Somehow I've found myself on this blog tour thing that seems to have grown a few heads and is making the rounds. Well, not exactly "somehow." I know how. Paul Elwork brought me onboard this ride. You can read his thoughts here. He is the author of some pretty good short stories, and the novel The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (March 31, 2011). He was also one of my professors at Arcadia, so there's that. Let's dig in.
What are you working on now?
Query letters, and a synopsis for my novel. And this website. And this blog. I've also began drafting a few letters to my credit card company.
Aside from getting the gears in motion to take my novel to the next phase of its existence (i.e. agent representation and publication), I've been working on some flash fiction. After spending the past fifteen months working almost solely on my novel, it feels good to exercise the shorter fiction muscles. There are some words from my coursework that I was pleased with that I've been using as the basis for some new work. I also just joined a new writing group with some very talented folks - the deadlines and new company will most certainly push my writing up a notch.
How does your work differ from others of the genre?
I'll answer this in two parts. Shorts vs. novel.
Short work: In short, it doesn't. Any modern writer who claims otherwise is a liar. Sure, we've all got our individual experiences that are precious and unique to us, but, the short story form isn't producing anything new in the literary genre and hasn't in a while. Or maybe I'm simply reading the wrong journals.
There have been some exciting voices, and new angles, but those folks are few and far between. That being said, what I hope to do, along with the writers whose works I like to read, is to create stories that are controlled and have a soul and humming underneath them that god-willing-I-hope-I-did-my-fucking-job says something in a new way, or reveals some nuance of being alive that resonates with my readers. Does that differ from everyone else in the lit. genre? Eh, not really.
If I were to use a song analogy I would pick, say, "Let It Be" by The Beatles, and I don't know, "Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green. They were both massive hits with a sing-along chorus, both start out with piano, both end with a chorus reprise, both have a message everyone can relate to. Two very different, but similar songs. While Cee Lo created a perfectly good, well executed song, "Let It Be" has a soul - a message that resonates, instead of being instantly satisfying and then forgotten. I think good fiction resonates and all writers want that - we all reach for Paul, but land on Cee Lo. Dig? Goddamn this a long answer. Moving on.
Novel: My novel is about being in a touring, just starting to gain popularity indie band. The protagonist is getting up in age as far as the rockstar lifespan goes and he feels that 10 years Pink Floyd sang about. And of course because it's fiction, everything begins to fall apart. I don't think there's been a book yet that really gets to the grit of being on the road and explores the wants and dreams of the people who are in the slums, slogging it out, night after night, just for a fucking chance - a book that explores the joys of the american road trip while at the same time giving a very direct look into the inner workings of a touring band - none of that hollywood tour bus arena rock stuff. These dudes and gal are in a rented mini-van busting their asses while learning the perils of saving dough by staying in hotel run by Jesus People, eating a super prawn burrito, rival bands, and large amounts of pot cookies. I don't think there's been that book yet. If there has been, let me know so I can use it in my query letter.
Why do you write what you write?
In my short work I am attracted to darkness - an individual's deep aloneness. We're all alone in this world no matter how many friends we have, virtual or otherwise. I hope to get at that core of really being aware of oneself - not the image - but the real person who lies there in the middle of the night worried they might be pregnant or have a disease or that everyone they know and love is going to die in a plane crash. Or maybe that's just me and I'm fucked up. That might be a better answer.
The novel is semi-autobiographical based on my lifetime of being in bands, and very loosely based on a tour I went on a few years back as a "getting up in age as far as the rockstar lifespan goes" hired bass player. I sat down one day to write about it and less than a year later the first draft of the novel was done. That one followed the old adage of "write what you know."
How does your writing process work?
I wake up. I make coffee. I sit my ass in my chair and write. I follow the Hemingway rule of always having something left in the well from the day before, I'm certainly not the first write to follow that, but it works for me. Sometimes emails and blogs get in the way. At some point going to work definitely gets in the way. I edit better at night and sometimes when drunk. I cannot write when drunk. I need to be clear. Hence the morning.
The tour leaving the confines of Aracadia University's MFA program and is taking a turn north to Boston where it will meet up with Daniel Pontius (the People's Dan). He is a talented and very prolific young author with some publishing creds and an acerbic wit when it comes to the daily minutiae of being alive and dealing with people. He can be found at danpontius.com.
Daniel Pontius lives and tends bar in Boston with his lovely artist girlfriend Kelly Catenacci. He thoroughly enjoys writing flash fiction sized prose poetry. He sort of likes writing more traditional novella length fiction. Currently, he is working on a novel which, on certain days, is fun enough. On uncertain days, Daniel prefers to focus on other passions, like laundry.
This isn't a post about writing actual music. This is a post about the most KICKASS! music to listen to while writing.
Because I'm a cultured motherfucker, I listen to classical music when I write. I find music with words to be distracting when trying to craft my own. If it was good enough for Buk, it's good enough for me and you. And, I'll wager anyone that's not moved to write some inspired prose while Chopin's Etudes settle into their bones doesn't have the soul to write inspired prose to begin with. All that solitude stuff that Rilke talks about - you won't get that with Beyoncé or Zeppelin. Your mind needs to be at ease to find those hidden layers and truths that good, lasting writing reveals.
Even though listening to classical music as a way to heighten intelligence and performance is mostly unsubstantiated in the scientific community, there is proof that loud and distracting music diminishes creativity, while ambience has a positive effect on creativity. Even though I squirm at referring to the works of LVB and Freddy C. as ambient, I am willing to concede that it does act as a background - a beautiful white noise that elevates our minds and souls.
Without further ado, here is my "Beginners Guide to Writing with Classical Music" playlist. You'll recognize some classics, maybe be introduced to some new ones, and hopefully discover the writer that exists when you shut the words off.
Here's 2 hours and 24 minutes of writing music to get those brain waves right. Listen to the whole playlist, or the individual tracks below.
1. Chopin Nocturne Op.9 No.2 : This is a good warm-up by Chopin. The right amount of ease and gentle aggression to inspire.
2. Claude Debussy : Clair de Lune : What list would be complete with this masterpiece? It's simple lilt pleads that we chip away at whatever wall that separates us from genius.
3. Moonlight Sonata Op.27 No.2 Mov.1,2,3 (Beethoven): Again, another classic. Baby steps. Don't want to get too hot in the hot tub if you know what I mean. Here's all 3 movements. Most folks only know the popular 1st movement, and overlook the no-less moving and beautiful 2nd and 3rd.
4. Chopin - 24 Préludes, Op. 28: Let them play. At an average of 2 minutes apiece, these little gems should be a nice brain jog running the gamut of emotions now that you're warmed up.
5. J.S. Bach, Chaconne (Violin Partita No. 2 BWV 1004) — Andrés Segovia: There is a quote (with varying claims to authorship, though most point to Beethoven) that says "the guitar is a miniature orchestra in itself." Here, perhaps the greatest guitar master plays one of the most deep and haunting pieces of music ever written. It is all at once fragile and thunderous.
6. Johann Sebastian Bach - ''Little'' Fugue in G minor, BMV 578: Like the many arcs woven through a story, so too are the repeated, refrained, and said new themes in this piece. Counterpoint at it's finest.
7. Samuel Barber "Adagio for Strings" , L. Bernstein conductor:: Another classic. Perfect to get to the depths of introspection...or to write that tearjerker scene (which you will edit like a good writer after the fit of emotion has left, won't you?)
8. Paco de Lucía Concierto Aranjuez - Adagio: Let's get some flair up in here. This Spanish concerto by Joaquín Rodrigo is a popular number. Its slow plaintiveness coupled with some drama, it's a good palate cleanser after Barber's adagio. It is played by the late Paco de Lucia - a modern master of guitar.
9. Henry Purcell - Dido and Aeneas - Dido's lament: Ok, ok. This whole thing was about no words, and here I am including a fucking opera. Relax. Breath...and, let go. Think of the voice as an instrument. In the Baroque period, it was important to emphasize text over music. It is done here with beauty and grace, with pain and regret. Let it help you emphasize your own text.
10. Mozart - Requiem - Introit & Kyrie - Herrewghe conductor: Again, another piece with words, but, unless you're fluent in Latin, the voices are instruments. Repeat after me, "the voices are instruments." Mini opera appreciation lesson over.
11. RAVEL BOLERO - BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Let's keep it steady and sexy as we march on towards the final half hour of the best writing session you've ever had!
12. Beethoven. Egmont Overture - Lorin Maazel, New York Philharmonic: One of Bee's biggest hits. This will have you typing with energized vigor as you triumphantly race to the end of your document, victory in your grasp! For added pleasure and impact, join the orchestra on the last three hits with a triple "ctrl-s" or "command-s," and then go and explore some of the great classical music out there!
Feel free to tell me what music gets your writerly juices going in the comments below.
Do More - Do Less
It’s been two months. I'm moving to New York. I'm packing it all up and fucking leaving. That's what an article or two says I should do - the ones I read as I was finishing up my program. New York is where it's at. I can see myself now - lunch with agents, drinks with editors, sucking down oysters with the darlings of the scene (fact: I've never had an oyster, and that's the first time I've ever referred to people as "darlings.”)
I've already borrowed and used the none-too-soon-to-be-paid-back money on the MFA and put on the gown. I have an assorted collection of rejections, and spent money on contests like a lottery fiend that believes the next scratch off will be the one to keep them in menthol cigarettes, convenience store food, and beer sold by the volume to be consumed in the tree lined, back of a bank parking lot for one more Tuesday morning. I've spent more time in one week looking at frames for my diploma and obsessing over the word "moulding" than I did writing and editing. (In the end I decided to forgo the austere reverence of walnut and nailed the damn thing to the inside wall of my closet.) I’ve been researching agents, small presses, and authors whose books are similar-ish to mine. Man, let me tell you – if this is life after the MFA, New York has got to be better. At least I’d be in New York scraping away at the edges of literary obscurity, instead of sitting here scraping away at a small, dried glob of peanut butter that fell off my toast and onto my pants, while reading the hundredth article on what makes a good query.
Back to reality and focus as I stare down 77,000 words that I think are done, that an agent is going to change – that an editor is definitely going to change. The words are close and I want to move along to the next phase. My old professor (as in tense, not age), Joshua Isard, author of Conquistador of the Useless, Cinco Punto, 2013, told me upon graduation in reference to my novel, “These things don’t expire.” Those words, two months later, are starting to make a whole hell of a lot of damn sense. Despite the urge to keep this fire in my gut burning at full blast, I know that in order to put my best foot forward, I need to slow down so that the work will be as good as it can be. One of the most important lessons I learned during the MFA is when to exercise patience (a lesson I am still letting sink in). It’s easy for authors who have a book published to tell an unpublished writer to wait – which is just about every author I’ve ever spoken to – that gives the reading public more time to buy their books. It’s also good advice from authors who have been through the hoops.
This is life after the MFA. I’m sitting on a few publishing credits and a novel I believe in. Waiting. Tweaking. Meeting people and making connections. Working on new stuff. Submitting. Taking pride in the quality of the new first drafts. Burying the coursework and pre-MFA words in a password protected folder on the Deep Web. Understanding that this all takes time and patience. That I have to do more in certain areas, less in others. Take the time. Chill the fuck out. The work won’t expire – and whether it came from the labors of a low-residency program or small studio apartment, it’d better be good.