Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rachel Nagelberg's Debut Novel "The Fifth Wall"


The Fifth Wall
by
Rachel Nagelberg

(Black Sparrow Press, 176pgs)
Available for Pre-Order and Released on May 15th


There are horror stories that come out of MFA programs, stories that talk of unscrupulous and catty authors-to-be. That was, as I've said before, not a thing I experienced during my time at the University of San Francisco. My philosophy has always been "support other writers" since not one of us will ever know how our books will sell, if they'll sell, or how they'll be critiqued by readers. It makes zero sense to *not* lift up the other writers around us and wish for their success.

So when a former classmate puts out a book, I like to do my best to help hype their work since we are often relegated to hyping our books on our own. An extra voice is always good and welcomed and I am always stoked to be able to help out my former classmates and friends.

I didn't have any classes with Rachel during my time at USF, so I never had a chance to read her work in class, but we interacted often and I know a little about what and who she reads, so I have a decent take on her literary aesthetic. I would be lying if I said I was not super excited to dig into her debut novel immediately.

You can read an excerpt at 3AM Magazine: 

Another excerpt should be forthcoming from The Brooklyn Rail. 

She currently has two readings scheduled to promote the book: 

Tuesday, May 16th w/Stephen Beachy @ Skylight Books in Los Angeles
Thursday, May 18th w/TBD @ The Booksmith in San Francisco


About the Book

"In this debut novel by Rachel Nagelberg, conceptual artist Sheila B. Ackerman heeds a mysterious urge to return to her estranged family home and arrives at the exact moment of her mother’s suicide. In an attempt to cope with and understand her own self destructive tendencies, Sheila plants a camera on the lawn outside the house to film 24/7 while workers deconstruct the physical object that encases so many of her memories. Meanwhile, as she begins to experience frequent blackouts, she finds herself hunting a robot drone through the San Francisco MOMA with a baseball bat, part of a provocative, technological show, The Last Art, and resuming a violent affair with her college professor. With a backdrop of post-9/11 San Francisco, Sheila navigates the social-media-obsessed, draught-ridden landscape of her life, exploring the frail line between the human impulse to control everything that takes place around us and the futility of excessive effort to do so. The Fifth Wall allows readers to explore from a safe distance the recesses of their own minds, leaving the haunting feeling of depths that yet remain unknown."



Blurbs

"Set into motion by an inexplicable, traumatic and violent real-life event, Rachel Nagelberg’s 
brilliant first novel begins at the limits of contemporary art, as it attempts to reflect the 
ungraspable present.  Born in 1984 into a familiarly frayed American family, her protagonist Sheila B. Ackerman, a former art student, is neither especially likable or unlikeable: that is, she’s incredibly real.  A close artistic cousin to Joni Murphy’s Double Teenage and Natasha Stagg’s Surveys, The Fifth Wall is a new kind of novel.  Female and philosophical, emotion flows through the book across a dense and familiarly incomprehensible web of information, from satellite selfies to awkward sex to internet beheadings and shamanic tourism in the third world. Nagelberg's engrossing narration is littered with stunning perception: We look into the distance to be able to see what’s right in front of us. She writes without affect, and with unselfconscious acuity. That is, she writes really well."  

– Chris Kraus, 
author of I Love Dick



"Nagelberg has a true gift, able to write gorgeously on the line level with unctuous images. And simultaneously, there's a readable page-turner here. Most of us are lucky to do one of those, which is a testament to the singular talent.  This book cascades beauty and meaning and truth."

– Joshua Mohr, 
author of All This Life and Termite Parade, a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick



"The Fifth Wall crackles with braininess and sex. It's hallucinatory and interactive and funny and sad and it has something incandescent to show you." 

– Stephen Beachy, 
author of The Whistling Song and Distortion, and professor at the University of San Francisco




About the Author


Rachel Nagelberg is an American novelist, 
poet, 
and conceptual artist living in Los Angeles. 

The Fifth Wall is her debut novel. 


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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Brain Swapping



With the publication of my short story collection "Scaring the Stars into Submission" (which you can buy HERE), I've found myself in a hyper-creative state of mind. I've shuttered myself up in my apartment the last two weekends to do editing and revising on two more literary projects: "Rise," a magical realism novel about a two year flood that drowns a large part of a tropical countryside, and "The Machinery of the Heart: Love Stories," a collection that's been completed for awhile now, but won't be released until later this year.

I always knew my thinking changed when I started focusing on writing more than the many extraneous trappings of daily life, but it was never as obvious as this week in a text exchange with my friend Mike. We were discussing weekend plans and I told him that I had fully planned on staying in to focus, that I wanted zero distractions all weekend. He said he understood and that it sounded like I had a plan as far as productivity over the course of the next three years goes. To which I responded "No plan means huge gaps between releases. Sometimes you gotta drown in the silence to hear the whispers of the fiction.

He laughed and said he could tell I was writing again solely from my syntax.

And he was right. I once wrote about disconnecting (from technology) in an effort to allow your brain room to breathe (you can read that HERE). It's essential for the creative mind to often forget about the projects, whether it's painting or writing or music. Stepping away is a good thing. It often allows new inspiration to bubble up in the back of your mind...at least it does for me.

I spent most of 2016 simply reconnecting with friends and trying to go out and do more up until I threw out my back. Even then, I had several friends keep me company many of those nights as I struggled with pain management and eventually surgery. It was a good year to really step back from the writing and focus on the important things. The life/work/creative life balance can be a hard one to achieve.



And I think I've finally found it. I recently got promoted at work to the Senior Content Editor position. There's still editing to do, but the majority of my work is administrative in nature. Payroll, hiring and firing, etc. This allows me to do more editing and revising of my own work once I get home. The more work done during the week means more time to spend with friends on the weekend. We're not quite there yet, but we're closer.

But I digress. Making a conscious effort to slip back into full on writing has certainly changed the way I approach everything else. I say things with more thought behind them. I leave my phone in the bedroom while I write on the floor of my living room, preventing myself from checking it every five minutes (which is completely unnecessary). Time slows down and I become more productive. Last weekend I edited 17 of the 18 stories in "The Machinery of the Heart" and it's nearly 400 pages long at the moment. Currently, every edited piece is perfectly formatted and ready to be published by Amazon.

Rereading through all those stories has brought up other ideas and notions worth exploring in future stories, many of which I hope will find their way into the third collection currently titled "Trying to Prepare for a Life I'll Never Have." That same Mike said that phrase as we spoke about past relationships and I was hit by the weightiness of all the narrative possibilities found in that single statement. It encapsulates so much in just nine simple words.

So for now, I've swapped out the social brain for the creative brain. I always like to feel that I'm moving forward, that there is some personal goal I'm approaching. If I feel like I'm stagnating, I become frustrated. There is always something else out there to be gained when one exercises the discipline to make it happen.

I put out my first book. I sold 146 copies in the first month and I couldn't be more thrilled about that. People seem to be enjoying it. I also got promoted at work, which is the first time that's happened since working at a pizza joint in high school some 20+ years ago. These are the things that keep me moving forward, that keep me pushing myself to do better and to be better. Sometimes brain swapping is necessary in order to make sure you get what you want out of life...just make sure you're putting plenty back into it.



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Monday, January 9, 2017

The Struggle of Independently Publishing Your Book

Regular readers will know that I released a short story collection 10 days ago through the Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing site. Should you wish to buy a copy, you can find all the requisite information at this link here.

It has, understandably, not been without its workflow hurdles. And if you're thinking about releasing a work of your own through Amazon, you'll find some good notes below on how to approach it all.

The last story I included in the collection, "Marina, Patina, Corona," was finished in July of 2015 before I moved back to Kansas City. Otherwise, all the stories in the collection were written right after I finished grad school in December of 2011 all the way through 2013. It was a fun project which forced me to keep writing, even if the format (the short story) had not been one that I really studied or focused on during my grad school days.



Compiling the collection was easy; many of the stories felt connected in some way, so placing them in a particular order in the book itself wasn't difficult. I had no skill in creating cover art, but as a reader, I knew that the cover was muy importante and needed to convey a similar aesthetic feeling to that found within its pages.

As I'm the type to try to spread the artistic love around, I enlisted the help of my old and dear friend Rob. An artist (and DJ) himself, I thought he'd be a solid candidate for the job. We'd played many gigs together and had a lot of late nights playing records in basements and clubs around town, but we hadn't done anything non-musical together before and I wanted to see what his brain could come up with based on a few stories I emailed him and a few things that I was looking for. I was not disappointed with the final version of his creation.



Once Rob had a general idea of what I was looking for, he set to work. Meanwhile, I tried to make sure all my pages were formatted correctly, paginated right, and the table of contents matched up to everything just so. It would not be a stretch to say that I completely revamped the formatting of this book at least 20 times before we finally nailed it.

FOR THE PAPERBACK:

I chose a standard 6x9 book through the KDP site. It's a good size without being too strange or too bulky in any direction. When saving your Word documents to upload to the Amazon site, ALWAYS make sure you change the size of your Word docs to fit the size of your book. Amazon does NOT alter that for you...though they have plenty of for-pay services that will do all this for you; pass on that. You'll be glad you did.

You can change the size of your documents in Word by choosing "Layout" in the top menu bar, then clicking on "Size," and then choosing "More Paper Sizes" at the bottom of the drop-down menu to input 6.00 x 9.00. SUPER easy, but if you have strange formatting like I did, you'll definitely want to spot check every line to make sure the layout looks the way you want it to. Actually, you'll just want to do that with everything throughout the process. Again, it's a slog, but way worth the work you put into it.

I set my margins on each document to be 1" on all sides. It looks like a lot of white space through the previewer on the site, but I can assure you it will be fine when it all prints out. My book could not have come out more perfect in regards to the text and its placement.

For the actual font, I chose a 12-pt Garamond. It's both classy and stylish without being overly one or the other. Plus it's just super easy to read for most people. Win/win.

Because I did not have the ability to combine all my Word docs into a single PDF (though I've figured out how to do so now through other avenues), Rob helped me achieve that as well. It's important to note here that you'll have plenty of blank pages at the beginning of your book. I should've included about three more and really thought harder about the layout, but I'm still very happy with the final product.

A good rule of thumb when turning your text all into one large document: two blank pages, your title page, your info page (ISBN number, rights reserved, copyright, etc), two more blank pages, then your table of contents. It can be hard to wrap the brain around the formatting of a book when looking at single documents in Word.

When you finish with the text of one page in this first section (and you plan on adding more pages), go to the end of your chosen text, click "Insert" in the menu bar, choose "Page Break," and then begin adding the text for the next page. Repeat the process as needed. This will provide clean pages that translate well through the upload and review process.

Because I had a story collection, pagination was difficult to get done right. There was a foreword included by my dear friend Surya at the beginning (page numbers were in lower case Roman Numerals) and then the collection came after. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would've made sure that the title of each story, while on its own singular page, fell on the left side of the book rather than fell on whatever side came next. This is a style issue and a personal preference for me, however. With enough playing around, you'll figure out what works for you.

I put the acknowledgments/dedications at the back of the book. Some people put these at the front. Again, this is up to you. After that, the author bio. I should've added maybe two or three blank pages after that.

Once you've got your documents paginated and combined correctly, you *should* be able to upload the entire document to the paperback option on the KDP site. It won't spellcheck your document for you, so make sure you've already done that and everything's solid on that end. If there are any conflicting issues with the sizing of your cover art and the size of your document, the KDP site will let you know. If no conflicts arise, then you're off to set pricing on your book!

I honestly reformatted this book some 20 or 30 times. Different fonts, different font sizes, different margins...everything. Don't get beaten down by the amount of work you have to do on the front end. If you want it all to look right the first time, spend the extra couple hours making sure. Your readers will thank you and you'll be less likely to beat yourself up later for having not taken those extra steps in the beginning.



FOR THE KINDLE / E-Reader:

Luckily, formatting your pages is a bit easier (I think). You don't need page numbers and you don't need to worry about margins. If you have titles in different parts of the book that tie back directly to your table of contents, you should do this for every title in your document: highlight the title within the text (not the one in the table of contents). Choose "Heading 2" in the right side of the formatting menu in Word and biggity bam. This should allow e-readers to simply click on that particular title in the table of contents and jump them right there. 

After each separate section/chapter, go to the end of your chosen text, click "Insert" in the menu bar, choose "Page Break," and then begin adding the text for the next page. Repeat the process as needed. This will provide clean pages that translate well through the upload and review process. 

Remove indentations. Read that again and make sure you understand. Paragraphs that start with indentations are going to translate funny in the digital readers. Just remove them all to eliminate that headache. It looks funny on the page, but it will look fantastically streamlined in the digital format. 

Once you've got your entire single document ready to upload to the Kindle option on the KDP site, save it as a Rich Text Format file. You can do this in Word by clicking "File," then "Save As," then choose "Rich Text Format" from the drop down menu provided beneath the file name of your document. Whereas it took me several times to upload a proper document to the paperback side of things, I only had to do the Kindle side of things once and it all came out looking pretty great. 

It should go without saying that you should check EVERY page of your manuscript through every step of this process. Technology ain't perfect and neither are you, so double, triple, and quadruple check everything EVERY step of the way. If you put out an imperfect product, you'll hate yourself for not spending the extra hour or two doing this. It will genuinely eat you alive from the inside out and it will definitely disappoint your readers. If you can't be bothered to make sure your book looks right, how can a reader be sure your actual book is worth reading? 



And now...there are tons of digital markets out there, so you don't need to start with Amazon/KDP or CreateSpace, but there are certainly some benefits to doing so. I imagine if I had started with CreateSpace first, I'd be a little happier, but I'm not sure. What I do know is this: after 5 days, Amazon started discounting my book from $15.00 down to $12.00. I wasn't notified about this. After contacting them, I was told they could offer discounts if they wanted, but if the price needed to change, then I needed to go through my distributor or publisher to make those changes. Frustrating, as that put a damper on my profits (after printing costs and Amazon's take). So, that's something to keep in mind.

Otherwise, I'd say the whole process has been (thus far) pretty easy. If you don't know how to hustle your own book to people, you may want to do some research on that months before you ever plan on releasing it. Social media is a good way to get people interested, but you're more likely to have friends and family already in place ready to support your writing habit. If not, you're going to have a very tough time getting people to find and read your book in a sea of books that already drowns the reading public.

As always, your best bet is to simply write something people have not read before, something that doesn't feel or read like anything else, something that makes you stand out as an author people should start paying attention to.


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Saturday, December 31, 2016

"Scaring the Stars into Submission" - NOW ON SALE!


"Scaring the Stars into Submission" 
by Adam "Bucho" Rodenberger

16 stories across 354pgs

A blend of science fiction, magical realism, and dark surrealism spread out across a dystopian landscape. 

$9.99 for the Kindle/E-Reader Version
$15.00 for the Paperback Version

Available for Purchase Here - Kindle/E-Reader

Available for Purchase Here - Paperback

A great, unnamed event. A world both drowning and engulfed in flames.
Autopsies reveal gardens of lilies sprouting up inside the rib cages of the dead.
Clouds fall to the earth and affect the behavior of those that come in contact with them.
Revolution and violent uprisings spread through nations across the globe.
Twelve blind men in a basement transcribe the history of the world as it burns down around them.
Nightmares become reality; reality becomes nightmare.
Families turn to reluctant cannibalism in the hopes of waiting out the horrors beyond.
Corporations push to create a new population to replace the old one.
Philosophical musings from a balcony overlooking a dark, empty city.
A brief moment of something good between lovers as the world begins to slowly recover.

These are the stories before the event.
These are the stories during the event.
These are the stories after the event.
These are the stories of people coping and surviving, fighting to live, or fighting just to be doing something, anything.

The stories in this collection are brief moments, tiny pockets of surreal happenstance, but pure emotion. Each piece ties into the next by the tiniest filament, each story connected to the one before and the one after, each trying to hold on to some bit of normalcy, but failing in spectacular and terrifying ways.




“Maybe we had reached a point where we were forcing ourselves to believe in something better, something different than what this current reality was spoon-feeding us on a daily basis. The psyche can’t cope with such bleak surroundings for long. Something inside breaks, either for good or ill, but it breaks regardless. Maybe we were just tired of being broken and didn’t know how to go about fixing ourselves.”



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Friday, December 30, 2016

Today We Made a Book; Tomorrow We Try to Convince People to Read It



I graduated from the University of San Francisco in December of 2011. Over the course of three summer semesters, two fall semesters, and two spring semesters, I had completed a single novel ("Impasto"), half completed another ("Rise") and completed most of a four-part novella (currently called "Green Leaf, Brown Leaf"). I would've wasted my time had I not left the program with tons of material to work with upon graduating.

Ironically, it was none of these projects I returned to immediately after graduation. I had a wealth of seemingly disconnected pieces of flash fiction, the longest measuring *maybe* 4 pages. I knew I had to keep producing new work post-grad school, but realized a full on novel was a lot of work for where my head was at then. Instead, I tried to see if any of these flash fiction pieces were worth expanding and fleshing out, worth completing to find the end of the story.




For months, I remained on my strange sleep schedule; go to bed at 7pm, wake up at 2am, have a smoke outside my building in the black San Francisco night, and type out whatever ideas came to me on my phone. The fruits of that labor are now available in a single collection called "Scaring the Stars into Submission," which is now up for sale on Amazon in hard copy. Digital copies will be made available soon; their formatting is significantly different from that of their hard copy brethren.

From February 6th, 2012 to September 1st, 2014, I spent every writing moment focused almost entirely on completing this collection. "Marina, Patina, Corona" was the last story to be completed while "Firebug for Hire" was the first. There was often no rhyme or reason to which story was completed when, only that sometimes one felt more ready to be written over the others.

What I did not expect was the stories left untold in the pages I had yet written. I flat out love this collection. At the time, I was reading a lot of Blake Butler, Ben Marcus, and Matt Bell, all of whom do fantastic work linguistically in some very strange narrative situations and settings. These authors were my base and had a great influence over me. Their books "Scorch Atlas," "The Flame Alphabet," and "How They Were Found" (respectively) have been read over and over again because they are just that good. They are also just that engaging in subject matter for me.

I did not want to self-publish. I had read entirely too many excerpts of books that were poorly edited, poorly written, or both. This tainted my ideas of the nature of self-publishing through Amazon. Publishing houses and editors alike had no interest in publishing the collection as a whole, so I finally decided this summer (2016) to do it myself.

I cannot explain to you how vital my friend Rob Romine was in the final stages of the process. I've known Rob nearly the entire 16 years that I've been a DJ. He worked at one of the record stores I would often frequent on the weekends and, eventually (with mutual friend RJ Bass), asked me to join them in their Sunday night downtempo/trip hop residency in the Martini Corner part of Kansas City. I've made mixes in his basement, partied with him long into the night, and gotten to make some fun music with him over the years. But having his patience and his technical skills in handling this cover art and making sure the page formats were up to snuff has been invaluable through this entire process. There was scotch a-flowin' once we realized we'd gotten both the manuscript and the cover art perfected and accepted. Especially considering how much we volleyed back and forth with ideas, whether on cover art or simply trying to get the right formatting on the page to fit the templates through the Amazon site. Today alone, I spent no fewer than 8 hours on preparation for this. A lot of good lessons learned, a lot of mistakes that won't get repeated again so the process goes smoother next time.

There is also an incredibly beautiful foreword by my good friend and brother-from-another-mother Surya K Kalsi at the beginning of the collection. We went through literary boot camp together and we could not be more different in our personal aesthetics, but we are both very, very serious when it comes to the craft. He keeps a blog called Headers, Margins, and Footnotes that is always worth reading. He also has a book out, published by Little Feather Books that can be bought HERE or HERE. It is an unbelievably, beautifully written book that's easy to get lost in for several hours at a time.



For now, my book remains "In Review" on the Amazon site. It's also currently only available in paperback since digital copies require a more stringent and particular formatting (which I'll be doing this week). So don't worry, a digital copy is coming soon for those of you that love the e-readers.

Once the link goes live on Amazon for the paperback copy, I'll create another post. Until then, you'll have to wait the same way I do for this link to be available. I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I know it's WAY the hell outside of the average reader's wheelhouse; it's far too strange in places for most. But I honestly think the heart is there. I think there is some very solid storytelling happening in several of these stories and I could not be happier with the finished product.

It's looking to be a solid start to 2017.




And speaking of 2017, a little memory popped up on my Facebook news feed today about the number of places I submitted to over the years. The post is worth repeating here: 

"2012: submitted stories to 15 places.
2013: submitted stories to 148 places. 
2014: submitted stories to 237 places. 
2015: submitted stories to 262 places. 
2016: submitted stories to 116 places 
and released a full short story collection. 

Hustle harder. Do more with your time. It gets easier the longer you do it." 

And it's true, it *does* get easier the longer you do it. I've already got a second collection of stories ready to go, but which I'll be sitting on for most of 2017 while I work on a third collection and one of my novels-in-progress. I'm not a fan of floating in place; if there's no forward momentum happening in my life, I feel like I'm simply wasting it. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more literary news on my end as it comes. 

Quit wasting your talents. Grab the bull by the horns, gather up your supplies, and go create the hell out of something for people to enjoy. You'll be glad you did. 


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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wrapping Up the Weirdness of 2016



Where do I even start with this year?

Musically, we lost Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Maurice White, and Leonard Cohen. Other notables include Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Alan Rickman, and so many more. Some were less surprising due to health issues, but no less sad to see pass on.



I also lost two friends this year, John and Cheri, two fantastic people. You can read more about them here.

Personally, however, my year was full of creativity. As a DJ, I played 22 gigs and made 19 mixes of various musical styles, 5 of which were recorded live at their respective events. You can enjoy my entire collection of mixes at my mixcloud site HERE. There are 59 mixes of various styles of house, trip hop, hip hop, downtemo, techno, funk, soul, boogie...you get the idea. If you can't find a mix I've done that you enjoy, then you haven't checked them all out yet. There's a little something for everyone, guaranteed.



As a writer, I finished writing fewer stories than I would've liked (3), but had 2 short stories picked up for publication and wrote 9 articles for the Weekend Collective / YeahKC! sites. I'm also releasing my first short story collection called "Scaring the Stars into Submission" on Amazon in both digital and hard copy. I could not be more excited about it as my good friend Rob Romine did the cover art and was infinitely patient with my constant revision requests to his evolving work.

I think the contents of the collection will be a deeply disturbing surprise for those that have never read my stuff before, but who may know me as an individual. The contrast between the art and the artist is stark. I've never been able to really explain why so much of what I produce lies firmly at the bottom of deep, haunted canyons other than I find that the stories first birthed and then unearthed in the dark are the most interesting to me. Trite, happy endings tend to leave me feeling like I've been robbed of some kind of reality, like some kind of truth has been glossed over and hidden away from hearts and minds seeking something tangible due to a need for something pretty in the end. Fiction should reveal truths about ourselves, not obscure them.




I did a fair amount of traveling, seeing my degenerate West Coast family in San Francisco in May, the Missouri Ozarks twice, Chicago with that same West Coast family in August, and then Phoenix in November. I spent the majority of the summer in my pool, entertaining friends and family alike. The days in the unbelievably hot sun (95+ degrees most of the summer) were tempered by the water, a small pleasure I've not gotten to enjoy for the last several years. Pretty sure I made up for all that lost time with my afternoons in the pool.

In November, I saw my youngest sister get married to a guy who I immediately liked the moment I met him. That's pretty huge considering I'm the older brother and there's always the inherent tendency to protect our sisters from those that don't have their best interests at heart. They seem to be perfect for each other, which pleases the hell out of me. They always seem to be in good spirits around each other and in relation to each other. That bodes well for the longevity of their union.

And then there was the Presidential election, which I won't even go into, mostly because I've always wanted to keep this blog politics-free despite having minored in it and having followed political discourse since high school. Suffice it to say, I'm less than enthused by who the country decided to elect. I'm mildly terrified by the quality of people being put into cabinet positions. Not terrified for myself, mind you; I'm terrified for all my people of color, my womenfolk, and my LGBTQ family across the country. They have the most to lose right now.

A light injury in February turned into a very serious injury in September. What I first imagined was a pulled muscle in my back became something much more dangerous: a herniated and ruptured disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae with pieces of the disc having broken off and fallen down my spinal column. There, they pressed against my sciatic nerve, which caused severe pain down my entire left leg. Xrays, an MRI, and a surgery later, things are back to being semi-normal. There's still a significant amount of pain in the mornings, but with a little movement and forced walking, that tends to go away relatively quickly. Another few weeks and I should be back to 100%.


Every year brings new lessons to learn if one is paying enough attention or bothers to take the time out for reflection (as I often find myself doing more the older I get). Some lessons hit harder than others; some are just purely surprising in their repetition or their suddenly obvious nature. I am easily distracted by certain things or people and that was certainly true this year. But, with the deaths of my friends early in the year, I made the conscious effort to spend more time with the people I left over six years ago and returned to last year. It's a decision I would gladly make again despite how some of the situations turned out. It's all been worth it.

I came away with two lessons this year, both worth discussion and revision, but both feeling apropos of the events of my moving back to Kansas City.

Lesson 1: Some doors aren't meant to be opened; not by keys, not by words, and not by force.

Lesson 2: If the status quo is good enough, don't go asking or looking for more; always be grateful. 

I don't know quite what to expect out of the next year. I'm fully planning on making serious creative moves, having decided to pick up painting as another outlet to my writing and my music. Perhaps, if I get good enough, I'll try to pain the cover of my next story collection "Machinery of the Heart: Love Stories," which is completely and totally done. I've also commissioned my friend Makenzie to do some of her collage work for the cover, so we'll see which route we go. I'm realizing I'd like to be able to showcase the talents of my friends on the cover of each book I release. Plenty of them don't get enough credit or exposure for the cool things that they produce, which is disappointing.

It'd be nice to see "Scaring the Stars into Submission" do well, however. No publishing house, no agent, just all hustle on my end and a little high gloss sheen by a friend. Weird that publishers and agents didn't want the collection despite so many of the stories having already been picked up and published by a large number of reputable magazines and literary journals. Maybe it's just too weird for most, which is fine. My stuff has always been far left of center conceptually. I always knew I'd be writing for a very small, niche group of readers with very specific tastes.

Regardless, it's not worth worrying over. The only thing left to do is create and never stop.



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Friday, December 16, 2016

Ki Russell's "The Wolf at the Door"


If done right, your life gets filled with different casts of characters on a pretty regular basis. I've been fortunate to have known some pretty amazing (I think) writers, entertainers, and thinkers. One of those, a writer, I met during my creative writing days at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her name was Ki Russell. While we never hung out outside of the classroom, she was always incredibly friendly and her critiques towards other student writings were always fair and never laced with subversive barbs or jabs, even if she didn't particularly like the piece in question.

She put out a book (her third) last year called "The Wolf at the Door," which I was able to read an advanced copy of before it came out through Ars Omnia Press. It is incredibly interesting in that it takes the fairy tales we all know, fractures them, then puts them back together in Picasso-like fashion. Below, you'll find a link where you can purchase the book, a review by Piers Anthony, and a summary of the book itself.

Per usual, yes, I am maybe showing a little nepotism towards former classmates by spreading news of their published works here, but I'm of the mindset that I'd like to see them ALL succeed. Anything less than that kind of thinking is petty and not worth vocalizing or printing.

Summary

"The Wolf at the Door" combines fiction and poetry to present the interrupted narrative of Lana, a contemporary revision of the Little Red Riding Hood figure. Each snippet of Lana’s story weaves her life ever more densely and intimately into the weft of a wider world of fairy tale-inspired figures, against which the protagonist’s story unfolds and through which she discovers who and what she is. Interwoven between the sections of this narrative are poems exploring other fairy tale figures, the perspective of these poems alternating between the contemporary and the timeless time of fairy tales. Baba Yaga appears in her hut in the woods and also as a Kali-figure living among us in the suburbs: devouring, monstrous, sexual, divine. She subsequently appears in the fairy tale tavern where she guides the heroine of the disrupted narrative, who works and interacts with other fairy tale figures traditionally cast as villains. Ultimately, Lana must come to recognize her own identity as both the maiden (Red Riding Hood) and the crone (grandmother) which allows her to draw power from both of these extremes of the female archetype.

Review by Piers Anthony 

I read The Wolf at the Door, by Ki Russell. This is not your usual fantasy. It is set in a pub where fairy tale characters congregate in a neutral setting. I'd have to review a number of fairy tales that I was familiar with when my daughters were children if I wanted to catch all the references, but did recognize the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, who is trying to recover the harp that Jack stole. Also Little Red Riding hood who now has a fairly familiar association with the Wolf—they sleep together, though I'm not sure there's sex—and dances at the pub. The story, of a sort, is told in snatches, some of which is blank verse. I am intrigued by a blue rose plant that can be affectionate or deadly, and clearly understands those who interact with it. Definitely not a garden variety plant. Also by an old crone who knows more than she tells, and has powers she mostly conceals. Read this for an experience in outlook, rather than for a coherent story. Adult fantasy, not as a euphemism for sex, but in the necessary maturity of perspective.
(The full review can be found HERE.)


Link for Purchase of All of Ki's Books




Ki Russell teaches writing, literature, and creative writing at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, where she resides with her husband Timothy and two children, Rook and Ashe. They share space with a cat called Draco and a dog named Dooby Dooby Doo.

She holds a Ph.D. in English literature (Creative Writing emphasis) from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and an M.A. in English (Creative Writing emphasis) from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Medulla Publishing released her chapbook, HOW TO BECOME BABA YAGA, in 2011. Ki also has a full-length poetry collection, THE ANTLER WOMAN RESPONDS, from Paladin Contemporaries in 2014.

Ki researches fairy tales and then butchers them for her own uses. She steals time from grading to wrestle with words, converse with the cat, dance with the dog, and paint. She believes people should laugh more.


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