Sunday, December 2, 2012

Paul Auster, a self-deluding author?

http://mettebassett.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/paul_auster_invention_of_solitude.jpg
The Invention of Solitude

I like Paul Auster's writing.  He always seems dogged in his efforts to clearly explain thoughts that a lot of us take for granted.  He comes across as very rational, very focused on reason.  And sometimes, reading between the lines, his predilection for the rational seems to push him toward remarkable levels self-delusion.

Here's an example I came across in his book THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE (I should mention, for those who aren't familiar with this book, that it's autobiographical in nature; when Auster mentions "A." he's talking about himself):

A. returned to the apartment overlooking Columbus Circle, [...] his marriage now at a permanent standstill.  These were probably the worst days of all for him.  He could not work, he could not think.  He began to neglect himself [...].  Lying on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette, he would watch old movies on television and read second-rate mystery novels.  He did not try reach any of his friends.  The one person he did call--a girl he had met in Paris when he was eighteen--had moved to Colorado.
One night, for no particular reason, he [...] walked into a topless bar.  As he sat there at his table drinking a beer, he suddenly found himself sitting next to a voluptuously naked young woman.  She sidled up to him and began to describe all the lewd things she would do to him if he paid her to go to "the back room."  There was something so openly humorous and matter-of-fact about her approach, that he finally agreed to her proposition.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think Auster agreed to pay the woman for sex because of the "openly humorous and matter-of-fact" way she approached him.  And I don't think he walked into a topless bar "for no particular reason" either.  I think he went to a topless bar and paid a woman for sex because he was horny.  Or maybe I'm crazy.

But when I encounter something like the above in Auster's work, I find myself wondering if he really doesn't realize what's actually going on.  Does he actually think he just wandered into that topless bar by accident?  Is he really surprised to find a naked woman sitting beside him once he's in the bar?  Is he deluding himself?  Or is he just trying to delude the reader?  And if he actually knows all along why he went to that topless bar, why put on pretenses?  If he's worried of being judged, why mention the encounter at all?

In any case, where Auster goes next also serves as an example of why I like his writing so much.  After the "voluptuously naked young woman" seals the deal with her "openly humorous" manner, we get this:

The best thing, they decided, would be for her to suck his penis, since she claimed an extraordinary talent for this activity.  And indeed, she threw herself into it with an enthusiasm that fairly astonished him.  As he came in her mouth, a few moments later, with a long and throbbing flood of semen, he had this vision, at just that second, which has continued to radiate inside of him: that each ejaculation contains several billion sperm cells--or roughly the same number as there are people in the world--which means that, in himself, each man holds the potential of an entire world.
Far out, man.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

THE NO HELLOS DIET, by Sam Pink

The No Hellos Diet

I read this book today at work. It took me about three hours, and would have taken less time but I kept making myself put the book down for a minute, to slow down, so as not to miss things. Part of the quickness of the read is because the book keeps you turning pages. Part of it is because the book is very short--81 pages of text, probably like 30K words--too short in my mind to be considered a true novel. And part of it is because the level of language is pretty basic--short sentences, minimal description, limited vocabulary--you never really have to work hard to understand anything.

That said, I think it's a great book, with occasional moments of brilliance, and just a few fumbles. I've read three books and one chapbook by Sam Pink, and I think this is the best of them all.

Basically, it strikes me as a well-crafted existential novel, reminiscent in places of The Stranger by Albert Camus, but effectively capturing the typical existence of today. The protagonist--a vaguely sketched "you"--goes through month after month of meaninglessness, often wondering whether being alive is appreciably better than being dead. He gets no particular joy from anything, and feels no sense of connection with anyone, but isn't particularly lonely or sad, either. He works a low-pay, un-fulfilling job, but he doesn't suffer from it because there's nothing he'd rather do with his time, anyway. He's too apathetic to feel oppressed, and therefore there is no meaning in his oppression. He's just there, passing time.

While that might sound like a boring premise, the book is actually pretty amusing. Sam Pink has an excellent eye for the absurdities of our daily lives--somehow he clearly sees the relentless, glaring stupidity that we take for granted--example: a candy wrapped in a "neon-colored package with a small monster--eyes coming out of its skull--looking at the words 'MEGA STICK'". He's also got a bizarre/perverse imagination that leads to some stunningly original thoughts--like what would happen if the taffy candy in that MEGA STICK package was so sticky it pulled all the teeth out of your head, and then you'd "just stand there holding a drooping piece of taffy studded with teeth". And his ear for dialogue is wonderful, capturing a variety of dialects and accents, revealing conversations that are completely ridiculous and utterly believable. You might even LOL once or twice while you read this book; at the very least, Pink is way funnier, and funner, than Albert Camus.

The main downside is that, for the most part, the novel never goes anywhere. There is a hint of development in the protagonist's physical condition--his ear infection that get's worse, his developing dizziness and discomfort with bright lights and blaring sound--but it isn't pursued to any significant extent. Then again, in a book that focuses on the meaninglessness of life, having a plot that never really goes anywhere might just be the whole point.

P.S. On a different topic: might be a bit prudish or oversensitive of me, but the name of this press makes me leery.  If you're a sheltered young American who's never had the misfortune of actually dealing with authentic fascists, the word "fascist" might seem like a fun word to use lightly.  But for the millions of people in the world who've had immediate family killed by fascists, the word has very real significance.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Map of Fog featured on SF Zine Fest blog

The people behind the San Francisco Zine Fest are getting things rolling for Zine Fest 2012, and they've been putting up new posts on the official SF Zine Fest Blog.  Today's post features my zine Map of Fog.  You can check it out here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

self-publishing and self-doubt

Having decided to self-publish some of my personal, literary work on the Amazon Kindle, I've been struggling with something that seemed like less of an issue in traditional publishing: self-doubt.  Before putting Suck Nectar Vomit Honey and Within Our Bones up on Kindle, my main approach to getting my poetry and fiction in front of an audience was publication in literary journals.  It takes a lot of work to get something published in a literary journal--a long time ago I heard that the average submission got rejected 16 times before finding a home, and I wouldn't be surprised if the average is a lot higher than that now--but at least, when your poem or short story does get accepted, that acceptance carries with it the implication of some sort of approval.  When you self-publish, you're on your own.  And so putting up intimate, personal work, work where you dig deep to expose emotions and experiences and ideas that are crucially important to you, can become an exercise in agonizing self-doubt.  It's made all the worse by the fact that potentially millions of people can read your stuff once you put it up on Kindle--as opposed to the old literary journal model, where chances are only a few thousand copies of the issue with your work would be printed.  So I've been squirming a bit, recently, worrying that someone I know would pick up a copy of my poetry or story collection, see my intimate thoughts, condemn me as some disgusting little monster, and I won't be able defend myself with the excuse that "I didn't publish it, the editor did.  She's the one that thinks it's worth publishing."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Suck Nectar free weekend results


The free weekend for SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY on Kindle is over. At its best, my collection reached #1 for free downloads in the 20th Century Poetry section, and #23 for free downloads of any poetry book. Both of those heights were reached on the first day, which was a Friday, and I think they resulted from about 25 downloads in a eight hour period. Saturday and Sunday were much slower days for downloads, and the total number of downloads had only reached 38 by the end of the free weekend.

I haven't done enough free-day drives to come to definite conclusions, but I have noticed certain commonalities amongst this free weekend and free days I've done with other titles I've got up on Kindle: most of the downloads came on Fridays, and most of the downloads came when the title was fresh on the board. If you're interested in putting your own work on Kindle, and trying to promote it with free days, that bolded info might be of interest to you.

Of course, this drive wont do much good unless it results in Amazon reviews for SUCK NECTAR. If you're one of the people who downloaded it, please consider writing a review. Thanks.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Suck Nectar free on Kindle this weekend

Quick reminder: the Kindle eBook version of my poetry collection SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY is available for free download this weekend. Please download a copy! And if you like it, please put up a review!

Here's the teaser:

"Ranging in tones from tortured to exultant, referencing poets from Blake to Bukowski, and covering topics as varied as garden fauna, Buddhism, and unprotected sex, SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY is a vivid ember of a collection. Sometimes the poems burn slow, sometimes they flare bright, in every case they leave a mark. Read it and you'll never see earthworms, black coffee, or public restrooms in the same way again."

And here's a link to the Amazon page:

Suck Nectar Vomit Honey.


(Just before posting this, I checked the Amazon Kindle poetry bestsellers page, and SUCK NECTAR is currently at #28 of the top 100 free books list, side by side with Bukowski's LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL on the purchase side. Nice book to be put next to, I must say.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Suck Nectar Vomit Honey now on Kindle


My poetry collection SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY is now available on Kindle. It's available for $2.99, or you can download a copy for free next weekend, Friday May 18th through Sunday May 20th. If you don't have a kindle but still want to read it, you can buy a PDF at the Steady Press website. And, since I'm trying to spread the word, if you're willing to mention it on your blog, or to post an Amazon review, I'll send you a PDF for free. Email me: mcmfs [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Here's the blurb:

Ranging in tones from tortured to exultant, referencing poets from Blake to Bukowski, and covering topics as varied as garden fauna, Buddhism, and unprotected sex, SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY is a vivid ember of a collection. Sometimes the poems burn slow, sometimes they flare bright, in every case they leave a mark. Read it and you'll never see earthworms, black coffee, or public restrooms in the same way again.

The collection has 47 poems, including "sick fish", which won the Autumn Letters Best of Word 2010 prize and doesn't seem to appear on their website anymore, and "object", which was widely viewed on the Word Riot website. Give it a look.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

first kindle "free-download day" results for Within Our Bones

Last week I put my story collection WITHIN OUR BONES up on Kindle, and on Saturday I made it available for free download for 24 hours. When the free download day ended, 46 people had snagged a copy, and since then two more people have bought it. In all honesty, I'm pretty surprised that 48 people would be interested in a collection that describes itself as 'depressing.'

It remains to be seen whether or not the 48 people who've acquired copies so far will actually bother to read the book, but in any case, the fact that they downloaded it at all is sort of amazing. A depressing chapbook collecting 'literary' short stories written by an unheard of author--that's got to be pretty much near the bottom of the barrel in terms of selling potential. And yet 46 sales in 24 hours is pretty much the most success I've ever personally had with my writing, even though the 'sales' didn't cost the buyers anything.

So, what am I taking from this? The idea that there must be a massive potential audience accessible through putting books up on Kindle. Am I planning on putting up more books? Yes. Yes I am.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Within Our Bones


I decided to put a book up on Kindle, to see if there's any market there for 'literary fiction.' Most of what I've seen on Kindle is genre fiction stuff--horror, paranormal romance, murder mystery, etc. I don't know how many Kindle owners are interested in buying a short-story/flash fiction collection, but it didn't cost anything to put it up, so I figured what the hell.

Kindle also offers the option of making the book available for free download for 5 out of every 90 days. I'm planning on taking advantage of that, with the first free download day being this coming Saturday, April 14th. If you've got a Kindle, or have downloaded the Kindle reader for your computer, please snag a copy of my collection on that day.

If you don't have a Kindle, and you're interested in reading the book, I'll send you a free PDF of it if you agree to write an Amazon review. Email me.

Click here to go to the Amazon page for Within Our Bones.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

another Marcos Soriano?


Apparently there's another person with the same name as me who's also interested in writing and self-publishing. I stumbled across a book titled TIMBUKTU: An African Tale, which is available for download on Kindle. Here's the teaser: "In an Africa long forgotten, a Prince will soon be King, and a boy must become a man. On the day of his coronation, Prince Aswani is dethroned by an evil wizard intent on destroying his father's legacy. With the help of his loyal pygmy servant Batutta, Aswani sets off on a dangerous quest to restore his kingdom and save his people, before it's too late."

Long forgotten Africa? Evil Wizards? Pygmy servants? It's an eerie feeling, seeing your name on a book that you probably wouldn't ever dream up.

I tried reading the samples online, and noticed in the sample text that TIMBUKTU is given a copyright year of 2004. That's two years before my first published story. Does that mean he gets first dibs on the name Marcos Soriano? Will I have to use something else, if I ever put a book up on Kindle?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

reflecting on writing and money


A few weeks ago I stopped by a local bookstore where I leave some of my zines on consignment. I hadn't been there in almost six months, and they'd sold out all the stock that I'd left at that time. They paid me for those copies, and they paid me wholesale for another 15 copies, and I walked out of there with about $50 in cash. (I've got three issues of my zine printed up now, and because of that I'm collecting slightly more money than I did when I only had one or two issues on the shelves, but $50 was still a pretty large amount to get paid all at once--especially seeing as how each zine that sells earns me about a dollar.) When I got home I started looking through my disorganized but fairly comprehensive records of "money received for zines" since I first printed Map of Fog 1 back in November of 2008. I added together all of those little five and ten dollar collections, I even added in all the two or three dollar purchases I'd got through the mail. The total money earned was about $960. And since I'm expecting a payment of $50 from Microcosm for zines I mailed them a while back, that puts me up to more than $1000.

A thousand bucks is a pretty good amount of money. A thousand bucks is almost enough for two months of my rent. And it only took me three and a half years to earn it!

I was thinking about that money, which I'd earned from sales on a self-published project, and then I started thinking about the money I'd made from writing I'd had published in other people's journals and magazines, which is about $600--$300 for four articles I wrote for an online magazine called Neighborhood Life, and $300 as a prize for writing what was considered "the Best Word Entry of 2010" for an online literary journal (which appears to be defunct now) called Autumn Letters. I've also had a poem accepted for Word Riot's new anthology--the profits of which are supposedly going to be split between all of the contributing authors--but in almost a year since having my poem accepted, I haven't heard anything about that anthology ever being released. So, I'm not holding my breath waiting for any sort of remuneration from that.

A thousand dollars for self-publishing, or $600 from having other people publish my work. In neither case is it a lot of money. And yet I've been at this--and by "at this" I mean writing with the hope of having other people read it--for more than 10 years.

And none of this accounts for all the expenses that my writing has incurred. For my self-published project Map of Fog, which has earned me a little over a thousand dollars, I've paid close to $1800 in printing costs, $360 for 3+ years of P.O. Box rental fees, $60 for tabling fees at two years of the SF Zine Fest, and uncounted amounts relating to city bus tickets (for getting around to check up on my zines at consignment shops) and postage (for mailing the zines out to buyers, reviewers, and distributors). For the stuff I've had published in other peoples zines, I can't even begin to start totaling up all the postage costs (since I don't have those records) and other related expenses (like printing paper, envelopes, ink, etc.--I took a workshop with a poet which cost a few hundred dollars, too, and if you consider the money spent on my University degree--BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis--you're talking about money in the tens of thousands of dollars). The most conservative way of looking at it still has me paying two dollars for every dollar I got paid.

Of course, it's not like I got into writing because I thought there'd be a pot of gold at the end of the path. And I've been aware of the costs all along--it didn't hit me all at once while I started writing this blog post. But even so, considering the above, it's hard not to look at my writing as a pretty expensive hobby.

And even knowing all that, I'm hoping on putting out Map of Fog 4 this fall, and I'm planning (though not yet fully committed) to printing up a collection of my poetry titled "SUCK NECTAR VOMIT HONEY." I know, now better than ever, that it's going to cost me, but I'm still moving in that direction.

So what can I say? The only thing that makes sense to me right now, while I'm writing this post, is saying this: help a brother out, dear reader, and buy a copy of my zine.

UPDATE 3/6/12: Microcosm sent me a check, so I'm officially above $1K.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

JUNG, by Deirdre Bair

Jung: A Biography
It's gotta be hard to capture a person's life in a book. Books want a sense of cohesiveness and story, a sort of consistency of theme, and most lives aren't so simply reduced. The temptation must be great to focus on particular incidents, to bend events toward some semblance of plot. Or, resisting that, to cram more and more incidents into a tome, and leave it to the reader to develop a sense of who the subject was, and what their life meant. That seems to be the approach Bair has taken with this autobiography. She omits interpretation or personal commentary, and instead offers what amounts to a sort of chronological summary of materials describing Jung's experiences. It's not exactly riveting material, and she could stand to be more selective in what she chooses to include--the copy I've got is almost 900 pages long. I'm only on page 75, and I've already waded through thousands of words detailing the lives of Jung's forefathers. Now Bair is introducing Jung's wife, by way of detailing the lives of her ancestors. I doubt very much that I'll last much longer with this book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

GIMME SOMETHING BETTER, by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor

Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day

Another great book. An oral history of punk in the Bay Area, created from what must have been thousands of hours of interviews. Each chapter covers a specific topic, and builds a picture of that topic by assembling brief quotes from a broad group of involved people. Impressively comprehensive, covering not just bands but other punk phenomena, like gangs (both skinhead and non, with separate chapters for different crews), squats and punk houses, venues (a chapter each for Mabuhay Gardens and the Deaf Club, 8 chapters for Gilman), labels (Lookout!, Outpunk, and others), and influential figures who weren't musicians (lots of coverage of Tim Yo and his various projects). Chronicles more than two decades, starting with the first regular-playing acts like The Nuns and Crime in SF in the late 70s, including the nihilistic/violent/drugged-out early scene that developed at that time, and carrying on to the East Bay pop-punk stuff that took over mainstream music in the mid 90s. Interesting, informative, and entertaining the whole way through. The only hesitations I have are minor, and intrinsic to oral histories: namely, it would be nice to have some objective journalism to keep things in perspective, because a lot of these old punks are probably pretty big bullshitters. Also, I think they could have condensed the coverage of Gilman a bit (didn't need to be 8 separate chapters).