Monday, August 16, 2010

Chapter 1: In which I discuss being an author, the small press, touring, sex acts, weird fiction, Bobby Brown and Narnia

Like any good writer, I feel I should drop you off in the middle of the story. Two weeks ago, I sat awake at 3am in an Asheville, North Carolina punk house, while in the room above me lesbians engaged in drugged-out sex acts. This had nothing to do with me, other than the occasional trip to the bathroom where I’d see a naked tattooed body dash across the hallway. For my part, I sat typing on a laptop, getting absolutely destroyed by mosquitoes. There were a lot of bugs; you couldn’t put down a cup of red wine without finding a dozen of them floating in it five minutes later.

Tour is an extended vacation, so I did vacation-like things. Hung around the town. Saw movies at the local theatre (Winter’s Bone, specifically, which was amazing). Listened to other vagrants passing through the house talk about “Chattanooga-style” drunkenness. Asheville is one of those towns all the hippies moved to in the Seventies. As such, it is chocked full of alterna-people, primarily liberal and, as befitting a town with so many older folks, hugely commercial. Like somebody shrank San Francisco and stuck it in the South. In the midst of all this loafing and red wine-drinking, I did a reading which was a lot of fun.

The Book

How did I come to be involved in these shenanigans? Why, through writing a book.

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP is the result of five years of fantasy writing. While the all-encompassing term would be urban fantasy, there are heavy doses of folklore, urban myth, epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, horror and humor writing. It is all written from an African-American perspective, and set in America of the 20th century. The book is illustrated by Rachel Dorrett, with cover illustrations by Dan McCloskey, and is absolutely everything I wanted it to be, in all regards.

Small Press Publishing

My blog is called “Look Ma, No Agent!” because I am a small press writer (the runner-up title was “Angry Drunk Black Man”). My publishing imprint is Six Gallery Press. I went on tour with some copies of the book. I sold them all.

Nobody does promotion for the book except me. Nobody does bookings but me. I am a touring writer, and would have it no other way. Doing readings is one of my absolute favorite things. I like as much as writing the stories, in fact. My first tour was the Elvenslaughter 2010, in which I traveled the Midwest with Dan McCloskey. Second tour was the Southern Bard mini-tour, which wrapped on August 7th. In the last three months, I have read in Chapel Hill NC, Asheville, Charlottesville, Richmond, NYC, Madison WI, Chicago, Bloomington, Columbus, Athens OH, Buffalo, Ithaca, Philly, DC, Baltimore, my homebase of Pittsburgh, and I have done panels at Balticon.

Currently, no copies of my book are available. I recently sent a second edition to my publisher, who sent it to the printing company called Createspace. From there, it is entirely up to their leisure to approve the new edition. Once that’s done, I’ll have it on Amazon, and receive copies of my own which I will consign to stores. And, if any stores want to consign, they can of course order it from Createspace. Having to wait is a pain, but nobody ever said it would be easy.

The next step is obtaining reviews. Review copies will be sent out in the fall. Again, I myself have to look up places to send them to.

This blog is mostly for updates on what I’m doing/writing/where I’m reading. And I will discuss myth and fantasy, which is a primary thing on my mind. Some people write about their lives, but going on about the observations I had about the universe while walking through Golden Gate Park does not sound like interesting writing to me. Talking about 1960s sword-and-sorcery paperbacks like "Thongor" does. So there you go.

New Stories

I have a new story out in issue number 3 of Cyberpunk Apocalypse. It’s called “Graveyard Shift,” and is an ode to the “weird” pulp stories I grew up reading, and continue to read every time I see one in arm’s reach. Lots of blood and sorcery and supernatural happenings. It was a blast to write. This version is actually the short version; I originally wrote the story as the liner notes to a Baby Killer Estelle album, and that longer version will be online with the album soon. I like to think that I’m releasing a 7” and 12” version of the story. By the time “Graveyard Shift” is in book form, that will probably be the "dance remix" version.

I'm also starting work soon on a radio serial, a la "Prairie Home Companion."


The Southern Bard Tour went well. The most exciting part (other than reading, of course) was getting to see the Blue Ridge Mountains. Trying to describe it would be a noble endeavor, but all I can say is hop in your station wagon and see it for yourself. The people who set up readings in Richmond, Charlottesville, Asheville and Chapel Hill were all very friendly.

Having ran out of folders, I stored all my papers in album sleeves.

Richmond was a joint reading between me and Christine Stoddard. It was a blast. Considering the amount of relatives who came, it was even a family-friendly blast.

As mentioned above, Asheville was fun. I spent much time making friends, drinking 40s on rooftops and engaging in the kind of romanticized dillydallying you read about in the average Crimethinc book.

The Charlottesville reading at WriterHouse was originally supposed to be around 6pm, but Gogol Bordello was in town, and of course the entire city was going, so we moved it to 3pm. I’m thinking of growing a giant mustache so I can compete with Gogol Bordello. Anyways, 3pm was a better time. Charlottesville provided me the opportunity to talk at length about contemporary fantasy, and what qualifies as urban fantasy. I sat on a similar panel at Balticon, where I and others (including Tanya Huff!) discussed fantasy sub-genres. It's fun to do these kind of discussions; the whole pseudo-medieval epic fantasy genre is unbelievably stale. People like Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link and China Mieville are changing the field of literature itself, so its cool to give them some lip-service. These discussions are also somewhat amusing, because the final analysis is that genre is completely amorphous, and that titles mean little. And I would have it no other way.

I talked with Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill about doing a “Genre Writers of Color” night. So glad that, in the end, me and Chris Fox just did a normal-ass “speculative writers” reading. While there is a strong ethnic quality to my writing, getting pigeon-holed into the “black writer” category isn’t of interest to me. At all.

My touring vehicle was the same one I used for the Elvenslaughter: A 1987 Ford Crown Victoria. It has horrible gas mileage, but will take me wherever I need to go. It also has a tape deck that ruins cassettes (the death of Tragic Little Pill was especially sad to me). Seeing as how I cannot stand radio, I had to buy cassettes to pass the drive. I make no bones about the fact that I love music. Maybe to an unhealthy degree. Along the way, I listened to The Cars, Prince, a band called Europe and a band called Asia. I bought two Bangles cassettes and the Bobby Brown dance remix tape Dance…Ya Know It. The Bangles’ Everything was pretty good, because, other than “In Your Room” and the perennial prom classic “Eternal Flame,” all of the songs on there were pretty obscure.

As for Bobby Brown: I can’t deny the adrenaline rush when I flipped over the tape and heard the “Ghostbusters II” theme song. A few years ago, in a coke-addled interview, Whitney Houston referred to Bobby as the King of RnB. What people forget is, around 1992, that might have been a legitimate claim. New Jack Swing completely flipped the RnB world over, and nobody did it better than Bobby.

Twice during tour I got to read “Dead Teenagers,” which is story #3 in my book. It’s a piece that calls for a lot of performance, and I hardly got to read it at all on the last tour. I’ll post a copy of the story to the blog soon.

On another note, I am officially over my love affair with Google maps. They turned an 8 and a half hour trip from North Carolina to Pennsylvania into 12 hours. Fuck them. That was Mapquest-level incompetency.

Fantasy Movies

I think I may be the only person left in the world who gives a shit about the Narnia movie franchise. Not because I am the hugest fan of C.S. Lewis, but because I recognize a good story when I see one. I know a lot of people who fell out of love with that series, after reading it as adults and getting disgusted at what they view as abhorrent politics. I never had that problem. My atheism is strong, but not so strong that I’ll disregard a story simply because it has a Christian lean (Hell, the Nativity is one of my favorite stories, period). And as for the series’ racism, well, if you’re going to shun something based on that, just don’t read any books written by early 20th century British authors. It was a different time.

What I always loved about Narnia was the outright dorkiness of the setting. Lewis literally threw everything into a pot and stirred it. Satyrs fight alongside minotaur; talking horses rub noses with unicorns; dragons live on the same islands as sea serpents; the Roman god Bacchus celebrates a victory with Aslan, also known as Jesus H. Christ. The melding of mythologies which Tolkien found so exasperating is actually what makes Lewis’ world refreshing. Nowadays, fantasy readers expect their secondary worlds to be Dungeons and Dragons-style mashups, but at the time Lewis’ blending of mythologies was pretty out there.

These are good stories and, other than the retread called Prince Caspian, they are all unique. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a fun movie, where they actually managed to combine charm with Lord of the Rings-style epic battles. I would like to see some conclusion to the film series. Also, there’s the prospect of an adaptation of The Last Battle, one of the most insane children’s books ever written.

So, I recently found out they are making Voyage of the Dawn Treader, even after the commercial disappointment of Prince Caspian. Dawn Treader is a rollicking adventure with a great storyline: Caspian and the Pevensies are on the seas, looking for some lords exiled by his Uncle Miraz. Epic fantasy ensues. Which is why this trailer is all the more disappointing.

1. It gives no indication of the plot, or the scope of the tale.

2. They are actually dragging the White Witch into this one again, with another scene of her tempting Edmund. Yes, Tilda Swinton was a great villain. They already had their chance to re-use her in Prince Caspian and now its beating a dead horse.

3. The dufflepuds look terrible. How did CG that bad make it into an official trailer?
I remain cautiously optimistic. I saw Caspian many years ago, and they actually managed to make a good story out of the worst book in the series.

On the flip side, the trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looks amazing. I never got into the books, though I can see why they appeal to so many people. And I was onboard with the movie series after watching the stellar Prisoner of Azkaban, but by the time I saw Order of the Phoenix the repetitiveness just burnt me out. The fact that they've cynically divided the last movie in two ("Hey, we can get the geeks to pay twice!") is also a turn-off. I don’t think I’ll ever be interested in the series again, but the sheer energy really had it looking like THE MOVIE EVENT OF A GENERATION. So bravo to them. I’m sure they will make a ton of money.

Off to do some writing.

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