Writer’s World Episode #136: As Cold as Space

Blog
author image

The final month of my first year as a published indie author – the adventure of it – will end with a dud. No surprise, it’s post-holiday and all that, after all. I consider myself fortunate, then, to have indeed sold my one copy per month each month (including this one) of the first year of publication, thereby realizing my modest minimum goal and, on top of that, achieving an average of 7.5 sales/month.

Is it respectable? No. Is it better than a string of zeros? Yes. Did my sales meet my expectations? Funny, I can’t say that I had any expectations. Besides that of a dreamy, fantastic vision-of-greatness in which I saw TC1 arriving in some tangible manner, mostly to do with at least a legitimate critical reception; namely, some kind of welcome into the field by somebody, at least, already enjoying some manner of a platform or, short of that, by way of a handful of fine reviews from readers. But none of that happened. Outside the handful of copies read by my family, the one person who bestowed a comment about the book on Goodreads, the two ratings on Goodreads and the two ratings on Amazon, I can’t be certain anyone who purchased the book or received a gratis copy ever read it. Or finished it. Which, in the end, is probably the worst part, so far, of this experiment. Which is to say that somehow, foolishly, I expected a response. Why?

I suppose it has to do with my impatience and my yearning to finally escape the sense of exile from myself and the world that has plagued me forever. It’s not about being liked or having my ego stroked. It really isn’t. It’s not me, as Campbell was keen to declare, it’s the myths. Keith, after all, isn’t Carnegie. That is, C.O. is a persona that allows for the expression of K.E.’s personal mythology without the baggage and idiosyncratic psychological nonsense – my unsightly history and fraught visions – of too much identification. What am I saying? Well, I’m convinced I chose to use a pen name, for instance, because I had to. It was an intuitive, otherwise unconscious personal mythological necessity and now I’m glad I did it because it has helped to establish a healthy (or healthier) distance and bestow a sliver of objectivity to the whole crazy enterprise of authorpreneurship.

Which is to say, it could have gone the other way: I could be sitting here lamenting my decision to publish under a pen name. I could be staring at the cover of TC1 and chewing glass or cringing at the sight and sound of Carnegie Olson. To say nothing of my website and blog persona. By now it all could have seemed a contrived mess. But it doesn’t. I’m not in love with my pen name, I must admit, but that in itself – my indifference to it – is mostly what I wanted to achieve by way of it. In other words, the name came to me by way of intuition and neither before nor since has any other name seemed at all conceivably appropriate or even tolerable. The letters themselves contain all the roundness, both by way of their appearance and their pronunciation, that my given name does not. It’s impossible to mispronounce Carnegie Olson. It’s also impossible to be accused of contriving a moniker that is merely all trendy drama or silly, attention-seeking nonsense. I’m not calling myself Leafy Green or Shocking Pink or what have you.

I could have done better. I could have nailed it and I didn’t, I get that. But my pen name sounds like a real name, something that may indeed be a given name. It maintains a certain humility and familiarity while conveying, I think, a modest quirkiness that perhaps lends itself to being more memorable than what I started with, that’s all. And very importantly in a strategic sense, it is (at this point in time at least) unique. My given name, besides being impossible for the uninitiated to pronounce properly, is not unique by any means. To date, by way of the internet, at least, there is no other Carnegie Olson in existence. This is an advantage regarding websites and search engines and all that garbage. And nobody confuses me with any other author. Not that any of this so-called strategy of mine has paid off at all. I’ve discussed pen names elsewhere in the DOP but here, a year down the road from my decision which, for some folks, apparently ends up being interpreted as a disastrous or at least perpetually aggravating mistake, well, let’s just say that I’m happy to report that I don’t feel as if I’ve fucked up that part of the experiment.

Meanwhile, in terms of sales, what else to expect post-holiday season? That is, anyone who’s ever worked in retail of any type understands the inevitable seasonality of sales. For most retailers the holidays inspire perhaps 50%-75% of their annual revenue. So be it. For TC1, November plus December sales comprised 37% of my business. If you can call it that. Christ, this authorpreneur shit is difficult. We know this, all of us trying our hand at it, but living it still hurts. We understand that, statistically, the numbers are all against any kind of success in publishing, let alone indie publishing. We witness the special cases, the statistical anomalies, the exceptions that prove the rule and, while we’re not foolish enough to allow ourselves to get carried away with silly fantasies of being those folks (call them fortunate, call them cursed, say what you will), of being “chosen” as such in this manner (by the world-of-action, by readers, by the cosmos, what have you), we nevertheless struggle to swallow the pill of reality. At least I do.

Orna Ross of ALLi suggests that we ought to measure our success as authorpreneurs in financial terms and, while she apparently suffered a great deal of negative feedback from members I happen to wholeheartedly agree with her. It’s easy to say we write and even indie publish for its own sake, for the sake of the art-craft, on behalf of the muse, yadda, blah. Let’s face it: we all write to get read and publish to get paid. So that we can have the experience of being properly alive, that’s all; so that we can individuate ourselves. So that we can be who we are. Making a living, as good a living as we can, is part of life. I won’t harangue the issue. If you’re the type who likes to consider art-craft as some sort of sacred realm, some divine otherworld that ought to remain free of all economic and otherwise material tarnishes, well, keep it to yourself. If you really write for its own sake and possess no inner voice that seeks to be heard, well, I don’t understand a thing about you. The rest of us wannabe authorpreneurs are meanwhile trying to communicate and connect, to find our tribe, in economically sustainable terms, too, so that we can quit our day jobs and while achieving the legitimization that sustainability naturally bestows. Really and truly, I believe that if you’re trying to convince me that you indie publish without heed to getting paid, without regard for the idea of becoming professional (which by definition means you get paid for your work) then I think your writing probably reflects that. In a bad way. Go ahead and write privately, I do that, and refer to yourself as a private writer (I’ve tried that). But if you intuitively write to an inner reader, like I do, that for all intents and purposes sounds like and amounts to an outer reader (for lack of a better description), you’re in the majority and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Here’s to writers who write to be read. We can’t help it. Enough said.

I’m off the job for a couple of days and frankly, after yesterday, when I discovered to my dismay that my co-worker, whom I was fairly desperately expecting to lend support within our department, had called off so that I was now staring a ten-hour solo shift in the face, well, I don’t know what to say except I was once again wrecked by the effort. Which only expresses the hard fact that, in the end, I’m merely a mediocre employee. A good, let alone great employee,, in my opinion, would respond to the challenge as such. Whereas I merely endure and don’t manage to manage the energy well enough to surpass being overwhelmed, consumed and otherwise used up by what I cannot help but experience in miserable terms. In brief, I allowed myself to skip my hour “lunch” break, only managing two fifteen minute breaks to consume, each time, a bottle of water (the first one thankfully improved by of being infused with a packet of electrolyte powder that I was intelligent enough to bring along in anticipation of the slog) and to get carried away by by the demands, by the demands upon me. When somebody else, a more balanced and ultimately talented employee, would have rolled with the punches and even thrived. And that wasn’t in brief at all, sorry. But I’m convinced I’ll never be capable of properly pacing myself on the job. And it amounts to just another frustration of working outside my VAPM.

I recall Robert Richardson, the biographer, describing Emerson at one point attempting to edit and publish his brother Charles’s journals or writings, posthumously, and finding them all so impossible gloomy and self-defeatingly, unflatteringly – I forget how he described them – pitiful that he couldn’t. Which only points out that some of our journals are indeed merely autotherapy and not meant for readers. Such self-work is, to me, better described, then, as a diary which is almost by definition a private confession.

And I oftentimes have admitted that the DOP fails to achieve the necessary reader-ready journalistic stance I seek to produce. I in fact recall beginning the DOP in Hawaii, during a family vacation financed by, who else, my parents, on their 50th wedding anniversary if I’m getting it right. I had already been writing my way through my struggles post-firing in Texas for six months or so as acknowledged auto-therapy but the trip to Honolulu and Maui inspired me to experiment with literally documenting things in storytelling manner, ostensibly to see if I could produce anything interesting for anybody else to read. I’m not certain of the results. And what transpired was the DOP both for its own sake and somehow also, at the same time, for my inner and outer readership. So be it. Warts and all, as they say.

The most trying aspect of seeking a readership, for me, has become the nagging sense or self-adjudication that I perhaps ought to be indeed keeping all this to myself; that I remain perhaps fundamentally, hopelessly at odds with myself; that despite all my self-work and devoted, deliberate practice, the things I make, the words I manage to get onto the page, suck. And that after eleven years now of seeking and experimenting with and surrender to my perceived VAPM I’ve simply gotten it all wrong. And that when it’s wrong, one’s creations are wrong and we’re all better off without them.

Yet here they are nonetheless, the words. Here it all still burbles forth. Like a mud pot in Yellowstone National Park my chthonic muse (let’s call the damn devilish thing that motivates me) while nevertheless noxiously, sulphurously, humorlessly, perhaps disagreeably, even vilely less than useless, belches. Off gasses. And pukes. Thermally. The mud pots and geysers are doing their thing as we speak out there in Yellowstone, a queer expression of the thermal activity below, of this planet’s wildly incendiary heart, its magma core. Of what use is it all. Are what use are the mud pots of this world? I suppose the question is a moot one: that mud pots simply are and will be until the fire dies. Journal, blog, sci-fi novel, what have you: there’s no use, then, attempting to suppress any of it because the heated gasses will out. Come what may.

And it’s not as if I don’t have any experience with deciding upon the difference between private and public art-craft. The Humble Hogs food cart was the lesson in 2010-11 that encouraged me in no uncertain terms to surrender to what I really was versus what I aspired to be, namely, that I was a private cook – a home cook – and not meant for working in a restaurant or a food production environment even if it was my own business. It’s nothing to do with quality food. In fact, quality tends to lend itself to private cookery because restaurants and food productions enterprises are slave to quantity, a condition that undermines quality at every turn.

The things that stick with us. Two things come to mind and they are both declarations, it occurs to me, from men on the job that serve to define, at least, exactly what I am keen not to become. In general, I agree that it’s not productive or effective to attempt to envision the negative. But as with everything, the exception proves the rule. Once again paraphrasing something from the biography of Samuel Beckett: It was a signpost on the road he had traveled for so long and so blindly with nothing to guide him except the conviction that all other ways were wrong. Such is the nature of a negative projection or a negative form of energy and of the paradox of being the only positive thing we sometimes have available. Knowing what you don’t want doesn’t get you there but it when it’s all you’ve got, well, it’s all you’ve got in comparison to oblivion.

Back to the two things, then.

  1. My high school, to their credit, liked to try to coach kids towards their proper career and one of the things available to us were guided tours of workplaces by an employee who volunteered to suffer the burden. I think I was in tenth grade or so when I availed myself of such an opportunity and it happened to be at a nearby Ford plant that assembled so-called plenums – the plastic baffle configuration that manages the little HVAC systems in the dash of an automobile. Boring as hell, of course. Anyway, I take the tour, guided by a guy who must have been the age I am now and, true to form even in my teens, I have the nerve to ask this guy, “So, is this what you wanted to do for a career?” “It’s a living,” he says, flatly. The dull thud of my heart hitting the bottom of my expectations, whatever they were at the time, was deafening. Gosh, I thought, is that it? Is that what it comes down to for this guy? For anybody? Yikes, was my conclusion; I’m never going to be that way about my job.
  2. Blasco. My last big career job, the one that paid more than I’d ever made. Here I am chatting with this engineering type guy who happened to be one of the go-to manufacturing experts of the type who had routinely been shipped over to China, sometimes literally on a moments notice, to assuage whatever emergency production situation needed to be triaged – there’s always something in the paint/stain/coating finishing business whether it’s to do with cars or kitchen cabinets – and he was yammering about the time some Chinese factory paid something like $63K for his plane ticket so as to overnight him there, as it were, things were apparently so dire. Well, they’re never that dire but I learned that where most businesses don’t possess the proverbial pot to piss in, that they’re indeed going out of business either slowly or quickly, some of these manufacturing companies still enjoy a veritable flood of cash, and it serves to hypnotize all the engineers that feel entitled to it into a nauseating complacence but that’s beside my point. I ask this guy (because I pathologically despise work travel) how he managed to tolerate such things as dropping what he was doing and taking some ungodly long flight to a country where he doesn’t speak the language and never will (let’s just say this guy, whom I liked, looked and sounded as if he’d be more at home on the farm than in a kitchen cabinet manufacturing plant) and never mentions anything about the culture or anything besides how this or that person is an asshole at the plant, yadda, yadda. He shrugs and his tone changes, as if I’ve somehow said something silly. “It’s part of the job.” He stands there sipping his coffee as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world and what the fuck is with me asking such a dumb question.

Well, it wasn’t a dumb question, pal, for those of us who give a shit about what makes us our so-called living. And I’ve learned to acknowledge such vacuous, bourgeoise types for what they are besides vacuous and bourgeoise, which is of course a snarky thing to say about anybody and mostly isn’t true. That is, folks simply inherit different VAPMs. Different in such fundamental magnitudes and dimensions that, well, I was inspired, eventually, in my late middle age, to write a sci-fi novel about it. If for nothing else to explain it to myself. And I’m writing here about it; about two events that communicated the very same fundamentally dismal thing to me, namely, that people can somehow manage to work their lives away with nothing to justify it except a dull sense of obligation and the cash. It’s a living. It’s part of the job. Um, no thanks.

***

I pounded away at a few pages of TC2 last night; it had been a week since my last efforts. I’ve made it to page 149 or so and it’s always a weird experience working through a manuscript that seems both interminable and remarkably short at once. It was the same with TC1 and it will be the same with TC3 and so on and if the mystery ever reveals itself, well, I’ll be the first to let you know.

What’s it like to edit something you wrote over four years ago? It’s mostly unpleasant. I’m not a brilliant writer. My prose is at best serviceable and my plots likewise. The science comes and goes and my predilection for shifting point of view probably fails as much as it succeeds to energize the text. If pressed, I’d point to character development as my strong suit though a critic might disparage exactly that. I don’t know. I do my best to write things that I imagine enjoying as a reader but the experience of creating the scenes is so different from reading them that I can’t ever feel confident I’m not too close to it all; that what I think works simply doesn’t.

Re-encountering my own prose after such a long time away from it – I literally have not looked at the TC2 manuscript since completing the first draft – allows me to overhaul it without remorse, a good thing in terms of proper editing, but it also fills me with anxiety because none of the writing thrills me. I suppose on balance it never will. I could point to a handful of passages I’m proud of, that I still find evocative and even thrilling but if you’ve created it, chances are your favorites will never be commensurate with anyone else’s, which is merely yet another example of the weirdness of writing a novel versus reading a novel.

I don’t know any novelists. Which is to say I’m not acquainted with any. This may be a good thing. Perhaps it helps set me free. On the other hand, there is never anyone to help assuage the anxieties, to say, yes, that happens to me, too, it’s okay, it’s typical, you’ll get through it, just keep going. Or, try this, it helps. Or, never do this and always do that. But then exile is nature of the experience, come what may. Authors who resort to co-writing novels, for instance, perhaps in an effort to distribute the burden, as it were, or merely to enjoy a version of workplace camaraderie, like a person with a regular job, remain beyond me. I’m not declaring that it can’t be done but I’m suspicious. A novel is a single vision, it’s the nature of the thing, and while an editor can be regarded in some ways as a legitimate contributor – it depends upon how much substantive editing is involved, of course – it simply isn’t the same thing to tweak a style, refine a sentence, suggest an addition or a deletion and to otherwise develop a story’s strengths and diminish its weaknesses as it is to establish the vision in the first place and drive it forward from nothing.

I suppose some successful authors would find all my difficulties and gripes and laments incomprehensible. Perhaps some authors sail through manuscript after manuscript in a pleasant fugue of reliable inspiration. Perhaps they indeed have the experience of having to catch it all in buckets. I read that somewhere in The New Yorker, I think, and the citation is buried somewhere in the DOP, but it’s only to describe the sense of bountiful expression that apparently some gifted folks have enjoyed.

My experience has been reliably similar all along, from the first sentence of the first novel to now – namely, I struggle perpetually against a vague inertia, an energy sapping resistance to each day’s essential, renewed engagement in the vision and the process. I have to recreate the vibe prior to each session and then sort of dive in at full effort, like at the start of a race. And time indeed races along when I’m finally writing – I have never once experienced anything like so-called writer’s block once I’ve started. It’s the starting itself that sucks for me. I’ve resorted to literally pacing the room – pacing the cage – and since I wrote the first drafts of the first three novels and part of the fourth while, as I recall, Angie was still mostly working at the office, I was alone in the house and could avail myself of loud music – imagined Time Crime movie theme music – as inspirational starting fluid. I don’t need the music once I’m rolling; again, it’s the problem of inertia that I struggle against.

Occasionally I’ll experience resistance along the way, in the midst of things – a problematic passage here, an knotty idea there, a shitty sentence that refuses my administrations for hours, that kind of thing. At best I’ve written perhaps ten pages in a day, usually between three and five, sometimes just one or two and on the worst days a single sentence ties up the entire day’s session and I walk away exhausted at the futility of the experience. Even now, in my sixth year of being a wannabe novelist and in the midst of attacking the second draft of the second book in the series I find that, despite all the years of inattention to the story and the characters, I can reinsert myself into things, catch the vibe and plod along. I relish the time I spent working on TC1 with V.M., my editor because then, somehow, I could edit the hell out of at least one chapter per day, sometimes two depending upon the length and the sense of barreling through the book was as thrilling as it was exhausting. But by then I’d self-edited the fucking thing eleven times and when V.M. would submit her edits I was rarely compelled to argue a point. I’d make notes, resist a thing here or there, clarify a why or a wherefore but mostly I recall clicking “accept all changes” and being happy to move on to the next chapter. I’d email stuff and V.M. would process it within twenty-four hours – our progress didn’t so much resemble that of a steamroller (too ponderously slow) as one of those voracious combines that a modern farm uses to harvest wheat or what have you. We consumed acreage as if time itself were running out, as if the crop was ripe and the only thing to do was haul it in.

I suppose TC1 was ripe. And I’m doing my best not to expect to have that thrilling experience ever again. It was all new, for one thing, and now it isn’t. Now I know what to expect; that this second draft is indeed where I try to add everything I forgot, the third will be removing everything that doesn’t belong and the fourth will entail polishing. Then I’m going to hire an editor and get it done. No nine, ten, eleven fucking self-edits this time. Hence, TC2 will likely read differently. It may be a disaster. The book may suffer the sophomore slump whereby every grand complexity and quirky idiosyncrasy of my life that fueled and made its way into the first novel is lacking in the second. There are so many goddamn ways to fail at something, I tell you, it’s maddening.

V.M. she was great, we gelled, we jived, we were both new at it, for one thing, and our energy was in sync from the first. I can’t expect that to happen again. I can’t even anticipate that V.M. will be the editor for TC2. She’s still out there, at least the last time I checked the internet. But our last communications didn’t fill me with confidence that she enjoys editing novels one after the other, nor that she envisions being available for TC2. Hell, she’s a startup and a struggling entrepreneur herself. And from what she said, she seemed to have learned something about how picky she is regarding the manuscripts, that she’s not prepared to invest the energy in just anything that comes her way. I get it. I completely get it. She says she’s proud of TC1 but that doesn’t mean she’s at all looking forward to TC2. It may be that she consumed her novel editing energies and will be on to other things when I finally contact her. I will contact her, of course, but tentatively, in the context of testing the waters. As I said, I’m suspicious that she’s perhaps not going to be the one for TC2.

Without putting the cart before the horse, the idea of having to find a different editor strikes panic in my heart. Yikes. It’s as cold as space out there. Too many so-called professional editors, it seems to me, are either tyrants – frustrated writers themselves who are keen to recast the work of others within the context of their own – or through no fault of their own they don’t jive with my style. It’s all chemistry. And it’s all mostly a crap shoot. Which is to say there’s too much luck involved. It’s a leap of faith, then, and a high-wire act, to try to start afresh. Ugh.

But I will nevertheless make it happen; TC2 as a finished product will come to pass. Because there’s nothing else that makes me want to get up in the morning. Besides perhaps this journal. But this journal has yet to demonstrate, even as a published blog, anything besides a very tenuous and arguable influence within the context of social proof. It drives a little traffic to carnegieolson.com but website traffic is only important if it translates to sales of the book(s).

Unfortunately, TC1 remains neither here nor there in terms of legitimizing my further effort and financial commitment. Economically it’s a categorical flop. Critically, with zero reviews, it’s likewise neither here nor there. I’m mostly driven to keep going by the sense of being too far out to sea to turn back. I’ve long ago lost sight of land. I’d aspired to more encouragement from the world-of-action by way of indie publishing the first book in the series. It’s not forthcoming. This is the typical state of affairs, statistically. Nobody sells books. I’ve come far enough along, then, to have left my naïve expectations far behind, so that when I read on Alli’s Facebook page all the commentary and questions from first-timers I cringe and scratch my head. Was I that naïve? Yes.

There was a new author lamenting, for example, that while they had enjoyed thirty sales soon after publication several months ago (publishing via KDP had been “remarkably easy” they declared), with sales attributed almost exclusively to, as I gathered, their family, friends and the acquaintances they’d managed to cajole into buying a copy (hey, you do what you can), book sales had stalled and they were wondering what to do about it. I was inspired to list everything I’d done as mirrored within the Alli website, from establishing an ecommerce ready website, a consistent blog, giveaways and amazon advertising to publishing an audiobook version and whatever else, which had only resulted in my humble sales of 90 copies and the author responded, “Phew!” He’d “try some of the suggestions” and meanwhile wait until sales picked up. Um, I’m here to tell ya, my friend, sales don’t just “pick up.” Rather, you are staring oblivion in the face. You will not be discovered. Why not? Because, frankly, nobody ever is. Nobody gives a shit about your book. This is the first lesson: absolutely nobody is trolling Amazon KDP releases for stuff to buy. And getting your book on the shelf of a local bookstore, spine out or otherwise, avails you nothing. I’ve been there.

There may have been a very brief window of opportunity eleven or so years ago, circa 2010, from what I’ve read, where utter garbage indie dross was being bought by folks desperate to use their new Kindle and having nothing else to choose from. You run across the occasional early KDP title and it’s shocking, the amateurishness that was tolerated back then. That moment passed like a fart in the wind. Those writers now lament that, for instance, Amazon keeps changing their algorithm and now they don’t sell any books. No, you’re not selling any books because (1) your book sucks and (2) you aren’t paying to advertise it. I didn’t communicate any of this, of course, to our emerging author because it’s harsh and disheartening and a cruel lesson. Hell, it turns out the guy had self-published via KDP only – he was intimidated by having to get his manuscript and book cover formatted into something that would be accepted by Ingramspark. Gods above and below, man, you have much work to do. Beginning with hiring professionals. Unless of course you’re keen to keep it all a bloody hobby.

Me? It’s too much damn work and money spent to indie publish a novel, let alone more than one, and not give it my all to get it read. I don’t know what that means in terms of managing to build a platform – folks will tell you that you need at least three novels out there before you’ll see any legitimate sales, yadda, blah. Well, perhaps. I get it that these days it’s all about social proof. And impatience. Ooh, this guy has nine novels published, if I like his stuff I don’t have to wait for him to write anything else. I don’t know if this is how people are. I’m not. I’m still of the mindset that an artist-craftsman’s sequels or subsequent product, be it record albums, books (fiction or non-fiction) or films, what have you, if they’re reliably any good require a good three years between iterations. Even the gifted don’t ever seem to manage quality production on an annual schedule. That of course has not stopped rock bands an novelists and even filmmakers from rushing the next one to market come hell or high water or utter lack of quality. I point to the seventies when many of my favorite rock bands were releasing more than one record album per year, yikes! Never a good thing.

Nevertheless, it sucks to be staring more than a year in the face between published volumes of Time Crime. All of us get in a hurry. If I don’t get it out soon, we think, I’m going to disappear from the meager public consciousness I’ve managed to conjure from nothing. It’s the fear of nothing that frightens us, to be sure: that I’d have to start over from nothing is the most goddamn terrifying thing I can think of. Carnegie Olson, who? Time Crime what? The fact is, when you put yourself back in the perspective of a listener, reader, consumer of art-craft, the years fly by and you’re on to other things and when some new version of something you liked three years ago comes out, well, you’re just as game for it, on average, as ever. And you appreciate the time spent away from it – absence can indeed make the heart grow fonder. So, I’m advising myself not to sweat the time and rather be certain I’m pouring every iota of quality inspiration I can into these books.

Two years, then, is more reasonable between published volumes of TC. What about the aforementioned three? Well, I’m not starting from scratch. TC2 exists as a complete first draft and now a partial second draft. TC3, however, needs an ending. TC4 is a mere fifty pages of first draft. So, it may turn out that three years between a book or two is indeed what happens. Regardless, it’s not as if I’m getting any pressure – any whatsoever – to produce. The only pressure and expectation and sense of urgency is coming from me. As usual. Impatience being my number one worst, most pernicious, most self-sabotaging attribute. Why I can’t live the life of a confident author, akin to Campbell, say, who seemed keen to allow the time it took to get it right, to write right, is just one of my idiosyncratic burdens. Other folks suffer other predicaments.

There are better writers out there. They’ve written better books. But some of those better writers have yet to write that better book or perhaps they’ve not devoted themselves to marketing it. Talent, timing and drive is the evidence left behind by remarkable success, just as Malcom Gladwell has described. Eighty percent or so of life, according to Woody Allen, is showing up. Persistence, as Robert Fripp suggests, is the door to heaven. I’m paraphrasing these folks. But these aphorisms tend to reflect reality, hence they remain in public discourse. Hence they can add value on the long road to individuation as an author or anything else. Using the tools available, however meager, can mean the difference. I’m aiming, then, to take that position left vacant by some other, better writer who hasn’t done the this or that that I’m doing. If I’m lacking the talent, perhaps I’ll make it up in drive. When my drive slackens, perhaps it will invite a refurbished architecture of timing. Perhaps there’s no hope at all. This is the life, this is how it is, this is the only way through. Conviction. Aspiration. Authenticity. Persistence. Pressure. Time. A lucky break. Rock on.

Imbibe the Vibe. Or, How to Get Groovy

Blog

I arrived home from work one afternoon last week, after two days of modest, midday shifts (8am -2pm), destroyed. Physically spent, that is, and psychologically wrecked. I don’t know what happens except that some days on the job the running around and up-and-down-ladders (literally and figuratively) and customer service challenges combine into a toxic, energy sapping, confidence lashing, consumptive brume that yanks the oxygen from the lungs of my zeal. Life seems a pitiless, heartless exhaustion. It didn’t help that I was working in a different department and struggling to be competent. Add to that a string of five days without selling a book and the monthly advertising invoices pouring in and I was overwhelmed with a sense of utter inauthenticity and foolhardiness. Who am I to think I can write a novel that’s good enough to be worth buying? And what kind of idiot spends $25K on such a project, sees sales of a mere 90 copies in eleven months and thinks, gee, I’m looking forward to doing this again next year? Or the year after that, what have you. Talk about a silly hobby business. Better to refer to it, indeed, as nothing more than vanity publishing. Which is to say, here I am keeping the novel’s head above the waters of oblivion only by way of having the financial resources, modest as they are, to do so. Meanwhile, I’ve learned how publishing houses go broke: if it costs this much to publish a book and most of them won’t ever earn themselves out, let alone immediately: trouble.

Anyway, having crashed – I literally laid down on the floor and slept when I got home from work, something I never do (as a rule I never take naps) – in a kind of defeated heap, resigned to the alternative oblivion of dreamless sleep and indifferent to the idea of ever waking up again because it all seemed so fucking pointless (it was that bad, I’m telling you), I managed awaken at dinner time, shoved down my food and forced myself to read. I never snapped out of the dreary and debilitating grip of depression, however, and after slogging through Richardson’s Emerson and the introduction to Romanticism and Speculative Realism (a collection of academic essays that I’m not yet certain were worth the purchase) I told myself not to check my book sales for once and shuffled off to bed, still hopelessly indifferent to the idea of tomorrow.

The following morning at 6:30am I rose to face the day, come what may. The first thing I did, as always, was check sales and, lo, I’d sold an eBook in Canada, thank Thor! – the first official sale of 2021! Hey, I think many other authorpreneurs will have to admit that it’s the nature of the beast to be obsessed with any scrap of cosmic flesh we can come across to keep going. That’s not an elegant metaphor at all, sorry, but it does capture the desperate keenness of the whole affair: every sale, every rating (heaven help me regarding reviews), any tidbit of connection or intimation of progress means everything to us “emerging” writers. Hey, it’s not pretty. Ask any indie author whose first book didn’t immediately “take off” (which statistically means virtually every indie first timer out there) and odds are they’ll reflect a version of this unsightly neurosis.

Some days, then, are better than others. The “I’ll never sell another book” misery passed. However temporarily. And of course the tricky part is letting go of it all – being anxious for outcomes that is – and resisting the compulsion to call out the cosmos, as it were, to tempt fate and require things to happen within a certain time frame and in a certain manner according to my perceived needs, my desires. As opposed to my more healthy and otherwise proper aspirations. Because, time and again, the cosmos teaches that it isn’t about you: what you are offering to the world is of the world already, in the sense of the block universe, for instance, and is an expression of the humanity you are a part of and the biology and physics that comprise the nature of things both tangible and intangible, both natural and super natural (sic).

Emerson’s urging the young men to hold on to their early visions and romantic expectations had an edge to it. He told them that abandoning those expectations meant death: “Then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men.”

Robert D. Richarson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1995), 295-296

What is it about the life of the artist-craftsman that seems so perilous and ultimately unsustainable? Why do so many of us quit? The money, or lack of it, to be sure: there is, too often, no economic sense to made of it; one’s efforts can never point to any entrepreneurial  legitimacy; rather, they are seen by oneself and others as mostly indulgent and ultimately pathetic: you don’t sell your work, nobody is reading, listening, looking at any of it. So why bother? It all seems worse than silly; at best it appears a kind of selfish lunacy and at worst it demands an unreasonable, unacceptable toll upon others. My wife’s career financially supports the both of us, for example, whereas my wannabe career as an authorpreneur merely costs in all manner of ways. It will never be any different, of course. If it were easy, as they say, everyone would be doing it. Well, it sometimes seems as if everyone is doing it, given the DIY legitimacy of everything these days. The traditional threshold guardians (traditional within the context of publishing novels, at least) have been for the most part dismantled

But to return to the idea of holding on to one’s visions and romantic expectations: what is it that Emerson and any of us sympathetic to him (and Thoreau for that matter and in my opinion also Joseph Campbell) are really referring to? Myth? The mythic? Yes. Namely, consciously or unconsciously, the accompanying or otherwise defining four functions (originally Campbell’s) of myth, which I’m keen to keep reiterating: (1) A sense of awe; (2) a cosmology that supports that awe; (3) a sociology that establishes morality & ethics; (4) a pedagogical, supporting psychology. So that, again, I interpret myth and mythology in both cultural and personal terms as the essential thing or first mover which encompasses – as a sheltering sky – all other contemplative iterations or specializations, including all so-called religions. Religion in this context is not diminished; rather, it is in my opinion properly located or right-sized within the broadest contemplative, ontological, empirical and phenomenological contexts. If I’m a phenomenalist, so be it, but I’m not here to split philosophical hairs. As Emerson, Thoreau and Campbell would all agree, the kingdom of God (insert your particular divinity here) is within us. This is blasphemy to the righteously biblical (or choose another so-called divine text or dogma) and Emerson, for instance, endured criticism of the sort, essentially Occidental, that categorically excludes man from Heaven (the angel wielding a flaming sword who guards the gates of Eden) until a final, reorienting judgement day corrects our sinfulness and establishes an eternal paradise. Jesus, after all, was crucified, arguably, only when he was perceived to have identified himself with God.

Romantic vision and expectation, then. It has to do with our fleeting sense of being properly alive – of a sense of everyday connectedness, an idea found within existential Shinto (namely, as it differs from Shrine Shinto – see this remarkable little book by Kasulis for a brilliant extrapolation: https://www.amazon.com/Shinto-Home-Dimensions-Asian-Spirituality/dp/082482850X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=kasulis+shinto%3A+the+way+home&qid=1610216475&sr=8-1) enhanced by the full expression or engagement of who we are – our experience of so-called individuation. We seek and, as Rumi famously suggests, what we seek is seeking us. Until such an experience of unity or realization is achieved, until the potential energy is transformed into kinetic, as it were, we endure the profound and tantalizing sense of impossible possibility, suspended destiny, profound expectancy, wholehearted yearning and the persistent, push-pull gravity of a parallel world shadowing our own and knock, knock, knocking at the door between; a locked portal for which we have yet to discover the key. Such is the soul crying out. Such is the experience of what is grinding against the knowledge or the vision of what could be. Such is the experience of living within the Mystery.

It’s inevitable, post holiday and retail boom times, that I come to terms with my return to onesie-twosie sales per month of the book, beginning of course with this month, if I can even perpetuate that small goal. So be it. The alternative is to pull all my Amazon advertising, quit posting blog posts, forsake the idea of discovering any new marketing niches to nurture and otherwise fold up my authorpreneurial camp until I can manage to complete the edits of TC2. Which isn’t a realistic alternative. I’m in this thing, full on, all the way to the end, come what may.

There I was, then, practically all day yesterday immersed in doing additional due diligence regarding the idea of me and my HWG brother collaborating on bringing Five out as a vinyl or resin so-called toy (or figure). I thought, is it really required to enlist toy factories, be they overseas or here in the States, at significant financial investment, all the while removing most of the actual art-craft from our own hands? For some folks, after all, coming up with an illustration is all they can manage, that’s fine. But HWG is a professional art-crafter with an interest and some experience in sculpture. So, what else is out there, I asked myself, to make this happen on a more granular, organic, more jazzy scale? There must be a way.

These days, you just “google it.” Which is to say, you avail yourself of the internet. Not everybody tends to do even this little thing, I’ve noticed. So, I typed in, “How to make your own vinyl figure.” And within a few minutes or less of noodling around I plunge directly into the happy realm of the so-called Crafsman and his Steady Craftin’ youtube channel. Specifically, I stumbled upon this video and the two following it which describe the creation and rendering in resin style (as opposed to vinyl) of his Free Range Chicken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycr9bpO-czI

The Crafsman’s youtube channel also has a store – who knew you could have a youtube channel with a store and all the accoutrements of a damn website? And it likely costs him nothing, versus the monthly fees involved in running my own site. Anyway, I’m hardly youtube material but the Crafsman is a natural and apparently making it all happen sustainably, by way of the DIY, no-cost, Patreon, youtube.com subscriber, Etsy, Teespring, whatever it takes little home-spun, low-volume, nitchie, artisinal services that allow the emerging, solo, self-financed entrepreneur an opportunity to test the waters of their own vision. Without going broke.

Hey, it’s probably another example of the 85/15 rule whereby eighty-five percent of the folks who try to get their little vision of greatness started on the web in whatever form simply don’t make it. Because it takes so many things to go right, doesn’t it? You offer your hard won boon to the world-of-action and you receive one of the three results, as we’ve discussed in a previous post: welcome; rejection; or a sort of open-ended middle ground; a neither here nor there, uncommitted either way thing; the wait-and-see-if-you-can-convince-me situation. Which can take years to transform into anything like a welcome and acceptance and, well, that’s a different discussion, more akin to where I’m at. Crafsman? He succeeds in his element, expressing his incomparably positive, palpably wholehearted personal mythology and, as it always seems to be when you’re having the experience of being properly alive, you not only get out of your own way and everybody else’s, but you find yourself helping and inspiring others to find and express theirs. You lead by example and it’s best when it isn’t even intentional. Which is to say the best leaders don’t regard themselves as such (leadership being a study unto itself).

When it works – personal mythology, that is – it looks so easy. Become a novelist. A painter. Youtube your “steady craftin’.” It appears not only a balm to the world’s miseries but absolutely effortless. And then everybody tries to copy it. And gets it all wrong. Or has zero youtube charisma. I can recall ten or so years ago when I was back in Texas, out of work, again, rebooting the system, again, trying on hats, trying anything to make it better, I tried recording Angie, me and our dog on a typical urban trek using my crappy little flip-phone cell phone. I recorded a little scene of us walking – we’ve been urban trekking, as I refer to it, for a couple of decades – and me doing a voice over of sorts; narrating the thing like so many folks do (Angie works out on the treadmill to a runner, for example, who blabs and blabs continually while the camera over his shoulder records his amazing travel jogging locales and the guy is good at it, it works, which is to say it’s compelling). Anyway, I played back my little documentary riff and almost puked at the sound of my own voice. Yow! And my pathetic, half-baked, uninventive, uninspired video clips. I couldn’t endure a second of it. Everything about the idea was like a stillborn, two-headed calf. Horrible. Intolerably, impossibly wrong.

So, yes, I could’ve gotten better at it – you can learn a skill and become functional. But functional is not what you, me or anybody else is seeking. It’s not what we want, what we need and in the end, it’s not what any of us, when we’re in tune with our personal mythology, has to offer. You see these folks on youtube or wherever with their little 100 subcribers or what have you but the folks who kill it in this medium – from kids to oldsters, it doesn’t even matter if you speak English at all well – it’s akin, I’d say, to movie star dynamics: you either have it or you don’t. Cinematic charisma, let’s call it, is something you’re born with. It’s a talent. What do you do with talent? As we’ve discussed in other posts, you nurture it, deliberately practice it into mastery. Meanwhile, if you aren’t that youtube type of talent, no harm, no foul, there’s some other way to go about it, some other legitimate, authentic way to be who you are.

Hell, the Crafsman: if he someday became convinced to reveal his identity or put his face in front of the camera, to lose the puppet and the gloves and the happy mystery of it all, well would it work? Likely it would be a disaster. Or at best a ho-hum, get-your-ass-back-behind-the-camera thing. When it works, there’s no stopping it. When it doesn’t, there’s nothing that can save it. Meanwhile, folks love the Crafsman like they love Bob Ross and Mister Rogers and the Crafsman mentions these two icons (and somebody else I can’t recall) – folks have told him that he indeed sounds like one or the other and, to his credit, the Crafsman doesn’t appeal to this comparison and mentions that he in fact doesn’t think Bob Ross or Mister Rogers, as voices or, by extension personalities, happen to sound at all alike to begin with (I’m paraphrasing) so, well, how could he sound like all of them or any of them? I think it’s a perception thing, he says, or something to that effect.

There is nothing new under the sun, as our man Ecclesiastes said. Hence, the Crafsman can be said to be riffing on something that is already a part of our pop culture requirement, so to say: he provides something we need that isn’t entirely original because nothing ever is. This is not a criticism. It’s rather a compliment. The Crafsman is bestowing wisdom in his impossibly appealing, groovily humble manner. Without perceptible pedagogy. The vibe of his show is steady craftin’ almost as a lifestyle, except he doesn’t go to pains to at all present it that way. He is not Martha Stewart, let’s put it that way. He never implies (not the Martha did, either – hey, I always liked Martha Stewart) that any of us ought to change anything about ourselves or be more like him. The sages and the shamans of this world, the divinely inspired and the otherwise cosmically connected don’t do this. Crafsman will occasionally suggest that we do something today to build somebody up or help them out, what have you. And if I said (or wrote) such a thing it would fall flat and be boring as hell. Because that isn’t my job, exactly. When the Crafsman says it, however, it’s as real and as right as rain, as they say.

And I’d suggest that his youtube channel is yet another example of the Little Big Thing: the Crafsman communicates nothing more complicated or intentionally weighty than what his interests are, what his zeal is, all by way of the things and gizmos he loves. He narrates his world, communicates his personal mythology, is interesting because he’s interested. And when you’re true to yourself, you are groovy in your own way and we can’t take our eyes off you. Or your nitrile-gloved hands.

https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCrafsMan/featured

The practical lesson? The takeaway? Now I know, courtesy of the groovy knowledge and DIY fearlessness bestowed by the Crafsman, that Five as an art-craft toy, in resin, is an entirely doable little project. Art-craft. Handmade. Homemade. Uber low production. No need to drop ten or twenty grand and enlist a battalion of Chinese factory workers to manufacture and paint them. At my level, still treading so close to the precipice of oblivion as an authorpreneur, I feel heartened and emboldened, as HWG does, by the Crafsman’s so-called Free Range Chicken story, or toy-making method, for example. Do ten or twenty copies or however many feels right. Sculpt and paint them all by hand. So that HWG does the “sculpt” (art-toy industry lingo) to his liking, I offer a handful of copies to interested readers of Time Crime on this website and we see if the idea has legs. Maybe, maybe not, you only know by way of trying.

Meanwhile, HWG includes a version (or two or three) of Five or the Moleman (however he wants to present it because it’s his image) as part of his gallery show this coming summer and he sells them there. Or takes orders. Perhaps that’s where the “sculpt” of Five belongs? Perhaps not, either. But the experiment is all good. Imbibe the vibe and test the flame of your personal zeal. Surrender to your personal mythology. It won’t be easy. But it will be, in its way, groovy. That’s all there is.


Be Careful What You Fish For

Blog

Because the waters of the unconscious are deep and dark and full of…, well, who knows what? I’ve been pining for reviews. While trying to remain cognizant of the idea that we all ought to be careful what we wish for. Because, as they say, we just might get it.

Well, I haven’t received any reviews for Time Crime. Yet. And when the latest Locus Magazine arrived yesterday and I found myself encountering a review by Katharine Coldiron (great name) of a book I’ve been following (without having read it), namely, The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis, because her book had appeared beside mine in a Goodreads giveaway and we competed neck and neck for a time for entrants, and I sort of liked the cover and appreciated her nod towards mythology (in her case religion) as an oblique theme, and I assumed she was a debut indie author like me, besides her being queer and half my age and writing in the first person (none of which appeal to me), well, I was intrigued and jealous. Again. Because, as I’ve discussed here before (and posted as a blog), she somehow seemed connected in a big way that I am not – garnering a mention in the NPR Book Concierge and having her book cover appear in Locus’s Books Received when I can’t pay people to read my novel. What is she managing to do that I can’t? Does she know somebody in the business? Is she an insider? Is she connected? Is she adept at spinning her female/queer diversity angle? Is her book good? Is it hitting a zeitgeist? Is she just a better writer than me?

Let’s just say that Coldiron’s review was evocative of her name: cold iron. Sharpened to a lethal edge. “I genuinely wanted to like and to root for Linden A. Lewis’s debut….” Uh oh. “As I read, though, the book dissolved more and more of my goodwill, until, by the conclusion, I had very very few positive things left to say.” Can it get any worse? Remarkably, yes. Indeed, relentlessly, artfully, ruthlessly and intelligently worse.

Lewis presents a new science fiction universe but she’s a poor historian of that universe, leaving the reader confused about important aspects of its origin. She invents diverse characters in difficult, conflict-ridden situations but their personalities are almost blank, their narrative voices interchangeable.

Katharine Coldiron, “Locus Looks at Books,” Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field, Issue 720, Vol. 86, No. 1, p.19.

Ouch. These are creative writing workshop callouts. Not that I’ve ever attended a creative writing workshop. Within that context or perhaps some other classroom such lethal frankness might be intended to snap a wannabe out of complacence or indicate to a beginner that they might do better to point themselves towards a different vocation entirely. Here, however, within the pages of a well-regarded flagship of the SFF trade, the accusation is one of inauthenticity and, unforgivably, amateurishness.

Near the end of the review Coldiron is still slugging at the corpse. “But because Lewis’s characterization and the historical aspects of her world building are weak, I felt sure I was in the hands of a writer who didn’t know what she was doing….” Then the final, irreconcilable dispensation: “Truly, I hope that Lewis’s craft improves, because there’s always room on the shelf for a science fiction newcomer with interest in gender issues and power struggles, but The First Sister is an unready book, a novel with fewer merits than demerits, and an unfortunate start to a new author’s career.”

It strikes me that while I had assumed Lewis to be an indie author the fact that she isn’t may have further worked against her. I found her author page on Simon & Schuster’s website. Along with an image, already (The First Sister was published in August of last year) of her new book. Such a  pedigree implies accomplishment. Such subtle yet significant marketing penetration implies substance. Or merely smacks of corporate gamesmanship.

Whether or not Lewis’s visibility and Big Four backing provoked an unhindered antagonism on behalf of the influential but tenuously situated Locus – they are a registered non-profit openly struggling to survive – who knows? And if Coldiron had so adeptly and boldly savaged Stephen King or Blake Crouch it may have only inspired more sales – the fans have spoken over the years in regard to such critically bulletproof writers. Meanwhile, unready; an unfortunate start to a new author’s career. Yikes.

The review literally left me shaken. I thought, Christ, what if that were me? I’m new at this, too, after all. And I’m too often earnest and passionate beyond anything to do with my curriculum vitae. If it were a customer review on Amazon, say, I could perhaps shake it off, nevertheless with difficulty, as an unreasonable, neurotic rant from a disgruntled wannabe. Or something. But this? I’d frankly consider suicide. I’m not kidding. I don’t know how a new author comes back from such a thrashing.

Yes, as artist-craftsmen we’re to cultivate a thick skin. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, that kind of thing. Not everyone is going to like your work. But, whew, I don’t know. Here I am grasping at reviews in the hope they’ll be good ones, that they’ll eventually help thrust me from oblivion into arrival and legitimacy as an author. But to be so categorically dismissed. On the very first of the New Year. With one’s brand new sequel just arrived. Be careful what you wish for, Keith, old man. Be very careful, indeed.

Best to focus instead upon making TC2 the best it can be. I’m reminded to maintain an inside out perspective, as it were; to stay within, be true and to write from the heart. All the while honing my craft, never surrendering to my impatience and my too often pernicious sense of urgency. I need to write and rewrite ruthlessly, taking the time the manuscript needs until I’m confident I’ve done all I can. I believe in the tetralogy but then all writers believe in their work. Lewis believes in hers, I’m sure. Yet somehow, sometimes, our earnestness and passion can make us blind to things. Even great artist-craftsmen sometimes can’t see when their talent has left them. They sometimes refer to an author’s books or a songwriter’s songs or a painter’s paintings as their children. Because, perhaps, we love our works like children, namely, in spite of themselves and all their otherwise obvious faults and failings.

Such love inspires faith. But faith is a tricky thing when it comes to art-craft intended for public consumption. Write for yourself, sure, and keep it to yourself and then no harm, no foul, the work is for its own sake. Regard it as a boon, however, something fought for and won and worthy of bringing across the threshold of dream and vision into the hard, cruel brilliance of the world-of-action and we’ve got to prepare ourselves for one of each of the three receptions as Campbell himself defined them: (1) welcome, (2) refusal, or (3) tentative indifference. The first two remain entirely outside our control while the last result responds, in the best case, to influence, be it our own or that of others, but it demands pedagogy. The world has to learn to appreciate, let alone require, our gift.

It may take years. It certainly, meanwhile, takes courage to face and endure the risk of rejection to begin with and, should a person encounter the third response, it takes an iron will and a life of lean, eating-one’s-own-white-guts patience. Do we know when our work is good enough? I’d say, yes, we do, when we’ve done our homework, honed our scholarship, sought and followed as much advice as we can stomach and won through to a finished product; something with a beginning, middle and end; something expressing conflict and character development. Something with a resonant vision if only to us. This is the rub. And the misery of it. It has to matter to us regardless of its reception. Welcome would seem the easiest and best reception. But knowing how life is and how difficult arrivals can be, I would guess that in the end the best, most fortunate outcome for a person’s boon is that of the slow acceptance. Within one’s lifetime to be sure, but to have one’s book “take off” as I’ve heard some authors describe it, well, I don’t know if that doesn’t bring with it another version of the genie-in-the-bottle lesson: your wish is granted and you get everything else that comes with it. For better or worse.

Sunday, January 3, 2021. Boy. Was I ever misguided about Linden A. Lewis. One-hundred seventeen Amazon reviews at 4.5 stars. So-called Amazon “Editor’s Pick” for “Best Science Fiction.” Her Kindle version is delivered via Simon & Schuster, which just proves that if she was ever indie (silly to assume that) she certainly ‘ain’t now. Editorial reviews posted by Publisher’s Weekly – “solid LGBTQ and multicultural representation” – NPR, Library Journal, all glowing. Her second in the series isn’t out now, I was incorrect, it’s merely all over Amazon and probably everywhere else as “release in August.” Gads, eight-month advance hype. Well, now I see why poor little ‘ol Locus magazine was a bit testy with this golden girl. That is, I get the impression, again, that while the magazine apparently goes to great lengths to promote its own version of diversity, it also cultivates the historiography of science fiction and respects legacy and earning one’s stripes. I could be wrong, but that’s my take.

Meanwhile, given Lewis’s bulletproof status, Coldiron’s scathing review will likely be reduced to a quirky anomaly, the kind of snarky lashing out that gets perceived as jealousy instead of perspicacity and only fuels the fire of Lewis’s legitimization – after all, having enemies is the surest  sign of success. But time will tell if Lewis’s measure of ability is a talent or not and if her on-the-nose diversity gambit won’t go the way of all other flavor-of-the-month trends in publishing. Otherwise, it’s an example of being uncannily right on top of the zeitgeist and irrepressibly connected, a true chosen one. It happens. “Well,” said Angie, “at least now you know she’s not your competition.” Wow, I guess not.

I don’t know. I certainly feel a fool for having cultivated any sense that this woman, clearly leveraged by an industry insider (her mother, father, cousin, lover?), had anything in common with me. Cripes, there couldn’t be a debut sci-fi author less similar to me. And now I get to watch her career “take off” while my own… well, I’m frankly ashamed to refer to my own meager inroads as anything akin to a career at all. I pay to play, in a very, very minor way, that’s all.

What must it be like to be chosen? To get it all when you’re young, before you’ve been tarnished by age and failure and desperation. All of us try to imagine it. And we know all the stories surrounding such successes; namely, how some of the chosen never sought it, in fact have other ambitions or would prefer to be doing something else and others who did seek it, end up resenting it and regarding their fame and fortune as a curse. Then there are the handful who relish it and thrive within the big time. And so on. The big time. I wonder what Linden A. Lewis herself has to say about it all? She’s probably already had interviews and if I dug deep enough I’d likely find her whole story online. But reading it will only make me feel worthless. And then of course there will be the movie franchise, probably being inked as we speak.

Getting on with things – one’s own personal mythology – is of course the only answer to the anxiety induced by comparing oneself to others who appear to have more of what you want than you do. We lose our place within the principle of eternity when we become anxious for the outcome of our deeds. I’ve quoted and paraphrased this wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita many times, always by way of where I first encountered it which is within The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Our place within the principle of eternity. Our place, period. If it’s a bitter pill then I think one’s life is a tragedy. So, somehow, in some way, we must purge ourselves of the poison of comparison and soldier onwards with the work that has been given us and what we have to offer, come what may.

I’ve been grinding my way through Robert Richardson’s Emerson: The Mind On Fire. I’ve discussed my admiration for and brief correspondence with Richardson who died last year. But somehow I just cannot connect with anything to do with Emerson. Unlike within Richardson’s biographies of Thoreau and William James, where the men came alive as compelling, timelessly relevant icons of inspiration, Emerson remains cast in amber to me, as it were, as if he’s too much a part of a lost, alien time and perspective. His writing, at least as Richardson communicates it, seems loopy, convoluted, imprecise, bafflingly diffusive and perpetually tangent to the plot of my own interests. In short, I find him not only overrated but tiresome. And, frankly, dated. His thought is of its time, his supposed idealism, which is better described as “idea-ism” is, for me, a dull road that leads nowhere. I have no interest in the “idea” of the so-called mind-at-large and all that mumbo jumbo. I’ll shut up. Here I am criticizing as if my own work in fiction and non-fiction isn’t entirely lacking. Again, as Fripp suggests in so many words: if you’ve got no regard for your soul then be a critic.

Yet, some of us are natural critics and it’s a form of art-craft in its own right. As long as critique is delivered within the context of sincerity. Critique has its uses, its value. At it’s best, it contextualizes many things, even functioning as a secondary source of sorts in its own right. Read a well rendered review and you not only learn something and expose yourself to new vistas but oftentimes gain a context and therefore an insight into something that you may in fact like when you had convinced yourself you didn’t. But it doesn’t happen often. Which is to say it’s more likely that we read reviews merely to reinforce our own opinions – it’s too often a fraught, occasionally ugly form of gamesmanship in this way, so be it, it’s no use to defend the field against its inevitably parasitic component.

Nevertheless, I write reviews. Hence, I’m a parasite in this way. Not that I get paid to write reviews and therefore literally feed off the work of others. No. My god, no. I not paid to write goddamn anything at least in terms of a profit. Yes, I’m a professional novelist because I’ve sold a book or two, but that’s all it takes to get your pro-card. Otherwise, I’m writing reviews like I write journal entries; namely, as a method and a practice and a way of writing my way through things. So that I was heartened to hear back from T.S.:

Dear K.

I trust you have had a peaceful and joyous festive season. Here, in my Bavarian village (still marked, by the way, by myths and superstition), all was tranquil, not least because of the curfew (9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.) decided by our government.

Already in December, I have read your gracious words about my books (The Second Birth, The Figure of Modernity) that you put on the pages of Amazon and Goodreads. Your praise is generous, your sensitivity for the content (message?) of the books remarkable. I am grateful and greatly obliged to you.

Your text on the Figure of Modernity includes this sentence: “Hence, perhaps we need a third volume, one that expresses full-on Schabert’s ideas of mythos or spirituality or mystic vitality or what may be termed the Cosmos of Nature.” Well, in a way, both books you reviewed imply the third volume. But, then, I may refer also to my lengthy book on “The Architecture of the World: A Cosmological Reading of Architectonic Forms”, published in 1997, in German though. A French translation is available, but no English one (yet …). This book certainly corresponds to your wish for a “third volume”, partially at least. You can get an idea of it, though, by an article that I published on the subject – in English. You find it attached to this message.

I am very glad that Wherefrom Does History Emerge? has caught your attention. I hope you will find the essays that this book presents helpful and inspiring indeed. I may add, that five of the contributors – Davíd Carrasco, Antonio Panaino, Eiko Hanaoka, Dieter Fuchs, John von Heyking – are former Eranos Speakers.

It`s not too late to wish you: Happy New Year! May 2021 be for you full of good things, health, divine inspiration, good work, unexpected but then welcome experiences….

I write the reviews as a form of supporting the cause, to fuel dialogue and continued investigation and because they help, in their modest way, to help folks sell books that I like. These poor goddamn academics with their books priced at $99.00 or more and nobody reading them but their students and colleagues. I recall Richardson lamenting that early on in his publishing career, having witnessed a couple of his scholarly books struggle to reach his sought after general readers and instead functioning as merely printed versions of memorandums to colleagues, he’d become motivated to write biographies. As a way to connect to a significant readership. Anyway, I’m glad to do my thing – novels, journaling, blogging, reviews – both for the intellectual camaraderie and on behalf of whatever marketing support I can bestow.

Meanwhile, back to work tomorrow at the home improvement and while I’d never planned on working there more than the four months it took to earn the money to pay for the audiobook (a nice experience and something I’m very proud of but a categorical disappointment in sales, as it stands) somehow I’m still there another four months down the road. So be it, I can’t stomach taking a job in my old career, no matter what it pays and for now at least I’m still game to slog away at this indie novelist gig, come what may. It makes no financial sense whatsoever. It makes very little vocational sense because, hey, it’s been almost a year and I’m clearly not a Linden A. Lewis. Where will the money and the motivation come from to keep at it? I don’t know for certain. The wife would rather I “hit it big” so that she can quit her career which has its own challenges. For now, we’re holding the line and not making any drastic changes. I’m going to keep blogging, editing, paying for advertising and otherwise acting-as-if I’m a legitimate authorpreneur. If you’re a member of the tribe – a reader and a follower in any way, shape or form – thank you, and may your own endeavors bestow commensurate riches of all types, rock on, welcome to 2021.

The Moon, the Stars and the Limits of Humanity

Blog

The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,

Now, voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.

Walt Whitman, “The Untold Want,” from the section “Songs of Parting” within Leaves of Grass, 1855.

The blurriness of aspiration. The messiness of life. How things never turn out according to plan. How our predicament is never really anything but. And how the experience of being properly alive is perhaps the only reliable thing in this world.

It was a difficult week of part-time turned fulltime employment, enduring a Christmas Eve shift, then two unpaid overtime days following the holiday. A day off, then another full shift (almost) and now five days in a row off. It comes as a blessing because as much as anyone spending the kind of money I’m spending on trying to be an authorpreneur needs cash to cover it all, I’m frankly too old for this shit. Not to say I can’t hack it. But the body tends to rebel. And the psychology becomes tenuous; which is to say, one begins to lose oneself in the paying work at the expense of the… well, the dream, let’s call it. A house divided eventually isn’t one.

So I did my best to keep up at work and to keep the writing alive in my heart. How I wish sometimes that I was the type of gifted talent that writes through their paying work, balancing things, doing it all, making it happen rather than continually skirting the shores of ruin and despair. It’s not that bad, I must admit. I’ve had far worse, far more demanding jobs. Which is a crazy thought because the home improvement can be demanding enough. But I’ve learned the hard lesson over the years and the careers that for me at least, it’s better to keep moving both physically and psychologically – to have a job that’s on the ground, in the mix, at the front lines, as it were – than be relegated to a desk and a computer screen and the chores of management. To say nothing of business travel, ugh. So, again, if it feels like progress, it is and that’s what I’m going with.

And after a few days of no sales and the inevitable angst that accompanies it, whereby entrepreneurship seems a senseless folly and my sales an insignificant and irrelevant asterisk within the annals of authorship, I discovered this morning a paperback sale in Canada, yay! An Amazon ad click-through, only the second in Canada but, again, anything beyond zero is to be regarded in the indie-publishing universe (or any publishing universe) as a heartening achievement, a worthy measure of beachfront secured. Because a sale is a sale and a reader is perhaps a reader for life and an influencer and if nothing else a connection, hence something special and a treasure that feels like a gift. Every time.

Why? It just is. It’s a feeling of wholeness, selling a book, just a single copy of a book to a stranger. And if you’re like me, it cannot be competed with by way of any other so-called success or achievement in any other endeavor, any other avenue of life. So that a little victory like winning a bronze service star award yesterday – a badge – while it’s a good thing (honestly, I believe it is) and offers a measure of vocational legitimacy and in a word helps to keep me going on all fronts, remains tangent to the plot, let’s say. For as much as I oftentimes feel as if I’d be better off surrendering (or, more accurately, re-surrendering) to a workaday life and committing once again to fulltime employment either here or there (another recruiter contacted me about a $100K EHS job yesterday), well, I just can’t. It’s a success that belongs to somebody else, somebody like my father, say, or anyone seeking the conventional, otherwise bourgeois comforts. We all enjoy the comforts of a good, steady paycheck, I get it. But enjoyment is not fulfillment just as bliss is not pleasure.

Meanwhile, the idea that one may be making a mistake, a tragic one and a mistake that snubs its nose at the achievements and aspirations of others and thereby tempts fate and ultimately makes its own deserved mess of things never quite leaves a person. Perhaps I’m really just another silly dreamer and I ought to know my place and stay within my means and tow the line and shut up about it all, too. Perhaps I’m one of those sorry souls who are best at things they don’t like and terrible at the work in which they seek to succeed. It happens. But I’m convinced it only happens when we fail to discover and then fail to surrender to who we are. Hence the underlying theme of Time Crime: be who you are.

The organizer of the latest Bookfunnel promotion I entered – the theme was strong female protagonists – queried me prior to accepting Time Crime:

Is Vixy a proper protagonist in her own right, or more of a sidekick of Mr. Z? If she’s a sidekick, does she have a will, agency and agenda or her own?

I was completely on board with being questioned because I think too many book promotions amount to worthless giveaways – there is a readership, it seems to me, that seeks freebies for their own sake and the marketing value is zilch – and frankly any opportunity to discuss the novel with an interested party is worthwhile to me.

Mr. Z. and Vixy are more co-protagonists (though he is her official mentor) and it is her transformation from stubborn, impatient, overly ambitious and self-determining youth to selfless, world-wise, self-determining woman that is a major character arc in the book and forthcoming series. Case in point: she is overpowered in an attempted rape, is saved by an alien and finishes the brute off with a knife in an emotional catharsis. She’s tough and capable but not a cliche so-called badass or overbearing feminist. Rather, the limits and humanity she learns are the limits and humanity we all learn: “be who you are” is an underlying theme. Thanks for asking.

I didn’t generate any sales on carnegieolson.com out of the promotion but then I never have; again, only when I offer a giveaway does anyone avail themselves of “purchasing” an eBook on my website but I’m convinced there is a marketing value to getting the novel in front of folks in as many contexts as possible. Bookfunnel does drive a handful of folks to my website, I track the data, and because you never know who might be compelled to seek it out a copy, electronic or print, on Amazon or elsewhere it seems a worthy experiment.

Why all this talk about sales and marketing? Why not just write and indie publish and devote all my energies to my art-craft? If I really wrote authentic prose from the heart and I was a real artist-craftsman then I ought not care about the money, right? Right. And wrong. Right, that is to say correct, because I indeed write and pay to publish anyway, despite the challenges and the relative obscurity. So that Time Crime represents everything I have to give, unselfishly; for its own sake. But for some of us the idea of vocational destiny to say nothing of vocational sustainability is a natural, intuitive and entirely authentic personal vision. I am one for whom a book sale does not dimmish the experience of authenticity and valid expression; of wholehearted communication.

I rather find authorpreneurial success intriguing in its own right. First, because it is rare and all rare things are inherently interesting. Secondly, because I intuitively identify with the art-craft lifestyle; with its entrepreneurial aspect as well as its creative autonomy. Autonomy, complexity and commensurate reward, the Gladwellian trinity as I call it, is for me only attainable by way of my proper work, the work I have come to understand as my calling. We have a calling and it doesn’t have to go against the grain, so-called. It just so happens that to write novels and publish them is a calling that millions of other people have and they express this calling by way of millions of books being published every year and the market is appropriately tough. Some authors don’t give a damn about making a buck. Or even selling a book. Publication is an end in itself. For me? No. Being unread is a disappointment that borders on disapproval.

Yes, validation is part of it but there is much more to it: when people buy a copy of the novel, as I’ve said before, I feel as if I’m encountering a member of my tribe. It’s a sense of belonging; of community. We all need it, we all seek it in our own ways. Success is a curse and fame is fleeting, yes, blah, blah. I’ve no interest in fame. (It’s not about me, remember, it’s the myths). Success to me is merely economic sustainability; namely, quitting my day job. Because I’m just  a guy who can’t write worth a shit when I’m busy earning a paycheck for its own sake. It makes all the editing take two or three or four times longer than it has to. Not that getting out of the house and moving my ass and getting out of my own head on a regular basis doesn’t help. It does. But I’m keen to keep things truly part-time in 2021.

I write all this out and risk boring people to tears or coming off as a self-involved prick because, well, it’s my story and I’m convinced my story is akin to somebody else’s story and we like to read about ourselves and also read about who we are endeavoring to become. Because we’re all endeavoring to become like somebody or a combination of somebodies we admire or with whom we identify, however experimentally. Such are our guides, such are the hats we try on and such is the way of the world. If any of this helps, even if it only helps me, I’ve done my work. Otherwise, I expect this is the last journal entry in the DOP and the last blog post on the website for 2020. Heck of a year, as usual. Meanwhile, here’s to the tribe. Happy reading and writing, happy New Year, pass it on. See you in 2021.

P.S. And if you get a chance to see Now, Voyager, the 1942 film starring Bette Davis… well, it’s worth it.

Eating My Own White Guts

Blog
Masset, Haida Gwaii, Harbor to Inlet, Vixy’s Home

Extraneous to the novel itself, but not irrelevant to its fate, is the seven-figure advance that is said to have resulted from a ten-bidder auction before last year’s London Book Fair. That makes Homegoing what publishers call a “big book,” the object of promotion and marketing campaigns designed to present it as the glorious flowering of a precocious talent. It isn’t. For all the enthusiasm that regularly attends literary debuts, more often than not it isn’t the first book that realizes the extent and the depth of a writer’s talent; it’s the third or fourth.

Laura Miller, “Descendants: A Sprawling Tale of a Family Split between Africa and America,” The New Yorker, May 30, 2016, 77.

This from the closing portion of The New Yorker’s review of the book which I wouldn’t have any interest in reading regardless of its visibility simply because I’ve no interest in the type of story it is. I won’t mention the author, why bother? – the book will have flown or flopped by the time anyone reads this, if ever, and if it does neither, landing somewhere in the vast middle ground that resides between the published-and-out-of-print and the published-to-increasing-renown only time will tell. I didn’t realize publishers anywhere where still delivering million-dollar advances to anyone. From everyone’s perspective besides the handful of persons who are expecting (or praying) to make a mint off the thing, including the author herself more than likely, it would seem a curse for a young artist in any field to get it all right out of the gate. What’s left but the burden of living up to the hype? It speaks once again to the irony of having one’s dreams come true or falling into a life that other’s dream of even if you haven’t. The genie-in-the-bottle myth whereby (as I’ve learned the hard way myself and have lamented here, of course) your dream comes true and you get everything else with it that you didn’t expect.

I am failing as an Oprah author, and the team and I are finishing up some final strolling footage, well into our third hour in Webster Woods, when I complete the failure. Five words come bursting from my chest like a hideous juvenile alien. I say: “This is so fundamentally bogus!”

From the bookstore [signing] I head straight for the airport. I’m due to take the evening’s last flight to Chicago, where, in the morning, Alice and I will tape ninety minutes of interview for Oprah. Earlier today, while I was doing my best to look contemplative for the camera, Winfrey publicly announced her selection of my book and praised it in terms that would have made me blush if I’d been lucky enough to hear them. One of my friends will report that Winfrey said the author had poured so much into the book that “he must not have a thought left in his head.” This will prove to be an oddly apt description. Beginning the next night, in Chicago, I’ll encounter two kinds of readers in signing lines and in interviews. One kind will say to me, “I like your book and I think it’s wonderful that Oprah picked it”; the other kind will say, “I like your book and I’m so sorry that Oprah picked it.” And because I’m a person who instantly acquires a Texas accent in Texas, I’ll respond in kind to each kind of reader.

Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 269-70, 271-72.

And here, with these two accounts of preternatural and otherwise precocious writerly success, one author a black female whose budding talent has apparently been preempted by an absurd oversell and the other a white male who struggled to swallow, unsuccessfully, the pill of the world’s embrace that he couldn’t recognize for what it was (the reception to his boon in a form happily irrelevant to his vision of it) we encounter the peril of the return threshold. It describes the transformation that must occur by way of the crossing; how, that is to say, to remain who you were (the part that excelled at and attained its character by pushing against the trials of the adventure) while being who you are now, the person who has arrived.

We want our victories to arrive – we want to arrive – in a prescribed condition of splendor and rejuvenating welcome that doesn’t also require the discarding of any the good things that got us there. When one feels disappointed or deflated with one’s success isn’t this what’s happening? I’m just speculating. It’s never happened to me. My little victories never brought with them, as far as I can recall, a sense of disappointment. Any disappointment seemed to have come much later, down the road when I’d tried to unsuccessfully inhabit the world that I’d entered, or thought I’d entered. That’s the thing: just as Jim Carrey told us we can fail at what we don’t want we can also win at what we don’t want or win at what we think, by way of constructing one’s own personal mythological state of schism, we want. And it seems, for some of us like me, to be the living with the getting that eventually reveals the ruse, the lie, the self-deception. That is to say, none of it can be maintained.

And it’s so often one’s body that reacts in what seem at the time weird ways. Robert Fripp suggests that, “when in doubt, reference tradition; if still in doubt, reference experience; if still in doubt reference the body.” Well, Jonathan Franzen mentions being afflicted by an unholy rash during his Oprah experience. We ignore such symptoms, forging ahead regardless until we end up flat on our back. Diseased. Otherwise ill. It all happened to me on a tiny scale in comparison but nonetheless I learned the lesson.

So these days I rationalize things by telling myself I’d betrayed my heart and convinced myself I wanted something I really didn’t and therefore got something that wasn’t me. And that I’m not going to ever do that again. My VAPM is known to me. I’m deliberately practicing it. Except there’s always that chance, isn’t there, that I’ve got it wrong again. So be it. The other thing that struck me about the Homegoing review are the glaring and I would assume embarrassing technical criticisms, the little mistakes authors – so-called professionals – aren’t supposed to be making:

It’s never a good sign when a novelist feels obligated to begin a bit of dialogue with “As you know by now, Quey….” The short story [Miller argues that the novel is a series of short-stories strung together] is always in danger of reducing people to types, and Gyasi succumbs to this more than once. [And here I’ve spilled the author’s name!]. She also has a bad habit of forcing an interpretation that any intelligent reader is perfectly capable of picking up on her own: “Marjorie reached for the stone at her neck. Her ancestor’s gift.” Gyasi’s prose, too, is largely undistinguished

Laura Miller, “Descendants…,” 76, 77.

These are glitches and oversights that perhaps an editor, in the old days when publishers had them, may have helped the author clean up. As far as the undistinguished prose, I don’t know, I haven’t read it. I venture to say that distinguished prose literally speaks for itself. But in any case, here the so-called emerging author gets otherwise treated like a queen. And not a hack like the rest of us who slave under the burden of our un-brilliance. It goes to show how correct John Gardner was in advising us to do our absolute best to be our best just in case we do someday manage to get into print; because once that happens, there you are: exposed.

Contrast all this miserable vocational success with being truly miserable and not only not being in possession of one’s true vocation but being mired in an otherwise tortuous day-to-day hell of non-living-wage servitude. Cronin’s Father Francis as a twelve-year-old boy endures the waking nightmare of being a so-called rivet boy in a Scotland shipyard and like many fictional representations of life it strikes true to the intolerable, facinorous, base conditions of tenuously maintained survival some of us have experienced by way of a job.

At five next morning, while all was still dark, the shipyard hooter sounded, long and dolorous, over the cowering dreariness of Darrow. Half-senseless with sleep, Francis tumbled out of bed and into his dungarees, stumbled downstairs. The frigid morning, pale yet murky, met him like a blow as he joined the march of silent shivering figures, hurrying with bent head and huddled shoulders toward the shipyard gates.

Over the weigh bridge, past the checker’s window, inside the gates… Gaunt specters of ships rose dimly in their stocks around him. Beside the half-formed skeleton of a new ironclad, Joe Moir’s squad was mustering: Joe and the assistant plater, the holders-on, the two other rivet boys, and himself.

He lit the charcoal fire, blew the bellows beneath the forge. Silently, unwillingly, as in a dream, the squad set itself to work. Moir lifted his sledge, the hammers rang, swelled and strengthened, throughout the shipyard.

Holding the rivets, white-hot from the brazier, Francis shinned up the ladder and thrust them quickly through the bolt holes in the frame, where they were hammered flat and tight, annealing the great sheets of metal that formed the ship’s hull. The work was fierce: blistering by the brazier, freezing on the ladders. The men were paid by piece work. They wanted rivets fast, faster than the boys could give them. And the rivets must be heated to the proper incandescence. If they were not malleable the men threw them back at the boys. Up and down the ladder, to and from the fires, scorched, smoky, with inflamed eyes, panting, perspiring, Francis fed the platers all day long.

In the afternoon the work went faster: the men seemed careless, straining every nerve, unsparing of their bodies. The closing hour passed in a swimming daze with eardrums tense for the final hooter.

At last, at last it sounded. What blessed relief! Francis stood still, moistening his cracked lips, deafened by the cessation of all sound. On the way home, grimed and sweaty, through his tiredness, he thought: Tomorrow…tomorrow.

A.J. Cronin, The Keys of the Kingdom, (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006 [1941]), 10-11.

***

In regard to the title of this post, some of you who write may recognize John Gardner’s book (who also composed the fantastic Grendel) from whence it came.

A novelist is not likely to develop authority by success after success. In his apprenticeship years he succeeds, like Jack o’ the Green, by eating his own white guts. He cannot help being a little irascible: some of his school friends are now rich, perhaps bemused by the fact that one of their smartest classmates is still struggling, getting nowhere, so far as anyone can see.

John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983), 69.

Otherwise, I don’t know what else to say, today except that somehow this phrase came to mind and I dug through my old journal entries to find it and found something else and, well, so it goes. The muse does her thing and I’m just here to play it out as best I can. Perhaps it helps somebody, that would be nice.

***

Meanwhile, personally, I never enjoy a writer’s old blog or post or diary entry unless I’m reading old stuff intentionally, as part of a collected works or what have you. Even if it’s a reworked version like this. I rather prefer the brand new entry. Dunno, it’s just that way. I therefore feel compelled to offer up something new as a value add and it’s a just a scene from TC2 that I spent all day working on. A little scene. Perhaps a scene that gets further editing or goddamn edited out in the end. But I doubt it. Anyway….

“Amen,” said her parents, together.

Vixy watched them open their eyes and unclasp their hands, her father reaching for the ladle, her mother pensive, possessed of the lingering piousness that seemed so much a part of her. They struck Vixy as innocent and naïve and wise all at once and she sensed somehow for the first time the span of years that had comprised their lives together. And each of their lives apart from each other, as well; as individuals, struggling along with nothing certain. She suddenly felt hard and grown up, her parents seemingly older, more vulnerable, more precious than she ever could have imagined. It struck her, in fact, that one day they would die and…. She tried forcing the idea from her mind but it only made her newfound sense of time and place, and time’s passing, more intense.

“Wouldn’t you know,” said Eleanor. She used her spoon to dab at her chili. “I saw Daniel Cramer at Church this week.”

Her mother’s patronizing manner with these things always made Vixy cringe. Even when, like now, the cringing came as a relief from her own newfound sentimentality. But even Mr. Z.’s presence, which had them all on their best behavior, couldn’t inspire her to look up from her meal.

“He’s that young man who graduated from the University at the same time you did, isn’t he?”

Vixy sprinkled more shredded cheese on her chili, shook the tiny bottle of hot sauce vigorously and tipped a few drops into her bowl. She stirred, the spoon clattering against her bowl as if it were the only sound in the room. “I don’t know, mom. I mean, I don’t remember any Daniel Cramer.”

“Well, he said he remembered you. The Cramer’s are the ones who moved to Vancouver and Daniel’s father, he was the coach of the high school soccer team. Wasn’t he, Victor? Anyway, Daniel seemed very nice and, if nothing else, dear -”

“I know, mom. You’re going to tell me that church is a good place to meet people.” She spread more butter on her cornbread. “Because you met dad there.” She fidgeted in her chair, sensing Mr. Z.’s eyes upon all of them but when she looked he was merely clutching his soup bowl with one hand and spooning at the dregs of his chili with the other.

“It’s true, Vixy,” said Victor.

“But, dad -”

“I’m not a church goer, Mr. Z. Anybody will tell you that. And Vixy isn’t either. We get our religion out of doors, I guess you could say.” He glanced at his daughter and tore at his hunk of bread. “It was, I don’t know, a zillion years ago. And I just happened to be in the church for a couple of weeks working on the pews – some basic carpentry they needed done. And as I was young and penniless and the church was paying and feeding me lunch, well, there I was for two weeks with this job to do and there they were. The pretty girls in the choir, that is. Practicing a few days a week. And Ellie here, besides having a nice singing voice as far as I was concerned, she used to clean up around the place, I guess, didn’t you Ellie, and she was there when the other choir girls weren’t. In fact most days it was just us and that old, rugged cross together in that little church. Isn’t that what it’s called in that hymn you girls sang? Old Rugged Cross?” He shrugged and chomped into his bread. “So we got to know each other from a distance, as it happens, and she didn’t think I was too uncouth or anything, I suppose, in those days at least and the rest is history.”

“Uncouth,” said Eleanor, shaking her head at him. “Victor.” She sat staring into the distance for a moment, one hand in her lap and the other holding her spoon. “I’d forgotten all about it.”

“Nobody sings that anymore over there? Old Rugged Cross? At church?” Victor went about his meal, reaching for more chili and tearing at the bread again as if having completed his duty to them all. “Well, they ought to. But then nobody keeps up on the ancient Haida songs, either, I suppose. The good old songs. It all gets forgotten. Until somebody like Vixy at a university goes digging after it. Let me see.” He chomped away for a moment, frowning as if trying to remember. Then he broke into song, his careful, quiet, tuneless baritone somehow evocative of his theme:

On a hill far away, stood an old, rugged Cross

The emblem of suff’ring and shame

And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain

Victor cleared his throat, beaming mildly, and sipped at his ale.

Eleanor blushed and got up from the table with her plate. She ambled into the kitchen.

“What do you think, Ellie? Are you ready for me to sing in your choir?” He winked at Mr. Z.

“Victor, I’ve nothing to say about you joining the choir. But that’s a beautiful hymn. You never told me you liked it.”

“Hmm, well, I don’t know about liking it or whatever. I just remember you and me and the church and that music somehow. Weird, huh? You don’t remember singing it?”

“I do, dear.”

“My point was only that it shows how you never know in this world. I mean, how things will work themselves out. Right Vixy?”

Vixy hunched her shoulders, placed her hands in her lap and nodded politely. “Yes, dad.” It was as if she suddenly had nothing to hide about herself or her nutty family, least of all from Mr. Z.

“You know? Vixy?” said her mother. “Speaking of church. I saw Daniel Cramer. That young man who graduated from the University at the same time you did. He was at church on Sunday.”

Vixy sprinkled more cheese on her chili, twisted the cap off the tiny bottle of hot sauce, shook it vigorously, frowning at it, and tipped a few drops fall into her bowl. “I know, mom, church is a good place to meet people. Except you know I never had any interest in Daniel Cramer.” She spread butter on her cornbread.

“You never used to dislike going to church. Not until you went away to University.”

Vixy resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead sat with a spoonful of chili in her mouth and glared at her father.

“Eleanor,” he said. He only referred to her as Eleanor when he was being demonstrative.

Vixy swallowed her food. “It’s okay, dad. I know mom is only trying to be helpful. Trying to marry me off or something. Right, mom?”

Her mother pursed her lips. “There’s blueberry pie. Mr. Z., will you have e a piece? Of course you will.” Eleanor began slicing it. “Anyone for ice cream with it? Mr. Z., I’m sure you’ll enjoy our ice cream. It’s local milk. Lionel?”

“I’ll get it.” Her father got up to rummage through the kitchen storage cabinets “I’m going to have some, too, Ellie. With my pie.” He patted his belly.

“None for me, dad, said Vixy.

“Oh come on, girl,” said her father.

“No, dad. I don’t want to have to run it off tomorrow.”

Her mother doled out the plates. This one’s for our guest, Lionel. “Vixy, how was it in the woods today?”

“Well, I found something. I think. A face.” She got up and hurried into her bedroom/office at the back of the house and they listened to her rummaging through her things. Her voice boomed from down the hall, “Actually, it was Duff who found it.”

Duff looked up at the sound of his name, blinked in Vixy’s direction, blinked at all of them, lowered his head and promptly went back to sleep.

Carnegie Olson, Time Crime: Book 2, (Ann Arbor: Humble Hogs Press, 2020), 7-10.

“The Old Rugged Cross”, composed by George Bennard in 1912, is a famous Methodist hymn and country gospel song first made popular by Ernest Tubbs in the early 1950’s. And don’t fret, dear readers, for I’m much further along in editing TC2 than the above, it just so happens that I came upon that section and got lost in spontaneous editing. Hey, it all counts.