Been doing a lot since I last posted. Things have changed in a big way. A very very good way though.
Anyrate, I tried to write a novel almost two weeks ago. Got a thousand words in and realised it wasn’t what it was meant to be or what I wanted it to be. I was relying too much on my familiar tricks: lots of narrators, lots of shits, weird structure, obfuscation. So I shelved it and tried to write a completely different novel but got nowhere on that either.
So I had two novels I needed to write. One about a hermit and accidental cult leader, the other about a young female graverobber.
Had no idea how to write either one and it was tearing at me, berating me.
And then on Tuesday they both took shape in my head. The hermit/cult leader one is going to be very much influenced by Milan Kundera, and I’m sort of going to steal his style, since I think I need to write in a radically new way. Or at least a radically new one for me. And then the graverobbing novel will be more similar to how I wrote Twilight of the Wolves, but much, much shorter and set in this world. They’ll actually both be set in this world. Sometimes people call it the real world or earth.
It began like wildfire on Wednesday morning and now I’m nearly seventy pages into one of them and it feels glorious. It’s a bit of magic realism and surrealism but also set in a mostly present day world, which is so strange to write again, after several years writing centuries in the future or in completely different realities.
I think I’m about halfway finished, maybe more. Hoping to get another 5,000 words in today, though that may not happen. I leave for Chicago on Sunday and will be there for almost a week, so I’d like to have it finished before then, but that’s very soon.
We’ll see though. It’s going to be a short novel, so it’s definitely possible. These last 20,000 words or so should be pretty fast paced.
Other than that, I’ve been spending way to much time playing Civilization V but I also started working out again, so I should be in good shape in a few months. Finally.
It really sucks being fat.
I’ll hopefully start using my site more again. I have lots of thoughts about a lot of things and I want to get them down here.
I love Robin Williams. Along with many others, I’ll miss him. He was a big part of my childhood and I truly loved his movies, from the insanely silly, to the tragic. He was just great, especially at his most chaotic or reserved.
But this post is only a little bit about him. Probably this will read very oddly to a lot of people. But this post is about dying. Mostly, it’s about suicide, which is something it seems like I’m always writing about. Even Noir: A Love Story is about suicide. It’s probably the best statement I can make on the matter, though I’ve made many other ones.
When people commit suicide, everyone wants to know why. Everyone feels they have the right to know why. They demand it to the point of harassment and abuse. Even those who come out on Robin Williams’ side seem to believe they are owed an explanation.
But you’re not.
There is no privilege in the Death of another.
When someone dies, especially when they kill themselves, it has nothing to do with you, especially if you’re a stranger to the person. Even if you’re a dear friend or family member, the suicide of another is not about you.
A lot of people call suicide cowardly or selfish, but I think this is a pretty ridiculous position to take. If it’s selfish, it assumes that their life belongs to you. For them to end it before you were ready becomes tragic and almost like an existential attack.
While the Death of another and the suicide of a family member or close friend is impossibly sad, it doesn’t belong to you. You get your grief, and probably you’ll share that with dozens or hundreds or millions, in the case of the Williams family. For the grieving, this is a tragedy, but for the dead, it may be an end to the tragedy.
The tragedy of existence. Of living in this world that never feels right, that never feels a part of you, that not only rejects you, but the life and dignity of everyone you’ve ever known, of everyone you’ve ever heard of.
I’m a melancholic sort. I’ve dreamt of Death almost my whole life. I suffer from depression sometimes so severe I can barely stand up or breathe, but my depression doesn’t come from within me. It comes from the world around me. This incredible weight, this dangerous mountain looming over me, taunting me.
It’s life that defeats me, that infects me with its disease that withers my insides and turns everything to rot.
I think suicide is valid. I think we’re allowed to exit life when we choose. It’s criminal, to me, that it’s a crime to kill yourself or that institutions can force you to keep on living.
Before I go too far down that road, I will say this: there absolutely should be assistance for those who need and want it. We obviously need better mental health outreach and education and facilities. But if I tell a psychologist or psychiatrist that I intend to kill myself, it shouldn’t be legal for them to detain me.
And there’s a lot that goes into this. I thin about South Korea and how suicide is out of control there, or how austerity has essentially forced a generation of old men and women to commit suicide in places like Italy, because they must now choose between the streets and slow starvation or a quick way out.
Have you ever noticed that there are only two times we refer to escape as a negative?
Genre fiction and suicide.
Every other use of this word has a positive connotation. And let’s say that we are escaping life.
Why is that your business? Why is it the business of anyone besides the person escaping?
Our life is not our own. I firmly believe that. We belong to the people who we choose to share our lives with.
But that doesn’t mean that we control them or we have the right to their life and Death. They’re sharing their life with us.
They don’t need to share their Death with us too.
Maybe I’m just overly protective of Death because it feels very personal and close to me. I feel protective and outraged when people attack our right to die.
Suicide may be an end to tragedy. You may disagree with it and you may mourn–you’re allowed that. You’re allowed to wish and hope, and you’re allowed to share your feelings of regret.
That’s all fine and valid.
But so is a suicide’s right to hold itself private. We are allowed to die and you don’t deserve to know why.
And while the world will miss Robin Williams, he doesn’t owe you anything, especially in Death, especially after giving the world so much.
Let him have his peace.
I hope you go out and buy it.
If you buy it this weekend, I’ll send you a free copy of Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp!
So go love your life and buy my book and maybe fall in love.
See you later, gator.
I was reading about Karl Ove Knausgard last night [I emphasise reading about, not actually reading his books], and it reminds me how strange I always find that sort of writing, the deeply and intensely personal reflection on the life you actually lived or are continuing to live. And it’d be one thing if it were a couple hundred or even a handful of hundreds, but to go on and on about your life would drive me insane. Like, just physically? How could you stomach yourself for over 1,000 pages? How could you look at all those moments of your life and want to tell the world about them?
I find it almost revolting. I’m sure his gargantuan autobiography is quite good, as such things are judged, but I can’t imagine reading even a bit of it. And I can’t imagine going that direction with my own writing, though maybe I will some day [what do I know?], but I find it incredibly difficult to write about who I am without constantly lying or choosing a perspective that has nothing to do with me. Like, if I were to start an autobiography today, I’d probably write it from the perspective of the woman I didn’t become because at least she could see me with some kind of validity.
And maybe that’s part of it: I don’t think people can ever see themselves correctly. We are who the people around us say we are. I think identity is collective, not individual. Probably most people disagree with that, not only from a personal identity standpoint, but philosophically and politically.
I can’t read cogito ergo sum without rolling my eyes. I can’t even think about it without thinking how stupid it is. Humans don’t exist in a vacuum. They don’t exist separate of all other humans, so to begin a philosophy there [especially one dealing with humanness] is beyond ludicrous to me. And he’s the beginning of so much thought!
It’s no wonder I find humans absurd and ridiculous. It’s no wonder I find myself in constant disagreement with much of western philosophy, with much of western thinking. I think that even the way we think about thinking is broken. And let’s not even mention dualism or the obscurification of philosophical language.
But I don’t really want to talk about that. I want to talk about autobiography, because that’s what we’re all doing anyway, constantly, yeah? Social media is a continuous compendium of autobiography. Even the fiction many of us write is just thinly veiled autobiography, or there are those [like me] who are literally putting all of me on paper, but I cut it up, mix it around, throw in some magic, some wolves, some ravens, some giant trees, countless contradictory narrators, and a structure that’s more like a puzzle than a line.
But that’s how I deal with the world. That’s how I make sense of it.
I need to break it apart and make it fit in my head.
Because the world’s too large for me.
Existence is simply too much to handle or hold inside you.
It’s too beautiful.
It’s too terrifying.
And so I find autobiography interesting, but only theoretically. And scandinavians have a different relationship to it than we do here. Some of their biggest literary achievements are just autobiography. I don’t remember the names, but last year I did a lot of research about scandinavian literature [because, yeah, it's cool], and I found several enormous autobiographies, which is surely where this newest phenomena descends from.
I kept a journal the month I met Chelsea, while I was wandering around alone. I’ve considered publishing it. I’d need to type it up first. But thinking about typing it out is even difficult. Imagining reading my naked thoughts is terrifying. I’d rather have someone else do it.
Which, incidentally, is why I find it difficult to read my books when they become books: I see it all too plainly.
Want to know who that old man is at the beginning of Ash Cinema? Want to know who the teenage girl is? [speaking of her: no one has ever discussed or mentioned how that novel has an explicit relationship between a teenager and a septuagenarian, but, yeah] Want to know who Aya is? Want to know who the wolves are? Want to know why so many characters can’t speak? Want to know why so many of them die? Want to know who the child goddess at the center of everything is?
It’s not as simple as just saying they’re me, because of course they are: I wrote them. But if every character is just ydde, than who am I, and what’s the point of all of them?
No, none of them are me, really, but all of them are a little bit.
All of it happened to me, but none of it is my life.
That brings me to another thing about my work that sort of surprises me and people. My work is generally quite serious. It’s often grim and dark, but I find a lot of hope in it. I hope others do too. But I think when people know me through my writing they expect me to be a very serious and intelligent and severe person.
But I’m really quite silly.
When people know me first in real life and then pick up my books, I think they’re expecting comedy or at least some zaniness. Instead they get dying gods and apocalypse.
See, for me, writing is a way to free myself of all that. Or, not free myself, but find a way to contextualise it and understand it. This darkness inside me, occluding light. It allows me to remain silly and carefree, even as I waltz the Death of humanity onto hundreds of pages. It allows me to strip myself bare and tell you everything you never knew because you’re not looking for me: you’re looking for yourself, for all of us.
It’s slight of hand. That’s the real goal.
And when I’m most naked on the page, that’s when you see the strange elements rise. I think that’s the biggest reason I can’t read Ash Cinema: it’s too personal. Just the fact that it’s about film makes it too close to my heart. It was the first time I wrote something that made me cry. Twilight of the Wolves would cause me to cry several times for some of the same reasons.
But that’s why I can’t understand the compulsion to tell your life story.
I mean, who wants to read that?
That’s a question I’d never be able to get past as a writer: why should anyone care?
And even if I did get past that, I’d feel that I was constantly lying, not telling it right. If I wrote an autobiography, I’d want to just interview everyone I’ve known and have them write it together.
Which is where Noir: A Love Story‘s structure comes from.
But, yeah, late night thought.
Maybe I’ll share my strange and hilarious life some day.
Starting this with a video so you at least have some entertainment before I talk about something most of you don’t care about. Or at least you don’t care what I think about this, and I probably have unpopular views about this. So, yeah, here’s some strange popculture phenomenon.
This debate keeps coming up and I mostly think it’s funny because both are big publishing. Amazon’s just a lot bigger.
We have people on both sides saying the other side is ruining the industry, and they’re absolutely right.
Both are ruining the book industry.
But let’s think about what that means, yeah?
The book industry is a very recent thing to begin with so is it a bad thing for it to disappear?
This is the kind of question I never really see or hear. People act like you need to choose between Big Publishing and Amazon, but both choices are, I think, destructive to literature, so why is this the debate?
It also turns out that most of indie literature is under the same distributor, which sort of defeats a lot of what it means to be indie, I think. And, as far as I can tell, the goal for most indie writers is to get picked up by a Big Publisher, and the goal of a lot of indie presses is to become an imprint of a larger publisher.
I’m speaking in generalities, of course. These aren’t the goals of every single writer and publisher, but it feels like the trend, or hope.
For a long time, industries have consisted of whales and krill. It feels like indie’s want to be swallowed by the whale.
But which whale is the right whale to inhabit?
Do you want to be in Amazon or Big Publishing?
Either way, you’re still krill being consumed and churned over.
There must be a third way, yeah?
A way for indie presses and indie writers to remain indie and reach actual readers. I, obviously, don’t have a solution, but I think this Amazon v Big Publishing is just absurd.
So is the stigma against selfpublishing, which seems to be part of why writers/publishers hate Amazon.
This is just nonsense. Some of the greatest writers selfpublished their novels. For example, Virginia Woolf [she and her husband founded and ran their press] and Edgar Allen Poe and Honore de Balzac and William Blake and almost every writer of the past.
I’ve tried selfpublishing also, and I plan on continuing to do so.
See, I don’t think we should look at literature as a place that needs to fit into industry standards. You don’t need to be an Amazon writer or a traditional publishing writer. You can do both. You can be both.
Often times people castigate selfpublished books for their editing. The simple solution is to hire a professional editor [something that no indie press does] or ask a friend who knows grammar to do it.
My first novel had no editor. There are typos in the novel, or so I’m told. I can’t read my books as books. It feels too weird to look at the words in print when I’m used to seeing them on the screen, where I can rewrite them.
My second novel had a professional editor and proofreader and they were fantastic, though that was through John Hunt Publishing, which isn’t indie in the way that most people think about it. They sell too many books.
My third novel was edited by my friend, who is also the resident editor there.
And that’s sort of the indie standard, so for them to tell selfpublished authors that they need to go through a traditional funnel is pretty amusing to me. I mean, I trust my friends in the indie community with my words and I know they’re great editors, but none of them do that for a living, which is maybe a silly delineation, but there you have it.
Also, I keep hearing that even writers who get through with Big Publishing have to do their own marketing.
So what’s the real difference between indie, selfpublishing, and Big Publishing?
It seems like Big Publishing has name recognition and money on their side, though that money doesn’t seem to go to most authors, just like how most Amazon selfpublished authors don’t make much money. In fact, we’re hearing more and more how no writers are making any money. Probably why most writers I know are also professors of creative writing.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it shows that neither of these models is working for anyone, really. A few outliers in each tract make it work and become millionaires. The rest of us are sharing a tiny sliver of a large pie, because more people are reading now than ever before.
The belief that the opposite is true is just silly, and Amazon is definitely responsible for getting more people to read.
The kindle changed publishing. There’s no going back, and so writers and publishers need to adapt to it.
But there are tons and tons of readers across the globe, across the country, across your state. The problem is that you don’t know how to reach them and, probably, that you’re not writing books they want to read.
This is not a fault of the audience. It’s your fault.
If you’re writing experimental fiction, you need to accept that you’re speaking to a relatively small sliver of an already small sliver of a gigantic pie. The literary genre is a small sliver of that giant pie, and genre fiction is the real person at the table, eating all the pie.
This is not the reader’s fault.
Genre fiction is awesome and a lot of those writers give you everything a big Literary name gives you but they throw in monsters and faster than light travel and robots. It’s sort of the case of giving children a bit of sugar with their medicine. The literary genre, and experimental genre, especially, tend to just want to dose you with medicine. And that’s great. I, personally, love that, but I’m a specific kind of reader, and so is most of the indie community.
And, to be honest, so is most of the audience who reads the new Delillos and Pynchons and Roths. They’re a very specific kind of reader who do not represent the culture. These are the kind of writers who win awards, but they’re not the kind of writers who get lots of readers. I mean, Delillo, Pynchon, and Roth are fine because they’ve been at it forever and have found their real audiences, and those are a lot more people than any of us can hope for. But for newish writers who aren’t at their level, you need to realise that your postmodern retelling of A Midsummer’s Night Dream set on a Haitian plantation isn’t going to register as appealing with most readers.
That’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault.
By all means, go write that! But stop bemoaning the state of literature. Save that for your friends, who will put up with your rants.
I’m looking at you, Will Self.
This year made me realise that I may never make any money as a writer, which is a bummer, and that even hitting a big publisher won’t change that, because, apparently, they don’t help you market.
Which brings me to something about marketing.
Writers are terrible at it. Sure, there are those who make it really work, but most writers are the worst marketers the world has ever seen. It’s not out fault. That’s not the skillset we cultivated.
This is going to be an extremely unpopular opinion, but I think you shouldn’t start a press of any kind if you’re not willing to hire a marketer and/or publicist for your writers. If you don’t hire that person, then you need to make it happen for them. You, as the publisher, need to make sure that your writers are successful.
I get why no one does this. It’s difficult and time consuming, and most indie publishers are also writers who have their own career as a writer to keep in mind. I also understand why they want their writers to do all the promotions themselves. Native content works best. I get that.
But most writers don’t even have the slightest idea how to market. That’s partly probably why they’re writing books. They’re not very good at communicating with people what they feel and what they want. If a love letter takes a writer 300 pages to write, do you really think they’re going to know how to convince other people to read it?
Maybe this sounds ranty or like a complaint. That’s not my intention, and I imagine this will be an unpopular opinion, but I think picking sides between Big Publishing and Amazon is just plain stupid.
Neither of them are your friends. Neither of them care about your art. Neither of them care about you.
Amazon loses nothing by you not selling anything, but they gain from your success.
Big Publishing loses a lot if you’re not selling. For them, the bottom line is the driving force. And they also gain everything from your success.
So let’s do it without them, yeah? Let’s find a way to cut out the executives. Maybe the real first step there is creating an actual distribution channel that works for small presses. Let’s get some syndicalism in publishing, yeah? Let’s help one another move around these whales and find some open water without them.
But when you fight for Amazon, don’t pretend like you care about all writers, publishers, and books.
And when you fight for Big Publishing, don’t pretend you care about all writers, publishers, and books.
Every day this week I’ll be running a little giveaway at 1pm CST. I’m giving away Ash Cinema, Twilight of the Wolves, and Noir: A Love Story.
Today I asked people to give me a reason why they needed to have my books, and I gave the winner all three.
So check in to my facebook page at 1pm every day to see what’s happening.
Noir: A Love Story comes out in just ten days and I’ll try to make something special every day.
So pay attention, because they won’t last long.
In other news, Dennis Cooper read and loved my book! Honored and humbled and surprised. He talks about other books in there too, because he’s Dennis Coooper and he’s a groovy cat.
Also, some discussions of short film at Entropy:
Been way too long since I posted something. About a month, actually. Been insanely busy though.
I just wanted to talk briefly about blurbs. Most probably don’t know what that is, but writers are crazy about that word. It’s such a big part of their world that it’s almost absurd. Here’s how it goes for me.
For Ash Cinema, I didn’t even try to get a blurb. Didn’t even look for one. I like that novel a lot, especially as time goes on, but I never really felt like I had to grab at people’s attention with it.
For Twilight of the Wolves, I reached out to a lot of writers that I truly love. Mostly just big names because I think you may as well reach as high as possible, because the worst thing that can happen is they say No, which takes nothing away from you. I went for big names too, because this is a difficult novel to pitch and sell, and I thought having some famous names on the cover would do a lot of the legwork for me. Unfortunately, none took the bite, so I scrambled for some last minute ones, and since only one person had read the novel at that point, I got Kyle Muntz to blurb me. Then Berit Ellingsen was kind enough to make the time to read and say awesome things.
Noir: A Love Story is the one that I’ve done right, I think. Because of the way Twilight of the Wolves has struggled to find its audience, and because I had its success too tied to my emotions, I decided to go in a more personal way with Noir. It sort of still crushes me that Twilight of the Wolves hasn’t found its audience, but I’m more hopeful with Noir. I sought out a few different writers and I chose them for specific reasons. Tim Horvath because I wish I could write as intelligently as him. Jac Jemc because My Only Wide is haunting in all the ways I hope Noir is. Matt Bell because we’re both writing a sort of fantastic or mythological modern day. And then Steve Erickson because he’s my hero. I honestly consider him the greatest living american novelist, and have ever since I first burnt through all his novels. I couldn’t stop reading them, so I read them twice. He’s a genius in all the ways I hope to some day be, and I sent him my novel, not really expecting anything, but because I needed him to read it. If he liked it even a fraction of how I love his novels, that would make it all worthwhile. Every bad review would roll off me because I’d know Erickson digs it. I mean, he’s the whole reason I wrote a novel at all. He’s the reason I chose to take writing seriously. He showed me that I could write the things I want to write how I want to write them. I can be different in all the strange ways I am different. I can be a sentimental surrealist and find beauty there. More than that, his novels feel so close to my heart. I imagine we share many of the same obsessions, with film being the most obvious. And I wanted this novel, specifically, to have his name attached to it. I don’t think it’s similar to what he’s written, but it’s the novel of mine that’s closest to my heart. Probably because it’s my first.
And so I really can’t express how amazing it was to receive this blurb from him:
In Noir, Rathke exposes the pale, sickly underbelly of a vibrant utopia for all to see. He unravels the quiet metaphysics of the detective thriller by letting all of the witnesses carry equal weight. Rathke has a faith in his reader that makes the experience of reading his work one full of extraordinary rewards and teeming satisfaction.
So that’s how I went about seeking blurbs, and I think I finally figured out the right way to do it. To be honest, I wanted a blurb from Wong Kar Wai and Max Richter too, but I don’t know if they’d be into that.
There are other things I should be sharing, since a lot’s happened in the last month, but I just wanted to touch on this briefly because it really does make a lot of this feel worth it to me.
There’s one writer that I keep not asking for a blurb, though I probably should have three times by now. That’s Stephen Graham Jones, who’s basically the coolest guy around. I keep saving him for something special. Probably either the giant monster novel or the horror novel. We’ll see.
so many different things.
I was interviewed by the awesome Janice Lee at HTMLGiant about Noir: A Love Story. It’s sort of a peculiar interview and playful in structure and tone. It reminded me of who I was when I wrote that novel way back in 2010, just out of university and on my way to Korea. In it I talk about strangers, myths, dying, and living.
What else? Lots of things to share from Entropy. I’ll just list them.
- A Celebration of Samuel R Delany: Aye, and Gomorrah – Kyle Muntz, Megan Milks, and I talk about Aye, and Gomorrah, Delany’s short story collection. We’ll be talking about Nova next, and then we’ll keep moving through Delany’s work. Stay tuned, and join in on our conversations!
- Rosa by Jesús Orellano – Perhaps the best short film I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely brilliant in every conceivable way. Some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen in an animated film, and he’s currently making it a full length film, so wait for that. Orellano is a man to watch. I talk about ecological collapse and posthumanism.
- Last Breath by Mak Ying-Ping – Not my typically animation style, but this little film covers a lot of interesting ground. I talk about totalitarianism and americanism.
- Carn by Jeff le Bars – I maybe already posted about this here, but it’s a very cool film about wolves and capitalism and imperialism. Or, those are things I talk about. It’s really just about choice and wolves and dying.
That’s probably everything.