Archive for June 2013

Neil Strauss, Chuck Klosterman and Plastic Sheets: Musings on fear in writing   2 comments

I’m lying naked on a bed covered in plastic sheets. The bed isn’t the only thing covered in plastic.  There are coverings on all the clothing in the closet and anything else made with thread fiber. “I have fleas in my place,” Jen says to me. Not that it meant anything an hour before, shortly after a petulant conversation about contemporary music over a few beers in the darkness of her rear patio. We had met a few days before at a bar in D.C, which lead to the usual cycle of hanging out, partying and then hooking up. The walls of her room are a dull grey, and there are assorted packing boxes on the floor. Jen is leaving the city in two weeks. She smiles and rubs my chest. For some reason we start talking about writing, and I give her the summary of my conundrum; how I was losing my self-perspective as writer, and fell into that void where I kept wondering if I should continue. Her eyes sparkle and she hops off the bed with a resounding squeak.

“You should read this,” she says.

She hands me a book, Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman. I glance at the book cover and the back, wondering who the guy with the red bowl haircut wearing heavily rimmed glasses was.

“He did a reading at Wonderland the other day,” she says to me.

The Wonderland Ballroom is probably D.C’s most famous dive bar, so this guy must have been somebody. But, like most post-coital conversations, this one felt a bit random, at the same time, the scenario had a touch of serendipity. Up to that point I’d written a few full-length manuscripts, including a hefty two hundred and fifty page behemoth that had been sitting in a desk drawer for years. I’d wanted to explore a new way to look at writing, and maybe laying naked on plastic sheets with a girl named Jen would be the genesis of that. I thought the book that she gave me would be weird, possibly interesting. I was wrong.

The book was a revelation.

I’d never read writing that was both self-deprecating and open at the same time. With his pop culture prose, Chuck weaved between stories of his life, infrequent drug use and musings on humanity in a way that felt real. What struck me more than anything was the fact that he was speaking about himself. This was a far cry from the stylized writings of Dean Koontz, Sidney Sheldon and other “movie in a book” authors I’d grown up reading. This was inner dialogue on cocaine.

As I read about his stresses over his ex-loves, the ways he would fall into emotional traps and his other thoughts while traipsing around researching why rock stars get immortalized after committing suicide (the theme of his book), a familiarity tingled in my brain, both in the style of writing and manner of delivery. Some of the things he said sounded like things I would say.

Ping. The light bulb came on.

I realized I was a similar creature, a journeyman with that particular mix of visual memory and writing ability to create scenarios from my life that weren’t an unintelligible mish mash of curse words and rambling text. I saw that there was writing out there that wasn’t just about mysterious creatures hiding in church belfries waiting to eat innocent children, that sometimes the monsters in life are right in front of us; in the mirror. A child hides from the creature under the bed because he is afraid; his mind conjures up the most grisly disgusting image imaginable, one only an adult can save him from. Likewise, many writers are afraid. Afraid to put themselves on the block, to speak the truth and let the world have its way with them. After reading Killing Yourself To Live, I couldn’t imagine doing what Chuck did; letting the world know about my personal habits, and the number of women I had slept with, among other things.

Traditionally, I always thought writing was about putting down details that spark the imagination and work the body up into a spicy lather with such lines such as:

She was a tall brunette with a lithe body and sensuous lips. At first glance, Mark felt his heart flutter as she paused in the doorway.

Lines written like this make you think of YOUR ideal brunette with a lithe body, not mine. But what If I was to write on paper the details about my ex-girlfriend’s body? Or all of my ex-girlfriends? I couldn’t fathom dishing out the dirty on Marcus Birdy. But after my foray into Chuck’s mind through his book, I realized what real writing might be. A boxer punches meat, top-class lawyers do lines of coke off supermodel’s inner thighs and actresses date their line directors. Writers write.

So I said, “Heck yeah!” and decided I’d put it all out there.

But I was afraid.

Each time I felt the fear, I imagined a little garden gnome trying to get me to do crazy things, talking in his nasal, ethereal voice. He’d be sitting on my bed, next to a Marc Jacobs travel bag.

He’d say, “Let’s go Buddy.”

I’d say, “Wait, where are we going? I need to go to work.”

The gnome would be like, “Fuck work, let’s partaaaay!” Then the gnome and I would head to numerous strip clubs, go on a shopping spree, buy his and his g-strings for our debut at the “oldies night” in a shady part of the East Village and then end up on a boat to China, singing praises to the two Ukranian women and the saucy septuagenarian who decided to tag along.  I would play guitar all the way to Beijing, where some angry coast guards would think I was somehow connected to the CIA and torture me in a dilapidated warehouse and then issue an apology the next day because they thought I had a high tech listening device safely ensconced in my aforementioned guitar.

But this would never happen because I was afraid. The kind of afraid where you are scared of being judged by your friends, your parents, your high school home room teacher, the cool neighborhood ice cream truck dude AND your grandmother at the same time. How could I write about “real” things? And (egad) sexual scenarios?

Then came Neil Strauss.

After reading, The Game, I realized that there are people out there with massive insecurities that they challenge head on and are brave enough to share all the grisly details with the world. Where Chuck had opened my mind to the reality of “me-speak”, Neil took me on a journey through what I call, “super interesting transformational journalism”. I really got to understand how he saw himself as a person, show he shattered the barriers of his negative self-perception and all the trappings that came with it.  I saw the fearlessness in his writing. It takes balls to tell the world a Porn star tried to have sex with you in a bathroom stall and you had whiskey disk.

I saw that being interesting is relative, and also that your experiences are relative to how you portray them. I researched more books and saw that there were people who wrote about sex addiction and how they overcame it, people who wrote about returning to the real world from prison, people that wrote about being abused as children and a whole slew of topics that would have a therapist booked straight through to next year.

That’s when I realized that my stories, my novels and my writing were just a drop in the ocean of a sea of creative ideas. In an extremely negative way, I had always thought my writing was “nothing” and that I “had nothing” as it related to the stuff I’d already made. I was anxious and worried about people knowing things about me or judging my writing and I didn’t even know that many people.

I was the scared little boy, hiding under the covers with a flashlight, hoping the creak creak of the wind blowing the windows wasn’t the frantic scratching of some malevolent creature only too happy to have a late night Jamaican snack.

Then I thought, maybe the plastic sheets in Jen’s bedroom were a strange microcosm of all my fears. Maybe I just needed to peel that bitch off, grab some bug spray and turn the bedroom into the O.K Corral.

A few years ago I got that book from Jen, and in a few days I’ll release my first novel Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken on Amazon. If Neil can tell people he toured with Motley Crue and only kissed Tommy Lee the entire trip, or Chuck can tell the world about his strange relationship with a girl named Lenore, maybe I can tell them something, and for a little while, let the world have its way with me too.

Sex Drugs and Jerk Chicken is now available on Amazon. For a free sample or to read the book, click here

   

Post Novelmatic Stress Disorder   Leave a comment

visualization

The process post-novel has been pretty brutal.

There are three stages to this that I’ve had to do… and I’m thinking that to really do these things properly, you need to be a somewhat obsessive personality, because it involves constant re-reading and rechecking to the point of being anal.

During the process of formatting my novel for the kindle, I spent several hours doing the formatting the wrong way. This didn’t frustrate me, because I was more concerned with making sure the book looked correct across all devices. Once I learned about how global document settings worked in Microsoft word, things got much easier. But it still took a lot of time, making sure certain white spaces were gone, checking indentations and chapters headers, and making sure the novel had a proper (aesthetic) continuity.

Then after doing a test upload to amazon, I downloaded the preview version and did an amazing mental exercise, I got to see my book in the Kindle Carousel, and how it would look eventually when people purchased it. I was very pleased at how clean the design looked (I designed it J)

Then after all that formatting I started to re-read my novel, this time, I was reading it from start to finish, mostly to do a final check on the tone of the novel relative to certain small things I was mulling over.

So after I added all the edits my editor made (meaning I technically had to read through the novel while adding the edits) I did the formatting (which required lots more reading of chapters ) and then I did the major re-reading. This is on top of the other reading and re-reading I’d done while writing the novel.

Now, this is not a “process” by any means, I just think this is how I am built mentally. When I’m focused, I don’t get stressed readjusting and re-reading something that I find important. In fact, while adding the corrections my editor made, I saw a few things my editor missed. More than that, after doing the spell check for the entire document, I saw even more errors that would be easy to miss (spaces after periods, double words you wouldn’t glance if you were reading quickly, etc). Then in the final reading of the novel, I again saw a handful of very small errors, extra sentences and things that I could patch up. So more than anyone, I can say that I truly know where the manuscript stands.

So I’m almost done with the re-read and its 2 a.m here. I’m getting ready now for the final stage of publishing the manuscript and sending it out into the

%d bloggers like this: