So after about a year and a half of writing and sending manuscripts, and begging people to read, and editing, and some procrastinating, I finished and published my first novel, Into the Ocean. It came out in March through New Pulp Press. (Check it out: https://www.amazon.com/Into-Ocean-Stanton-McCaffery/dp/1945734108/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491764844&sr=8-1&keywords=stanton+mccaffery).
I loved the process of writing this – though it was painful at times. I kept thinking throughout the thing that I was a moron for even trying to write a novel. I think the highpoint for the whole thing was learning that it would be published, but after that I have to be honest and say that it’s been a little anti-climactic. My life is completely the same after I had the book published as it was before. It’s probably naïve to expect anything else. Budding writers, keep this in mind.
All of this is to say – in case you didn’t know – that writing is really fucking hard and if you don’t find some intrinsic value in doing it there is absolutely no point. Every step of the way takes incredible amounts of effort and self-talk. It was an everyday struggle for me to convince myself that I should keep going and every day it was exhausting.
That’s just the self-doubt, which I found nearly crippling. The next thing is the damn time. I work…a lot. My wife works and we both try to be the best parents we can be to our son. Also in the time of Trump, I’ve tried to be a better activist and citizen. So, the writing time has lots of competition.
And that was just for the first novel. From my experience at least, it doesn’t get any goddamn easier. Actually, it gets harder. See, the first book was almost an experiment. I was like – in part of my self-talk, you see – just give it a shot, if it sucks it sucks. After all, it was my first time. That thought relieved some of the mental pressure.
But on the second book, no. I’ve made an outline and I have characters and I have a few chapters, but the thing just isn’t going anywhere. I don’t think the problem is the story. I think the problem is me. That whole this is an experiment thing isn’t working. I have to find something else. I keep thinking that this one has to be better than the first, which is slowing me down even more than normal.
Well, anyway, I’ve written a novel. If you’re reading this, it’d be really cool if you checked it out and let me know what you thought.
If you asked me what I was, I’m not sure yet that I’d say a writer, but I suppose that doesn’t matter. Does it?
Shit I’ve Gotten Published Elsewhere
I had a fun story published this month on Out of the Gutter Online’s Flash Fiction Offensive called We Got a Winner. For the first time I wrote a character based off of myself. I’ve read that that’s not recommended, but whatever, I had fun with it. I just sat at the computer and said to myself, ‘What would I do if?’ and the result is what you’ll find.
Now, the funny thing about this story is that although it’s about a guy going to the liquor store to buy a scratch-off, I’ve actually never bought one. But after reading the story, my wife went and bought me one. She actually got it for me for father’s day and said, “No matter what you’ll always be a winner to me.” You’ll understand that line more after you read the story. So, anyway, I play the scratch-off, and guess what, I win a hundred dollars off the thing. I wanted to go out and buy another one, but everyone tells me that was a total fluke.
Shit I’ve Watched
A friend of mine got me into an early screening of the horror film Don’t Breathe. This is a bit of a twist on your standard home invasion film. The invaders are the protagonists and the home-owner is the villain. Plus, there’s a totally warped third act that actually had me biting on my knuckles in the theater.
I’m typically more of a fan of horror films that are heavy on theme, message, and atmosphere, like The Witch or The Babadook, but I’ll enjoy a movie like this as long as it isn’t completely reliant on jump scares and offers the audience something new and creative. And this movie does that in spades. Trust me.
The one complaint that I’ve heard about the film is that the protagonists aren’t sympathetic, that the audience can’t invest in them because they’re sort of reprehensible people. I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, one of the three robbers is pretty cold and unsympathetic, but for the other two, it was clear to me that they were doing what they were doing because they had to. One was doing it to get enough cash so her and her little sister could move away from their abusive mother and the other was doing it only because he had a crush on the girl and wanted to help her out.
I find myself on the side of unsympathetic protagonists a lot though, so maybe that says more about me than the movie.
Shit I’ve Listened To
I recently started listening to Drive-By Truckers. They’ve got a ton of good songs, a number of which have poetic socially conscious lyrics.
But nothing is as amazing as their newest song, What It Means.
Here’s some of the lyrics:
Then I guess there was protesting
And some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that
They ain’t called colored folks no more
I mean we try to be politically
Correct when we call names
But what’s the point of post-racial
When old prejudice remains?
And that guy who killed that kid
Down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend
And wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried
And laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles
Shit I’ve Read
People tell me all the time about books I should read. Sometimes I get around to reading them and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it takes me a long, long time. Such was the case with the classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. Not until someone let me borrow their copy did I actually get around to it. But I’m glad I did.
Now, with a lot of crime fiction, there’s a ton of characters and a ton going on. It’s mostly dialogue driven and the author doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. It’s easy to get lost. I had to read it twice to fully understand it. I’m okay with that though.I like books that I have to read twice in order to understand. They’re intriguing, like a puzzle.
The same went for the other book I read this past month, Donnybrook, by Frank Bill. Aside from having a ton of characters and a lot going on, Donnybrook is a violent book about people at the bottom, people who I always think are more interesting than people at the top. Maybe the same could be said about Donnybrook as has been said about Don’t Breathe, that the characters aren’t sympathetic, that they’re too violent, their actions too nefarious. I don’t think so. I also think that as readers, we should be challenged by authors to care about people that normally we wouldn’t consider or think twice about. In the case of Don’t Breathe it’s the home invaders and in the case of Donnybrook it’s the bare knuckle boxing meth head. If the point of reading fiction is to expand our empathy, then we need to read works with unsympathetic leads and characters.
Shit I’ve Been Thinking About/Politics
When I think about issues outside of my own life, I try as much as I can to think about the people on the bottom. It’s how I was raised. It’s part of the faith I grew up with. But also, it seems that few others do, particularly those with power.
Here’s an article from the New York Times about how little the poor have been mentioned in this year’s presidential election. I’m not convinced the New York Times cares too much about the poor either, but whatever.
As poverty continues to grow in the U.S. it seems to me like it’s something we should be talking more about, not something we should ignore like we always have in the past.
My hopes for this changing aren’t high. We had Bernie Sanders, but I’m skeptical the movement he helped to birth will continue. Movements inspired around elections don’t tend to survive them. I’m fearful that once we avoid the disaster that is Donald Trump, people will be complacent with whatever non-progress we get from Clinton. The status quo is indeed better than the regression we would get with Trump, but it’s not enough. Certainly not for the people on the bottom.
Anyway, I think about all this as I drive around my town and I see flags lowered at half staff. I’m not always sure who they’re lowered for, but I’m pretty sure they’re not lowered for the people killed by police. And they’re not lowered for people that died because they didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford whatever treatment they needed to treat whatever medical condition they had. They’re not lowered for the people at the bottom.
So here I am, making good on my word. In my last post I said I would try to keep up to posting twice a month. And here I am posting again for the second time in July. It’s an achievement, really.
Shit I’ve gotten published or posted elsewhere
I did an interview with crime writer Charlie Stella for Neon Grisly. I think my questions were a little on the basic side, but man did Charlie give some great answers. I found it inspiring. You’ll have to read it to find out exactly why, but his story of becoming a writer gave me encouragement to stick to it. Charlie’s also got some great reading recommendations, which I’ve already started on.
Shit I’ve read
This right here is an incredible book. To be honest, I picked it up because of the cover. The bleakness of it just spoke to me as something I’d be in to. I was a little disappointed at first that the story’s told in first person – I don’t know, it just felt like I’d get a better view of the world if it were set in third person – but I got over that pretty quickly.
Much like Dodgers, which I talked about in my last post, this book’s main character is born into a life of crime. Instead of a young black man in Los Angeles – the case in Dodgers – the protagonist here is a young white man in Appalachia. It’s not a life he chose, nor one he’s particularly well suited for. To me, in an age of decreasing social mobility, books and stories about people being stuck are incredibly important.
I’m not going to give a full review here, but I will tell you that the best parts of this book are the protagonist’s reflections on his own life.
Here’s my favorite excerpt:
“There was never a moment in my life when I bought into the idea of light at the end of the tunnel. That old adage rests entirely on the direction being traveled. Out of darkness toward the light, folks might find some sort of hope in moving forward, some sort of anticipation for what awaits them. But my entire life I’d been traveling in the opposite direction, and for those who move further into darkness, the light becomes a thing onto which we can only look back. Looking back slows you down. Looking back destroys focus. Looking back can get you killed.”
I’ve been thinking about that passage a lot since reading it. I’ll talk more later on in this post about that.
Shit I’ve seen
You’ve probably heard of HBO’s new show, The Night Of. It’s about a naïve college student that makes some bad but kind of typical and understandable bad decisions and ends up getting in trouble with the law. I don’t want to say any more than that about the plot for fear of ruining it before somebody gets a chance to watch it, but I think it gives an accurate depiction of what it’s like to get caught up in the criminal justice system – it’s a freakin’ nightmare.
Riz Ahmed, who plays the protagonist, Nas, is great. His facial expressions alone make you empathize with what the character is going through. It’s just one more thing that adds to the very authentic feeling the shows gives off. The kid looks absolutely terrified. He’s seeing some rough stuff and the way he reacts makes you realize that no, there’s no way this kid is ready for what’s in store for him.
Shit I’ve been thinking about/politics
July 2016 is shaping up to be a real month from Hell. In the U.S. there have been more incidents of police shooting unarmed black men (Here’s a story of one I find particularly disturbing). Despite this I still see and hear people claim that police violence against African Americans is not a significant problem and that it’s blown out of proportion by the media.
In Nice, France, a man of Tunisian descent drove a truck through a crowd of people during a Bastille Day celebration and killed 84 people. I watched my Facebook feed fill with Trump quotes and all sorts of nonsense about terrorism before anyone knew anything at all about the attacker. It’s not like it’s just the Trump folks that do things like this either. As the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has pointed out, the New York Times also labeled the incident an act of terror with very little evidence. Meanwhile, a U.S.-led coalition strike against ISIS in Syria killed at least 85 civilians and got next to zero coverage on major new outlets.
There’s so much more I could go on about, but chances are you’ve already heard about it. Anyway, I’m familiar with arguments that we’ve actually witnessed a decrease in violence in the world over the last one hundred years. I’m also aware that there have been great strides in healthcare that can help people live longer and healthier lives. Technology helps us communicate better with one another. And shit, we’ve got Netflix. But, like the protagonist in Where All Light Tends to Go, which I mentioned above, I can’t claim in the midst of all of this that it feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It certainly feels like – and here’s some evidence that it’s more than a feeling – that things are in fact getting worse, like we’re moving away from the light and not towards it.
I’d actually go further and say that the notion of progress in general, regardless of what’s going on at the moment, is problematic. The idea of permanent progress, at least. As much as I would like to agree with Martin Luther King Jr. in saying that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, I just don’t see it. I see some steps forward and then I see some steps backward. In fact, I don’t see any sort of arc leading anywhere at all.
Return of the Blog
It’s been about two years since I’ve done anything at all with this blog. I let it sit for so damn long, and really just wanted to take it down because I had no idea what to do with it. The only reason I didn’t was because I was just too lazy.
I didn’t do anything here for so long because I’ve been writing elsewhere. I’ve found some really awesome people to read my writing and help me improve it and I’ve actually gotten a few things published. For a while I used this space as somewhere to put my writing because I couldn’t get it seen by anyone any other way. That’s not the case anymore.
But I still think there’s a point for a writer to have a blog. There should be a central place where you can find all of a writer’s work. So I’m going to keep this going.
Here’s what I’m going to do. Or rather, what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to post here about twice a month. They’re going to be pretty short posts. I’m going to include links to things I’ve gotten published elsewhere. I’ll also include book, movie, and music recommendations as well as my reflections on politics and some personal musings.
I’m going to break it into headings like you’ll see below. So, here it goes.
Shit I’ve gotten published or posted elsewhere:
I’ve been writing some reviews for my buddy over at Neon Grisly. You should check out this site in general. Right now he’s got some great reviews up of some great books. I know he’s got some other things planned, so keep an eye on the space.
I did one review of Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism. This is a really fun book. I went to the book launch for it at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan too. Hendrix dressed up as a Catholic Cardinal and read from some book written in the 80’s about the dangers of comic books and heavy metal.
I did another review on Neon Grisly of Charlie Stella’s Tommy Red. I read this book twice it was so good. I did an interview with Charlie about his writing for Neon Grisly too that’ll come out in a few days.
Lastly, in terms of shit I’ve got up elsewhere, I got a story published in a new magazine called Between Worlds. The stories called Out of Body Vacation. I tried to have fun writing it. Hopefully you’ll have fun reading it.
Shit I’ve listened too:
The new Gojira album, Magma is freakin’ awesome. One of their older albums, From Mars to Sirius, is one of my favorite metal albums of all time. I think this one might be just as good. It gets better with every listen. Seriously.
Here’s a song.
Shit I’ve seen:
Just go see the movie The Lobster, okay? It hilarious and smart and there’s a scene about masturbating involving a toaster that might be one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever laughed at.
Shit I’ve read:
I just finished reading Dodgers by Bill Beverly. Holy Crap. What a book. It’s about crime, mostly, but it’s also about siblings and making decisions when all you’ve got in front of you is shitty choices. It also touches on what trauma does to a person. These are, as you’d know if you’ve read my own stuff, issues close to me.
I also tried to read Joe Hill’s The Fireman. I didn’t finish it because it was a stinker. I normally don’t shit on books, but Joe Hill’s got enough praise he can handle one jerk-off saying he was disappointed. I don’t know what happened here. I’ve loved everything else he’s ever done. I don’t need to elaborate any more. Just go to Amazon and read the one star reviews, those are the ones I agree with.
Shit I’ve been thinking about/politics:
Okay, well, here we go. So if you’re in the United States and you have eyes and ears you know about the events in Baton Rouge and Minnesota and Dallas.
I’ve been troubled. I grew up in a predominately white and predominately working-class neighborhood. Many of the kids I grew up with were totally racist – and they got it from their parents. Since my teenage years I’ve made a concerted effort to distance myself from this shit. Actually, I’ve tried to do more than distance myself from it. I’ve tried to fight it.
I also had some negative run-ins with the police when I was a kid. Yeah, when I was a kid. A lot of that was my own fault. Maybe I’ll go into more detail in a future post, not now. But what I’ve realized as an adult is that if I had been a black kid or perhaps anything other than a white boy, I’d be totally fucked. Actually, I think I’d be dead.
I worked for a number of years too as an Emergency Medical Technician, a position that requires a lot of proximity to cops. I saw first-hand, working next to them, how many cops treat some people – y’know, people of certain skin tones – differently than others.
So this is what I’ve been thinking about. As a writer, I try to hold empathy up as my gold standard. No matter how shitty I think a person is, I try to put myself in their shoes. But I’ve come to a point where I’ve realized empathy can only get you so far. Throughout my life I’ve argued with people about police brutality and all the police killings over the years. People always say to me that I need to think about what the cops are going through. That I need to understand that they just want to go home at the end of the day. I’m sure they do. I see the same arguments on social media now and it occurred to me that empathy does you no good when somebody’s got a boot on your neck. I’m a white guy in the northeast, so I can only understand this so much, of course. But I’m beginning to think empathy might not be what we need here. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s justice.
I know, I know, it’s been a long time. I’ve neglected you. I’m sorry.
But I haven’t stopped writing. In fact, I’ve been writing furiously.
Here’s a link to something I recently had published on Acidic fiction.com: http://acidicfiction.com/2015/06/22/the-stuff-from-home/.
I hope you like it.
I’ve been writing fiction for two years now (Yay, I stuck to something), and it looks like there are two camps or schools of thought when it comes to structure in fiction.
There are those that are more or less married to the idea that all fiction should follow a determined flow. There should be a set up, two plot points, a mid-point, and a resolution. There should be a hero that’s blocked in some way from achieving a goal.
Then, there’s the other camp. This camp is a lot messier. I mean, the tents aren’t even set up. They reject, or at least their writing appears to reject, the notion that things have to lead to something. And I can see the value in this, though at times I notice it’s harder to stay focused on these types of stories. These stories better mirror life. My life doesn’t lead to a particular point. It meanders all over and I bet yours does too.
I tend to write in this camp too. I never intended too. It just feels more genuine to me. It does something for my soul.
If you want to come and check them out, I recommend you start with the work of Raymond Carver. If you don’t need big plot payoffs and you love hunting for subtext and emotionally meaning, this is your guy. I wonder if he peeked into my head while writing these stories of his. I don’t mean that I think I’m that good, I just mean I think his stuff resonates that well. Sadly, Mr. Carver passed away over two decades ago.
One of my favorite stories of his is Distance. It’s a guy recalling a story to his daughter about her early childhood. She was sick. He and his wife were young parents. The guy planned to go hunting with an old pal of his father’s. The old pal is emotionally significant to the guy because he reminds him of his dead father. The guy has to choose between hunting and staying home. That’s it. No chase. No gruesome murder. Just something so every day, but at the same time something so relatable.
I’ve certainly been there. Have you?