|Fresh Dirt Archives: Oct-Dec 2008
I just jammed "To Have And To Have Not" into the auto tape player, figuring I'd learn something about pre-Castro Cuba. Instead, Hemingway's repeated use of the word "nigger" highlighted the narrowminded stupidity of his work. Unless you are a macho, unfeeling character, then you are nothing but a prop in his world. What makes it even worse is that the "niggers" sound far more interesting than the macho, rum-swilling, marlin-reeling, womanizing boat captains that Hemingway likes to pretend he could have been, if he hadn't been impotent. And it's not because I automatically condemn the N-word in any literary setting, because it is a real word and it's part of the language, and if you embrace Chris Rock, then you know the word has it's proper time and place. Twain could use it and not be racist--I never felt Twain was using it as a condemnation and in fact I see the exact opposite: Twain was a compassionate humanitarian with a sardonic wit who acknowledged the injustices of the world.
Screw Hemingway. I'm glad he blew off his head. If he hadn't done it already, I'd probably drive to Illinois and do it for him.
I used to post a lot of writing articles here at the Haunted Computer, but I slowed down when I realized I didn't know all that much. I still offer my advice and a lot of writers ask me for blurbs and that kind of thing, which is funny because some of them are better known than I am. I've been doing a lot of self-examination and retrenching this year, and the approaching solstice feels far more like an "end" than does Dec. 31. It's easy to dwell on what I haven't achieved, but I've also been fortunate to find some great friends and allies and feel more like part of the community or writers while at the same time "doing my thing." I explained to a friend that I had a responsibility to write what I write because no one else can do it. Sure, it's easy to second guess or seek a more "commercial, can't-miss" style or subject matter, but when all is said and done, all has been said and not all that much done. Everything goes out of print but your epitaph.
The reality is that we're in a revolution of communication, with digital content becoming increasingly prominent. If you walk into a coffee shop, you see most people holding cellphones or laptops--few people are reading newspapers or books. People also are quickly becoming their own entertainment, stars of their own reality shows on places like Twitter. I don't know how many people will notice me doing my own thing, or you doing your own thing, because they're busy doing their own thing. Groove on. Do your thing.
In the good old days, editors actually typed and signed letters of regret for being unable to accept work, but then the mimeograph was invented and form letters became socially acceptable, perhaps under the notion that wholesale, generic rejection was somehow more compassionate. Then most editors and publishing houses stopped accepting queries altogether, counting on agents to serve as first line of defense in the trench warfare of literature. As recently as a decade ago, you could still get a form letter for the price of your self-addressed, stamped envelope. Now most agents simply don't respond at all "unless interested." Meaning they don't respond at all.
For years I tried to talk people out of self-publishing. It's bad economics, because the biggest stumbling block to getting an audience is getting your books in front of the readers who can buy them. After all, why else would we need a publishing industry? I've heard people who call themselves writers tell me, "I've already had three rejections, so I may as well print it up." I don't even waste my breath anymore, though I did wonder how they ended up with rejection slips in an age when ignorance is bliss. The same Internet that makes it easy for agents (and, by extension, publishers) to ignore you and still consider their profession to be genteel, courteous, and crusading also makes it easy for anybody to throw up a Web site and dump 100,000 words of Gurglish without insulting any electrons.
Luckily for those who consider themselves real writers (and the article's stated $40,000 a year "average" income would inspire most of the writers in my acquaintance to turn joyous backflips and buy health insurance for spinal surgery), not many fly-by-nights or type-by-12-packs are actually going to stick with it long enough to compete with you.
The article also touches on the plight of Ann Beattie, whose authorial good name has been hijacked by another Ann Beattie. There is another Scott Nicholson (not the real one, I can assure you) who has self-published a book called "Seeds of Achievement." In researching for this blog entry, I discovered one site that erroneously had the author's bio as mine. Hell, maybe the guy writes better than me. That wouldn't be too difficult, since I'm part of that vast subset of writers who aren't verifiable geniuses like Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, or Richard Brautigan. But the annual thirty-cent royalty checks are not making their way to my address.
It irks me when his books are listed alongside mine or when one of my readers asks me "WTF?" about that book. True, he has a right to use his name (and I'm not even sure this is the same Scott Nicholson who "stole" scottnicholson-dot-com or the one who writes board games, or a new imposter) and I have a right to change my name. Who knows, maybe these other Scott Nicholsons have been submitting badly written query letters that open with, "Dear mean agent, I know you're going to reject me, but...." And these agents, seeing the sullen and mutilated grammar, immediately block "Scott Nicholson" from their email inboxes, then real Scott Nicholsons like me can't even tell when we're getting rejected. Does that "no" mean "no" or does it mean I'm sending spam, or is it that my genius is so far ahead of its time that it's cutting edge?
The U.S. government may find it worth $40,000 a year to keep people from writing. Maybe we can then all turn to some other more-useful enterprise, like dog-sledding, porcupine husbandry, or natural-gas exploration. I figure with a one-time cash grant of $250,000, we could convince all Scott Nicholsons to rest their weary pens forever.
But, hey, if you are the one in hundred writers who actually finishes a novel and are then one in the hundred novelists who actually gets a response and then become one of the hundred "read" novelists who gets passed to an editor and then...well, you see where this is headed. Your odds are a lot better at being a Scott Nicholson than it is at being a New York-published novelist. In fact, I feel ready to self-publish a book myself. The title is "Scott Nicholson" and I will release it under a pen name. Do you have a successful authorial name I can steal? I would pay you $40,000, except I'm a writer and have no money.
I'm on record as not believing in ghosts, though I accept the possibility. Whether a spirit is an impression of energy along the lines of a jammed film projector, a scrap of soul that has unfinished business, or merely a projection of the mind created by wishful thinking, it all fits under my cosmological and spiritual beliefs. It all comes from the same place, and is not threatening. I thought I was the right person to host the conference because I had no preconceptions of ghost hunters as either "people desperate to believe in something or anything" or debunkers who were looking for scientific, rational explanations to disprove what are largely matters of faith.
With that preface, I think I might have had an "encounter." I was in the control room at about 2:15 a.m., the video surveillance area where we were organizing the hunt teams, when I started thinking about money--how much the conference was going to cost me and how I could afford to do it next year. The room wasn't crowded, and was fairly large, with maybe 12 to 15 people standing around getting ready for hunts (these were the hardcore hunters--the fairweather ghost chasers had headed for the bed or bar long before). I had the vivid impression of being touched on the upper left buttock, near the base of my spine. My thoughts immediately went Money=wallet=someone taking my money, which if I had been in a bar, football stadium, party, Bourbon Street, or other crowded place, I would have taken as a pickpocket attempt.
I turned, seeing who had touched me. There was no one within eight feet of me, certainly no one within arm's length, and I am the kind of person who is aware of my personal space. The impression was that of the tips of fingers together in a flat line, pressing firmly but not with any intention of inflicting pain or necessarily even getting attention. I was a little freaked out and kind of embarrassed (because I don't believe in ghosts, right?) plus I did a lot of walking around the hotel alone at all hours and I certainly didn't relish the prospect of seeing "them" out of the corner of my eye. I'm an imaginative person (i.e., I'm chicken poopy) so it was better for me to just pretend maybe it hadn't happened.
The sad thing was that there was some cool equipment in the room, such as a thermal imaging device, that could have seen if there were any temperature differences or physical alterations in the area where I had been touched. Because of my selfishness and fear, we missed a chance to explore an idea and perhaps expand understanding. I am perfectly open to the notion that I imagined the whole thing, or that I created the "pressure" with my mind. The only thing I know with certainty and would make a sworn oath on was that I indeed felt that someone had touched me and that I turned to see who was behind me. After that, all bets are off.
Incidentally, the room where I was originally scheduled to stay went to someone else through a clerical misunderstanding, and it turned out that place had some "phenomena"--two people reported seeing a shadow slip across the kitchen. If I had been "touched" while alone and in a shadowy place, I probably would have jumped in my car and headed somewhere safe (although "safe" is a silly notion when you consider that ghosts have no reason to be bound by time, place, or distance). On reflection, my basic views haven't changed--I didn't see anything, nor did I see any "physical evidence," that would tell me ghosts exist. If I had seen something, I would probably accept it in the same way I did the "touching"--maybe a trick of mind, maybe a manifestation created by the energy of thought, or maybe an energy just at the edge of human perception. Interesting. I can hardly wait until next year, but I'm going to carry a flashlight just the same!
I've started a new novel--so fingers crossed for yet more Nicholson projects floating out there. We're working on issue #2 of Grave Conditions, and I've started a comics page here at ye friendly neighborhood Haunted Computer where I'll be posting art samples, script teasers, character sketches, etc. I'm still building artist rosters so any comic artist, colorist, or letterer is welcome to drop me a line at hauntedcomputer AT yahoo.com.
Like every American with a mailbox, I've been recycling campaign materials and found them the height of hilarity. My favorite is an NRA flyer that not-so-subtly has colored Obama as very dark--not "dark" as in the personification of evil but dark as in skin pigment. Actually, maybe they meant the former. At any rate, the NRA will pry my vote away over the cold, dead fingers of my shooting hand. Wait. Something in there isn't right. I'm also getting info from the Dole campaign lambasting Democratic opponent Hagan's "Quack, quack, duck" spending plan. I don't quite connect the dots but those little ducklings sure are cute. I'm also amused by the number of bloggers who suspect the other side is poised to "steal" the election and how the "liberal media" is being blamed for uncovering unpleasant truths about candidates. I've been in media for 14 years and I can tell you it's hardly liberal--Joe the Typer is in no shape to move into the middle class anytime soon, and all major decisions are made at the corporate level, fueled by sales, beholden to the bottom line. It's as American as any other institution. Anyway, I don't care who you vote for--really. I think we're still in for big trouble but any direction is at least a direction, and mud huts withstand the weather surprisingly well. Just vote. Or the NRA will shoot you.
I spent the past weekend as an oversize puppet called Mr. Liberty, dancing at the Lake Eden Arts Festival as part of the Elkland Art Center troupe. You can hear my audio version of "Must See To Appreciate" on Transmissions from Beyond (for free!). Also, my new story collection "Scattered Ashes" will be out probably in December, in both limited hardcover and trade paperback. I will be "bound in leather" for the first time, with 26 lettered editions selling at $89. (Actually, there have been other, less-successful and far-squishier attempts at binding me in leather, but those will be reserved for the tell-all autobiography.)
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