Tag Archives: #WordsMatter

Dust – Chapter 1

The first draft of my first novel, Dust, is very nearly done, clocking in at a hand aching 175,000-ish words. Yeah, this puppy is going to need some serious paring down. It’s been a hell of a learning experience though, and I’m already eager to get to work on the next one with all the strengths I’ve gained as a writer.

I recently went back to revise the first chapter for workshopping. What a difference two years makes! What I once though was an excellent introduction looked hopelessly stilted when I went back to begin revising. It’s humbling to think what this, the more or less final form of chapter one, will seem like two years from now.

In any case, I’m posting it here for your perusal. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

American Gilgamesh: Shoots with his Right, Heart on his Left.

Have you ever read Preacher? It’s one of those transcendent comics that ran for a few years in the mid-90s. They came in just ahead of the renaissance that brought to the fore the graphic novel, a format, in retrospect, far more natural for these odd ducks. Because they are novels, with all the literary power and capability to impel reflection that word implies; they just happen to have accompanying pictures.

Preacher is a brutal, beautiful, love letter to America, written by an Irishman and drawn by an Englishman. It’s all blood and sinew, the absolute most horrific violence and degradation a very creative pair of minds could conjure, paired without a hint of whiplash to moments so funny you’ll literally have to put the book down. Sometimes they’re even one and the same, and you’ll find yourself in that “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this but DAMN” mode. The characters are that perfect mix of mythic archetypes and detailed characterization that comics are so suited to. The villains are hate-able, the heroes stand tall, but no one is simple, and there’s some sympathy to be found in even the most hateful pieces of excrement (Of which there are plenty.)

More than any of that, though, Preacher is a meditation on America and on being an American. The hero and titular character is named Jesse Custer, a hard-drinking, hard fighting, Southern-born outlaw turned preacher turned outlaw (of a sort) again. Jesse is Clint Eastwood’s frame and laid back, predatory attitude combined with the unwavering justness of Atticus Finch. He’s that sort of violent that we would call psychopathic, if it wasn’t so unerringly directed at people who really–conveniently–deserve it. Jesse is every Western hero stereotype from Odysseus to Shane, rolled into one. He swears a lot, he’s a bit more than arrogant, and he’s always chivalrous to women, if a tad old-fashioned. His very literal Jiminy Cricket is even a spectral John Wayne.

I could spill gallons of virtual ink deconstructing Jesse Custer, or anyone else in the comic’s large, well written cast. What I want to talk about more broadly, however, is Jesse’s role as the dead center, bulls-eye ideal of the American hero. What a beautiful, contradictory, and completely unattainable idea that is.

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Grocery Bar: A Monument to Man’s Arrogance.

enzos vs grocery bar

This is a local interest piece I wrote for a local paper that didn’t get picked up. I’m sharing it here as a rare example of my capability for brevity.

The relevant business can be found here.

“Nothing gold can stay,” said Robert Frost, but with all respect due, sometimes it does stay; it just turns to silver in doing so. If it stays long enough, we might even start whining about it.

Let’s be clear; Grocery Bar is absolutely awesome, and our city is lucky to have it. The hot bars are delicious and varied, with great selections for carnivores and vegetable dishes an insecure male doesn’t have to be self conscious about nabbing. Moreover the staff is as helpful and attentive as Enzo’s ever was. The new additions don’t stand out from the old guard, and the same justly renowned smiling meat guys are still plying their trade behind the butcher’s counter. Even as I write this I’m munching on some of Grocery Bar’s cranberry pumpkin seed trail mix and it tastes like my own hypocrisy; also delicious.

But was any of it necessary?

Walk in the front door of the Grocery Bar and you’re greeted by a stack of artfully arranged artisanal watermelons ahead of you and a cornucopia of mid to high priced cheeses on your left. “Don’t worry,” it all seems to say, “Enzo’s lives on; your paleo friendly pasta sauce and gluten free muffins await within, just as before.”

Then you see those bars. Arranged laterally with your entrance, in contrast to Enzo’s perpendicular setup, they are four massive altars, afforded pride of place in the new layout, with space enough for entire platoons of customers to comfortably mill about them. The arrangement is as much mission statement as it is practicality, and a marked contrast to the melon and cheese supplication of moments before. “This. Is. GROCERY BAR!” it bellows, before kicking you into a pit with your stupid muffins and marinara.

Perhaps if those bars would cede some space, the souls of Enzo and Grocery Bar could comfortably share a body. But as of now they don’t, and that leaves us with a paltry selection of produce, a much reduced butcher counter (though you might not notice, with those familiar butchers flashing their movie star smiles), a decent enough dairy case, and ONE AISLE of dry grocery.

This ain’t Enzo’s. It isn’t even a grocery store. Grocery Bar is a well-stocked delicatessen.

Whether it wished to be or not, Enzo’s was as much political statement as it was neighborhood grocer. In the middle of the food desert that was the south side, Enzo’s was an oasis that precluded a long pilgrimage to St. Elmo or the North Shore. It was an alternative to the inoffensive, corporate blandness of your Bi-Los and your Wal-Marts. It was Whole Foods without the pretension (and with better lighting), and in serving a multicultural stew of locals and tourists alike it was incarnate the liberal dream that Whole Foods’ Obamacare hating founder draped around his company like a cloak made of opinion polls.

Why was it necessary? That’s the question I keep coming back to. Enzo’s gave a densely packed swath of Chattanooga an opportunity to taste something generally reserved for the SUV and soccer practice set. Now what do they have? Another place to get a ten dollar lunch in an area that doesn’t lack for quality dining?

Truthfully, it’s embarrassing to even be able to complain about this. Grocery Bar kicks ass. If it was in any other city, or had replaced any other business, I suspect I’d be embracing Grocery Bar as something new, bold, and wonderful. But this is Chattanooga, best culinary city in the South, and it is Enzo’s sign that came down mere weeks ago.

Check out the /r/chattanooga subreddit; this isn’t just me. We may not have much right to whine about it, but damned if we won’t. File it under #FirstWorldProblems.

I don’t know. I want to think Grocery Bar is something more than just a vanity project that has yanked something so briefly, beautifully, unique as Enzo’s from our community. Maybe Daniel Lindley has some spectacular future in mind that will quell my doubts. At the very least, maybe more actual groceries are on the way, to join the bars. I hope so.

There’s certainly enough space to add them.

The Perfect Drug

When I write, I feel good. When I don’t, I feel bad. Seemingly simple calculus. But it gets complex, doesn’t it? Because those moments when we decide to write or not aren’t simple ones. We’re talking big picture stuff.

My experience, then; a good writing session of a few thousand words can keep me optimistic and forward facing for two days, easily. More than that, it feeds on itself; write more, feel good; feel good, write more. It doesn’t simply feed on itself, it compounds. A torrent of artistic outpouring, the type where the thoughts seem to be coming faster than your fingers can follow and every moment spent eating/sleeping/showering becomes an agonizing void of lost moments, comes on like a hurricane, one breeze building on another on another on another until suddenly, rather than being short one major city, you’ve built one. A city that still needs windows in the skyscrapers and trees planted in the parks, to be sure, but a fully constructed, proud accomplishment all the same.

It’s not usually that close to the Platonic idea of a perfect creative outpouring, of course, but hopefully somewhere near it, coming in breezes and gusts that eventually get at least to tropical storm levels.

The converse?

Franz Kafka said that “the non-writing writer courts madness”. Delve deeply enough into the craft and you’ll discover that’s not a metaphor; it is a madness of naval gazing self doubt, questions of worth rooted so deeply in the mire you begin to see, in a very real way, where others lost themselves. Writing is a drug, to be an artist to be a quivering, gibbering addict, forever chasing the next hit. But where a desperate addict might be denied his hit by a grinning middleman, an artist’s drug is denied only by the artist himself.

Doubt is not simply the consequence of not writing; it becomes its cause, a drug of its own, albeit posessing far worse a hangover. The most sadistic lunatic of a god could not devise a more perfectly calibrated feedback loop of misery.

Reoccurring cycles of both these, accomplishment and doubt, mark the work of every writer I can think of worth the mentioning, and certainly all those I know personally. Ask them, and they’ll tell you something akin to this. Read them, and they’ll tell it to you with far more clarity. You can see it in the seemingly depthless artistic obsession with duality, and in the markedly increased tendency towards manic-depression in creative field across the spectrum.

If I’m rambling, or spilling what seems like an excessive amount of virtual ink on the subject, it’s only because it strikes so very close. A quick glance at the counters show it’s been a fair bit since my last post here, and though those months haven’t been entirely fallow as far as my overall writing output is concerned, neither have they been sufficient for an aspiring professional.

Why, then? It’s not as if I forgotten the warm bliss of my “perfect drug”, the feeling I have even now, as I near the finish of this post. Nor have I been discouraged by lackluster response to my work; indeed, it was the none too patient wonderings of multiple readers that finally got my ample posterior moving on finishing up and posting this nearly month old draft (a little inside baseball aside; from first word to last, you’ve probably never read more than six thousand or so that were written within a week of one another. I’ve always found the illusion of continuity in art to be fascinating).

There’s the always reliable canards: work has been crazy, personal issues have dominated my time, I’ve had other projects. They’re all even true, to one degree or another. But a canard is not an excuse, not a good one at least,
and the best any of these can provide is a satisfaction at their completion — certainly nothing to compare to the hurricane turned warm sunny day feeling of the writer who writes, a feeling that, as previously mentioned, can last days.

Maybe even looking for a reason is a fool’s errand. To have one certainly might help to know in the future why I might fall into these periods of low output, even prevent them. But what if I don’t find a reason at all? What if it’s just… me?

That’s even worse.

I think I’ll leave it there then, with my warm feeling of success and its accompanying certainty that more is to come. Write more, feel good; feel good, write more. To do anything else courts madness.

Motivation? The drug will have to do.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments or, as many of you have been, by email. As always, thank you for reading, and remember: words matter.

Progress report

Have to admit it looks as if not been very prolific lately. The short story section is a tad bare, and it’s been over a week since I darkened the feed here. The funny thing is I’ve actually been quite active in the word department, it’s just that my efforts have been focused on my first novel, tentatively titled “Dust”. It represents just over a year of effort, interspersed as it was with other work, but as I near the conclusion I’m picking up speed. Crossing the 150,000 word mark seemed a good time to come up for some air!

I anticipate being done with that first draft this summer. While my proof readers give it the once (Or twice) over, I’ll be reapplying myself towards shorter form work. As I’ve gotten better as a writer I’m definitely getting faster, and the short stories should come rapid and furious soon enough. I also have quite a few posts still in draft status for this feed.

In other news, I have the Meacham Writer’s Workshop to attend at the end of this month, where I’ll be getting feedback on my short story “The Divine Relation” from professional writers and fellow aspiring professionals alike.

In other, other news, thanks to the success of a certain once self-published, post-apocalyptic speculative fiction series, I should probably come up with a new name for my novel. For reasons that will become clear when I get a reasonably polished version of the first few thousand words up, I’m considering “Raleigh”.

Thanks for reading, and remember: words matter.