We’ve decided to release four book trailers for my new novel, each trailer featuring a different character from the book.
Trailer #1 features Rowan, JT’s girlfriend and also the girl that Little (the main character) is in love with.
Actress: Chloe Carnagey
Music: Caleb Etheridge
Script/Voiceover: Pedro Casapardo
Cinematography/Editing: Caleb Rexius
I’m trying out this new idea, an hour at a time:
For an hour.
No checking email, no Twitter, no Facebook. No CBS Sports, no New York Times, no CNN. No following a rabbit trail from Eugene’s 10-Day Forecast on the Weather Channel’s site to Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live fiasco to Youtube’s “The Netherlands Welcomes Trump In His Own Words” (which, trust me, is worth 4 minutes and 4 seconds of your life).
But it’s SO difficult. Especially while writing on a laptop. I go to research something related to my writing, say, Hiroshima 1945, and suddenly I’m reading about how to make sushi with Willamette Valley trout, then off to a fly-fishing trout video filmed in western Montana, then how to pack raft down the Escalante River in Utah.
Wait, what was I talking about?
Right, the internet.
Yes, I recognize the irony of writing about no internet while posting on a blog…on the internet.
But this is real. The addiction. The distraction that is the little guiding Safari compass or gorgeous little orange Firefox wrapped around a globe of pure, pure blue. I want to click them. I want to click them so badly.
Yet, I’ve found a way not to be on the internet, using a mantra. Each morning – when I get up to write, to write a real book, a manuscript, not a post or status update, but a real book – I say this to myself:
“The internet is broken. The internet is very, very broken right now.”
But sometimes I don’t believe myself, so I have to be emphatic:
“The internet is broken WORLD WIDE RIGHT NOW!!! So there’s no possible way it’ll work for the next hour. You can’t search or click anything. You can’t check your notifications.”
The only thing is, sometimes my finger acts of its own volition, just drags that little arrow down, down, down – to the toolbar at the bottom of the screen – and sometimes I even click that internet icon without meaning to and a page pops up, and…
I yell: HIT “COMMAND Q” BEFORE GOOGLE LOADS!
Damn. What is this internet thing, anyway? This vapid little pill?
I used to have a wrestling teammate in college who’d tried crystal meth once – only once, back when he was seventeen years old – and he talked about it for the rest of his life. He said, “There’s nothing like it. Nothing at all. And all I want to do is do it, do it all the time, every single night. I think about it all the time.”
I nod and smile. Say, “Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I too have this little addiction.”
Our local weekly paper has a section in the back called “I Saw You,” a personal section where hopeful romantics (translation: lonely sex addicts) talk about brief meetings with strangers in which “eye contact was made” or “there was an instant spark.”
My friends Jackson and Carrie and I wrote our own I Saw You entries yesterday – recognizing that a proper I Saw You is a form of love poetry that often includes mixed metaphors, obvious innuendo, bad spelling, a mention of an animal or two, romantic drug references, all-caps, over-use of ellipses, and/or insider lingo.
Since today, March 21st, is World Poetry Day, here are the four I Saw You entries I wrote – all devastatingly beautiful works of eternal and epic art:
1. I saw U, naughty HOTTIE…under the Ferry Street Bridge, wearing a Cheetos t-shirt and blue pants…like a cheetah having sex with the sky…or an orangitang on a ferris wheel…and our eyes MET, blazing into the afternoon and I want to blaze weed with U…and maybe MORE? I’ll be at the skate park tomorrow 6 til midnight (Sat & Sun also) wearing an orange beanie. U wont ragret it.
2. I met U on the COD chatroom last nite and I was the one who said DONT call her a pussy bitch just cuz shes a NOOB-girl and U said “thats the sweetest thing anyones ever said about me”…Anyway, we should plan a LAN party some nite when my moms not home and it’ll be like we have so much bandwidth and our thumbs’ll get sore from all the action (if you get what I mean) and – trust me – my controllers way bigger than average (wink wink) and I’ll carjack your body all nite – GTA style – and electricity will run thru our hook-ups (if you know what I mean)…check the forum tonight at 2AM SHARP.
3. I saw you coming out of the Windemere Real Estate office on March 1st as I was going in…and you looked me up and down…and I know what that means… and you need to KNOW that I sell a lot of real estate…and I want you to KNOW that I would sell…your body…to mine…TONIGHT…like a kitten to milk, so picture my warm tongue everywhere in your bowl. Leave a return message at Windemere’s front desk?
4. We were both paddling the duck pond last week and we past each other and sparks flew off the ends of our paddles, and my eyes said, “I’m a pirate lassy and I’ll be your booty”…and your eyes said, “I’ll put U to my sword – my lady – make U walk my plank all nite”…and I’m all about exploring your seven seas…going to your promised land – so HAPPY returns – sailor – if you email me at…firstname.lastname@example.org
A few years ago, I finished writing and revising my first publishable literary novel (I say “publishable” because I’d written a lot of garbage-pseudo-literary fiction before my first published novel, and that trash fiction was thankfully never published).
While I went through the whole publishing process with my first novel – revisions, copy-editing, covers, blurbs, publicity, etc. – I almost destroyed my own mind.
How did I do this? By reading a lot of commercial nonfiction.
That might seem dramatic, but it isn’t. Reading a large quantity of commercial nonfiction was a horrible decision. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was doing the right thing. I had a best friend who loved and recommended nonfiction to me, and I kept reading the material he gave to me. From there, I branched out and tried other informative nonfiction.
But I’m not being dramatic when I say that the regular reading of nonfiction affected me. I struggled to write high-quality literary fiction for two years after, and regularly discovered myself thinking more simply about everyday issues. As an artist, I was becoming mentally simplistic. Vacuous. Vapid.
It’s not that nonfiction is terrible writing, and it’s not that nonfiction is inherently a bad thing. BUT…commercial nonfiction is incredibly mediocre writing. If all writing is bathwater, commercial nonfiction is tepid, luke-warm, not worth getting into, and certainly not worth submerging in for long periods of time.
I know I sound harsh, but if producing great art is your goal, then don’t immerse yourself in mediocre art. Set high standards, and maintain those high standards.
Here are seven strong opinions on the topic:
1. Keep your internet visits short. VERY FUCKING SHORT.
The internet is a festering puss pond of mediocrity. Have you ever sat next to someone while he’s surfing Facebook? That catatonic, slack-mouthed, dead-eyed face he makes while he stares at the screen? That once-every-10-minutes “Whoa, you gotta see this” exclamation?
Or long episodes of hanging out on Twitter?
Scrolling through other people’s Instagram photos?
Looking up sports gossip?
Celebrity news updates?
Set a time limit with the internet and stick to it. Say, “I’ve got ten minutes to answer these two emails, post once, and get offline.” Then stick to your time limit. CLOSE THE LAPTOP.
2. Don’t read mediocre writing.
My mother raised me on the phrase “Readers are leaders,” and I love that phrase because it’s true. If you’re not a reader, you’re not a great artist. It’s as simple as that. Great books and memoirs and poetry develop creativity. They make your mind work. The metaphors and complicated structures and narrative arcs force your mind to find new connections, spark analogous thinking, enhance mental divergence. If you want to be a great artist of any kind, you have to be a great reader.
But although I love the phrase “Readers are leaders,” it’s not completely true, or it’s not completely true in all cases. What you choose to read does matter. Selection matters. For example, if you read only Amish Murder Mysteries (a real genre in publishing that sells quite well) or Paranormal Romance, for example, you’re never going to create great art. That’s a fact.
To create great art, read great art.
3. Don’t watch reality television.
The average person in The United States watches hours of reality television every week, and some of the most popular shows on television are reality shows. So reality shows are – by definition – what the middle watches. The average. The mediocre middle of America.
Most artists know that reality shows won’t help them produce great art, but what about the opposite effect? Can watching bad reality shows negatively affect you as an artist?
Bad Input = Bad Output?
That seems like a logical equation.
Let’s take The Bachelorette on ABC for example since it was listed by TV guide as the most popular show on television last week. This is a show about a young woman looking for love, and two dozen men trying to be the last man standing. It seems like a classic plot, right? But if great art is the goal, then the specifics of the art matter.
In The Bachelorette, no character has any depth, people’s lives are made up of dates, roses, feelings, alcohol, more feelings, more alcohol, talks, swimming, hot-tubbing, and eating while drinking more alcohol and again talking about feelings. Also, everyone on the show speaks in the passive voice:
“Feelings are getting intense.”
“Tough conversations need to be had.”
“Things are being said that I don’t like.”
Wait, who did what?
Why can’t those subjects do any actions?
Even the better reality shows, shows with more powerful conflicts, shows like Naked And Afraid on Discovery, are – unfortunately – formulaic. Since Naked And Afraid is a true survival show meaning the (contestants? stars? participants?) actually suffer physically while trying to survive for 21 days, all of the conflicts are the same show to show. While trying to survive, will the two people find quality drinking water? Will one of the people start a fire? Will either of them find much to eat? Those questions are great for a little while, but not for long. Every show is the same. And the mundane is the unimaginative.
4. Study art.
– Go to the Picasso museum in Barcelona. Watch Picasso’s developmental process unfold room to room. Examine his mental process as he becomes more abstract.
– Read at least five Toni Morrison novels.
– Listen to Wu-Tang. Then listen to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint.
– Go to the Vatican in Rome, and stare at each sculpture for a long, long time. Think about chiseling any of those marble sculptures out of one giant block, start to finish, no mistakes.
– Read Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson over and over.
– Listen to Mad Villain’s beats.
– Read Dorianne Luax’ poetry. For something completely different, read Kay Ryan’s.
– Stare at Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm” until you can see a rhythm.
– Read contemporary poetry and fiction in the literary journals Tin House and The Missouri Review.
– Listen to Bob Dylan’s Biograph collection, and dwell on the lyricism. Then listen to Adele cover Bob Dylan and sing each song infinitely better.
– Peruse a different painter online each month (Google images is an amazing and free resource for learning a painter’s body of work).
– Watch highlight compilation videos of Barry Sanders playing running back.
5. Attempt to understand other people’s lives (and/or suffering).
Although many, many TV shows are about the richest most best looking people on the entire planet, this is not what great art is about. Great art is about empathy and depth and creativity and wonder and struggle. I don’t mean that you can’t be a great artist if you grew up in The Hamptons, but I am saying that you’ll never be a great artist if you stay in The Hamptons your whole life because great art isn’t about one thing, and it certainly isn’t about a few monochromatic rich people who live in boring, daily unreality.
So try something different:
– Talk to illegal immigrants.
– Feed the hungry.
– Work with the homeless.
– Talk to people who are different from you, to people who work different jobs, to people who’ve made different choices, to people who speak different languages. And while we’re talking about languages, learn another language. Don’t be an American who’s content with only speaking English.
– Ask good questions and really listen to other people’s answers. Don’t try to interject with your own better stories or your really funny comebacks or comments. Listen to other people. Imagine their entire lives, waking to sleeping. Be in their houses. Wear their clothes. Sleep with their lovers. Raise their children.
6. Break rules.
My agent recently told me that she couldn’t sell a piece of fiction because the dialogue was a mess. I said, “What kind of a mess?”
She said, “It’s too perfect. No one uses any contractions.”
Dialogue is a careful mixture of eloquence and atrocious grammar. Correct structure and god-awful colloquialisms. The masters of dialogue break rules in perfect ways, and in the creation of great art, we must break rules often. Judiciously.
Think of Gwendolyn Brooks enjambment to break the simple rhymes of “We Real Cool.”
Or Leonardo da Vinci digging up dead bodies?
Or Jimi Hendrix with his homemade distortion pedals?
Yo Yo Ma warping time with his elongated cello swells?
Sylvia Plath going DARK in her personal narratives.
7. Finally, don’t follow anyone else’s advice.
Not even mine. You can follow some of it, sure. Some of it will work with you. But you have to set your own standards. And the truth is, I don’t always follow my own advice. None of us do. We’re all hypocrites. But I keep pushing. I keep trying. And you can too. Set your own high standards, and try to live up to those standards most of the time.
But be your own person. Do your own thing. Find your own artistic outlet and push, push, push yourself to improve. Don’t become complacent and don’t allow yourself to wallow in your own mediocrity. Work on your weaknesses. You aren’t born with talent. You earn talent through daily and monthly and yearly choices, actions, and discipline.
Finally, don’t congratulate yourself too much if you have a moment of success because what is success anyway? Success is one of those cheap 4th of July sparklers on a short metal stick. It may not light. It may not stay lit. And even if it sparks into something bright green and orange and yellow, you’re likely to burn your own hand before the process is over.
Sam Smith got up in his red suit and pronounced that we should all be ourselves, so here’s me, writing poems about the Grammys.
Stream of Consciousness To The Greatest Of All Time, Kanye West:
Dear Kanye, my grandmother used to repeat the old proverb “Better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” but your mouth keeps opening somehow a jaw unhinging like a sorority girl vomiting into a Delta toilet at the end of the night your words so repetitive as you flirt with an upside down spotlight which would be a good metaphor for whatever it is that you think you do if only you wrote metaphors or even understood them instead of purely literal lyrics and not rhyming at all in this song that you’re so proud of writing all by yourself like a big kid.
But at least you auto-tuned the whole thing live.
Note To Miley Cyrus From The Wrecking Ball:
All I wanted was a year of bashing buildings,
swinging from cranes on enormous steel lines, smashing through
walls, bricks, maybe a few 1960s apartment buildings.
But you brought me into your studio,
skidged yourself on top of me like
a sea cucumber slit open by a fixed blade, the
wet suck, something I will not get over for a long time.
They say that Robin Thicke pedophiled you on national TV last year, but
you may as well have offered me candy and puppies as I was loaded
heavy into your van, the naked wet of your vehicle and now
you’re a finalist for Best Pop Vocal Album of the year?
Haiku On Old-School Performances:
and Madonna? Why are we
exhuming the dead?
Kim Kardashian On The Red Carpet, A Cinquain:
batting eyelashes, turning
in your golden bathrobe,
To The Red Carpet Itself:
How did you get this job, not green or blue but
Purple is a royal color and could be the carpet of choice
for stars to stumble across, bubbly and buzzing from limo shots,
or almost stars to walk upon and hope for interviews, cameras, microphones,
anything to reflect their own images.
If you want to catch a raccoon, drive 2.5-inch nails, angled down, into a coffee can
and place something shiny in the bottom: A silver dollar, a bracelet, a small mirror.
The raccoon, masked and striped as if he’s dressed up for a special occasion
will insert his hand, grasp the sparking object, and won’t let go,
even after he discovers that he can’t remove his closed fist from the trap.
Never will he relinquish the shiny piece of something that he is holding
even if he realizes that he has been caught in the open, exposed, looking like a fool.
(Thanks to Gavin Marsonette for some inspiration. Hashtag.)