November 13, 2015 § Leave a comment
I thought I’d offer up a bit of an update after nearly a month away from the blog and my literary social media in general.
I’m proud to announce that Cedar Hart McDougal Kingston was born early on October 26th! It was a traumatic birth, though, and my wife, Cedar, and I had to spend the next ten days in the NICU. As a result, the only writing I’ve been doing lately has been updates to our Caring Bridge site (where you can hear Cedar’s whole story, if interested).
I’m happy to report that he has been home for over a week now, though, and is doing great: eating, pooping, peeing, and screaming as well as any other baby I’ve seen. That said, I still haven’t had much time to write, as he is ravenous for food and affection and too damn handsome to deny. I am having all sorts of crazy ideas for stories when he’s got me up drinking coffee at two in the morning, though, so I am looking forward to putting them all to paper soon.
Lastly, I have had time to work on my editing for Red Bird (check out our new website!), picking a killer line-up of chapbooks to publish in 2016: an interdisciplinary (maybe even antidisciplinary) exploration of identity and power through discussions of Wolverine, Eazy-E, and Michel Foucault, among other diverse enthusiasms; a charmingly dreamlike collection of real person fan fiction pieces written in gorgeous prose; and a collection of perfectly composed short stories exploring beauty in ruin. Last but not least, I’m excited to announce that we’ll also be publishing a print version of David Oppegaard’s heretofore e-book only “Breakneck Cove”. You should click on over to Onyx Neon Shorts and get yours right now–the story is such a stunner that I have no doubt that you’ll be wanting to get the physical copy on your shelf anyway once it’s available!
February 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
I recently hooked back up with my old pals Josh Wodarz and Robert Algeo at their new podcast, the impeccably named The Kingston Legacy. You may remember me co-hosting the Film Strip Heroes podcast with them last year. Since I retired from podcasting to focus on a new big writing project for 2015, Josh and Robert relaunched with a looser format that allows them to discuss whatever they want, whenever they want—as opposed to the old format, which required building fragile bridges of tangents, precariously linking some Marvel Studios Press Release to whatever Weird Al was up to that week.
They also want to start bringing in guests every week, so I was happy to be the test subject in their latest episode. For the interview, we talked about the experience of writing and self-publishing Slash, The Oldest Jokes in the World‘s new partnership with Autoannata, as well as my plans for future projects. Then we slid pleasantly back into our old habit of bullshitting about the latest comic book related news: Marvel and DC’s big shake-up plan’s, as well as Spider-Man’s release into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Josh and Robert also like to talk tech, so I brought an article about archiving the internet I found in print media. After a good laugh about what a backward boob I am, we talked a bit about how this added element of nostalgia has made me excited about the internet in a way I haven’t been for sometime.
I am incredibly nostalgic by nature, so it was really fun going back to Josh’s and recording again. Even just getting the links together for this post, I was briefly enraptured clicking through the links for our old podcasts. I’m already looking forward to looking back on this episode if they ever invite me back again in the future.
October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
What’s up, internet? How you living?
I know I promised that I’d be back to regular posts on here once I finished the final episode of Slash, but I’ve somehow managed to keep myself busy damn near every day since. I hope you’ll at least count it as progress that I’ve given up on the rounds of promise and apology posts that dominated the blog for a while and will instead just tell you what I’m up to whenever I can—with a sprinkling of essays about literary humor added in whenever I’ve got something to say and the time to say it.
After working on Slash for the past two years (with nothing but revisions, edits, and layouts for the past year), I was excited to jump into a new project, but what I thought would be a fun and fast revision of a short-story I wrote as an undergrad is ballooning into a novella (at least I hope it stops at a novella). I’ve also read through fifty-some chapbook manuscripts for Red Bird’s 2014 submission period and have chosen three I am very excited to work with and publish in 2015. To top it all off, I’ve been reading as much as I can about Paul the Apostle, as I think the next novel I write is going to be a romantic comedy set in one of his early churches.
And that’s just my writing life. With my first garden winding down after a pretty fruitful year, I’ve been doing lots of pickling and now I have to extirpate it (Pauline vocab!) for the winter. I’ve also been podcasting about comic book adaptations and running a double D&D campaign (that’s four D’s, dudes, if you do the math).
All this is to say that if you want to connect, you might be best served by looking for me in the real world. I’ve actually gaffed a few obligations lately because they came at me through FB and Twitter and a I feel like I just can’t keep track of it all anymore. The good news is you’ll have a chance to see me in person—reach out and touch me, even—if you are so inclined in just a couple of weeks.
As part of the 2015 St. Paul Almanac Reading Festival, I will be reading at Claddagh Coffee at 1pm on Saturday, November 1st. You can get all the details (as well as a list of all the readings in the festival) at www.crackedwalnut.com. I’ve taken part in many Cracked Walnut events over the years and attended even more, and they are always fun—a great mix of readers of every style and genre from all sorts of different points in their writing careers. I’m especially excited for this reading because I get to share the stage with my wife, the poet Jenny McDougal. But that means there will be one less person in the audience, so it would be really great if you wanted to show up. I’d love to see you.
If you’re busy or somewhere other than St. Paul, you’ll just have to wait until I update here again, hopefully with a post about self-publishing I am working on. In the meantime, I will leave you with this great Nigerian joke about being busy (taken from onlinenigeria.com):
A young doctor had just opened office and felt really excited. His secretary told him a man was here to see him. The young doctor told her to send him in.
Pretending to be a busy doctor, he picked up the phone just as the man came in. “Yes, that’s right. The fee is $200. Yes, I’ll expect you ten past two. Alright. No later. I’m a very busy man.”
He hung up and turned to the man waiting. “May I help you?”
“No,” said the man, “I just came in to install the phone.”
September 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
The conclusion of my serial novel, SLASH, is now available on Amazon! Good news for all you old readers out there who have been sad about the decline in posts while I’ve been busy self-publishing–I’ll be back posting regularly soon. In the meantime, read the preview at the link below, or just click the cover to the right to download it now!
Here we are, guys, at the thrilling conclusion of my serial novel Slash! Episode Seven: “Creative/Control” is out now for your ereading pleasure. Just , click the preceding link or the cover to the right to get yours now.
Inside the story, Alex tries to save Perry from the latest slash story while trying to convince herself that the murderer hasn’t been Lissa all along. Unsure if she even wants to save herself at this point, she ends up at the Koop house for a classic slasher showdown with the kitschenfan killer.
Inside real life, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has made this whole self-publishing adventure so worthwhile for me. Anyone who has commented on a draft, downloaded a copy, bought one of the zines, wrote a review, shared a link, offered self-publishing advice, or engaged with the project in any way: thank you thank you…
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August 13, 2014 § 3 Comments
I’m proud to announce that I recently won the First Annual MANDREW’S Blissenblog Essay Contest!
Andrew Blissenbach, a great chronicler of modern masculinity in all its glory and errors, called for essays on his favorite subject, so I sat down and started writing about my dad. Eventually, I touched on dinosaurs, Batman, and shark attacks to compose an essay titled “Dead Man’s Float”–which, to my surprise, ended up winning! There were some really great entries with more precise and astute things to say than I, so click on over to the contest page and read the finalists (along with my entry at the bottom).
While you’re there, check out some of MANDREW’s own awesome essays, and then get ready to enter your best next year; I could get used to this getting paid for my writing thing, so I’m already scheming on my next championship essay.
July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
It’s become sort of a tradition around here for me to post a picture of my feet up in a hammock when we get back from our yearly Ontario cottage vacation–which has in turn led to all sorts of people getting googled over here in search of hammock jokes. This year, however, we reached a new height of relaxation and were too lazy to get out the ladders and hang up the hammock; we got off the boat, planted our faces in some books, and didn’t look up until it was time to come back home.
I normally report on the funniness of the books I read while I’m up there, but it was all pretty serious stuff this time around, with a historical fiction bent, to help me scheme on the project I want to work on after Slash. (Which isn’t to say it won’t be funny, just that I wanted the best historical stuff I could find, whether they were funny or not). I read The King Must Die by Mary Renault and am almost done with Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. The Renault made for a great summer read, full of lusty adventure, but the Mantel in particular, is incredibly, and full of snort inducing quips that bring the verve and intelligence of the period to life in a much more visceral way than stale descriptions of clothes and furnishings. I also read the deadly serious Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, starting two trilogies I’m already looking forward to continuing next summer. About the only comedic thing I read was Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock, which lived up, for better or worse, to the “Canada’s Mark Twain” blurb that got me to buy it. It did seem more like a watered-down version of Huckleberry Finn than something fresh of its own, but was certainly a fun way to spend an afternoon on a Canadian lake, especially with the lovely design and illustrations by Seth in the version I have. If you want to hear more about what I’m reading and what I think about it, friend me on Goodreads; I’m always curious to see what other readers are up to!
In any event, I’m excited to be back. Not happy–I really feel like I could just sit up there and read forever–but ready for a whole ‘nother year of writing to bring you guys. With the final episode of Slash out in just a few weeks, I need to get the epilogue done by this weekend, and once that’s complete, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to this blog again. I already have a few tragicomic posts planed about the state of the industry and my adventures in self-publishing, and hope to read some real funny literary fiction to share with you all soon!
June 5, 2014 § 4 Comments
Hey all! My pal, my hero, my once-and-future dungeon master Andrew Blissenbach of Mandrew’s Blissenblog invited me to take part in this #mywritingprocess chain that has been sweeping the blogosphere. I met Andy when we were both getting our MFAs from Hamline University, and I’ve admired his slightly intimidating writing since before we became friends. I say intimidating not just because Andy takes masculinity in all its permutations and perversions as his subject, but because he does it with such skill, bravery, intelligence, and passion that it always felt hard to live up to his energy if you had to read a piece after him. Since graduating, he’s started an awesome blog featuring his CNF explorations of masculinity, which you can check out here (or you can jump right to his #MyWritingProcess post here.)
So here are the questions he challenged me to answer:
1) What am I working on?
A metafictional erotic thriller / comedic murder mystery / romantic slasher called Slash.
Here’s a little synopsis: Alexis Bledsoe would die if anyone found out about her secret crush. As star of TV’s #1 family drama, she’s certain coming out of the closet would end her career. Worse still, her one true love is America’s hottest actress, Lissa Blaine, who just happens to play her older and prettier sister each week on Koop’s Kitchen. So Alex hates Lissa, too: wishes her dead every time she stumbles onto a tabloid cover with a cocktail in hand and some new B-list beefcake on her arm. Desperate for an outlet each night after filming wraps, Alex closes the shades on her trailer and reads slash fiction on internet fan forums: trashy little tales written by viewers about an imagined romance between her and Lissa’s characters. All unbelievable moans and trite whispers, Alex believes them a secret best taken to her grave–until an anonymous author begins to post violent slash stories that seem to foretell the death of the cast of Koop’s Kitchen. When real life actors start dying in scenes suspiciously similar to those Alex has been reading, she is forced to search the stories for suspects and clues instead of steamy caresses. And with everyone she knows a potential perverted murderer or future victim, keeping her true self a secret is more a matter or life and death than ever before.
I’m self-publishing it serially but already have a near-final draft of the whole thing done. I’m just going through and tweaking/polishing each episode as I put them out now–not the most exciting part of the process to me–so I’m also working on a few short stories to keep my muscles up.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As you can probably tell from the description above, Slash is all over as far as genre is concerned. Really conservative genre stuff usually bores me, but I find working with genre very fruitful for my creative process. The blank page can be really scary, but with genre I feel like you get a free outline to start with; I just usually find my creativity excited by tearing certain parts of the conventions down instead of building them up and filling them in.
For example, there are some sections of the novel that I hoped would read like an erotic thriller, but I never wanted to let the reader get too into it for too long, so I often found myself using either some comedy or vertiginous metafictional effect to pull back—not out of the story, but out of the flow of pure expectation and satisfaction that the most formulaic genre stuff works on. With the metafiction in the story, I found it most fun to ally the readers with the protagonist as things get interesting, only to make a little critical fun of them both for liking it (and the author for liking writing it) after the climax.
If I have a beef with genre (especially with the way books are sold on the internet), it is that it is often a way for readers to get only what they want, to only read about the sort of characters they like, in the sort of scenes that are interesting to them, thinking thoughts that echo the readers’ own opinions; I feel like a book should challenge a reader’s expectations, and the way I’m trying to do that with Slash is by layering all these expectations that can’t possibly all be satisfied.
3) Why do I write what I write?
After rereading the above, I realize I must sound like a pretentious literary snob. But trying to better myself, to challenge myself, is one of the reasons I write. I find writing to be the kind of labor, like learning something complicated or going on a really exhausting bike ride, that can be the sort of challenge that turns easy, making time melt away as consciousness sinks into something deeper. I write because I feel bad about myself when I’m not challenging myself in that way; I write because I feel like I owe it to everyone who wrote the books that have changed me; I write because I turn into a weepy brat with bad self-esteem when I stay away from the page for too long.
Shoot… that sounds even more pretentious. But I write WHAT I write because I want to be unpretentious. In addition to putting all that sex and violence and humor in Slash to play with genre, I also did so because I thought that people would like to read about all that sex and violence and humor.
My favorite novels are those sorts of novels, like Jennifer Egan’s The Keep or Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, that are both fun and challenging to read, because they get you in with genre elements but then make you look deeper into them and think of them in new ways. I’d like to think it stems more from some deep, democratic love of humanity than just a thirst for royalty checks, but I do want to reach a wider readership than really hardcore literary fiction like Finnegan’s Wake usually touches. I want my writing to be inviting, and putting familiar genre elements in a story is a great way to keep the front door open for a lot of readers. What I do with you once you’re in the house is another matter…
4) How does your writing process work?
I always start loose, with pencil and paper. With the first novel I wrote, for my MFA thesis, this meant doing what Pat Francisco, master of the Creative Process, calls a “shitty first draft.” Basically this entails just letting loose a stream of, “Okay: this happened and then this happened and then that happened—but wait, I forgot to say that this other thing happened between the first and the second things, which makes this next thing make perfect sense…” over however many pages and days it took until I had a beginning, middle, and end, even if they didn’t show up in that order.
Given the episodic nature and genre elements of Slash, I started by loosely outlining the general arc of the whole thing and broke it up into sections, then made increasingly articulate outlines for each episode. (There was even a stage in the early planning when I thought of developing it as a comic book, making it easy to think of Episodes as trade paperbacks collecting the individual issues, which eventually became chapters.)
Even once I got writing, though, I stayed by-hand for the first full draft in order to stay loose creatively and keep myself from getting worried about and continually re-editing what came before (because there’s good no reason to change the start, anyway, until you know the end). Plus, it kept me flexible in the next draft; I find I’m much more willing to make changes as I’m typing it all up than if I’m just rereading what I have in MS Word.
Once I had the full typed draft, I let my wife read it, and then started revising it, episode by episode. For these penultimate revisions, I’m really focusing on giving each episode its own arc; they obviously aren’t going to be able to be read on their own, since the over-arching mystery is the focus, but I want them each to offer some small conflict and resolution so that there’s some satisfaction feeding readers in the wait between episodes. I’ve been sending these episodes out to writers I trust (MANDREW himself, along with Josh Wodarz and Benjamin J. Kowalsky) for one final round of comments before I tweak a few last scenes and sentences based on their comments. Then it is off to my proofreader, the astute and infallible Eve Proofreads, after which I format for ebooks and the zine version. (I am thinking of sharing my book-making tips in a future post, so I will leave them out of this writing process discussion.)
These final steps of revision, publication, and promotion are the most boring part to me, though; I much prefer the planning and dreaming stages to the fine-tuning and word-worrying of the last steps. As a result, I’ve found it helpful for my enthusiasm and sanity to keep some small projects going to break up the monotony of copy-editing and promoting that has taken up a lot of my time since starting to publish Slash.
Here’s a sneak peak at a short story I worked on between episodes and am currently sending around to lit-journals. As you can see, it is hand-written on scratch paper, but it is really the fifth or sixth draft I did. If I’ve learned one concrete thing about my process over the years, it is to stay off the computer for as long as possible. I think I finally typed up the next draft, which became the final draft after a little copy editing. In addition to the reasons I listed above in favor of pen and paper, I feel like the computer has several strikes against it. In addition to the distraction of the internet, since becoming a self-publisher, the keyboard has increasingly become a space of commerce and competition to me, which is detrimental to my creativity.
Anyhow, hopefully that was of some interest to someone—at the very least, I think I learned a few things about myself typing it up. In addition to all those nuts and bolts, emotion plays a big part in the creative process; one of the most prevalent, in my case, at least, being doubt.
That’s why I chose Mark Rapacz for one of the next links in this blog-chain. Since I first reached out to him about his awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles project I wanted to include in my fan fiction recommendations posts at Slash, he’s been a great source of encouragement, enthusiasm, and FB links to all sorts of news about fan-fiction that have kept me going every time I’ve wondered if all the work would amount to anything. Plus, he’s also a visionary publisher and an incredible writer: if you like stories that challenge your expectations, try his beautiful and elegiac western, Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines. His post will appear next week at www.blastgun.com.
BIO: Mark Rapacz is the founding editor of Blastgun Books and an editor and partner with the neo-pulp press Burnt Bridge. His short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Water~Stone Review, Revolver, Martian Lit, The Booked. Anthology, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He has short works coming soon from Plots With Guns and The East Bay Review. His novella, Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines, was recently re-issued as a historically accurate dime novel and is available through IndyPlanet and Amazon. Whenever he gets the chance, he forces people to read his work of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan fiction, Tongue-Cut Ninja. He and his wife currently live in the Bay Area, where he works at Stanford University and continues to write stories.
When a little encouragement isn’t enough to outweigh the doubt, I usually enter the stage in my creative process called despair. When I feel like what I’m doing will never be good enough or that, regardless of how good it is, no one will ever read it, it is my lovely wife, the poet and scholar Jenny McDougal who talks some sense into me. She’s incredibly supportive and encouraging—not to mention a great poet, professor, and founding editor at Versus Literary Journal, a home to all pop culture obsessed literature. After you check out her post, be sure to submit that series of Super Mario haikus you’ve been working on for years.
Bio: Jenny McDougal lives and writes in St Paul, Minnesota where she teaches English Literature at St. Catherine University. She is a semi-finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize in Poetry, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Water~Stone Review, Nimrod International Journal of Poetry and Prose, Paper Darts, Red Bird, Dinosaur Bees, sleet magazine, and elsewhere. She loves roller-skating, discussing feminist narratives in literature, and most things that are neat.
The other side of doubt and despair is the dreaming part of my creative process, where anything seems possible and the ideas seem to stack beautifully, one fitting perfectly
into the next, until I’m sure academics will be studying my body of work centuries from now. When I first started my MFA at Hamline University, I looked up to David Oppegaard, who had recently graduated from the program and had already published a book—with a blurb from Stan Lee! I dreamed of being David. Many years later, I’m still looking up to him, as he just put his fourth book out, the gritty western horror story And the Hills Opened Up. His post will appear next week at www.blogagaard.blogspot.com.
Bio: David Oppegaard is the author of the Bram Stoker-nominated The Suicide Collectors (St. Martin’s Press), Wormwood, Nevada (St. Martin’s Press) and And the Hills Opened Up (Burnt Bridge). David’s work is a blend of science fiction, literary fiction, horror, and dark fantasy. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University and a B.A. in English from St. Olaf College. He lives in St. Paul, MN. You can visit his website at davidoppegaard.com.