When I pitched the idea of rebranding articles on this site, Book 'Em was one of the first subjects that came to mind. We want to use this section of the site not only to provide perspectives on the trendiest goings-on in literature but to also help put the spotlight on those in the community doing their best to help others. One of the only tenets of ours that I believe truly affects how we run this company is that each every moment is a new opportunity for growth and that you shouldn't judge one for past mistakes, that we should use our time together not only to learn from each other but to accept that we are all always growing. I can't think of a better example of this than Book 'Em. Not only am I proud to feature them on our page but I feel unworthy to write about them.
In short, Book 'Em is a program which provides books for prisoners. (Think about the feels you got when Andy Dufresne improved the library in Shawshank Redemption.) They are based in Pittsburgh and meet from 4-6 at the Thomas Merton Center the first two (sometimes three) Sundays of the month. It was founded by Etta Cetera nearly twenty years ago(!) in 2000. They are sponsored by The Big Idea bookstore. If this all sounds like I'm just paraphrasing their About Me section, that's because I am, so do yourself a favor and check out the real deal for yourselves: http://bookempa.org/what-we-do It's an all volunteer organization, so do the world a favor and help out.
I reached out to Book 'Em by email and Jodi was kind enough to answer a few questions (and a misunderstanding) I had about their organization.
Update: There was a misunderstanding on my part about a book ban that threatened the way Book 'Em Operates that lead into this part of our exchange. This was an error on my behalf.
How has not being able to donate books to individual prisoners changed your program?
There might be a bit of confusion here. We are still able to donate books to individual prisoners! They still write to us directly with their requests and we hand select books that would be appropriate for them. The only difference is that before being delivered directly the the prisoner, they are sent to the "Security Processing Center" in Bellefonte PA where they are inspected for drugs and contraband. After that, they go to the specific prison and prisoner they are intended for. This has made it take an extra week or two for people to get their packages after we send them, and there were some hiccups at first with people getting the correct books and their book invoices, but that is improving. One of the main differences with the new policies is that we can't send loose paper with the books. This includes our resources guides, materials we might print out from the website, answers to questions about our organization, etc. Instead any non-bound paper we want to send except for the invoices, get sent to Smart Communications, a private company in Florida, where the paper is scanned, sent to the prisoner, reprinted and given to the prisoners. This makes the packing sessions a bit more complicated as it's an extra step for our volunteers to learn and additional postage to mail to FL, but we've gotten used to it.
One big change is that because all of the packages go to one location in central PA now (except for packages sent to Federal Correctional Institutions), we are able to send them together in a large box, vs individually mail them. This has been saving us quite a bit of money of postage as well as time in processing the packages to be mailed.
How has the experience been in Pittsburgh? How has The Big Idea helped as a sponsor?
Pittsburgh is such a fantastic city to be based in! People in the city are extremely supportive. We receive probably hundreds of donated books each week not only from community members who know about our programs but book stores and publishers. We have incredible volunteers and so many groups and organizations get involved with sponsored packing sessions. Plus, we wouldn't be able to operate without the financial support of our monthly donors to cover the cost of our shipping. People in the city also rallied around us when the book ban happened in 2018 helping with call ins to the governor and DOC officials and general push back. Plus we have a great relationship with many of the other criminal justice advocacy groups in the city and are proud to be a part of that network.
The Big Idea Book Store has hosted their Brunch Fundraiser for us, does a great job of promoting events and issues around prison education issues like highlighting books censored by prisons during banned book week. Plus people at the book store can purchase dictionaries and other books for our program while they check out! Additionally, the PA DOC and many other prisons across the country restrict who can send books to prisons to "original sources." Because we are a part of the Big Idea Book Store, we are able to qualify as an original source and send books directly. If we weren't a part of The Big Idea we wouldn't be able to operate! We are also sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a fantastic organization that is a long standing Peace and Social Justice Advocacy nonprofit in Pittsburgh.
As I've been in an on again off again relationship with a the book I've been writing for the past seven years, I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently started thinking about this. I've been asking myself: why am I still doing this? Who is this for? In true Long Shot Books fashion, I don't have any answers to these questions, but I have plenty of thoughts that lead to more unanswered questions.
While I've been thinking about this, I've come across a lot of articles on the 'net that preach writing for yourself, and others that tell you to do the opposite. Then there's a shit ton of articles that talk about it like it's some scale that needs to be balanced, where the answer is somewhere in between.
What team should you play for? Hell if I know. That's a question I can't answer. As with anything, with the good comes the bad:
Write for yourself (screw everybody else):
-I've had the experience of seeing some folks who fall into that mindset where their work is great no matter what. They're geniuses. Any criticism furthers their perception that the're a misunderstood artists. They are Squidwards.
-I've been warned that if you don't try to relate to your readers, they won't be able to connect to your work. You might be perceived as being a bit out of touch, and your work may not resonate the same way it "should."
-I guess you get to honor your vision without letting those fears of how other people will take it stop you?
-It's touted as being a more"honest" work because it's more "you"? (Though you could argue that most people consider themselves the heroes of their own lives and portray themselves as such.)
Write for others (it's not always "selling out"):
-You sell out and write that obligatory holiday book that ends up on a Top 10 (or Top 100) list somewhere.
-You risk coming off as inauthentic if what you're writing isn't "you." (one aspect of impostor syndrome).
-You get so preoccupied with what other people think and get so worried about offending anyone that your art takes a it for it.
-You get readers?
Where am I going with this? Add that to the list of unanswered questions.
My fifth ex-boyfriend once told me I talk in cliches, and maybe he's right, but all I truly know is what I feel. I'm not qualified to dispense life advice. I don't speak from any position of authority, even as the Queen of LSB (for real, that is my job title--according to the bank at least). I'm not particularly profound. I'm just a writer working at a company for other writers. I'm not going to suggest you balance challenging yourself as an artist while delivering a story your readers want to hear--because sometimes the story that needs to be told isn't one that people want to hear (no, I'm not talking about the dystopian genre, even though that's a story I don't want to hear for a different reason). Sometimes it's not always this purpose-driven, intention-filled thing right away. Sometimes you want to enjoy that infatuation you have for that story, that poem, or whatever is consuming you at that moment. Enjoy it. Be in love for a while. Sometimes you just want to speak to be heard, even if you're just reading your poem back to yourself in the solitude of your drafty studio apartment--and the very act of writing these things into existence helps you make sense of whatever you're going through. (Maybe one day that poem or story or thing will make its way into the hands of someone who needs it, too. Writing can be a gift--for who, it doesn't matter. It can keep on giving to anybody you'd like.) Sometimes it doesn't always have to matter who it's for right away.
Or maybe that's another question that doesn't get answered at all.
When someone says, “Everything's been done before,” I puke in my mouth. What a sad statement. What a nihilistic philosophy of art. I'd even go so far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like I'd say that it's a cowardly approach to art. I feel bad for people who feel this way. What value do they place on creativity? What room does that leave in life for innovation? I most often see this empty platitude used to excuse plagiarism or flat-out mediocrity. It's a dismissive way of saying, “Please don't criticize what I like.” To me, it reads more like it's dismissing the accomplishments men and women have made. I would argue that it's a harmful statement. If it's all been done before, why do anything at all
Sure, in a manner of speaking, “those people” are right. Virtually everything has been said and done before, in some manner. I don't prescribe to Christopher Booker's theory about there being seven essential stories we tell and retell, but I also haven't read his doorstopper on the subject, let alone having written my own. There are two types of people. Those who love Tarantino's mixtape approach to filmmaking and those who despise it; I'm both. Yes, I will concede that every work of art is a collage of influences. I don't think that is the same as excusing a pale imitation of one singular other work. I think the more diverse the inspiration, the richer the story. Look at George Lucas' muses: Flash Gordon, Kurosawa movies, Shakespeare plays, Joseph Campbell, World War II iconography. He brought all that together and made something unmistakably his (for further evidence of that, watch the attempts other filmmaker have made to recapture his spark, even under the Star Wars official banner). David Bowie was a chameleon of influences but you can hear his voice on every record (well, literally, yes, in that way, too). Can you name a film like Eraserhead before Eraserhead? There might be parallels but nothing quite like it.
What I want you to take from this article is that even if your story reflects those told before, it doesn't mean that you should shy away from telling it in your own voice. It's hard to be a trailblazer. Some artists make it look so easy to create something successful that there can be temptation to imitate rather than innovate. Just because someone before you has fallen in love doesn't make your love any less worthwhile. Your DNA is yours alone; stamp your art with it. The redundancy of so many tales should give you drive to create something even more radically you. The world doesn't need your best Anne Rice impersonation. It needs the best you, and you owe it to yourself to be as much yourself as you can. Exploring uncharted territory can be frightening. The possibility of opening up so wide only to be rejected is one of the greatest pressures of writing, or any act of creation. The best way to prove those thoughts wrong is by accepting yourself and allowing yourself be unabashedly you.
I saw an article the other day, saying that Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has been taken off reading lists and how this is a deathblow to anti-censorship across the country, again. So, I crack the fucker open (the article, not the book) and come to a realization: Are we supposed to truly care about this? I've suspected for years, now, that the whole Read a Banned Book trend has been a front us artists use to pretend like we give a d*mn about free speech. If I was resourceful, reliable, or professional, I'd cite the article that inspired this one. Unfortunately, I lost it. There are dozens out there, and they're all the same. I'll include some at the end of this tirade.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, possibly in my top ten. I also think the movie adaptation is a masterpiece of American cinema. Heck, I even enjoyed Go Set a Watchman. It's no proper sequel to TKAM, but for a rough draft by a first time author, I think it's beyond impressive. The original novel has shaped my morality on a daily level and I often find myself asking, “What would Atticus do?” I think it's the perfect combination of a nostalgic lookback of a childhood summer while framing Scout's coming of age within a larger societal context with the tragic trial of Tom Robinson (not to mention, as both a horror fan and a social outcast, Boo Radley). Do I think that everyone should read this book? Yes, I do. Do I think people should listen to what some bum on the internet tells them to do? Never. Literature's been around a lot longer than the Finches and it's come a long way since they've made their mark. I don't think the book is dated, but I do think it's more mature than most high school classrooms (at least those I've been in). It was assigned reading for my tenth grade class and it honestly didn't leave much of a mark on me, not until I reread it one summer between semesters at college. I completely sympathize with teachers who might be reading passages from a book with racial slurs or themes like false rape accusations. Yes, it is the teacher's job to contextualize these things in order to enrich a classroom historically and culturally, but I'm also not opposed to classroom copies of the book that censor the really nasty words. I think the blunt vulgarity is more effective and is necessary to show the harsh reality of racism. I also fear that this censorship could be a slippery slope. I don't know how to feel about it, honestly, and I see why many would rather just retire the book to a comfy slot in a library shelf. Look, I think some of the books in the image below (Top 10 Challenged Books of 2017) are pure shit. I'd rather nobody read them but I wouldn't take away their choice to do so. I also would never make some of them required reading.
(Perhaps, this is more a debate for teachers to have among each other than it is for me to have with myself as a writer. The one piece of advice you can take from me is to never listen to what I say. Truly, I don't have faith in artists today as flag-wavers of anti-censorship. We might stand up for those armored with canonical status. Do I see us standing up for our contemporaries? I think many of us are more likely to eliminate the competition through any means necessary. I hope that I'm wrong. We live in a confused time where Barnes & Noble can sell Mein Kampf without criticism. If I want to wank to videos of Hitler giving speeches, I could have done so for a lot longer than I could have found an official Alex Jones video. When it comes to censorship, it seems to me as though the dead are safe in their crypts. Now, political debates are waters my silly publishing house doesn't dip its toes into (If you're one of those people going, "This article is a political statement in and of itself, you hypocrite." You're probably an insufferable twat, but you did catch me by my slimy tail.), but what can be said for all these authors who have their books canceled due to Twitter controversies? (Admittedly, many have pulled out of the deals themselves, but it begs me to wonder, how much were they strong-armed into backing-out?) Long Shot Books was created as a safe space for dangerous art. With all this said, what constitutes a work of literature being so important that it is required reading in the educational system? The answer to that one is far out of my reach. I don't have the answers, any of them, but I've got a fuckton of questions. It seems to me that articles such as this one are written to make sure the controversy remains stirred until the next potential threat to Lee's masterpiece comes around. Personally, I think the Finches will be safe for some time; it's us living writers I fear for.
Thinkpiece on NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/why-are-we-still-teaching-kill-mockingbird-schools-ncna812281
TheStar, “Why It's Time to Move on From To Kill a Mockingbird in Schools: https://www.thestar.com/life/opinion/2018/11/07/why-its-time-to-move-on-from-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html
WLHSnow: “Why 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Should be Taught”: https://wlhsnow.com/top-stories/2018/05/09/why-to-kill-a-mockingbird-should-be-taught/
Washington Post, "Do We Still Really Need Banned Books Week?": https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/do-we-really-still-need-banned-books-week/2018/09/26/80e924be-c0fd-11e8-90c9-23f963eea204_story.html
New Yorker, “In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?” https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-criticism-and-cancel-culture
Vulture, “The Latest YA Twitter Pile On Forces a Rising Star to Self-Cancel”: https://www.vulture.com/2019/01/ya-twitter-forces-rising-star-author-to-self-cancel.html
USA Today, “Author accused of shaming black Metro employee for eating on train; book deal halted”: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2019/05/11/natasha-tynes-book-deal-halted-amid-metro-shaming-backlash/1176291001/
If you live in the Pittsburgh area and weren't already following City of Asylum, here's even more reason to keep track of their events. They recently announced on Facebook that four National Book Award finalists have performed at their venue. Let this be a reminder to what fertile ground the Pittsburgh area is for talent and, of course, a reminder of all the great work City of Asylum is doing for writers both in the community and around the world. Actually, it's not just a reminder of the great talents from the area but also that Pittsburgh is a place that people travel to read at. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to COA for providing them with such a beautiful venue in our area. Below is their respective information. (All this information is taken from the sites attributed, so please do not mistake any of it for my penmanship. It isn't.)
“Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, former Soviet Union in 1977, and arrived to the United States in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the American government.
Ilya is the author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press) and Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press). He has also co-edited and co-translated many other books, including Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins) and Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (Alice James Books). His awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Writer's Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Metcalf Award, Lannan Foundation's Fellowship and the NEA Fellowship. His poems regularly appear in Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. He has also been awarded Poetry magazine's Levinson Prize. Dancing In Odessa was named the Best Book of the Year by Foreword magazine. Recently, he was on the short-list for Neustadt International Literature Prize. His poems have been translated over twenty languages, and his books have been published in many countries including Turkey, Holland, Russia, France, Mexico, Macedonia, Romania, Spain and China, where his poetry was awarded the Yinchuan International Poetry Prize.
Kaminsky has worked as a law clerk for San Francisco Legal Aid and the National Immigration Law Center. More recently, he worked pro-bono as the Court Appointed Special Advocate for Orphaned Children in Southern California. Currently, he holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Institute of Technology and lives in Atlanta.”
-from his website
Follow Ilya Kaminsky at:
"Toi Derricotte is an American poet and a professor of writing at University of Pittsburgh. She won a 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. With Cornelius Eady, she co-founded Cave Canem Foundation, a summer workshop for African-American poets."
-from her Facebook
Follow Toi Derricotte at:
Her Website: https://toiderricotte.com/
"Akwaeke Emezi is a writer and video artist based in liminal spaces and a 2018 National Book Foundation '5 Under 35' honoree. Currently longlisted for a National Book Award, their debut YA novel PET (Make Me a World/Random House Children's Books) is also an Indie Next selection and debuted with five starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Bookpage, and Bulletin. Emezi was recently featured in Kirkus Reviews and profiled in The New York Times.
Emezi's debut autobiographical novel FRESHWATER (Grove Atlantic) is in early development as a TV series at FX, with Emezi writing and executive producing with Tamara P. Carter. Translated into ten languages, FRESHWATER was a New York Times Notable Book as well as a finalist for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award, the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, and a Lambda Literary Award. It was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal of Excellence, the Women's Prize for Fiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize, The Wellcome Prize, the Aspen Words Literary Prize, and named a Best Book of the Year by the New Yorker, NPR, the Chicago Public Library, and Buzzfeed. FRESHWATER debuted as an Indies Introduce Title, receiving rave reviews from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the Guardian, and the LA Times, among others. Their sophomore adult novel, THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books, and their short story 'Who Is Like God' won the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Emezi was photographed by Annie Leibovitz and profiled in the February 2018 issue of Vogue Magazine (Modern Families With A Cause), and their video art series THE UNBLINDING premiered at Gavin Brown's enterprise in Harlem.
Born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria, Emezi was awarded a Global Arts Fund grant in 2017 for the video art in their project The Unblinding, and a Sozopol Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction. Their writing has been published by T Magazine, Dazed Magazine, The Cut, Buzzfeed, Granta Online, Vogue.com, and Commonwealth Writers, among others. Their memoir work was included in The Fader's 'Best Culture Writing of 2015' ('Who Will Claim You?') and their experimental short UDUDEAGU won the Audience Award for Best Short Experimental at the 2014 BlackStar Film Festival.
Emezi is currently making video art and working on their fifth novel. For their upcoming events, click here."
-from their website
Follow Akwaeke Emezi at:
Their Website: https://www.akwaeke.com/
Their public Facebook does not appear to be currently available and didn't want to share a dead link. I can update if anyone notices any changes on that front.
"Jericho Brown is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he is the winner of the Whiting Writer's Award. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His third collection is The Tradition (Copper Canyon 2019). His poems have appeared in The Bennington Review, Buzzfeed, Fence, jubilat, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME magazine, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is an associate professor and the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University."
-from his website
His Website: https://www.jerichobrown.com/
City of Asylum
"City of Asylum creates a thriving community for writers, readers, and neighbors. We provide sanctuary to endangered literary writers, so that they can continue to write and their voices are not silenced. We offer a broad range of literary programs in a variety of community settings to encourage cross-cultural exchange. We anchor neighborhood economic development by transforming blighted properties into homes for these programs and energizing public spaces through public art with text-based components."
-from their website
Follow them at:
Their Website: https://cityofasylum.org/
Pittsburgh native Stephen Chbosky is coming to Carnegie Hall Monday, October 7 at 7:00 PM. The writer is best known for his debut novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower and its film adaptation (which was filmed in Pittsburgh), for which he wrote the screenplay. He also directed the film adaptation of the popular children's book, Wonder, starring Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, and Julia Roberts, and contributed to the screenplay for Disney's live action Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson. He is currently promoting his second novel, Imaginary Friend. After the lecture, there will be a Q&A and book signing.
"Christopher is seven years old.
Christopher is the new kid in town.
Christopher has an imaginary friend.
We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It's as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.
Twenty years ago, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower made readers everywhere feel infinite. Now, Chbosky has returned with an epic work of literary horror, years in the making, whose grand scale and rich emotion redefine the genre. Read it with the lights on." (Amazon Synopsis)
Buy Imaginary Friend: https://www.amazon.com/Imaginary-Friend-Stephen-Chbosky/dp/1538731339
How many days do you recall spending alone in bed, doing nothing, in which you felt fulfilled by the time you rolled over to sleep? Aside from maybe a day called off, sick, I can't think of any. I think one of the greatest struggles as an artist is fighting off the desire to do absolutely nothing. It's easy to write it off as laziness but I think a more accurate description would be a creative depression. You don't want to do nothing. It feels like every part of your mind is screaming to get up but the floor feels a thousand miles away. I'm not pressuring anyone's creative habits or saying that anyone who sees Sunday as a day of rest is a slacker. We all need rest days to recover but at what point does relief become an addiction? For me, if I take a single day off, I slide back deep into hibernation from life. It isn't enjoyable. It isn't necessary. My mental muscles aren't repairing themselves; they're just weakening over time lost in the void.
Anecdotal evidence: I realized a few months back that on my rest days from exercise, I would accomplish absolutely nothing. I'm not just letting my body heal. I don't write. I don't study or clean. I find myself sunken into bed, listening to podcasts and eating junk food. I was unhappy with it and changed my habits so that I could exercise seven days a week, just as a defense mechanism from this slothishness. I was never more content. Of course, you can't overwhelm yourself or hurt yourself by going too hard. I'm cautious not to make self-injury out of a good habit. I think that the creative process can be the same way. Even on the days where I'm not adding to my word count, I'm taking notes, toying with structure, or piecing together my next project. I can only remember one instance in the last thirteen years in which I wasn't actively working on something. After finishing my last, I wanted to take a break from writing in order to get my real life in order. That was relieving for about a week before I went crazy. I mean, life is great and I wouldn't change a thing about my life as it stands, but writing is such a huge part of what I love about life. It felt like ending a marriage or a death in the family. Productivity enriched my life.
Even your worst words are a step forward towards your best self. Honest mistakes are lessons worth learning. You'll never be good enough if you never give yourself the chance. As his sometime-advocate, trust me when I say the devil on your shoulder can be seductive, but he doesn't have your best interests in mind. Fear is your enemy. Insecurity is the weight you have to lift. The writer is Atlas, shouldering the weight of the world. Creating a world with your words is a lot of responsibility. I often wonder if this failed artist is a cautionary tale about the dangers of playing God. In many ways, artists are athletes, and we're all on the same team. We spot each other with critique. We should be here to cheer each other on. We're all freaks performing in the same circus. What if Shakespeare decided to sleep his days away? Would the world be the same without Picasso? Is the world as we know it possible without George Lucas? If you waste your potential on nights spent in self-doubt, you're not just letting yourself down, you're letting the team down.
Thanks to Maureen for keeping the company afloat while I squandered my summer feeling sorry for myself.
It's hard being a fan. I'm not talking casual. I mean someone who spends every waking minute thinking about something, getting into debates on forums about it on the bus, toggling between news sites on the subject on your lunch break, and coming home to get back to the real deal soon as chores are done. Obsessiveness is exhausting. You expend so much energy on something that you often forget what made you fall in love in the first place. You spend so much time maintaining the commitment that you lose the romance. Every now and then, though, something comes along that makes it all worth it.
I'm an art jock. I love getting into arguments about movies. I spend hours over-analyzing every scene of my favorite shows. I probably listen to three to five hours of music a day. If my favorite player makes a misstep, I take it as a betrayal. If my favorite band releases a shit song, that hurts. I love you; I put my faith in you. How could you do me like that? Well, this past month, I saw something so great that it brought literal tears to my eyes. It was something so beautifully-orchestrated that I was just in awe of what I was witnessing. I was so grateful to be alive to experience this cinematic experience. The particular scene in question was an emotional scene, for sure, but what made me wet was how incredible the writing was. My eyes were saying, “Thank you.” It felt like a baptism. Every disappointing season of television, every stupid book better left on the shelf, every lazy chorus was washed away. The only thing that mattered in this moment was this moment and how cathartic it was.
Sometimes, as a writer, you get a little too comfortable. You think you've got a grip on this storytelling thing. These overpaid celebrity scribes don't have a thing on you. You can predict the end of every Marvel movie one phase before it happens. You might not be a genius but you feel on par with the rest of 'em. Then, you get knocked on your butt. What a fool you were. KO'd without a fighting chance. That's what I live for. I don't do drugs but I imagine that's what they feel like. It's inspiration, a poster on your wall to admire before you lift. If someone could create something so magnificent, then what the fuck have you been doing? You've gotta step it up, now. The goal is to make your audience feel the goosebumps your inspirations have given you. No matter how good you get; you can always do better.
There's no greater point to this article. I just wanted to marvel about how lucky I am to have had that reminder about why I love writing in the first place. For every bad date you have with some weak-ass novella, every time your debate about which Mad Max is the best (Road Warrior, duh) gets a little too heated, every twenty dollar bill you wish you'd have just thrown in the trash rather than donating your attention to some Hollywood turd, keep in mind that true love is out there.
We're at a crossroads at Long Shot Books. That much is obvious. In many ways it's very exciting. In others, it's scary as heck. There have been some plans in the making for a long while and other changes that were thrust upon us. Such is life, especially as a small business owner (if I dare even call myself that).
To start, let's back this up. When we began Long Shot Books, we did so at a point in my life where I was pretty secure in all regards. I would have never asked Maureen to be a part of something if I wasn't confident I had the attention and energy to dedicate to it. Then, without getting into too many details, my life fell apart. A large amount of money was stolen from me, causing me to realize that a large portion of my life had been blacked-out due to repressed memories from my childhood. I was planning on getting married. (According to the narrative I had constructed in my head at that time, I'd probably be a father, now.) There were also a lot of life or death scares with someone I know that is at an age where mortality shouldn't even be questioned. I was being gas-lit so hard that I was convinced that conversations I heard were basically in my head or contorted so badly by paranoia that they might as well have been. (It took hard evidence for me to convince myself I wasn't crazy and that I was just being lied to.) I was sleeping one to two hours a day because I was having nightmares so violent I couldn't sleep (violent things being inflicted upon me, not the other way around). Instead of saving up for a wedding ring, I was saving up for a trip to the psych ward. The only things keeping me going were my family, my obligation to finish Conditional Love, and making LSB a reality. There were days I could hardly eat a sandwich because my appetite was nonexistent. I was crying nearly every waking hour. Full-on sobbing at work, opening the fridge and collapsing to the ground. If I didn't have a head-ache from crying so much, it was from slamming my head against the concrete wall in the basement, or from falling down on the kitchen floor because I was self-medicating with alcohol. I went from about two years' sober to getting black-out drunk about five nights a week.
The only time I don't remember drinking was at work. Soon as I got home, I was opening a can of whatever. I was waking up with all kinds of bruises. I was hardly even human at this point. Really, I was just an animal in suffering. There was one time where the stress became so much that I just collapsed on the ground and couldn't stand up and was disoriented for an hour or so. I only vaguely remember a lot of this stuff. During this time, there were a lot of people helping and supporting me. My parents, my roommate, and most importantly (for this article), Maureen. She let me stay at her house when it was no longer a good idea for me to be at my own. She came and picked me up when I had my syncopal incident described above. She helped me escape from all that by taking a vacation as her roommate, free of charge. We'd plan things for the company and make the most of our circumstances. Even though we had already registered the title, I think that's when Long Shot Books became a reality for us.
At this time, I signed up for dating apps. It is oddly embarrassing, even though I'm pretty sure it's common these days for single people my age. I liked OKCupid because I liked getting really wasted and filling out the questions. This was probably two or three months before the first LSB interview or the first article, iirc. Apparently, some of my answers got me into hot water recently. I only know some of the things in question because nobody had come to me and quite frankly, I don't fully remember that phase of my life. It's like an impressionist painting when I look back on it rather than realist or something that sounds as clever as I'm wanting it to. I was more political back then, (shortly after my mental breakdown, I stepped back from politics completely-I still follow things and try to stay informed but I see myself as a student of the world rather than a teacher at this point) and also enjoyed playing the role of devil's advocate. (As explained in the video, I presented my thoughts at the time, still think they're at least somewhat reasonable, and would gladly hear those points rebutted. Neither of those things are issues I'm voting on or making any decisions about beyond timewaster online quizes. Like I said, I don't really speak on politics at all anymore but I'm glad to listen.) I believe the things were taken out of context and I explained that in my Youtube video on the subject. I also don't expect anyone to have that amount of context when browsing OKCupid quiz answers, either, so I get that.
I don't like excusing any controversial thing I say or do with mental illness or intoxication. (On a side note: I do find it ironic that mental illness is great to post “relatable” memes about when it comes to lying in bed, eating pizza or something but when the harsh reality of it shows its ugly head, all of a sudden, it's out the window.) I mean, I easily could but I do want to remain accountable for my actions. I've addressed this before as well. My issue was that rather than coming to me and saying “Hey, man. That's fucked up that you said that,” or, “I thought you were better than this,” or even, “I don't understand how you could even think something like this, can we talk about it?” they screenshotted it and sent it to other people, hoping to boycott not only my but Maureen's company. (I don't blame anyone for taking issue with what I said or any other thing I say or do. I get that and can respect it. I take issue with someone taking this as an opportunity to act maliciously and approach a difference in [what was at least for me] rhetorical political opinion with malice rather than any attempt for understanding or compassion.) She gets cryptic messages saying, “Only a few people know but if this gets out, it's going to be a very bad look for your company” and shit like that. When she says to talk to me about it, they refuse, until, of course, I go public with the information with my video (which I recorded this time, only half-drunk [but also half-sober!] and half-asleep).
The reason I bring this up, because I said my video was the end of this, and as of right now, it basically is, is because I believe every misfortune is an opportunity for growth. I do feel wronged. I feel that my privacy was invaded, my mental health exploited, and I feel hurt that people would rather lash out at me (or worse, my friend) than have an adult conversation about political opinions I drunkenly espouted, possibly even chuckling at the fact that I said something brash and nasty. I also feel more motivation than ever to be a good person and to do more good with our company. I always say that the life I was given ended in 2018 and by 2019, the life I made for myself had begun. I think that I was reborn in many ways and am a much better person. I hope to say the same thing in 2020, looking back on all this and a compilation of other embarrassments from now until then. I'm sure that those upset with me feel as though they're raging against some injustice the same way that I do. Although I disapprove of their means of doing so, I can appreciate that at least some of these people believe they are participating in morality. I forgive them for that and hope for the same from them someday. I know some people upset with me are great writers and I wish them the best in that. The foundation of Long Shot Books has always been one of new beginnings, forgiveness, and most importantly, not judging one another. We're passionate about opening double-blind contests. We don't care who you are or what you've done. All we want is what you're doing right now, in this moment. I can't speak for the person I was in 2018 but I can say that right now, in this moment, I am confident Maureen and I are doing our absolute best and hope that everyone else in the game can say the same. If this latest controversy hasn't driven you off, I'm sure some later one I inspire will. I have a habit of that. I can also assure you that any mistakes I might make are honest in nature and I'm genuinely trying with each step in the wrong direction to make the right move. If you don't believe me, well, I don't blame you. I have trust issues, myself. I have trust issues with myself, sometimes. I'll just have to prove the both of us wrong with my actions.
We want to create an open community for everyone. Poets, fiction writers, nonfiction, journalists. We don't even want to consider gender, orientation, religion, politics, or economic stature. Those things mean nothing to us. We're much more concerned with how you treat other people than your background or what you call yourself. The only thing we expect is to see that you're doing your best and helping others do their best. We're all on our own hero's journey but we can choose to be an obstacle on others' paths or to help them. We don't want cliques. We don't want beef or petty feuds. Truly, in the most elementary school guidance counselor way, we just want everyone to get along and help each other reach their best potential. The only thing we don't tolerate is bullying or discrimination or anything icky like that.
We're even thinking about branching out even further, beyond the written word. I used to be a filmmaker. (Maureen helped work on the second feature film I worked on and has written scripts of her own.) We want to work with bands and visual artists of all kinds. We'd love to do a show that has stand-up comedy, readings, music, and an art gallery. We want people to make connections with each other that they never might have otherwise. The absolute coolest thing would be hearing a filmmaker say, “Hey, this writer I met through you guys wrote my latest script and I hired the band who played at the same show (s)he read at to do the score. That stand-up comedian we saw at your show is going to be the lead.” We're striving for an open-border community for artists, a group of people saying, “I don't know where you come from or who you've been in the past, but right now, we're here, so let's help each other make this most of this moment.” Of course, our primary focus will be on the written word, but we may not continue limiting ourselves to only that.
I'm a demanding artist. I ask a lot of my readers. Irl, I'm a demanding person to be around. I really challenge people, probably not always in the healthiest way. Long Shot has always been my retribution. It's my way of being a decent literary citizen. It's my way of giving back to the indie community. I can't speak on specifics right now, but I think there are many exciting plans for our future and I'm both as excited and grateful to be apart of this company as I've ever been. I wouldn't have started it with anyone other than Maureen Crowley and I couldn't be happier with the little we've accomplished so far. She's perfect but I make a hundred thousand stupid mistakes every single day and I understand if those scare you off. With that said, I'm looking forward to our future and I'me hoping to see you in it.
...wasn't actually about writing. We'll get to that in a bit, though. I throw a lotta flack at teachers. They deserve it. I feel that teachers are the same as journalists or medical staff. Their job is important, which is why I get so irate when they fuck it up. Some schmuck like me shouldn't care more about their position than the person paying their mortgage with it. I was pretty lucky in high school, though. I'm going to say that the ratio of great to suck teachers were 9:1 in their favor, which probably inversely-proportional with the quality of my experience with college professors. (I still had some good ones but for every class that had a positive affect on my life, there were four that were in one ear, out the other at best. Most were soapboxes for the professors' bleeding egos.) This article is about one of the exceptions. Before I graduated high school, my favorite teacher and coach said that no matter what I do, I had to take this professor's Shakespeare class. (I went to the same college he did.) This was something I learned from his Shakespeare class, that didn't just change the way I read but also the way I wrote and go about every social interaction I have.
The assignment was to read a passage of one of The Bard's plays and describe what the characters are doing. Now, what that means is not just repeating the words they are saying but treating their words like actions and explaining the intentions behind these words. For an example off the top of my head, if a wife said to her husband that Janice's husband just bought her a nice car, she might be implying that it was time they look into a new vehicle. If someone is at a party and says, “It's getting late,” they aren't just making a remark about the time; they're also implying that they are ready to leave. If you're a writer, obviously you read. I'm not going to belittle you by recommending reading a book. Duh. A good way to practice this that doesn't involve reading, in my opinion, is by watching movies and analyzing each decision that the director makes as well as the characters on-screen. Why did (s)he cut here? Why are they playing this song at this moment? What are they conveying to the audience in what we are being shown on-screen? What made this so revolutionary for me was that it laid every interaction out like a game of chess. You're no longer wholly-preoccupied by the surface value; you begin looking past words to see intent.
In reading, this gives you a deeper understanding of the characters. You can also evaluate the structure by asking yourself what the author is doing rather than just what the characters are saying. In real life, it can make you more privy to what others are up to. It can be a fast-track to sociopathy but it can also be a safeguard against someone trying to manipulate you. Most importantly, for this article, at least, it allows you to coordinate character interactions and provide readers a richer experience. Consider things like body language, blocking of which characters are where, the dialogue itself. I've begun seeing my own writing like stage notes to a play readers perform in their minds. This technique has allowed me to essentially function as an actor playing every character while also assuming the role of director. So, next time you're writing or editing, ask yourself, “What is this character doing? How am I as the author expressing this?” It's simple but you only need one tree trunk to bear a dozen fruits. (Honestly, that's the best closer I've got. I can hardly keep my eyes open.)