Search Lobsterland

Monday, April 18, 2005

My invisible web site

If I was going to try and hide my personal web site, I couldn't have done it better.

You would think, wouldn't you, that 'lobsterism' would be a fairly unique bit of meta data? The Lobster Church? Midwest Rock Lobster? This struck my peers as so outre when I was in school that I was called 'Lobster' years later by people I didn't know name-to-face.

Yet, when I try to Google myself, I can scarcely find myself.

No, I didn't get some geocities piggy-back URL to host my site. I registered the domain and bought two years of hosting for it. Not really because I wanted to develop Midwest Rock Lobster, but because as long as I needed the hosting space, why not create a web site?

Plus, with the book I'm working on, whether I get an agent to sell it to a Big Six house, get an indie house (I'd love to be picked up by MacAdam/Cage) to put it out or, unlikely, I self-published it, I'm the only one on earth who would want to promote 'Wealth Effects' as much as me.

So when it comes out, I aim to have my site be something that bookish types already frequent. Then I can exploit them.

I hear of people being published by big New York publishing houses who seem to want to keep the release a secret. Maybe to be able to write off a lose to counter the obscene profits they've made of another tired John Grisham/Stephen King/Dan Brown/Clive Cussler book. Maybe because they want to be able to see a pulse before they provide life support.

In any case, the idea is that when 'Wealth Effects' hits the street, be in a position to promote it using the Internet, be accessible to whatever 'fans' it might attract, etc. Plus, I have this jones for writing literary criticism that I know would never get published. 'Does Phineas Dream of Electric Sheep' got bumped to Will Christopher Baer's front page for a minute, but I'm not dumb enough to think I'd ever make money off my opinions on Orwell's lesser-known books or the relationship between HaĊĦek, Orwell, and Heller.

Or between Orwell and Huxley, Vonnegut, Palahniuk, and Max Barry.

For that matter, I see connections between Terry Souther's 'The Magic Christian' and Edward Abbey's 'The Monkey Wrench Gang.' I see connections between Faulkner's pre-Sartoris work and the two novels Joey Goebel as produced.

I see connections between Kafka and David Sedaris.

But when I Google, casting about for my site, the best I come up with in top hits is a message board where my site is part of my signature. I tried to join some web rings, whatever they are, added the code required (when I could figure it out) and I'm still invisible.

If I could hide this well from bill collectors...

Friday, April 15, 2005

My first 'book tour' event...

Big update to my site. Okay big by my standards.

I've never gone to a reading or any other literary event, and my wife fixed that. She bought me tickets to see David Sedaris read at the Lied Center in Lawrence last Wednesday.

I'm a bookish type, and some of my friends didn't belive this was my maiden voyage, but somehow reading books in my house never translated into going to readings and so on. But as an aspiring author who would like to be on book tour, it's nice to see someone making good of it.

But there's more, and it's all at my regular site. If you click on my main page, click on my pseudo-Warhol of Sedaris. Otherwise just go to Midwest Rock Lobster's Sedaris Page

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A day off from the novel...

My muse doesn't seem to know how to take 'no' for an answer. After resolving yesterday to work on my novel, I grabbed my printed ms and opened my Word doc and...

I just couldn't do it. Editing old stuff seemed pointless because all the old stuff seemed tedious and ill conceived. New material? I know I need to bridge some gaps. But none of the bridges I could think of had good footings.

While I don't see Wealth Effects being a tight, 300 page novel along the lines of 'Choke' or 'The Contortionist's Handbook,' I also don't aim to end up with a monster along the lines of 'Underworld' or 'Mason & Dixon.'

Not always, and I think not in the case of the DeLillo and Pynchon novels mentioned above, but generally the epic novel is the product of lazy writing. Pat Conroy, for instance, has even copped to being horribly overwritten and incapable of being concise in interviews. And while I can't take away from his commercial success, I don't think his is the stuff of classics.

I'm not just talking out of my ass when I criticize Conroy. I've read quite a bit of him, and there's some patterns that emerge. The Water is Wide may be his most original work. While all his work is autobiographical to a great degree, I'm not knocking that because that's true of all fiction writers. Even in far-fetched cases, a fiction writer is in the confessional. Even when their material is drawn from other people, they're filtering that person through their own sensibilities and life experiences.

Lords of Discipline had some hokey elements to it, but was pretty solid as Conroy's work goes. It escapes into some vengeance fantasies in exposing 'The Ten' and so on, but I don't doubt the extreme hazing Conroy portrays is authentic and drawn from his own Citadel experience. And the cruelty inflicted on the first black cadet, before my time, rings true because I remember what they did with their first women.

Why anyone would voluntarily go to a college that is less humane than prison escapes me. But I don't understand people who volunteer for military service either. To the extent that there are bad actors in the world who can only be dealt with in forceful terms, I'm glad there's volunteers to do the job.

Besides, didn't The Boo cover the material in Lords of Discipline adequately?

Getting back to Conroy, he seems to me a victim of his own success. Prince of Tides was a hit, but artistically that's no excuse for Beach Music basically saying the same thing. Both suffer from an overdose of Romanticism.

The Great Santini explains why Conroy can't write an authority figure who's not a total bastard.

Topping off the stack, he wrote a memoir, My Losing Season, which basically explains the shortcomings to his books.

The man needed an editor, badly.

Basically, I don't expect a reader to pick up someone's unknown first novel, see that it's 900 pages long, and dive in. Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Tom Wolfe and the rest can go right on stringing giant books together, but for me, if the books going to be a long one, every sentence has to count, same as in a short story.

Even The Man Who Fell in Love With The Moon, by Tom Spanbauer, which is no small beer, is tightly written. In terms of word count, it's a lengthy work, but it's a thoroughly rewritten and edited work, with no fat on its ribs.

So my novel writing yesterday, well, it didn't happen.

Instead I wrote a rough draft for a short story that's been rattling around in my head for a long time. My muse has been working it over in my melon, and I finally just wrote it in an eight hour fit of hypergraphia. I'm sure it has a ton of problems that I'll need to iron out, but it was a cathartic experience writing it. I just couldn't let go until I had it more or less the way I'd imagined it.

3,000 words, which is a good day of writing, but it left me completely wiped out. Emotionally drained.

But now that it's out of my system, back to this ugly heap of a novel I've been working on for way too long. For all the flaws I find with it, I know, intellectually, that worse gets published all the time. And sells.

Which doesn't mean I'll be sending query letters before I've exhausted my capacity for revising and refining it. There's just too much work involved in even getting this far to go trying to pedal what I know to be less than the best I can come up with.

Since it's not likely to make me a dime, it's got to at least be something I'm proud of. Kafka asked that his manuscripts be burned upon his death, but Max Brod claims he was asking the one guy who wouldn't do it and that Franz knew it. But at its current stage in development, If I die today, all traces of 'Wealth Effects,' all the print outs and backup disks and the hard drive on my computer: nuke it, flame it, destroy it.

The short story I wrote yesterday, I don't know about it. Right now I'd say it's my best work to date, but it's also new. I'll probably hate it just as much in a few days...

Monday, April 11, 2005

The guitar page is up...

Sort of.

Kenny's Guitars

As I've said, I'm trying to focus my efforts on the novel, Wealth Effects. I also have a couple of short stories that I've kept on the back burner for so long they are just banging on the door of my head.

I have a love/hate relationship with short stories. On the surface, you might think they're easier than a longer form. But you'd be wrong. While there's no wasted sentences in a good novel, you have more room to maneuver. Really a novel is just a series of short stories linked together by common themes and characters, but a reader learns things about a character in one story that fuels their emotional response to situations in later stories.

And for all the work a short puts you through, it's only slighly more commercially viable than poetry. I know the publishing world is brutal, but the market for short stories is ridiculous. Hundreds of literary magazines with almost no budget or circulation to speak of with slush piles so deep they won't accept unsolicited submissions.

And the handful of paying customers, well, really. Playboy, thanks to Hef's ego, has continued to publish short fiction. When the bunny started out, Cosmopolitan ran short fiction. Eveyrone did.

Then television came along and just milked the skunk.

But if you want your story in Playboy you've got to keep in mind you're competing for that slot with Pulitzer winners and New York Times best-selling authors. Recent issues have included stories by Chuck Palahniuk, Amy Hempel and Annie Proulx. I can remember seeing Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Mario Puzo, etc., in there over the years. Yeah, they publish guys you haven't heard of, but if they've got a choice between me and Don DeLillo, I'd put my money on DeLillo every time. Especially since they know it's the girls people buy it for anyway, it really wouldn't matter if my story was 'better' than this hypothetical DeLillo.

I don't like that 'better' notion much anyway, because while there is some awful hot dog ingredients that get published, art is subjective. The point is, no matter how much I polish and hustle my short story, the best I'm likely to do is get published in a college-based lit mag with publication and a year's subscription by way of compensation.

I realize my novel will probably earn me less than that, but at least I'll have failed in a collossal way.

Plus, and anyone who knows me is going to blow soda out of their nose when they see me admit this (and I don't imagine anyone who doesn't know me would read my blog), I don't think in short story terms.

A story, for me, tends to feed on itself and grow. If I don't cut some sub-plots, 'Wealth Effects' is going to border on epic in scale.

Or not. That's part of what I have to figure out this week, whether I'm really going to try and trim it down to an average 300-page sort of thing or simply make sure there's no wasted sentences in it at 500 pages. Dunno for a fact, but I suspect that it's easier to get a shorter, tighter first novel published these days.

That could be my imagination too, though. I see a lot of fat books on the best-seller list. And on my shelf. 'Underworld,' 'Mason & Dixon, 'Kavalier & Clay, 'Middlesex,' these are all hefty tomes, as is 'A Confederacy of Dunces,' one of my favorite novels of all time...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Enough questions about dinosaurs!

Chixulub is a common screen name to find me under. It's a meteor impact that may have killed off the dinosaurs. My spelling turns out to be unorthodox, I've been carrying it around since before there was an internet, and since it's a translation from a tongue that hand no written language I don't feel like I should follow someone's extraneous 'c.'

The idea was that I wantedto have that sort of impact. In the words of Oyster in the novel 'Lullaby,' I guess Iwanted to be what killed the dinosarus.

Hubris, yes, I know.

The whole blogging thing came up because everyone but me had a blog. I don't know what use it serves except for me to vent whatever's on my mind. To the nobody in their right mind who'd pay attention.

Tonight I had dinner with my family and inlaws at a chain bar & grill. Then I snuck Lobster cards in random books at Foozle's, Spencer's Gifts, and the overpriced photo booth at the Great Mall.

I would have snuck a couple into the gas station I visited after. But the flunkie working the Shell station let me wait a couple of minutes before telling me I'd pulled into a pre-pay-after-dark slot.

To get the full impression of this, understand I drive a metallic mint-green F-150 with a ridiculous custom hood and grill a previous owner shelled out for. Plus, I have vanity plates that have always raised questions. 'What's "Zymurgy?"'

Zymurgy is the last word in most dictionaries. It's the science of fermentation.

Other distinguishing marks on my truck include an array of bumper stickers designed to raise the blood pressure of liberals, Republicans and other people who think government can do anything good.

Oh, and my front bumper could be used as a casting mold for the rear bumper of a Lincoln I rear-ended when it slammed on the brakes at a green light in rush hour traffic.

Like I'd drive off with gas?

When I worked in gas stations/convenience stores no one even prosecuted drive-offs because a false accusation would be worse than the lose of 12 gallons of gas.

The last chain I worked for would have fired me for making a guy prepay. It's a chain that strikes fear into the hearts of people at big companies like Shell and 7-11 because whenever a QuikTrip goes in, two competitors fold in a year. Guaranteed.

What would you do if you went to a bar & grill for dinner and after being seated and handed menus, the waitress explained that on weeknights you had to prepay for your order? How about if Price Chopper asked for proof of means before you could have a cart?

Yeah, yeah, I know all about the price of gas. Adjusted for inflation, it's not much more expensive than it was 15 years ago, but nevermind that. One of my terrible cashier jobs was at a Texaco at the busiest intersection in Kansas City, KS when Saddam Hussein decided to annex Kuwait. Remember that first Gulf War? The one America won?

Gas basically doubled in price while I slept and I went in to work to take the shit of people who thought I was somehow making a profit off the deal. I made, if memory serves, $4.75 an hour whether people bought gas or not. And no matter what they were asked to pay for it.

Oh, and I was expected to keep drive-offs to a minimum without making people prepay.

And to shave my beard because people might not trust a guy with a beard.

I responded with the only weapon I had at the time, cigarettes. My cardiologist probably owes a debt to Big Tobacco there. I quit years before my heart attack, but back when Saddam was the 'fourth largest army on earth' threatening the supply of oil 'at market prices' (what a joke, given OPECs trust-style pricing), I smoked.

I smoked to pass time. To relieve boredom. To quell cravings, and to pass more time, relieve more boredom.

The Texaco was, according to a sticker on the door, a non-smoking establishment. There might even have been a law in force, but I was an addict and you can't legislate sobriety.

So I smoked. A lot. I made damn sure anyone who made the mistake of buying overpriced gasoline from my station got a dose of second hand smoke. The district manager Texaco had out enforcing the will of the empire could spot long hair and unacceptable beards. He could even make me shave most of my facial hair off, but he couldn't stop me smoking in the store without sitting there through my shift with a squirt gun.

And since I pulled double shifts when the even more worthless closer was supposed to show up, my warm body was grudgingly accepted even if I did chain-smoke through my shift, get rude with customers, and read when I should have been watching for drive-off risks and writing down license plate numbers.

Not that the numbers would have done me any good. Texaco had a no-prosecute policy in place. Plus, one shift my own car's plates were boosted and used in eight drive-offs the KCK police new about in the five hours before I reported them stolen. So I doubt the gasoline thieves who escaped on my watch even had their own plates on their cars.

Maybe that's the brilliant master-plan of a criminal. I should just start stealing gas in my minty-green truck with its vanity plates and bumper stickers, with my long hair and beard, and if the cops come knocking explain that only an idiot would do such a thing without covering his tracks. Obviously someone stole my identity to get a few gallons of unleaded...