The Writing Life: The Last Straw

With the first draft of the novel now done, I decided to let it sit for a while, then go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes later on and get to work on cutting it down. Still, in the forefront of my mind, I knew this was pretty much an unpublishable novel by conventional standards. It didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try but sometimes you just know what you know. I had been “studying” what kind of fiction was being published at the time and from the looks of it, “November Rust” did not stand a chance in hell. It was too “out there”, too big, too all over the place, too self-consciously flouting all the rules of what “good fiction” is. I was just being realistic. Nevertheless, I finally did what I said I was going to do. I finished the novel. I could do it. So, it remained in the drawer for a while. I was giving it some time before going back to it with the axe.

2004: My one last effort at publishing. Again, I will not name the person I dealt with (it isn’t worth it, nor will I dare promote him in any way, shape or form). He was an American poet living somewhere in South America. I don’t really recall how we wound up connecting but I’m sure it was over the internet somehow. I read his work and really enjoyed it very much. He was a more lyrical poet than I had been used to reading in the small press, steeped in the classics, he really knew his stuff. He wasn’t one of these free verse poets by any means. His work was honed, carefully crafted, and it was obvious he worked on these quite a bit. Again, something not all that common in the small press world where many poets mainly freely associated, wrote about their experiences in their own voices where the classical structures of poetry were completely abandoned. I like this sort of poetry the best anyhow…it’s freer and it tears away any sort of parameters that can sometimes restrict what you want to say. However, this particular poet’s work was very powerful and all within a very classically structured framework. In other words, he was very talented. Very talented.

We began corresponding at first, talking about poetry, writing, literature in general. He was interested in reading my stuff, so he bought one of my chapbooks. I bought his book, which was phenomenal and discovered he was a far superior writer than I was. But this wasn’t about competition. It was about respect for the work; and I really respected what he was doing.

Just like everyone else, he was having a tough time of it. His book had been published by a small press (do large presses really publish poetry anymore? Unless of course you’re Maya Angelou, they don’t). It was a well produced book too, a much more elaborate book that I was capable of doing but I had the idea of offering him to do a chapbook through my own little press. Right from the jump, I explained to him what the deal was. It wasn’t going to be large scale, the books were more like pamphlets than they were the elaborately designed and bound edition his first book was, it would look a lot like mine, I told him and he seemed to understand that. I told him that I didn’t have much money so it would be a little while before I could bring it out. I told him that it probably wouldn’t sell in astronomical numbers but I was involved in a little network that his book would circulate around in and I didn’t have any doubts in my mind that it would be well received. Perhaps one of these other small presses would then offer him publication as well, although I couldn’t promise that. He told me he had a book of Haikus that he had been working on and perhaps that would be a good idea. I thought about it and said, ok, that’s something different. Perhaps that would be a good idea. I told him to send me the manuscript and then we’d take it from there.

So he did and it was full of very well written Haikus. I thought it would make a really nice chapbook and also be a little bit of a change of pace from the usual free verse stuff I’d been putting out. We emailed back and forth for a while, getting an idea of a cover, etc. He basically said it would be great if it looked something like mine did, which was very plain, very sparse. With everything set, I told him I’d get to work on it and would let him know when it would be time to bring it out. I reiterated that it would be some time because I needed to have the money for the printing. He guaranteed me that it would sell. Ok, great.

So the weeks went on. I wrote, I worked on putting his book together, I went traveling with the band, and I turned my attention back to “November Rust” and started the editing process.

About four months went by and I started getting emails from him inquiring about the book. I told him that it was ready to go but I just needed the funds to print them up. He offered to contribute but I didn’t work like that. I didn’t want anyone’s money. I told him that I would take care of it, not to worry. So around mid-2004, I had the money necessary to print up the 100 press run of the chapbooks. I thought they looked pretty good, no better or worse than any of the other hundreds of chapbooks that had been circulating around. I gathered up the amount of “authors copies” and sent the whole package down to South America.

This is what happened next: First, he griped to me about how “cheap” they looked, even though it was exactly like the book of mine he said he loved the look of. Second, as the orders came in for his book, which were many, his friends and family started to email me about how the book was a “cheap little pamphlet”, even though he knew that was what it was going to be—a chapbook. Not a “real”, bound, paperback book. They started writing me about how much I “disrespected” such a fine poet and how he was deserving of so much better—one of those emails, coming from the publisher of his first book, who I guess believed in him so much never put out another work of his ever again, then, much to my surprise (and high amusement), started getting letters from the Better Business Bureau with tons of “complaints” from his family, friends (and them again, using phony names and addresses.

I guess a life long New Yorker would never know there wasn’t such a street as “West Broadway Avenue” in Manhattan). I had to laugh because it wasn’t a business. It was a hobby, technically. But this sort of thing was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the saying goes. I did what any fed up, disgusted, life long New Yorker would do. I tore up these complaints without a word and ignored them, then wrote him an email, giving him a piece of my mind. It was too involved to get into here, but it was quite literally “Fuck you and Fuck off”. Needless to say, that was the absolute end to my publishing endeavors. I vowed never again would I ever do this for anyone. Enough was enough. I vowed that I would no longer help other writers, poets, artists, or whoever else unless they showed signs of appreciation. Since that was few and far between from most of these delusional assholes, it pretty much meant I stopped doing it for the most part. I was done. Finished. The hell with all of them. Let others deal with them. It was time for me to concentrate on myself. What burned me was that I should have learned this from my years being involved with music, since it was very much the same thing. I already knew this regarding the literary circles but I just had to put my energies into it one more time and, surprise, surprise, this is what happened. Ok, fuck it all, I said. No more. Done. Finished. The end.

And I meant it. To this day, I never did anything like that again for anyone. Instead, I put my energies and efforts into my own work and my approach to so-called “networking” would be done with a much more jaundiced eye. I had finally learned, albeit the hard way, that there are those who are serious, humble and willing to work with you, take a mutual interest in things and there are those who are only concerned with themselves. Ok, I could play that game to. From now on, it would be only about myself. Fuck these people, became my mantra.

By the end of the year I had a trimmed down version of the novel but there were still many doubts about it. Reading it all from page one, I liked how some of it looked, had doubts about some parts and just didn’t know anymore about the rest of it. It was time to move on. It was finished. I had to declare an end to it or else be working on the damn thing for the rest of my life. As my friend Linda put it, “There comes a time when you just have to let it go and put it out there.” She was right. Besides, I wanted to move on to some other ideas that were floating through my head. Declared finished, I passed the manuscript over to my friend who was eager to read it. I would see what her reaction was. That would give me a good idea of what I had there. She was a reader whose opinion I could respect being that we had many long conversations about literature in general over the past couple of years. Let’s see what the reaction would be.

(To be continued….)

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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

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