Eternal Transience & Little Victories: Humble Hogs Will Never Die

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020. March seemed a waste. Besides all the stupidity surrounding the virus I had to realize that TC1 is dead in the water, no lucky beginning, no “taking off” for the book. Deafening silence on behalf of all the promotional copies and the two bookstores. Here I figured my experience in life and the inventiveness it lends to things like marketing my book would somehow serve to help it rise above. Nope. Again, my efforts succumb to the odds, the terrible probabilities. It’s humiliating. Worse, in a way, as I’ve said, than never having written and published a novel. To see it become less than nothing within two months hurts. To have mindfully and strategically mailed out author copies only to endure complete silence, not even criticism, is a devastating cruelty I wouldn’t have expected. That I’m forced to encounter new levels of my naivete and feel such a fool is truly a surprise. I didn’t think I was that stupid. Yet here I am disappointed to discover that there is no way in for the outsider wannabe author. I dare say that if I included gratuitous sex and violence or gutter humor I’d still have flopped. Without a platform, which amounts to a context, people don’t want to know. I get it. I’ve ignored how many books and record albums and works of art-craft myself? Out of unfamiliarity alone I’ve refused to even pick a book up. What goes around, then, comes around.

My box of first state fucked up paperbacks makes me laugh. I’ve a mind to huck them into the trash, just chuck the whole box into to bin and watch the trash truck tip my books in with all the other garbage. A whole box of first edition, first state copies, with the typos, pinched running heads and insufficient Notes. Collectors items, right? If they were KDP versions they’d have date and printing location on them, too, but the Ingram versions that they are don’t have such detail, though the data could probably be tracked down. Who cares? Oh, you should’ve kept those copies, why didn’t you? Now, see, you’re selling books and those are worth something to people, to collectors. Uh huh. Threw them out. Because I was pissed. Disappointed. Heartbroken. Despairing. How many self-published fucks have a garage or basement or bedroom full of the unsold, never-will-be-sold copies of their book? Even the advantage of POD didn’t save me from the humiliation.

Kev tells me, rightly, that I’ll have to publish more books. I know. The only way to invest TC1 with new life someday is to publish TC2. I get it, believe me. Except, again, we’re talking a not insignificant amount of cash that I don’t know where I’ll get it from. Cart before the horse, I know that, too. Just edit, edit and edit some more. Things will take care of themselves, money-wise, if it’s meant to be. So, I have a job interview at Lowes tomorrow morning. If I could get $12/hour it would take me three months at twenty hours/week to earn enough for the audiobook. Which, knowing my lack of timing, will also be published to indifference. The audiobook trend will have peaked and passed no doubt with the competition ramped up and squeezing out, again, the lack-of-platform losers. Meanwhile, who knows, I might be capable of sticking out a job until I’d earned the $7K it will take to publish TC2. Loads of cash, enormous outlay, all in the service of my craft. So that folks can categorically ignore it. So be it. Paying for the privilege of working at my vocation. The life of the wannabe.

Frankly, I don’t know how I keep going. Where does the drive come from? Bliss, perhaps. Well, I know it’s bliss because I’ve been studying the nature of it, the mythology of it for ten years. There I was last evening, whacking away at TC2, finishing another chapter, making it to page fifty-one. Which is a long way from the first page. I encourage myself in this pathetic way. How else to endure it? I think, just get it over with if nothing else. Show up at the end, again, with your shit completed, finished, edited through two drafts. Then begin the third. Rinse, repeat until I’m convinced I can’t suffer another draft. Obtain the money to have it professionally edited. Likewise the cover. Send ARCs out this time, perhaps. Perhaps not. Who cares? The life of the indie publisher.

Why do I do it? It’s my only grace, the writing, as much as it pains me. There I was, then, last evening, doing my thing, the time flying as it always does when I write or edit, what have you, and I’m at a point in the story where I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen next – I literally cannot recall what I’d written. Angie finds this absurd that I can’t remember what I wrote and I don’t know if it’s just me but like I explained, I wrote the thing at least three years ago and it was a one-time pass, a first draft; it’s not like I even reread any of it. I just wrote, burning through until the end then set it aside and started the next one. I’m reading it, then, with as fresh a pair of eyes that an author can have regarding his own work. Which is to say I’ve practically forgotten most of it. I know the gist of the story of course, but the detail mostly escapes me at this point. So, there I am editing, which at this point mostly amounts to rewriting and Neutic has encountered the sow grizzly and cubs and I swear I don’t know what’s going to happen to him or, more accurately, I don’t know how I’m going to write my way out of this predicament in a way that isn’t stupid, that doesn’t suck and make me hate the book.

“‘Oh my god, Neutic!ʼ said Vixy.” That was the next line and I couldn’t have predicted it if you’d paid me. But the funny thing, the best part of running smack into something I don’t remember writing is that I liked it. I loved it. More than in the sense of loving the plot (because I don’t really love anything about my plots, they’re just the best I can do) I loved reencountering Vixy. Like a friend, a very welcome, almost long-lost friend. Gosh, I thought, it’s Vixy! Hooray! And hooray for me for doing that, too, for damn well bringing in Vixy right there to save the day, namely, to get me the fuck out of that part of the story and on to other things. It wasn’t a great segue but it worked. Moving on. That’s all I can mostly ask for, it seems whenever I write these novels. I’m not completely in charge of it, no writer is, the characters as we all know tend to write themselves, at least if they’re authentic enough. But I am responsible for beginning and showing up and setting the stage and bringing the energy. I have to apply myself so a to allow the characters to do their thing. It mostly sucks, this weird gathering of potential cosmic energies – there’s a lot of psychological inertia, so to say, that I always have to overcome and I think this is an experience, the sticky inertia of sitting down to look at the page and see what happens thing, that probably most authors endure. I’m speculating. As I don’t talk to any authors about writing. Which speaks to the so-called loneliness of writing: that is, that it’s just you and the page and the effort to be applied or not. Nobody can do it for you. And unless you’re already successful and have a legitimate audience you’re stuck being one us wannabes who are forced to dream up a readership in our heads – our fake fans – so as to generate a reason, anemic as it may be, to proceed, to try. Because writing to nobody, with nobody in mind just isn’t the way it works. Not even now, while writing this bullshit journal, am I capable of writing exclusively for myself, as silly as that seems even to me because there is nobody reading this if I paid them. Yet there “they” are, in my head, amorphous, undefined yet imagined nonetheless, listening to me blabber, reading these words as I write them out.

Locus just emailed me with their April epub version. I’ve been mostly dreading this issue because from what I’ve been able to discern about how they work, it would be this magazine in which Time Crime would be listed in “Books Received.” Yes, there is a one-in-a-million chance that somebody there read the thing and then reviewed it and I’ll open the issue up and there will be the cover and a half page of glowing praise for my debut novel and this debut author. But if that were the case, and I don’t know for certain but I can guess, somebody there would’ve contacted me for an electronic version of the cover, so as to use it. “We’re happy to tell you that we’re publishing a featured review of your novel in the April issue and we require an electronic version of your book cover – can you please forward a.s.a.p.? Thank, the editors.” That kind of thing. Which didn’t happen. Surprise. And instead of looking forward to seeing TC1 at least listed alongside the couple of hundred or so other novels released more or less around the same time mine was, I’m dreading the distinct possibility that they missed it. That despite having carefully addressed to them my two copies, shipping directly from Ingram and including the extra Ingram page with my salutation and my contact information, they may have (1) not received the package, (2) lost the package, unopened, amongst all the other packages or, and this is the worst case, (3) opened the package, flipped through the book and set it aside as irrelevant, as unworthy amateur dross. Would I rather have had a negative review? From the impossibly bleak perspective of oblivion sometimes I think, well, yes, if only to be acknowledged in some way. But, no, I suppose if they don’t have anything nice to say, saying nothing at all is best. And if they somehow didn’t receive the book (which means they lost it or discarded or were trying to ignore it because I have its delivery tracked as received), then it will be my next task to send them an email, as pathetic as that will be, inquiring as to TC1’s status: did they receive it, were they planning on listing it, please advise, thanks, yadda, blah. These are the legitimate outcomes as I prepare myself to pick through this issue in search of the tiniest mention of my hapless novel. Stay tuned, dear readers, hold on to the edge of your seats, for I shall report back forthwith.

Update: it’s listed. Page thirty-seven in the epub and thirty-nine in print. The asterisk indicates, apparently, that it’s a paperback version, which is redundant because “tp” likewise indicates such. Now I wish I would’ve just sent hardcovers to avoid the weird comment that they didn’t “see” it (which I notice on a lot of other listings). As if it matters to anyone but me. Glancing through the listings I notice many of include the same note regarding the hardcover. So be it, I’m new at this, I ought to have paid more attention to their listing quirks if it mattered so much to me. Because let’s face it, it’s not like an alphabetical listing amounts to anything like advertising. Nevertheless, things could have been worse.

“Books Received,” Locus: The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field, (Issue 711, Vol. 84, No.4, April 2020), p.39 (print version).

The book’s info is correct, even the updated pricing, alongside Locus’s curiously reworded, truncated pitch – it’s all there in black and white amongst everybody else’s efforts. Funny, I notice an Amy Ewing listed elsewhere, so there it was, had I not used a pen name there would’ve been, go figure given the odds, two Ewings appearing one after the other. And I’m happy, for whatever reason I really don’t know, to have avoided anything to do with my other name.

Success, then, such as it is. And oh, yes, I shamelessly scanned for the cover within the book reviews and the beginning of the listings. They list seventeen SF novels for January, if it matters, amongst the other stuff, which only makes me think, damn, what if I’d sent a hardcover or an ARC – would that have at least earned me a shot at having my cover included? Such are the desperate and foolish tortures we wannabes subject ourselves to, as if it matters at all that my nobody from nowhere little novel even appeared for its brief bow.

Locus…, 40.

Will it be read? It likely wasn’t and likely won’t be. No platform, remember? No ARC. I didn’t play by all the rules on top of having no name. Hence, I’m lucky if somebody at Locus glossed the extra info page or not; perhaps they just handed it over to an intern who flipped through all the copyright pages of the month’s submissions to glean the listing data then was graced with their choice of whatever copies they wanted to take home. The infamous slush pile. “We’re not going to be reading any of these, so take your pick.” But I’ll never know. I make shit up. Meanwhile, little victories. We take them where we find them. What else is there? Nobody else gives a damn besides me so it’s my job to either keep giving a damn or quit. And whereas quitting will guarantee me an across-the-board zero result, my giving a shit and trying my best to try my clumsy best – to keep showing up – provides the only chance I’ll ever have at getting noticed, read and paid. And meanwhile, if nothing else, as J.C. suggests, I’ll at least have my bliss.

Thanks, then, to Locus http://locusmag.com/ for their having lived up to my humble expectations. Sure, I’m a subscriber so why wouldn’t they? I get it. But in their position as threshold guardians they could nonetheless have denied me entry into their realm, they could have exercised categorical indifference and that they didn’t is a good thing. It helps. If it’s all the good that happens to Time Crime in the month of April, I’ll try to remember that it’s enough to keep going. We require so very little. And if it feels like progress, it is.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

Rereading the press for the food court makes me feel good and sad, as if it was yesterday and a million years ago all at once. Such is the nature of life, the sense of its eternal transience, as it were; the experience being especially vivid, I’d say, when you’re following your dreams. It’s all so bittersweet. I wouldn’t do it again if I had the chance nor would I trade the experience for anything in the world. The mythology of irony. That book I need to write. Or perhaps I’m writing it here.

Pressure & Time

There are days now where I feel completely transformed. I don’t mean to sound like a new-age fop, but we’re not even at 3 months in hh biz yet and I feel like I’ve been through a transformative experience like one must feel when going through military boot camp or something – you go in one fucked up directionless person and you come out with (maybe) purpose and knowledge and the most important part is you’re never the same – something fundamental changes in you and you can’t even remember what it was like to be the old you. Weird. This hh experience has been so intense and emotional. In the H&S field, it’s been said that the only time anybody really gives a shit about safety is when they’re emotionally affected by it, which is to say they get seriously injured or someone close to them does; then they’re affected – changed – and become believers for life. And like they say, there’s no faith like that of the converted.

In this book I’ve described several other jobs/careers I’ve had and many of them seemed likewise intense and incredibly demanding. I was changed by them, but I don’t recall having the same intense sensation of having passed through something and emerged as a different person inside and out. Not overwhelmingly different, but just a compellingly internal shift that makes me feel like I’m on a path or following, inexplicably now, the pigs or the vocations or both or the food biz – I’m not really interested in pinning it down either – it just feels “correct” and like a life that I can lead. That relentless sensation of internal schism seems to have changed into a drive that sort of takes care of itself. Certainly it’s a better way to live – with a sense of purpose and a sense of being in the right place and time – my energies go to moving forward versus picking myself up off the ground or changing direction or backing up and starting over. If anybody’s managed to live this way their whole lives then I envy them.

July 27th, we got a copy of the Ann Arbor Observer and under the restaurant reviews headlined an article about Mark’s Carts. HH was the first cart mentioned: “Authentically yummy creations can be savored here, like the decadently gruyere-rich mac and cheese from Humble Hogs.” Later in the article, we appeared again “Even before mention of Humble Hogs’ head cheese hoagies, you’re probably sensing a mix of pioneering new ground and updates on standard fare.” I like to think hh is doing both.

M.B. Lewis, “Mark’s Carts: Something New Under the Sun,” Restaurant Reviews, Ann Arbor Observer

Sunday, July 31, 2011. I’m looking forward to receiving my first shipment of Molly Steven’s “All About Braising” which HH will sell, officially authorized from W.W. Norton. Molly is sending me signed “book plates” that I can insert into the books so they’ll be autographed. Awesome. I had a choice of a 45% discount off retail for returnable copies or 50% off for unreturnables – I chose the returnable option and made the minimum order of 15 books. Five of the books are Braising and ten are Molly’s new book “All About Roasting” which WW Norton says will arrive in their warehouse in November and possibly earlier. I’m hoping earlier so the cart season won’t be over before I get a chance to sell my copies.

Molly’s two books will be the only ones HH sells and, like I describe on humblehogs.com, we are very proud to offer her books because she’s such a great talent and her recipes have inspired so much of the food we’re selling from the cart. It seems only right that we honor our sources in such a way. Plus, it’s exciting to be working with Molly so to say to help each other out. I respect what she does so much and it’s great to get the selling of books into the HH business model – it was there from the beginning but I meant to sell MY stuff (the Animal Welfare Guide and this book) – but it makes a lot more sense at this early stage to market the work of one of our guides. I like the way it broadens the HH biz plan and I can’t think of any higher quality publication that relates directly to our food than these books – it makes my nut spin just thinking about it. I’m expecting to start selling next week.

Associating with Molly Stevens is amazing – when I told her that we basically are ripping off her recipes, she suggested selling the books from the cart and emailed me with Bev at W.W. Norton who handles “event sales.” Then she graciously volunteered to send the signed book plates which just puts rocket sauce in our ability to sell them. We’ll price them to move – I’m not doing this to make money off them or compete with online book vendors – it’s simply a biophycomythological necessity to keep making and nurturing these connections. It feels right.

Angie says we’re at $13K in revenue now so we’re just over half way to our goal of $25K for the season and the season is about half over. It’s hard to believe what I just wrote – that HH has brought in that much money selling food that I’ve cooked. I keep thinking how it could’ve been zero at this point or some pathetically small number and that we could have not got this thing off the ground or crashed and burned right out of the gate. Instead, we’re moving along according to our business plan and although it’s not going to be the $50K we had in our vog, we’re doing better in many ways than I expected – the “opportunity generator” aspect of HH is adding value beyond measure to me personally and I hope it’s adding value to Angie’s life too. The people we’re meeting are people that make me feel good and I have faith now that good things will continue to come as we get better and better at recognizing, Canfield-style, opportunities that move us forward to where we want to be. Being who you are is not a death-sentence, nor is it a prison-sentence. I’m seeing that the world really does respond to one’s personal myth. Like Campbell says, the help is there and the struggles too, but it seems like all my previous decades on this earth have been too caught up in the struggles that go nowhere. Now I feel like any failures are just to be overcome – I know where I’m going enough that now I think I can get through anything. Generating multiple streams of income, to borrow Canfield again, is a great way to keep my feet moving so to say while I engage my six vocations. Without relying on any one of them to carry the financial weight, I hope to generate enough money to keep them all going somehow. Pressure and time is all it seems to take. The more focused the pressure, the more effective it is and the quicker the results come along.

I checked the mark’s carts website and found a link to an article published online July 25th from ecurrent, an online magazine who’s food reporters Lisa and Joe have been sampling the cart-fair often and even stopped by when we had the cart at the Camp Bacon Street Fair in Kerrytown. They’re very nice folks and seem committed to getting the food story down accurately and with a positive but good-heartedly critical stance that lends “cred” to their work. They talked to us about how difficult it is to publish anything that is timely since restaurants change their menu offerings so often. Anyway, hh gets in the news again and we need to enjoy this attention because who knows when the little bit of “fame” will fade. Hopefully we can carry it forward because we’re in it for the long term and once the “new” vibe wears off, we want to be like other cool and good eateries that get mentioned every once in awhile in the local news. The stalwarts and solid mainstays of goodness that strengthen and solidify a city and give it it’s identity. That’s years down the road I know, but that’s the point – to keep chugging:

“Mark’s Carts, the long-awaited food cart lot around the corner from Downtown Home & Garden, is now open. There’s been a lot of coverage of the process, of the growing food cart trend in cities across the U.S. finally coming to Ann Arbor, and of how it ties in with the local food trend.

Editor’s Note: This article is part two of a two-part series. The first ran in the July issue. See www.ecurrent.com https://www.ecurrent.com/food-drink/ for the entire story.

San Street
The food: Asian street food, with a focus on high-quality ingredients
Most popular item: Pork Buns
The owners: Ji Hye Kim and Kristen Hogue Jackson, as part of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses
URL: www.sanstreetfood.com/

“Ji Hye and Kristen, both Zingerman’s managers, discovered they share an interest in the street foods of their childhoods…so when Zingerman’s asked employees to come up with ideas for new businesses, they stepped forward with this concept, which is kind of like an Ann Arbor version of Momofuku. This started a long process of research and a lot of cooking. They’ve rolled the cart out with only two items, but plan to add more.

“Pork Buns: How can such a huge slice of pork belly taste so light and fresh? These are Taiwanese-style pork buns, scrumptious with melting pork fat, tender braised pork with a drizzle of hoisin and threads of green onion inside a folded-over steamed bun called a gwa pao. This isn’t health food by any means, but it’s worth it.

“Mushroom Buns: The same configuration as above, but with a filling of marinated shiitake and wood ear mushrooms, accented with a bit of spicy mayo. Note: the gwa pao for the pork buns are made with a bit of lard; for the mushroom buns they use a vegetarian variant unless you request otherwise.

“The Lunch Room
The food: Vegan, but has a much broader appeal
Most popular item: Barbeque Tofu Sandwich
The owners: Phillis Engelbert and Joel Panozzo
URL: www.thelunchrooma2.com/

“Friends and next-door neighbors who love to cook together, for Phillis and Joel a food cart was the obvious next step after parties and pop-up restaurants. Since they’re both vegans, they cook that way – but they’re trying to do food that appeals to non-vegetarians as well, and they’re generally succeeding.

“Aloo Yoop: a vegetarian coconut milk-based curry – sweet, extremely light, very flavorful, and with great texture between the potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, onions, and the rest. It has more of a Southeast Asian flavor than an Indian one, and is not excessively spicy. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to like this dish a lot; the only thing that would make it better would be a nice pile of rice to eat it with.

“Barbecue Tofu Sandwich: the Lunch Room’s answer to barbecue pork sandwiches, this has slices of good-quality firm tofu in a sweet tomato-based barbecue sauce on an Avalon Bakery whole wheat bun.

“Side Dishes: The Tangy Thai Slaw is outstanding; chilies, scallion, cashews, sesame, and a horde of other flavors blend together to create a complex but not overwhelming experience. The assortment of hummus and tapenades with Avalon bread was also good.

“Cookies: unlike the bread, the cookies are made in house. Hands down, the Blackstrap Molasses Gingersnaps were our favorite. They’re exceptionally good, and you’d never have a clue that they’re vegan. They’re gooey, strong-flavored, and coated in demerara sugar. And best of all, they’re only $1 apiece. The Mexican Chocolate Cookies (with hints of cinnamon and chili) and the Chocolate Cashew Cream Truffles are also great, but the Molasses Gingersnaps…wow.

Humble Hogs
The food: American, slow-cooked and prepared from scratch
Most popular item: Mac & Cheese
The owners: Keith and Angie Ewing
URL: www.humblehogs.com/

“Keith Ewing was laid off from his corporate job in Texas, so he and his wife moved back to Ann Arbor where her job was and followed their passion for cooking. They eventually plan to raise their own pigs and perhaps start a public house, but for now they are trying the general concept out with a cart (and sourcing their pork from Niman Ranch). All dishes can be ordered in full or half portions.

“Headcheese Hoagies: the most frequently mentioned item when discussions of Mark’s Carts arise, usually with a tone of disbelief. Believe it. It’s not a hoagie, and it’s not headcheese the way you probably think of it: the headcheese (bits of meat from the head of the pig, all chopped up) is seared until crispy on a grill, then served over a grilled slice of Zingerman’s bakehouse white bread, topped with onions and peppers and a wavy line of mustard. But it’s a catchy name, the flavors go well together, and the grilling (they started doing it because Angie thought it was gross served cold) makes the headcheese taste like carnitas, or like the crispy browned bits that fall off a good roast.

“Divine Mac & Cheese: it’s easy to see why this is the most popular item, because while it can stand on its own, it also makes a great side dish to everything else. Rich, cheesy (though not heavy or sticky) and with a buttery crumb topping.

“Miscellaneous Braises: they’ve usually also got at least one braised meat dish on special, served over more of that grilled bread so that it soaks up the sauce. We’ve tried the cinnamon soy pork belly (almost like candy), and the braised beef with currants and rhubarb (all the flavors showed through without being overwhelming).

“Blueberry Buckle: great buttery crumb with a hint of cinnamon and a tender cake. They don’t skimp either on the blueberries or the portion size.Lisa and Joe have been blogging about food in the Ann Arbor area (and points beyond) since 2004. Check them out at kitchenchick.com.