bored yoga moms and affluent New Age seekers. Its brilliance is in Marc's ability to lampoon both the main characters' cynicism as well as the distinctly SoCal brand of pseudo-spiritualism without veering into the realm of mean-spirited caricatures. The characters are imbued with such depth and shading, they are rendered so completely believable, that you can't help but empathize with them even while laughing at their foibles.

The other thing that makes this such an enjoyable read is Marc's natural gift for storytelling and pacing. He starts out with a slow burn, establishing a pervasive sense of impending disaster even at the very beginning. You get the uneasy feeling that the characters are too happy at the beginning, things are coming too easily and they appear to succeed more by dumb luck than by merit or virtue. Meanwhile, they know they're full of shit, their wives know they're full of shit and are plotting to leave them (or vice-versa), their financier is a conniving shark, their unpredictable guru has a mysterious past and a tenuous grasp on reality, and they are only ever one step ahead of being unmasked as the charlatans they are. The story moves briskly, but Marc is able to sustain that same sense of uneasiness as a counterpoint underscoring the entire narrative, building the reader's anticipation for everything to inevitably come crashing down.

I got a chance to talk with Marc about some of the inspiration behind the novel, as well as his thoughts on independent e-book publishing and vegan Mexican food.


MM: I'm gonna start with a dumb question that I'm dying to ask... "Smokeez" is based on a real Mexican food place in San Diego, isn't it? I ask because I think I've been there, and as soon as I read that scene I was like, "hey it's that place". I'm sure you don't want to name the name, but it also ends with a "Z" right?

I will come right out and admit that Smokeez is Pokez in Downtown San Diego. I didn't want to name it in the book, because I was dwelling on the negatives. It's actually a great place to eat… unless you are hungry when you arrive. But great vegan-friendly Mexican should not be rushed, right?


MM: You've described this as a comedy of manners set in the George W Bush years... can you expand on how much the book was informed by the post-9/11 American political and social atmosphere?

There's this concept of 'Abundance' that is the big driver of the book: that the Universe will provide as long as you plan and will it enough. That to me is the dominant style of the Bush administration: from WMDs to 'they will welcome us as liberators' to Sub-Prime mortgages. Reality is for the weak. And we see how that didn't quite work out as planned. That's why when I hear people in the richest place in the world talking about the abundance of the universe, I think it is not just comical but also dangerous.


MM: The book takes pleasure in lampooning a uniquely SoCal brand of pseudo spiritualism - past lives, indigo children, etc. Yet at the same time, I get the impression from your writing that you're a pretty philosophical guy. Did you write this purely from the perspective of an outsider looking in, or is there any extent to which you identify yourself with the kind of seekers Jack and Drake are fleecing?

Jack and Drake don't really fleece anyone: they just market and package what is already going on. But I don't identify with their target market much, despite being a Vegan hippy. I am basically a materialist, with hints of believing in quantum-induced clairvoyance. Actually, that sounds pretty SoCal, right?


MM: Compare writing and releasing this book to Tokyo Zero... how different is it self-publishing and/or e-publishing a book after the advent of the Kindle, the iPad, Feedbooks, Twitter, etc?

Totally different. I wrote Tokyo Zero with the traditional publishing system in mind, but after a short while found it weird and creepy so dropped out. Then I heard about Creative Commons and dumped a PDF on my earthlink homepage and it would have probably sunk without a trace if BoingBoing hadn't picked up on it. Still not sure who actually read a US Letter format PDF. But then Tokyo Zero got this second life about a year and a half ago with the eBook renaissance, and I became sure that book #2 was just going to go straight through the eBook channels. The fact that I could publish the book and have a hundred people reading it the day after I finished it really worked for me. Maybe Twitter has robbed me of my patience.

Also it meant that even though the book was on the short side, I didn't feel like I needed to pad it out to fit an arbitrary word count. Some people think it reads as a bit over-compressed, but it's intentional.


MM: How has the book been received so far?

The downloads are going well but I haven't had much feedback in the month it's been out except from writers and other people who I kind of know so I don't trust them. I do think people expected something a bit more edgy or weird, based on where Tokyo Zero ended up.


MM: What are you working on next?

Something more edgy and weird! I just finished up a couple of screenplays with a friend [including Tokyo Zero: the Movie] and we are shopping them around and now I am ready for another novel. This one is going to be more in the Sci-Fi vein. The story of an American filmmaker having the time of his life in Paris until he runs into a Burqa-wearing parkour gang and the most probable man in the world.

Although I haven't written a word yet, so don't hold me to that.


MM: While a large part of the book is satirical, it wouldn't be nearly as compelling a read if the characters weren't so well developed. Were the characters, or at least aspects of them and their relationships, drawn from real life at all?

In the first few chapters they are hybrid clones of people I know, but after that they get a life of their own. Clones are like that, I suppose. A friend of mine read some later chapters and called out things that didn't fit the characters. They were all things that had really happened to the source people and that I had tried to graft on to the characters. The grafts would not hold.


MM: My favorite character is Jack's wife, Allie. I'm not sure why, it's not that she's the most likable or even the most sympathetic, but I definitely find her the most darkly compelling. Can you talk a little about how she developed as a character?

I like Allie too. The genesis of the book was standing with the inspiration for Allie on the beach one day while she explained "The Secret" to me in all of its eugenic horror. I had always scoffed at the concept of creating your own reality like that, but never really picked up that like any successful western religion, non-believers risk being perceived as sub-humans. But she was a fun person to talk to and I tried to keep that bizarre vulnerability in the Allie character.


MM: This is my favorite passage from the book. This isn't really a question at all, I just want to point it out. It's actually one of the best pieces of writing from anything I've read this year.

As time went by, he disengaged a bit more. First it was the Frisbee, then the alcoholism. Now it was this business. He was reclaiming his time, he was diversifying his relationships. It was normal and healthy. Sometimes they sat in the same small room in their shack-like home while he listened to some music she would hate on headphones plugged into his iMac. She knitted, and inside hoped he would take the headphones off and listen to the music of her voice and all of the love that she was capable of, if asked. Because she had dreamt of love throughout her whole dusty life and kept the dreams like a chicken keeps her eggs, even the barren ones. Instead his face became covered with static and dust.


Marc blogs at marchorne.wordpress.com.
You can buy This Unhappy Planet at Smashwords or get it for free at Feedbooks.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Playlist | Concrete Underground


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BOOK ONE
My My Metrocard | Le Tigre   
Compared to What | David Holmes + Carl Hancock Rux 
Red Dress | TV on the Radio   
Id Engager | Of Montreal   
Sheela-Na-Gig | PJ Harvey   
Stagger Lee | Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds  
  
BOOK TWO
Good Woman | Cat Power   
Light Rail Coyote | Sleater-Kinney   
Stella | Ida Maria   
Great Gig in the Sky | The Flaming Lips + Peaches   
Still Walking | Throbbing Gristle  
In the Aeroplane over the Sea | Neutral Milk Hotel   
  
BOOK THREE
Tear It Up | The Cramps   
Dirty Business | The Dresden Dolls   
Fuck the Pain Away | Peaches   
Civilians | Joe Henry   
The Real Ding | Cerberus Shoal 
867-5309/Jenny | Tommy Tutone   
  
BOOK FOUR
Convinced of the Hex | The Flaming Lips   
I Will Possess Your Heart | Death Cab for Cutie   
A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Bessie Smith   
Lua | Conor Oberst + Gillian Welch   
Still Burning | Lydia Lunch   
Blood Part 2 | Buck 65 + Sufjan Stevens   
  
BOOK FIVE
By This River | Brian Eno   
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town | Pearl Jam   
Oompa Radar | Goldfrapp   
Elephant Woman | Blonde Redhead   
Art Is Hard | Cursive   
The Good and the Bad Guy | My Brightest Diamond