The Writing Life: A Blessing in Disguise

Writing CupOne evening, in November 1998, there was a knock on the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone so I dreaded that it was going to be one of those “pop ins”. It was one of those nights where I happened to be on a roll, getting some pages of the novel down and I really didn’t want to have to stop in order to entertain. Besides, I really couldn’t “entertain” anyone in that hovel anyway. So I paused, answered the door. It was the landlord’s son informing me that he was getting married and that the apartment I was living in was going to be converted into a one bedroom apartment—for himself and his future wife, that is. In other words, I had to go, and I had to be out within two months. I thanked him and he left. I sat down, thought about it a moment and panicked. Where the hell was I going to go? What was I to do with all my stuff? I had no money to speak of and I sure as hell didn’t want to move back in with my mother at 32 years old. I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. It was going to be at least another six months before my tax return came in, which would give me enough to look for a new apartment.

Luckily, my friend Linda came to the rescue and told me that I could move in with her for the time being. So basically that meant I had to pack up all my shit, store it and take only the essentials with me. Over the next few weeks, that’s exactly what I did, packing away the tons of books and furniture, etc. By January the following year (1999), I was out of the hovel and in with my friend. All I took with me were some clothes, my computer and a couple of books.

Living there wasn’t a problem, of course. The problem was that I was so used to having my own space with everything at my disposal. I never had a roommate in my life. It was going to be an adjustment of sorts. Besides, it wasn’t my apartment and I was sure it was going to be something of an inconvenience to her having me crammed in there with her. I was basically living in the corner of her living room, sleeping on an old fold out foam couch I happened to leave behind at my mother’s house when I moved out of there seven years earlier. I had my little corner set up and continued to work. I wrote little of the novel in this period but I still wrote a lot of poetry and continued to submit work to wherever I could. I got a couple of publications during this period and a few broadside publications as well. I was also still working on the literary magazine at this point as well and it was around this time when all the nonsense and egomaniacs started to appear. It was getting to be too much and I thought about chucking in the literary magazine at that point.

The problems started when I had this idea of releasing tiny broadsides for select poets. I thought it was an interesting idea. Each poet would have their own and I would “sell” them for the price of a self-addressed stamped envelope. I made up a bunch of post cards advertising the idea and sent them out to all the contacts I had at the time, which numbered in the hundreds. The series began with two poets who I really admired. The postcards went out, some of the journals and magazines got the word out about it and soon poets began submitting their work for publication. The idea behind it all was not to make anyone rich, of course. It was to help further their exposure, yet another place for their work to be read and distributed. This is how the underground thing worked. I wound up doing about nine of them before ending the project altogether due to the aggravation of having to deal with runaway egos and completely ungrateful bastards. Most of the poets took things in stride, realized it was what it was and kept things in enormous perspective. There was only a press run of about two hundred and depending on how quickly they went out the door would determine who got reprinted and who didn’t. To me, that made sense. After all, what was I going to do with hundreds of these little broadsides had no one wanted them, right?

Well, one enterprising poet had gotten in touch expressing his interest in having one of these broadsides done for him. But it wasn’t as simple as that, of course. In his letter to me, he demanded that the press run be around 13,000! Otherwise, he said, what was the point in doing them at all? 13,000. The guy was clearly nuts. His letter of introduction went on to say that he thought the whole thing was a potential “rip off.” Being that I wasn’t taking any money from anyone and wasn’t “selling” them per se (an SASE at the time was thirty-something sense, I think), how would I be “ripping him off”? So here was his letter of introduction to me in a nutshell: “I demand a print run of 13,000 and I think you’re trying to rip me off.” Needless to say I tossed his crap into the wastebasket without another word. I guess I just couldn’t recognize his “genius”, you know? There were other sorted crazy things like this coming in as well with regard to this project, things that literally bowled me over when reading them. It was astonishing how many small press poets, who only had a handful of readers at best, seemed to think they were deserving of some kind of royal treatment. After doing about nine of them, I decided to stop the project. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation. The ones that did come out did all right. Most poets “sold out” and quite a few of them got some reviews as well. The funny thing was, I never did one for myself, although I easily could have. I didn’t want to, though, preferring to take an “editors” role instead. Just another example of the increasing insanity the small press world was starting to turn into.

In the meantime, I put out another chapbook of poetry, through my own press this time, called “The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face”, a provocative title to be sure, utilizing a line taken from an Andrei Cordrescu poem. I chose the title for one reason and one reason only. I wanted to see if anyone would ever review the book with a title such as this. Was the small press truly the “renegades” they claimed to be? I used to laugh while sending this book out to the magazines and journals wondering whether or not they would be brave enough to review it but I also hoped the title wouldn’t turn them off to the work that was within it. A sort of double edged sword to be sure but this was a private joke of mine, really. The thought of seeing it in print in the form of a review really tickled me. Amazingly enough, quite a few of the small press magazines did actually review itand because of those reviews, I actually sold a handful of copies. There were only 100 of them in existence anyway. I figured that I didn’t even have 100 readers so why print more than that. Taking the 20 or 30 that I sent out for reviews into account, I actually sold them out, which surprised the hell out of me. There was never another printing of this book. Once it was gone, it was gone. Needless to say I was greatly pleased to have sold them out, something I never thought would happen in a million years. Did it bring me any recognition whatsoever? No. But that wasn’t really the point. The point is that about 70 to 80 people who would have never read me before now had and to me, that was better than having these poems simply lie on a page, in a folder in my desk drawer.

Another broadside came out around this time as well, “These Are Not Words”, through Lucid Moon Press. The broadside thing I always loved. They were simple things, basically a sheet of paper with a couple of poems (and sometimes graphics) on them. They were very popular in underground circles. It was a good way to get a sampling of someone’s poems without having to take a chance on buying a whole book. Sometimes these things were given away, other times sold for a dollar or the cost of a stamp. A cheap, economical way to see what was going on. I don’t know whoever bought or received this one though but it was a good feeling to know there was something else floating around “out there” at the time.

The weeks and months went on, I wrote a little, and finally, around June of that year, my tax refund came in with just the right amount for me to get a new apartment. It took about a week before I found one, this time a real apartment, in a building, with an elevator, not someone’s converted garage where I would sweat to death in the summer and freeze to death in the winter. For the first time since moving out of my mother’s house, I felt like a human being. Naturally, though, during the moving process, I tore a muscle in my leg, putting me down for the count for a little while but still, it felt good to have found a place. I took a couple of weeks to set things up and eventually went back to work on the novel. I re-read all that I had written up to that point and sat back and heaved a heavy sigh. It just wasn’t working. I still didn’t know what the hell I was trying to do. I was just writing and it was going nowhere. If anything, it seemed like a long, overblown version of my journal, which made sense, being that I was drawing from it quite a bit. But it didn’t seem like a “book” to me.

So I would go back to the writers I loved, the books I loved, read them in sections to “see” how they did what they did; to learn how they did and what they did. I kept asking myself about what it was exactly that appealed to me. I did this for quite awhile, sort of “educating” myself. In the meantime, I tinkered, I toyed, I rearranged, I tossed out this section, re-wrote that one, sometimes feeling satisfied and other times looking it over again and feeling nothing but defeat.

It simply wasn’t working.

(To be continued….)

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The Writing Life: A Blessing in Disguise, 6.3 out of 10 based on 11 ratings
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About the Author:

Born and raised in New York City. I am a musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and also has 12 books under his belt:
"Standing On Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion" (Alpha Beat Press, 1996), "The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face" (Black Spring Press, 1999), "Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes" (Budget Press, 2000), "Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke In The Air" (Black Spring Press, 2001), "Existential Labyrinths" (Black Spring Press, 2003), "Window Shopping For A New Crown of Thorns" (Lulu Press, 2007), "November Rust" (Lulu Press, 2007), "My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains" (Lulu Press 2007), "A Symphony of Olives" (Propaganda Press, 2009) and "Divertimiento" (Propaganda Press, 2009). His second novel "Naderia" was released in January 2011 and his third, "Be Still and Know That I Am" (Beat Corrida) was released in September 2011. He is also currently playing guitar and bass for NYC singer/songwriter Linda La Porte. View My Profile

  • I’ve read this one before and the guy who wanted the 13,000 run still makes me laugh, and then to say he thought you may be ripping him off, what a nutjob. Where do these people get their thinking from, just incredible. Good stuff, love these articles.

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    • Thanks Garry. Yeah, that guy was a total tool -- and there were others, believe me. Just wait until the one about the “famous poet” comes along. Now THAT’S a great story! 🙂

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  • I enjoyed this quite a bit. I still find it interesting (and sad) the number of people with an enlarged (and unearned) sense of entitlement. I’ve also not grasped the concept of Nanowrimo. Yes, we can plug along typing words into our computers until we have something “book length”…but…unless we’re Type A and have a clear superfocused idea where we want it to go and all the little steps it needs to move through to get there…it’s a bunch of words. Not a book.

    Someday I’ll get there. Someday.

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    • Thank you Elisa. I am always amazed at some of the attitudes you run across. I guess it goes with the territory. You have them in all fields, unfortunately. I really don’t like it when people are arrogant. One could be proud of what they do but these folks I refer to in these pieces are already “legends in their own minds.” I always said if you want to see the nuts crawl out of the woodwork, start a literary magazine. The guy I refer to in this one is really only the tip of the iceberg, believe me. It’s unfortunate, really.

      I’ve heard of the Nanowrimo thing too but never participated in it. I couldn’t possibly write a novel in a month. As it is it takes me at a minimum, a year -- and that’s factoring in all the rewrites and revisions, edits, etc. I don’t write quickly because most of the time I’m working with a kernel of an idea with no idea where the hell its going. It always develops as I’m working on it and 9 times out of 10, what I wind up with is not even close to the original idea. Sometimes it takes on a life of its own.

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      • I think I found my writing soul mate! 🙂 I do the same thing. I start with a who and a where and it totally goes it’s own way. No one’s ever understood that before.

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        • Hi Elisa! It’s rare that I have a whole idea fleshed out. Even with my short stories, I usually only have a one line idea like “A coffee shop owner befriends a homeless poet” and then I start to write from there, not having any idea at all what’s going to happen. With the novels it’s the same way.

          I JUST released a new novel called “Mediterraneo.” The idea behind that came from my genealogical research for my own family. The idea came to me, “two lifelong friends decide to visit their ancestral hometown to learn more about their roots” and it all went from there. Originally, I had intended it to be this huge celebration of Mediterranean culture but it turned into this extremely dark noir thriller type thing. So I never know what’s going to happen. That’s what makes it exciting -- and fun -- for me. I have “tons” of ideas like that, waiting to be written, but no clear idea what the hell it’s going to be in the end. 🙂

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