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Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot

Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot: Take 5

by Susan Henderson on January 13, 2007

The Art of War

“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.”
…Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C.

I’ve been trying, since the beginning of the year and the slow return from the holiday malaise, to stay off the grid. For too long I’ve been focused on marketing and promotion and the rallying of troops for The Cause of making a difference in the arts and culture community. I’ve written blogs and commented on blogs and entreated loyal readers to tell their friends about my book and approached newspapers from here to NYC to post reviews about my book. I’ve started a writers collective with a bunch of other great writers and tried to cultivate a community of writers and readers working together to change things from the ground up. In short, I’ve been completely neglecting what really matters when one is a writer: the actual writing. Whenever this has become in an issue in the past, I’ve always reverted back to the tried and true, which has always had its nascence (for me anyway) with the inspiring book THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield (author of the novel THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE).

Without turning this into a school lesson (I like to think of it as more of an inspirational diatribe), I’ll try to sum up the gist of Pressfield’s argument by quoting a few passages directly from his book. The main theme is that any creative endeavor we embark upon is immediately beset by what he terms “Resistance” [his capitalization]. Resistance, according to Pressfield, is anything that stands in the way of us achieving our goals, dreams and deepest desires. Most commonly, Resistance does not originate from an outside force, but rather from forces inside each and every one of us. “Resistance is the enemy within.”

What does Resistance hate most? “Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance. The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” But it goes deeper than that. Resistance is much more far-reaching in its insidiousness. And it directly relates to what I’ve been screaming at you guys for the past five months now.

We are surrounded by noise at all times, so caught up in our culture that we have lost sight of what truly matters, not only in our personal lives but in our creative inner lives as well. This loss of perspective is so ingrained in us and our culture that we don’t even recognize it. Pressfield again:

As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.

So what I have I come away with this last go-round with my well-worn, egregiously underlined copy of THE WAR OF ART?

Thankfulness: “Be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful…it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be in the stands or out in the parking lot.”

Perseverance: “The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out after each individual work.”

Bravery: “[The professional] doesn’t wait for inspiration, he acts in the anticipation of its apparition”¦he knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”

Madness (quoting Socrates): “If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.”

Resolve: “The felony that calls down soul-destruction: the employment of the sacred for profane means. Prostitution. Selling out.”

Comfort: “Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius. Are these angels? Are they muses? Is this the Unconscious? The Self? Whatever it is, it’s smarter than we are. A lot smarter. It doesn’t need us to tell it what to do. It goes to work all by itself. It seems to want to work. It seems to enjoy it. This is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation.”

For all of us, this is a battle, every day. Every one of us who has ever picked up a pen or a paintbrush or tried to start a business or thought about taking a leap of faith in favor of finally finding that perfect job knows what I’m talking about. To do something extraordinary is the Hard Road. But we have each other along the way. Remember, before Hitler became the most infamous in a long century of insane tyrants, he wanted to be a painter. As Pressfield points out, “It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.” If this doesn’t speak to the importance of our camaraderie and brotherhood, our strength in numbers, then nothing will.

We must be willing to face down these fears, these demons, these distractions that keep us from the work at hand if we are ever going to live up to our true potential. We have to be fucking militant about this shit.

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. The artist must be like a Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

More next time.

~Frank

*

Frank Daniels is the author of the acclaimed novel FUTUREPROOF. He can usually be reached at nfrankdaniels@gmail.com or on Myspace at www.myspace.com/nfrankdaniels. But probably not any time soon as he’s working on his next book and ignoring (for the most part) any and all distractions (not that anyone trying to contact him is a distraction, but it’s just”¦he has to get some shit done for now or he’s going to go off the deep end).

{ 8 comments }

Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot: Take 4

by Susan Henderson on December 9, 2006

Are We WRITERS Or Are We Amoebas?

The latest celebrity memoir…this time by the “ugly” girl from 90210, Tori Spelling (can you say ’nepotism’?)…has proven once again that despite any scandals involving the memoir genre this year, the public thirst for it has not at all slaked. We must be an instrument of change in the public taste. Younger people are reading more now, they are the readers of tomorrow, and if they see that a lot of what is being written is still of interest to them…even moreso than the latest tell-all memoir…we have a fighting chance to save the life of the serious writer.

If you’ve been reading my posts here, then you know by now how I feel about memoir. For the sake of any newcomers, let me reiterate my position once again. Memoir is a bullshit genre that takes the food out of real writers’ mouths, and forces us into ever-smaller boxes where we must fight to survive, even going so far as inventing whole personas in order to maintain a fighting chance in the ever more vicious publishing world. Now, let me be clear here: I’m not saying that everyone who has written a memoir is not a “real” writer…many of my writer friends have written memoirs that I truly appreciate and in which I find great worth. Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s memoir, I AM NOT MYSELF THESE DAYS, for example, just has some incredible, beautifully written passages within. But I think his book would have been even more effective had it been sold as a novel. When a writer is forced to prostitute himself in order to fit the latest marketing trend, everybody loses.

I was reading over an issue of Poets & Writers the other day. There was an article within by Azita Osanloo called The Pressure To Be Exotic. Osanloo asserts that, with the unfortunate emphasis on memoirs these days, many writers feel the need to ratchet up their own real-life credentials in order to be at all marketable. She says, “Current marketing trends that stress the importance of the writer’s star quality can seduce a writer into stretching the boundaries of his identity, allowing it to fit neatly into an attractive publishing niche. What’s the fallout? Little by little, as editors become marketing experts and novels become memoirs, writers will increasingly become sales technicians, and the artists themselves, along with their art, will be lost to posterity.”

She hits the nail on the head here. And what’s possibly even more interesting is that in response to this same article, yet another disgraced writer from 2006, one Nasdiij (Tim Barrus), wrote in to the magazine the following level-headed diatribe: “Azita Osanloo’s thoughtful article on the writing life is the first I’ve read that ’gets it.’ Almost everything written up to this point…especially in blogs…dealing with the ’literary scandals’ of 2006 has been so vitriolic, personal, and mean that any balance or shift toward the bigger picture has not simply been ephemeral, it has been nonexistent. All of this, with the exception of Osanloo’s article [he obviously hasn’t been reading my posts on the matter], has only reinforced my own perceptions about publishing as a business. I am not what threatens publishing. What threatens publishing is the idea that it is fast becoming irrelevant.” Needless to say, you know I think he’s right. And we’d all be better off if we started realizing this very genuine reality.

Some have approached me regarding my constant defense of these scandalized writers (Frey, Barrus, Leroy), and have asked me why I’m so vehement about defending these writers who have been defamed as “morally inferior,” writers who have “besmirched the fair name of authors everywhere.” If this year has anything to teach writers, especially those of us still trying to find footing within the establishment, it is that the current negative climate in publishing has literally bred the desperate acts of these “disgraced” writers. These writers decided to cease attempting the formally tried and true route toward getting published in favor of fabricating identities. And really, what are the alternatives? For the fiction writer, for the writer trying to break through, there is little reception with Big Publishing. Because the bottom line in this business, as in any business, is cash money. Writers are expendable. We are cattle.

As an alternative to this mess I’d like to propose a course of action similar to that of the renowned British graffiti artist BANKSY. He is the biggest thing to hit the art world in years, and yet remains completely anonymous, preferring to his let his work speak for him. He has a mythos and a mystique surrounding him, and this has increased the public perception of him, and the fervor for his work.

I’ll close with a couple of pretty poignant quotations. The first from a Washington Post article (my italics) regarding how the film industry is dealing with the critical hoopla surrounding Mel Gibson’s latest movie, the second from a scene in one of my favorite films, WAKING LIFE.

“Other studio chiefs have said they would not work with Mr. Gibson in the future but would not say so for attribution because they didn’t want to endanger their future business dealings. At least one influential publicist has declined to work on an “Apocalypto” Oscar campaign because of objections to Mr. Gibson’s views, but would not say so publicly for similar reasons.” i.e. Don’t want to publicly decry Gibson because he might just still have a few million more bucks to make ’em.


(Guy with a bullhorn is driving through the city streets yelling)

“You can’t fight city hall, death and taxes. Don’t talk about politics or religion. This is all the equivalent of enemy propaganda rolling across the picket line. ’Lay down, G.I. Lay down, G.I.’ We saw it all through the 20th Century. And now in the 21st Century, it’s time to stand up and realize that we should not allow ourselves to be crammed into this rat maze. We should not submit to dehumanization. I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned with what’s happening in this world. I’m concerned with the structure. I’m concerned with the systems of control, those that control my life and those that seek to control it even more! I want freedom! That’s what I want! And that’s what you should want!

It’s up to each and every one of us to turn loose and show them the greed, the hatred, the envy, and yes, the insecurities because that is the central mode of control – make us feel pathetic, small so we’ll willingly give up our sovereignty, our liberty, our destiny. We have got to realize that we’re being conditioned on a mass scale. Start challenging this corporate slave state! The 21st Century is going to be a new century, not the century of slavery, not the century of lies and issues of no significance and classism and statism and all the rest of the modes of control! It’s going to be the age of humankind standing up for something pure and something right!

Do you got me? Resistance is not futile. We’re gonna win this thing. Humankind is too good! We’re not a bunch of underachievers! We’re gonna stand up and we’re gonna be human beings! We’re gonna get fired up about the real things, the things that matter: creativity and the dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit! Well that’s it! That’s all I got to say! It’s in your court.”

More next time.

~Frank

*

Frank Daniels is the author of the acclaimed novel FUTUREPROOF. He can be reached at nfrankdaniels@gmail.com or on Myspace at www.myspace.com/nfrankdaniels.

{ 29 comments }

Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot: Take 3

by Susan Henderson on November 11, 2006

“After the Goldrush”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

~Langston Hughes

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to write about here until Monday night, when I sat down with my wife to watch American Experience on PBS. The episode was focused on the San Francisco gold rush of 1849, told through the words of those who lived it. One story in particular, that of Hiram Pierce and his family, struck me as preternaturally relevant to the trials I’ve been going through with my own life and career.

*TRANSCRIPT*

Narrator: In the industrial city of Troy, New York, Hiram Pierce, a 38-year-old blacksmith, and his wife Sara talked long into the night, weighing the pros and cons of California. If Hiram went to the gold fields, he would leave behind not only his successful business, but also his responsibilities as church elder, city alderman, and president of the local fire department. Sara would have to look after their seven children alone.

Brian Roberts, Historian: Hiram Pierce was clearly very well connected in his community and very well established. He’s not the kind of person you would expect to join the Gold Rush. There was probably a lot of stress on Hiram, especially in thinking about what the future was for blacksmithing. And of course with seven children, he felt, I think, certain pressures to do more for his family.

Richard White, Historian: The United States is moving away from a society in which most people were independent producers, and it’s moving towards a wage labor society. This means for a lot of people, the future does not appear as bright to them as it should be. The Gold Rush gives them a chance to erase all that.

Narrator: But first, the Pierces and others would have to address crucial questions: Where would the money for the journey come from? How would the farm or the family business stay afloat? And how long, exactly, was this absence to last?

Richard White, Historian: The Gold Rush ends up being a series of negotiations. They reach a deal. I will go, but only for a limited amount of time. I will send money back. If I don’t succeed in such-and-such a time, I will be back.

Narrator: In the end, the Pierces decided to gamble their future. Just after dawn on March 6, 1849, Hiram said goodbye to his wife and children, and boarded a train bound for New York City. From there, he would set sail for California.

Malcolm Rohrbough, Historian: Sara Pierce and women like her would have regarded the departure as a kind of watershed in the history of the family. Nothing like this would have happened before. Nothing would have prepared them for the departure of members of the family, particularly for long periods at such a long distance. It would have been devastating.

Reading, Sara Pierce: When I think of the responsible place I occupy, my heart almost fails me – I was so near destructed when you left that I did not know half the time what I was about – it seems like an ugly dream.

*END TRANSCRIPT*

The similarities between this gold rush story and my own life as an aspiring writer are resounding. No, I never left my family to seek fortune in some far off land, not physically anyway. But in another, very real way, I’ve been gone for a long time. It all started right after I graduated from college in 2002. I’d won a handful of awards for my writing while in school, was one of the first to graduate with a degree in the creative writing program, and had landed a grant to attend the highly lauded Skidmore Writers Institute in upstate New York, a program established by William Kennedy and Joyce Carol Oates. The two weeks I spent in Saratoga Springs were intoxicating…literally (we’re writers, we drink!)…and through more lofty avenues, as well. I spent my days sleeping late (a real treasure when you’re used to waking at 6 a.m. every morning to the sound of screaming children), then ambling down to the mess hall for grub with hundreds of other aspiring writers just like me (though obviously less talented :)). I spent my afternoons attending writing workshops with critically acclaimed, published writers. I spent my nights attending readings by emissaries of letters such as Rick Moody, Anne Beatty, Jay McInerney, Russell Banks, and yes, William Kennedy and Joyce Carol Oates. After each of these readings the authors would meet with all writers who were so inclined (and we all were) for free drinks and casual conversation.

At the insistence of a new friend I met there, one Brandon Stickney, I began writing what would become FUTUREPROOF. Then, two weeks later, it was back home to my wife and children, where I was to begin construction work on my way to graduate school. I figured I would spend the day at hard labor, my evenings with my family, and my nights working diligently on bringing my artistic vision to life.

Things don’t always turn out the way we plan.

*BEGIN TRANSCRIPT*

Reading, Hiram Pierce: Rose early and walked to the diggings. Made a small show. All of us got much less than an ounce. It is very much like work.

Brian Roberts, Historian: As soon as he arrived, Hiram discovered, like virtually all forty-niners did, that gold mining was enormously hard work. They had envisioned just picking up gold, and here they were literally turning the landscape inside out.

Malcolm Rohrbough, Historian: A company of four miners, in order to achieve 20 dollars each, which was the hoped-for wage, would probably need to wash 800 buckets of dirt a day and you divide that by 10 hours, and you think about washing 80 buckets an hour. This is very, very difficult physical labor on a continuing basis.

Narrator: Worse still, everything in the gold district was wildly overpriced: one dollar for an egg, five for a pound of tea, and upwards of eight for a second-hand shovel. At his general store in Sacramento, Sam Brannan was now pulling in as much as 150,000 dollars a month.

Hiram Pierce found it difficult even to meet his daily expenses.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: My dear and faraway wife, this gold is by no means diffused over the whole country. Some get one, two, or even five hundred dollars some days. But half an ounce – about eight dollars – is the average. You see from this how grossly things have been misrepresented.

Malcolm Rohrbough, Historian: The great bonanzas of the summer and fall of 1848 were behind them. The stories of men who went out and found a couple of thousand dollars in a week at the time were true. But they were no longer true.

As a new year dawned, many wondered how gold would shape the future.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: Ten months since I left home and have not made a dollar. The Lord must open something entirely unexpected to enable me to do much of anything.

Reading, Sara Pierce: How I wish you were here. I must try to be as patient as I can, but, oh, how long time seems. How can I endure it? Do come home as soon as possible.

*END TRANSCRIPT*

I quickly discovered the toll that hard labor takes not just on the body, but on the mind as well. I had worked in construction before I’d ever gone to college, yes, but I had never done it with the demands of supporting a family and writing a book on top of that. By the time I returned home from work, it was near dark and I would be exhausted, many nights unable to expend energy on a board game, much less on pulling my mental faculties together long enough to string multiple sentences coherently.

My novel was placed on the back burner.

I didn’t look at the pages I’d managed to write, or even think about them. I slowly learned the misery of a work-a-day job and wondered why I’d ever bothered to attend college. Then something happened that at first seemed devastating, but that I later looked at as Divine Providence: I injured my knee at work. The injury would require surgery. I’d be out of work on disability for the rest of the year. I would use this time to write.

And write I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote, disregarding everything else but writing as much as I could every day, then spending glorious evenings with my family when they returned from school (my wife was working on her teaching degree). By the time I finished, I had close to 150,000 words. The book was sorely in need of heavy slash-and-burn editing, but I had the frame-work and the substance of a full novel before me. All that was left now was the critical eye, which I prided myself on possessing, in my evaluation of all things art. If I could apply this same unforgiving eye to my own work, I had no question that, even in a glutted market, my work would stand out. It was not only well-written, natch, it had a message I knew would resound with a lot of readers, particularly young people hailing backgrounds disparate from the so-called American Apple Pie norm.

*BEGIN TRANSCRIPT*

Narrator: How would the thousands of families torn apart by the prospect of instant wealth weather the strains of separation?

Could the opportunity that California offered be extended to all? Or would competition and greed cause the violence in the gold district to spin out of control?

And could a transient place like California, a place where the primary motive was to get rich and get out, ever truly become like the rest of America?

In the days and months to come, the quest for gold would create an entirely new society on the Pacific coast. Along the way, both California and America would be forever transformed.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: Monday, February 25, 1850. Worked hard and got nothing. My back and one leg quite lame.

Narrator: More than a year had passed since Hiram Pierce had left his family in Troy and come to California in search of gold. In that time, he’d lived in a crude log cabin that he’d built himself, slept night after night on a mattress of pine needles, and suffered everything from back aches and chills to scurvy – all in the now-fading hope that he might strike it rich.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: Friday, March 1. I feel uneasy about my back and legs. I rather fear for the future. Dug eight dollars. Thursday, March 21. Prospected and dug … and got nothing.

*END TRANSCRIPT*

I started sending out query letters, as I was instructed to do by Writers Market. I took the flood of rejection slips in stride, knowing that the nasty little buggers were merely part of the process. I knew it would only take one agent with a taste for blood and a wild streak to get my book where it needed to be: in the hands of a highly successful editor at a New York publishing house. But then the rejection letters became the norm…no, not just rejection letters, but form rejection letters. I had received over 60 of them, with only three agents asking to see more of the manuscript, and of those three seemingly interested agents, not a single one ever got back to me again. I figured I was delusional and deceived. My critical eye had perhaps become disconnected when looking at my own work. My ear, which I’d known for sure was tuned to the cultural underground, had gone deaf. I contacted my brother in Atlanta and told him I’d take him up on the warehouse job he’d been offering me with his corporation for the last several months.

The first month in Atlanta sparked new life in my quest for publication, brought mainly by the confluence of two specific occurrences. The first was that I met James Frey at a reading in Atlanta. Frey had just released a new book, and I was eager to meet the man who’d had a good amount of success writing in basically the same genre that my novel occupied. I wanted to ask him if he had any advice to offer on writing a good query letter. He one-upped that request by telling me to send him my book. I did; he told me he liked it. I realized that there might be something to completely foregoing the traditional routes of publishing and simply blazing my own trail through mining the connections I already had with many established authors, as well as taking my book directly to readers. This was the second prong of my new attack on publication. I would go to the internet, using its many resources to find readers that I knew would appreciate a book like FUTUREPROOF. I contacted reviewers on Amazon who had favorably reviewed books and authors that I held in high regard and offered to send them the first 100 pages of my book for their free perusal. Many accepted my offer. Within a few short months I had a virtual army behind me, damn-near begging to read the rest of the book. I decided that I would accommodate this clamor by self-publishing through one of the many print-on-demand companies now online, which made it possible to get your book listed on Amazon for very little investment cash, as well as allowing the author to retain rights to the work, should he ever have the opportunity to sell it to a regular publishing house. Then the word-of-mouth would take off, the publishing houses would take note, and it would be mere months before a “respectable” house came calling. Maybe more than one”¦.Maybe a bidding war!

But despite the great word-of-mouth and the long list of writers I had proclaiming my book’s worthiness, every editor and agent I came into contact with was condescending and arrogant. To a one, they all wanted me to fundamentally change the book, despite its successes as it was already constructed. I decided I couldn’t, in good faith to my nearly 1,000 current readers, make such sweeping changes (Have the entire thing take place in high school! Eliminate all but four characters!). And so, despite making it into Entertainment Weekly (something that 99% of “properly” published books can’t claim), I was once again left holding my dick in my hand, wondering how I could have done so many things right, only to have the end result be so wrong. I watched my children play in my yard and wondered how I could have been so stupid to have assumed that things were going to be just fine if I decided to press on full steam ahead with writing, of all things, as a career. My wife was now the breadwinner and I was just some hack chasing a pipedream.

*BEGIN TRANSCRIPT*

Richard White, Historian: The Gold Rush really seems to offer this chance for independence. American miners really believe any man who’s willing to labor will be equal to other men, and will be able to get large rewards for their labor. But gold quite simply is in some places and not in other places. So men can be 20 yards away from each other, working just as hard, one man strikes gold and the other one doesn’t. One man makes his fortune, the other one doesn’t. So as miners begin to see it, it’s not just labor they’re talking about now. This is about luck.

Narrator: Hiram had given mining his all. He’d toiled from sunup to sundown, day after day. But time and time again, in his letters home to Sara, he had been forced to admit defeat.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: I feel most deeply to regret that I have earned nothing to enable me to make any remittance. I am sorry I cannot fix things up as usual or better for you.

Brian Roberts, Historian: Sara really counted on the gold to come at a certain time as her family’s needs became pressing. When she received the news that Hiram was not going to be able to send any money back home, it was extremely disappointing, but you get the feeling that Sara immediately started to kind of adjust to that reality.

Narrator: Sara learned to fend for herself. She borrowed money from family members, called in debts owed to Hiram, and rented out his blacksmith shop.

Reading, Sara Pierce: I guess you will begin to think I am getting to be quite a business character. You would laugh to see me at work. I am my own tinker, have set nine fruit trees, mended my own stove grate in the oven, moved the front-room stove out alone, in fact, I am kept very busy here.

*END TRANSCRIPT*

Still, I pressed forward. I’d had ideas about writers uniting and forming powerful collectives that would make them more visible and more vocal among a field of thousands of cluttered voices. I spent hours every day on Myspace, sending out bulletins and posting blogs and commenting on blogs and commiserating with readers and other writers. Meanwhile my wife continued working, raising our children, for all intents and purposes a widow to my obsessions; not only with getting published, but making a lasting mark in my field. She, too, is a writer, and had actually won a writing contest held by my friend Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s memoirist collective. But she couldn’t take any time to actually follow through on her win because she was working a full-time job teaching sixth graders (and if you’ve ever been a teacher you know that the job doesn’t end when you walk out the doors of the school). My own collective, RiotLit, got up and running, right around the same time that my book appeared in Entertainment Weekly. The promises of hard work, I could tell, were about to pay off.

Then I went on my first, self-funded, book tour.

*BEGIN TRANSCRIPT*

Brian Roberts, Historian:As Hiram’s absence continued, you can see Sara becoming more confident with her abilities. Women were not supposed to engage in public business, and yet here is Sara, thriving in the business world. It became, I think, an enormous source of pride to be able to do Hiram’s work plus her own.

Narrator: But when Hiram’s stay in California stretched into a second year, Sara began to grow impatient.

Reading, Sara Pierce:My dear husband, if I can get you back, I should be willing to live on very small fare. Your presence here is better far than gold. All there is would not tempt me to endure half the anxiety of the past year.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: I am more anxious to get home than you are to have me come. I saw a man picking up a piece of gold near our house worth one hundred dollars. Such seems to be the luck of some. It may not be my fortune to get much, but I shall make an honest effort.

Malcolm Rohrbough, Historian: The more difficult it was in the gold fields and the fewer the returns, the longer they saw themselves as having to stay in California. They were engaged in what they themselves saw as a lottery. And whatever the odds, if you had a ticket in the lottery, you might win. If you weren’t digging in the mines, you didn’t have a ticket.

H.W. Brands, Historian: You could try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, do it ten times, do it twenty times. But if you kept at it, you might finally strike it rich. And that would pay for all of your failures in the past. Now, this is quite different than the attitude that most people had back in the East, where failure in business was connected to a sense of moral failure. Virtue as a basis of success in California was almost beside the point.

Narrator: Desperate to turn a profit, Hiram Pierce threw in his lot with a group of miners and headed north – to a steep canyon along the Merced River, inhabited mainly by rattlesnakes and grizzly bears. The plan was to stake a claim there, and try out a costly new technique known as river mining.

Malcolm Rohrbough, Historian: What had been kind of a day-to-day harvesting of gold is now deferred to the end of the mining season, when they have mined the river bottom. Thus it raises the stakes and it raises the dangers of failure.

Narrator: Pierce had risked his last dollar investing in the scheme. Now, there was nothing to do but pray that it worked.

Richard White, Historian:The hardest thing for most people to do is to go back and admit failure. They’ve committed themselves – both in their own eyes and, remember, the eyes of people they left behind – to be a success. California is a very hard place to get out of. And one of the things that keeps you from getting out is your own pride, your own sense of disappointed ambitions.

Narrator: When Hiram Pierce first arrived in California in 1849, it was with the idea of filling his pockets with gold and making a speedy return to the East. But more than a year had passed, and so far nothing had gone according to plan.

Now, he had invested everything in one last-ditch effort. He and his mining partners had spent the past six weeks digging a canal – a trough some 700 feet long and 16 feet wide. The next step was to divert the river and mine the riverbed.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: We have expended about 3,000 dollars in time and money – 12 of us – and I am afraid it will not pay. It is going to be a difficult job to get the water out.

Narrator: For several weeks, Pierce and the others worked the riverbed furiously. But instead of a vein of gold, they found only an impenetrable mass of rocks and boulders.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: It is impossible with our tools to get down to the ledge. We concluded to abandon it and give it up as a total loss.

*END TRANSCRIPT*

I was out of options. The great shamrock in the sky had failed to rain down its green blessings upon my head. It appeared I was not going to sell my book. I came home from my tour a shell of the man I’d been when I left, both as a writer and a husband & father. I was, for all intents and purposes, demoralized, defeated. I would log in to my Myspace page and marvel at the sheer number of other struggling writers and artists trying to do the same thing I’d had the audacity to relentlessly chase…with the main difference being that I was one of the few without an alternative source of income and a family depending on me for my time, attention and income potential.

I had one final option. I decided to play my hand.

I approached my friend James Frey about investing in starting up an independent imprint that would publish not only my book, but also his future books, as well as other books in the same vein; a sort of 21st century version of Grove Press. I told him this would eliminate the need for him to kiss any publisher’s asses and would give other writers like us hope that they could find an avenue to publish more controversial and less linear material than what mainstream publishing is comfortable with.

He never got back to me.

A hard, fast rule in this business is that if you have money and influence, you have power. Otherwise you are seen as little more than a desperate leech. Everything looked grey – no, black. I realized that I couldn’t keep up this goose chase, in all its wildness, any longer. It was, on many levels, a failed venture, the whole fucking thing. I couldn’t, with an easy heart, continue on the same trajectory indefinitely.

“But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”

~Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST

*BEGIN TRANSCRIPT*

Narrator: Pierce finally had had enough. A few days later, he sold his shovel for two dollars, along with some other personal effects, and headed back to San Francisco. From there, he set sail for home, not a penny richer than when he left.

Reading, Hiram Pierce: My dear but I hope not lonely wife, I have made an honest effort but the Lord has for some cause unknown to me ordered it otherwise. I will not longer sacrifice all that is dear on earth or worth living for, for the hope of gain. I have suffered voluntary banishment long enough. I cease and subscribe myself, Your Returning Prodigal.

H.W. Brands, Historian:The gold rush was all about people willing to make great gambles. California presented to people a new model for the American dream – one where the emphasis was on the ability to take risks, the willingness to gamble on the future.

Brian Roberts, Historian: Prior to the Gold Rush, you see every once in a while in newspapers talk about a transcontinental railroad. And typically, it’s seen by observers as funny. I mean, this is a wild dream. You know, why not build a railroad to the moon? After California, people don’t mock that kind of idea anymore. You could have these enormously large dreams.

Isabel Allende, Writer: It was a time when the best and the worst of people was on the surface. All lives were extreme. People were living, uh, on the edge. The gold rush created this place that we call today California, and changed thousands of people. Everything was possible. And I think that’s what the gold represented. It was a metaphor for a new life.

Narrator: Nearly two years after he had left home, Hiram Pierce was finally reunited with his family in Troy. He was so changed by the hardships he had suffered that few of his friends even recognized him.

Having found no gold to speak of, Pierce was soon back to blacksmithing, working day in and day out, just like before. But as his daughter put it: “he never got over his California fever.” More than a decade after he came home, he was still talking of the Golden State, and laying plans to return there, buy a farm, and give mining another go.

Hiram Pierce died before he could make his dream a reality. But in the years that followed, four of his seven children would leave Troy for good – and go to live in California.

*END TRANSCRIPT*

We, all writers, are engaged in a similar gold rush of our own. We put ourselves out there and hope that something about our work speaks to people, that we can add something to the ancient themes that separates what we have to say from the rest of those trying to say the same things. Some of us will succeed, through a variety of means, some of us will end up packing it in for the greater good.

Me, I will continue to write, will continue, on perhaps a much smaller level than before, to network and commiserate with other writers and readers. But I’m out of this for a living. I’ll work in the factory of the warehouse or whatever the fuck I can find to supplement income. I will no longer dedicate myself to this ridiculous and ultimately humiliating chasing of a pipedream. And that’s really what all of this is. We are dreamers, every last one of us. I told everyone when I started this that the book would either succeed or fail on its merits (or lack thereof). It succeeded with the limited amount of people I was able to reach through my limited means, it failed with the powers that could have given it a broader audience.

At some point you have to realize that the dream you chase becomes a rat race that leaves all but the most stubborn and unattached a shell of what they were. This shit tears you down, the futility of it all. And the most disturbing part of all of it, for me, is that what determines who succeeds and who fails is almost 100% based on luck. I don’t give a fuck who you know or how good your writing is. We are all dependent on the good-heartedness of someone more powerful than we are. I’ve read all the guidelines to getting published and getting recognized and I’ve fulfilled every element on every one of these guidelines. But you have to have that little extra something, that chance meeting, that Dr. Dre taking his Eminem under the wing, if any of us are going to parlay our talents into something more than dreams deferred.

“I wasn’t going nowhere because ain’t nobody take me off this motherfucker till I’m ready to leave this motherfucker… Hell no. I don’t play that dying shit.”

~ODB

More next time.

~Frank

*

Frank Daniels is the author of the acclaimed novel FUTUREPROOF. He can be reached at nfrankdaniels@gmail.com or on Myspace at www.myspace.com/nfrankdaniels.

The literary collective he founded, RiotLit, is currently holding the first of three major talent contests. Check out the details at www.riotlit.com or www.myspace.com/riotlit.

{ 27 comments }

Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot: Take 2

by Susan Henderson on October 14, 2006

“The Case For James Frey: On His Imminent…And Needed…Reemergence”

I’m about to state what is probably going to at first be a semi- (very?) unpopular opinion. Here goes:

I think that James Frey is the best thing to happen to the Lit-World in years. There, I said it. Start your self-righteous clamoring for justice, truth, and all other things that make you feel better about yourself and your superior approach to life and living”¦now.

If you are a writer (which, judging by many of the comments I’ve read on Susan’s blogs over the past six months, most of you who are regulars here are, at the very least, thinking about aspiring to thinking about becoming writers), it is by now an inescapable fact that all writers…save for those already well-established and spitting out books every year to indiscriminate publishing deals…live in James Frey’s shadow. Many of us are resentful of this fact. Many of us have determined that James has manipulated his way into the fame and riches that all of us more righteously deserve. He was only rejected 17 times before he got his deal. We closeted narcissists who go by the moniker of writer have more righteously toiled over our careers via expensive MFAs and the drudgery of receiving hundreds of rejection slips like clock-work in the mailbox on a near-daily basis, right? My angle on this is: Who gives a fuck? As I’ve ranted here and elsewhere before, a major, MAJOR problem we as writers are facing today, due to rapidly declining public interest in anything resembling extended reading (the latest edition of US, PEOPLE or STAR does not count as actual reading), is that the publishing industry has decided to try to cater to what they believe are the tastes of those still willing to give a book a whirl. How? They’ve sub-categorized every genre of book until it has been classified to death. James Frey has single-handedly changed this outlook, and in doing so has increased, by an as-yet unknown factor, the likelihood that many more of us will actually see our books in print at some point. Because whether you admit it or not, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has gotten a million little consumers, who hadn’t picked up a book in years, to consider reading again.

Back when AMLP was first released in 2003, Frey made (sort of, for a writer, anyway) headlines when he publicly lambasted Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace and their ilk (I think it’s safe to lump Jonathan Saffron Foer in with these guys) for…well, he just didn’t appreciate their work. As James later clarified in an interview with the London Guardian newspaper this past September 15th, “I mean, it just wasn’t relevant, y’know? I think writers and artists in general come in two forms: there are thinkers, and feelers. And I think those guys are thinkers, their work is about the intellect. The intellectual gamesmanship, it was all about irony and postmodernism and it was very clever. And none of those things were things I care about. I care about what I feel and how I feel it. So I actually set out to do absolutely the opposite. Strip everything away. Make it not about intellectualism at all, make it about emotional heart. It’s like they were making conceptual art, and I’m making expressionistic art.” Call me James Frey’s bitch if you want, but he’s right. And while I did appreciate sections of Eggers’ A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, it just did not resonate with me the way that James’ book did. Nor did these other authors’ books resonate with anyone else who is the “target demographic” the way James’ books have. Simply stated: reading is like picking up a smoking habit; you either start young or you never start at all. And where Big Publishing has failed to cultivate new readers, James Frey has succeeded with flying colors. Although he most assuredly didn’t intend for things to happen in this manner, through such character-assassinating means, James has single-handedly (with the help of a venomous Oprah Winfrey and blood-thirsty 24-hour tabloid news cycle) brought millions of readers back to the table…a million little pieces become one. Shoot me on the pun if you want, you know I’m fucking right.

So this is the deal now. James Frey will soon be free of the gag placed on him due to the lawsuits that were inevitable following this debacle. He will then either be embraced or shunned by the lit community. Though I’ve told James myself that he couldn’t have planned this better if he’d tried. Because now that there is so much controversy swirling around him, he has sold more books that he would have in ten lifetimes, and his message has been received and welcomed by millions upon millions of readers. James Frey is the writer of his generation. We are all in his wake. He, with the help of his enemies, has leveled the playing field, has blurred the line between memoir and novel and remade the landscape to where it should have stayed…to the way it was during the heyday of the 20th century, when Hemingway and the Beats were writing. This is a good thing. We can all go back to being storytellers again. And give Frey his due as the elder statesman who sacrificed his privacy and his pride so that we could write in the environment we should have been able to write in all this time, without having to haggle over a book-deal based on whether or not the words we’ve written can be slid onto the “reality” shelf next to Survivor: Pearl Islands.

In closing, let me reiterate what Oprah Winfrey herself stated on the January 11th, 2006 initial James Frey appearance on Larry King Live:

“The underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of people who have read this book … To me, it seems to be much ado about nothing.”

Oprah got it right the first time. Most of us have not. Now is our chance to do the right thing, get off our high horse and give the man his due. Face it: They did him like Clinton. Read into that whatever you like.

More next time.

Talk soon.
~Frank

Frank Daniels is author of the acclaimed book FUTUREPROOF and a founding member of the RiotLit Writers Collective.

{ 83 comments }

Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot: Take 1

by Susan Henderson on September 9, 2006

“The Status Quo’s Sure Looking Like It Needs A Good Smashing”

or

“This Town Needs An Enema!”

Everywhere you look these days, the overwhelming evidence points to there being a severe shortage of anything worth two shits offered to the public by the mainstream arts and culture community of Western society. The possible reasons for this are numerous and far-reaching. Most striking, though, is how little anybody seems to be doing about it.

We have grown fat and lazy in designating where to spend our entertainment dollars, although, to be fair, we have finally discovered a way to peel our asses off the couch and away from our 60 year love affair with the television. And now, because of computers and cellphones (with text messaging!), we are in an age of incredible interaction capability. We are connected to each other as we have never been connected before. Yet what the great majority of us are using this capability for is the most inane, mundane subject matter imaginable.

Let’s use Tom Cruise as an example: Tom Cruise’s baby made her first ever public appearance on The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric â„¢, a surefire ratings hit, as this was the first time ever that a woman *gasp* solo-anchored a primetime network news show. And what better way to expose your new baby to the world than to parade her on TV and in the glossy pages of Vanity Fair simultaneously, thereby effectively one-upping that other baby-to-end-all-babies, What’s-Her-Name Pitt-Jolie.

If TomKat’s baby making national news isn’t enough to prove beyond all doubt that our culture has entered the slow, swirly decline into the crapper, then I think I’ve finally figured out why there is such a(n) (annoying) proliferation of MySpace bulletins proclaiming users’ boredom. The gawd-awful truth is that there is so little out there worth investing our time and money in that, across the board, media conglomerates are seeing less and less return on their overwhelmingly shitty investments…the “product” that they present to us, the public. Doubt me? James Patterson, who doesn’t even bother any more to participate in the actual writing of any of the five books he releases each year, sits once again atop the bestseller list. Is there ONE fucking program worth a week’s undigested TV dinners in the Nielsen top 20 ratings? How about music? We’re passively observing the nascency of WWIII and look at the fucking Billboard Top 200. As much shit as I give the Baby Boomers for dumping their ideals as soon as a dollar was waved under their noses, post-Vietnam, at least they gave the enterprise of pretending to give a fuck a go of it for a decade or so. We can’t even be bothered to pretend. This is true atrophy on every level and we are all in collusion with its slow disintegration of our spinal cords and our much-hyped, though little-valued, “free will”.

The right wing faction in control of this country at the moment wants to talk about moral decay, and how the very fabric of our society is coming apart at the seams, but I’d posit that no amount of flagrant gay marryin’ can compare to the way in which we’ve allowed our arts community to be completely ravaged by the bottom line. Nearly everything you read, listen to, watch on TV or in a movie theater is OWNED by seven different media conglomerates. This is not an exaggeration. And they obviously have terrible fucking taste. Because the easiest way to make a product is to carbon copy it. We have been co-opted. We have become nothing more than target demographics and lowest common denominators.

But we have an incredibly large arsenal at our disposal. We can fight back. We have a voice. And a wallet.

More next time.

Talk soon.
~Frank
www.futureproofbook.com
www.myspace.com/nfrankdaniels

Frank Daniels is the author of the acclaimed,POD-dy Mouth-approved novel FUTUREPROOF. Currently, Frank is preparing to embark on a seven city book tour that he is funding through a little help from his friends…you guys. Please check out his eBay auctions, and help the cause.

{ 27 comments }

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