Tonight there will a release reading for my book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, at KGB Bar in NYC at 7pm. In celebration of its polyvocal soul, I’ve gathered a number of friends and fellow literarians to help me read from the book, including:

Lincoln Michel, James Yeh, John Madera, John Dermot Woods, Rozalia Jovanovic, Nicolle Elizabeth, Todd Zuniga, James J. Williams III, Terese Svoboda, Emma Straub, Sasha Graybosch, Nick Bredie, Nora Jean Lange, Joe Sullivan, Peter Schwartz, Timmy Waldron, and Brianna Colburn.

All outstanding writers in their own right, I really look forward to hearing how they give voice to these poems. The reading will also feature videos from people across the country, including BL Pawelek, Ryan W. Bradley, and AD Jameson. I’ve personally been recording videos for these poems for a while now, and I encourage you to watch one or two here. (Want to make one of your own? I’ll send you a copy of the manuscript and let you have at it!)

Here’s a link to the event listing. Please come, or suggest it to a local friend!


I’ve always been a slow reader. My mother, who took a speed reading course in college, always used to encourage me to take one of these courses, and of course I would protest, claiming that I liked to immerse myself in the language, take it slow, pay careful attention, etc. etc.

That’s all true, certainly, but I wonder if I wasn’t too hasty in my dismissal of a variety of techniques which, if artfully applied, might double or triple the number of books I’d be able to read. Because that would be a good thing, right? Some speed reading techniques I learned to apply pretty naturally, such as the elimination of subvocalization. Others, like the necessarily anti-musical chunking, I’ve shied away from.

There are so many “famous last words” that the pressure is really up to have yours be something really good. You have no excuse, right? I mean, sure, not all of us will be lucky enough to go quietly into that good night, surrounded by loved ones, etc. etc. etc. But the chances are good enough that it just makes sense to start thinking about it now.

So I was thinking about it, and a nightmare scenario occurred to me. So there you are, surrounded by your family, about to meet your maker, and you sense that death is near, you’re sure of it, so you open up your mouth and summon with your last remaining breath those few words you’d been repeating since you were in your 20s, sure to make an impact. You say your piece. And then… And then nothing.

Turns out, you have, like, hours left. But you’ve already uttered what you obviously hope to be remembered by. Everyone is looking at you, and then looking at one another, and instead of the wailing, emotional catharsis that was supposed to follow your final heartbeat there’s a big, long, terrifyingly awkward silence. Just mortifying.

Anyway, what are the best last words you’ve heard?

Who knew that Bigelow’s win for best director last night was the first such win for a woman? This seems insane to me. And I suppose we shouldn’t make anything of the fact that she won for a film that, despite some murmurings early on about how she lent a “feminine touch” to the raw dealings of war was, let’s face it, a “boy movie.”

Not being a proper film buff, I can’t claim to know all the films and genres referred to in Tarantino’s most recent film “Inglorious Basterds”. But despite the enjoyment film buffs likely get from all the nods and allusions tucked within the film–a film even a dummy like me can see is about the power of film–I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an element of self-sabotage going on here.

Like most people who use word processing applications, I’m by now perfectly used to seeing those colored squiggly lines appear below phrases or sentences deemed grammatically incorrect. And as a subset of this group no doubt also does, I typically ignore them. I know what I’m saying, after all, and I’m aware when it deviates from standard grammatical rules. But a recent discussion I had regarding the heap of narrative do’s and don’ts piled on students of composition, e.g. Show don’t tell, led me to wonder how useful it would be to have such prescriptive narrativity rules built into a word processor. Let’s call it Story Perfect.

Would you use Story Perfect to compose fiction? What if it could check your metaphors for alignment? What if it could help you ensure your protagonist’s language was “in character”? Or help you pick the appropriate moment for your climax? And would the result still be “your story?” Though it may seem intrusive to most writers, we do this on some level anyway: internalize rules we’ve learned and reproduce them on the page. Why not have a little reminder during the moments of inspiration?

1) I began David Schields’s much talked-about essay/manifesto Reality Hunger last night–a book which liberally uses unaccredited excerpts from a range of sources and compiles them into a kind of long list of inter-referential comments, anecdotes and arguments. On the first page of the appendix, Schields writes that he’d wanted to leave out all citations, but that:

“Random House lawyers determined that it was necessary for me to provide a complete list of citations; the list follows (except, of course, for any sources I couldn’t find or forgot along the way).

If you would like to restore the book to the form in which I intended it to be read, simply grab a sharp pair of scissors or a razor blade or box cutter [ed: is this an intentional nod toward terrorism?] and remove pages 210-218 by cutting along the dotted line.”

Indeed, Random House humored David, and included the dotted line near the spine of the pages in question.

I’ve written recently about the (potentially) unfortunate necessity of promoting yourself as an author these days. My own basic take on this situation is that the best way to promote yourself also happens not to be the kind of boorish and/or slimy stuff you think about when using the word “promotion.”

Rather, by taking a sincere interest in the community of writers/artists/whoever around you, by engaging with that community via participation in social forums, attendance at readings/events–essentially by speaking up and being a person–you can create a social context within which your own work has meaning. Really, it’s a stupidly simple attitude and perspective shift that can help you avoid despair, or at least some of it.

Anyway, someone who’s way ahead of the game with this kind of stuff is the author/filmmaker Michael Kimball. I recommend taking a look at his blog to see what kinds of projects he involves himself in and/or invents–it’s both inspiring and plain cool. One of the projects he’s gotten a lot of attention for (NPR interview included) is called The Life Story Project.

Tumor Rumors

By Shya Scanlon

The Feed

GQ ran a pretty damning article about the potentially harmful effects of cell phone usage, and how those effects–or rather, studies finding evidence of those effects–has been systematically covered up by the wireless communications industry, regulatory bodies under its influence, and by the government itself.

Over at Elegant Variation, Mark Sarvas speaks from his recent experience reading for first-novel contests, to point out all the things you should consider if you’re interested in avoiding the most common pitfalls of the debut novel.

The issues he cites, to be fair, do indeed seem to be problems common among novels in general–let alone first novels. But for my taste, too much of it seems indicative of a “golden mean” mentality that would seek to keep the writer more mindful of what he shouldn’t be doing, than what he should.

Killing, riding

 

This like we, likely, is this is, undo.  Take this out not far but take it widely, so it sits beside us.  It should serve as something undid, or else, dust.  I hurry to touch it.  I hurry to peel me up, and finger, and hurry to hand it over as something, something over more than, breaks from over what, from that broken smoothness. This sums us up.  This is that knuckle we said would carry things into a broad, clear brightness, and bend and watch them burn.

 

 

Killing, riding, II

 

We weren’t quite there yet but you knew to look behind us, and this seemed to matter.  What did you see?  Something pressed, is pressing, will not let comfort strip and enter us, bend us inward.  Still, I took you forward and a leaning overtook me.  Another kind of expectation.  You said put it down and I did, but within seconds I was not the same and you noticed, changed your mind, and entered something I did not recognize yet made a name for, and forgot.

 

 

What are your poems about?

Sex. Sex and money. The poems of In This Alone Impulse inhabit the interstitial space within the body politic, they’re little assassins paid to rape people in/out of their slumber.


Be honest.

Fine. These poems are about the chemistry of dependence and malaise. They are little language pills designed to work away at the Broca’s area of the brain, to assess and treat expressive aphasia.


So you’re a doctor.

Doctor Feelbad, at your service. Overcoming sex-pressive aphasia can be a nasty business. One of my patients, during convalescence, began to use language so bigly the hospital collapsed around her.


Bigly isn’t a word. I’m sorry to hear it. Is she okay?

The use is archaic. The hospital was just a cardboard box, fortunately. She didn’t have healthcare. Another victim never woke up, and it was beautiful. Her mouth opened around the most amazing sentence I’d ever heard, then closed forever.


Don’t you mean patient?

We tried to be, but in the bigly end we couldn’t wait. Had to operate. Truth will out.


So you know the truth when you see it, do you?

Who says I saw it? No, I only heard about this secondhand. At the time, I was in the counting house, counting all my money. This poetry business is a racket.


Business? I’m glad to hear you say that, because then you doubtless agree that the customer is always right.

Well.

And as the customer, I have a request.

Well.

And my request—as you’ve obviously expected from the outset—is that you explain your work so I don’t have to be responsible for my own interpretation.

You’re right, I’ve been unfair.


Well, you’re treating me like I’m some nincompoop who’s never heard of reader-response theory. I’m not your enemy, Shya. I’m a fan. I just want to ask you a couple of questions.

I understand.


See, now you’ve got me angry. I’m sorry, but I’m really sick of all you poets thinking you’re a league above your readers—sad little serfs with whom you must occasionally condescend to interact. It’s arrogant, insulting, and frankly, reeks not a little of fear and self-loathing. Are you a self-loathing poet?

Crushingly so. When will it end?


Maybe it will end when you drop all your dumb facades and try focusing on bridging the gap between yourself and the world, instead of willfully prying it open wider. That’s what you’re doing, right? You’re not “speaking” in any traditional sense, you’re just expressing. Cows can express. They can open their mouths and moo. And that’s great, mooing is nice.

Well I think you’re going a little far.


Do you? That’s nice. Let’s see… Oh, why go even farther than the first line? “This like we, likely, is this is, undo.” What distinguishes this from an intricate moo?

Well now you’re putting me in a position. What do you think?



I think it’s a simile struggling to emerge, or a group, a “we” trying to liken themselves to something, to gain perspective. But failing. Or having difficulty, at any rate. It seems to be saying that simile, even as it seeks to enrich understanding, breaks things apart, creates division. I liken something to something else, and in doing so formally separate these two things. But there’s a struggle! Proximity becomes a kind of poisoned commodity (This sums us up.), something sought but also the source of pain, or at least potential erasure. The poem seems to suggest or paint an attempt to self-define, to build identity in the face of some destructive force that’s paradoxically has its origins in the will-to-create. The end, then, is about compromise. What bends so it won’t break? What burns? I’m thinking a bridge. Maybe one with an ogre underneath it. Or a subconscious.

Oh come on. That’s a stretch.



Well what do you think?

I think you’re more familiar with interstices than you let on.





So how long have you been writing poetry?

Actually, I’ve been meaning to clarify. I don’t write poetry. I write fiction.



At the end of Coen Bros family/existential drama A Serious Man, we leave our “hero” Larry Gopnik, having just 1) been awarded tenure and 2) changed a student’s grade in exchange for money, with 3) ominous but unclear news from his doctor, and 2) a son trying to pay back a thug but being chased down by a tornado.

In other words, it’s all loose ends. There is arguably some thematic resolution—that is, you can kind of say justice is being served (though only if you believe in a cruel kind of justice (which, given the Coen’s other films, one might suspect))—but the action is quite alive, still building, when the curtain drops.

And yet, and yet… And yet I knew exactly when it would end. I remember quite clearly inhaling sharply and feeling that perfect-ending tingle right before the screen went dark. How did they manage to create such an unconventional ending and at the same time signal to me, the viewer, that the ending was imminent?

If you’ve seen A Serious Man, what did you think of the end? If you haven’t seen the movie, does what I write above make sense with regard to any other movie you can think of? Mid-action, or in some other way surprising, ending that nonetheless feel perfectly timed?


As we saw from an earlier post about whether and how artists should be paid, the place where art and finance meet (assuming such a place exists) is a site of contention, frustration, and not a little cynicism. If there exists a way to make money at all, it exists in protecting and managing access to the work (assuming there’s a demand, which is a whole separate issue). One of the ways to do this is via copyright.

But copyright is a complex and contentious issue too. And perhaps ironically, many open minded, free-spirited people out there (at least, among my friend and acquaintances) have pretty, well, liberal attitudes toward copyright–both possessing them, and respecting them. There are of course “fair use” laws, and alternate ways of legally defining one’s rights and intentions about one’s work, such as creative commons, but mostly artists just ignore this kind of stuff. Also, a whole lot of artists just download movies and music (and, no doubt soon, books) illegally.

So I want to pose a couple of questions about this, to everyone, of course, but mostly to the folks who responded to the last post by saying that yes, artists definitely deserve to get paid:

1) Do you copyright your own work?

2) Do you respect other copyrights?


Love the Hustle Or: How to Let Go of Your Feelings of Injustice and Have a Good Time Selling Yourself

By Shya Scanlon, Guest Columnist

On September 24th, 2005, a long-overdue one-way ticket landed me in New York City where I’d pledged to seriously pursue a writing career. I found a tiny hole in the Lower East Side, and an email I sent on October 10th reads, “I’m sitting alone in a dark apartment in the middle of one of the most intense and social cities in the world. What the hell is wrong with me?”

My schedule those days involved coming home from my job—working as a copywriter in an office on Broad Street in front of which bomb-sniffing dogs and policemen wearing bulletproof vests and carrying automatic rifles paraded all day—pouring myself a glass of single malt whiskey, and standing, not sitting, in the kitchen and typing furiously at what eventually became the collection of prose poetry called In This Alone Impulse.

The night I sent that email, like most nights that winter, I was terribly alone, I was half drunk, and I was suffering from an overwhelming mixture of both over and under exposure—close enough to my dreams to be truly frightened by them. I was, in other words, living something closely resembling the idealized image I’d half-consciously carried in my mind about the life of a writer since first wanting to become one.

When you think of the writing life, many things come to mind, both good and bad: isolation, frustration, intensity, investigation, exploration, imagination… booze. If you’re lucky, of course, these things are accompanied by publication, recognition, accolades, and the like. But I would be very surprised if many aspiring authors put things like networking or community building, or—dare I say it here?—hustling on the list. Even near the bottom. That spot is reserved for “dying of syphilis.”

More... And yet, as many writers realize, it is a hustle. Of course, fortune has always favored the bold in some way, but I’m going to project a little here and say it’s difficult not to feel like small press and online publishing has turned those words of encouragement into an unnerving reality. The literary community made possible by constant and easy online interaction is a boon to the aspiring author in many ways—this web site is a perfect example of a valuable resource that simply couldn’t have existed ten years ago. But it can also be quite insular and cliquish. I know I’m not alone in wondering, from time to time, whether we’re unwittingly creating an environment in which artists are rewarded for their social skills instead of their art.

Not to say self-promotion is always and only met with praise. As a natural and healthy response to the saturation of social media—and the sometimes devious advertisement deals that support the platform—people are becoming, to use appropriately reductive marketing jargon, savvy consumers, and this means you’re bound to attract some whistle-blowers if what you’re doing seems inauthentic or overtly self-promotional.

Like, say, writing an article that thinly disguises a goal of self-promotion with “thoughtful consideration” of the “larger issues at stake.”

So there are the self-promoters—people who seem to take to this system quite naturally (If you haven’t thought about Tao Lin yet while reading this, you obviously haven’t heard of him)—and there are the whistle-blowers. But there are also many writers who resent the fact that they’re increasingly expected to hustle. Is this what we signed up for?

No one my age signed up for developing a readership through blogging for the simple reason that blogging didn’t exist when I was cobbling together my fantasy writer’s life. Someone growing up today, on the other hand, might naturally incorporate such activities into their vision. But that doesn’t help me.

What helps me is to conceive of the activities a bit differently. To use the same kind of attitudes and insights that inspire normal, non-literary pursuits like “introducing friends to one another,” and “throwing parties,” and “streaking through densely populated urban areas at noon.” In our hyper-mediated environment, there’s a kind of blurring of lines that occurs, and to see it clearly you have to take a step back. Does the writing life end when you put down the pen? Close your eyes and concentrate on that fantasy you once had. Get up from the awesome imaginary desk and walk out of the room. Leave your apartment and walk down the street. Ring your friend’s buzzer and say you’re there for dinner. Hang out. Chat.

I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that we’re competing for attention with an increasing number of authors—more and more of whom are starting out as “savvy consumers” who know their way around networking technology. People who read and/or use this site are likely among them. But if you’re still feeling uncomfortable with your new role as writer, marketer, promoter and salesman of your work, it might help to take a simple look around at how you conduct yourself in other parts of your life—things you do even without thinking about it—give them a fancy word like “tactics” and incorporate them into an even fancier word: “strategy.”

Currently, if someone is familiar with my name, chances are good that the phrase “Forecast 42” isn’t far from it in their mind. The 42 Project brought together a host of literature enthusiasts in a co-publishing venture that I think most people found fun, and not a few found inspiring enough to begin similar projects of their own. To be sure, it also caused some backlash here and there from people who turned their noses up at the undeniable stench of self-promotion. And yes, I had my moments of doubt along the way, too. Was it anything more than a stunt? Well, it really didn’t involve anything unfamiliar to anyone who’s planned a party big enough to merit inviting people they don’t really know. Similarly, I met a lot of interesting people in the process, and formed deeper connections with those who I already knew.

I’ll soon be organizing a book release event for In This Alone Impulse, and for it I’m gathering as many writers as I can, each of who will read a brief excerpt of the work. I can’t say I haven’t considered the fact that this will ensure that the audience is at least as large as the number of writers I can involve—and I’m sure a few people will smell a scheme. But the idea began with an authentic interest in bringing people together, in throwing an interesting party, and in full frontal nudity. I think people will get it, and if all goes well, I’ll organize similar “group readings” in a few other cites across the country. It’s a small but significant twist on the standard reading—enough, hopefully, to make it into something memorable and valuable for all people involved.

It’s a long way from the dark apartment in which the poems were created. But because I love the poems, I want them to enjoy a little exposure. And because I love people, I want to introduce them to these poems. Am I selling myself? Sure. But if I didn’t try to build a readership or share what I love, I’d be selling myself short.

Shya Scanlon’s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, IN THIS ALONE IMPULSE, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010.

In 2009, his novel FORECAST was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in spring, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com

You heard him, WordHustlers! Shya has perfected the art of hustling his way to success. Why not submit to our Literary Storm Novel Contest and win the chance to be published by Shya’s publishers, Flatmancrooked? Get your work out there and market yourself with passion, panache, and wit. We know you’ve got it in you. And we’re here to help.