Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

Someone mentioned to me recently that I don’t update my blog much. I was aware of this; I wasn’t aware that anyone cared. So I suppose I’m guilty of blog abuse. As it’s my blog, that would make it self-abuse, and it ain’t the first time. I just don’t usually do it in public.

My given reasons for not posting much are that I’m either writing my own fiction or addressing someone personally. It’s not an unwillingness to waste time on the internet. The web is both a very useful resource and a great excuse for not doing what I should. I am easily entertained by the artistry of others, especially when it takes me away from working on my own.

Much as I liked that reasoning, I know there are people who write a lot more than I do who also maintain blogs. I don’t know a fucking thing about what might cut into the rest of their day, but something lent the air of bullshit to what now seemed to me justification.

So, a bit of self-analysis. Some of it’s easy. I’m anal. This makes for good editing skills, makes me reluctant to post words I haven’t gone over thoroughly. If I like something enough on a casual basis and don’t care much about how it reads I’ll post it. Otherwise it reflects on me the writer, me the editor, me the anal-retentive. And while I’m generally low-key to be around, a large part of my self-esteem comes from the quality of my work, and my writing is part of that. The part I would like best known.

I think it comes down to an inability to believe I deserve the good things I get. Why do I have this great wife and family, this job I’m really good at, a handful of terrific friends? Just a really basic belief that I don’t deserve the good things that I’ve got, therefore I must undermine them. Fortunately, I’m really good at drinking.

The good news is, over the course of these paragraphs I’ve come to terms with all my internal issues and will be blogging frequently and cheerfully from here on. (And with great subtlety.)


I suppose some editors are failed writers - but so are most writers. – T.S. Eliot

The relationship between writers and editors should not be adversarial. As someone who’s spent a lot of time on both sides of that relationship, I’m certain that there are many good people out there who just don’t have time for more than a form letter. I often consider myself one of those people. I’m also certain there are many editors from whom I should be grateful that the form letter is the only dealings I’ve ever had with them. That assumption is based not on any run-ins I’ve had with editors, but on my general cynicism toward the human condition.

As an editor, presumably the idea is to get the best writing possible from people whose writing you like. As a writer, presumably the idea is to get your work published in the best condition possible. That last phrase is often where writers and editors come into conflict.

As co-editor of two small magazines, Swill and Monday Night, I have suggested quite a few line edits over the last few years. This occurs especially with Swill, which is my baby (although Sean helps me raise it) and has something resembling a specific direction. It’s a genre fiction literary magazine, or some such thing. (Check the excerpts at – we have published a wide variety of story “types,” and my favorites among them fall within all the categories, where they can even be categorized.) Regardless of the labels, I want the magazine to be as good as possible, which means suggesting edits. Writers do not agree with all my suggestions, and I’d probably be appalled if they did. The idea, after all, is to improve their story, not take it away from them. And I only make these suggestions if I am interested in publishing the story in the first place. As this suggestion process generally occurs after the story has already been accepted, the writer wins all arguments anyway.

Of course, sometimes the writer must wonder what the hell the editor is thinking, as witnessed by poet Frederick Seidel, who told this story about one of his first major publications, in The Hudson Review, in a recent New York Times Magazine.

“I got back a letter from the editor saying that the poem was brilliant… but wouldn’t I consider a number of changes they wanted to propose to the poem’s advantage? So I took a look at their suggestions, hung onto the poem and three months later sent it back to them – no changes whatsoever. Back came a note saying: ‘Wonderful! That does it! It’s just superb.’”

And yes, I feel fully capable of being that editor.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Belated Updike Elegy

Just a one liner, but I love it:

Our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite.
- John Updike

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Subba Cultcha

So, last night I’m listening to some music and my wife asks what I’m listening to. I tell her the band name – Zola Jesus – and that it was given to me by one of my music-sharing friends, and we talk about the music a bit. She says it’s an interesting sub-culture, and I agree: “They sound like they’ve listened to a lot of Pere Ubu and PIL.”

Susan’s reply: “I meant the sub-culture of people who share music.”

I never thought of it that way. I’ve been sharing music with friends since the late 70s, although it’s been shared in different ways over the years. Under the influence of my friend John, I got real good at making mix tapes in the 80s. I’d made them before, but they’d just been one song with a gap then another song – from John I learned the art of blending one song into another. And on a good cassette deck it was easy to check levels as you recorded, and a challenge to end each side of the tape smoothly. There was an art to it, and those who were good at the art and shared similar musical tastes – it was always great to give or receive a tape like that. So much went into it.

With cdr’s and Itunes and similar programs it’s far easier to put a mix together. You never have that gut-crunching moment when your last song for the side doesn’t fit and you have to rewind to the spot where it was going and replace it – and those were always tight segues, starting at the exact moment after the previous song ended. Recording on a computer means you get told whether your songs fit or not, and there’s no exact time frame you have to fit – you just have to be under 80 minutes or 700 megabytes or whatever your disc allows for the format you’re recording in.

The artistry of the mixing aside, the point for me is I love music, and I know other people who love music. And if we form a sub-culture, it’s a sub-culture that supports music released on small labels. And the music shared causes others to purchase music from those small labels. Because God knows, I don’t listen to the radio much, to a large degree because commercial radio plays shit and noncommercial radio is both hard to tune in and inconsistent. I’ve never heard Zola Jesus on the radio. I expect I’ll buy their next album if I can find it.

Recently I was looking for the Sector 27 album that Tom Robinson recorded shortly after the break-up of the original Tom Robinson Band. Tom has his own website, and above some free downloads he was offering was the following text:

“Free Downloads: iTunes downloads cost 79p per track. Writer/publisher get 6p, Performer 6-8p, Visa/Mastercard 7p, Apple 12p, and Record Company almost 50p. Sod that. Help yourself to my songs & share them with your friends:”

In the meantime, I expect I’ll remain part of this sub-culture that I didn’t know existed.