Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “About Writing”

The Year of 50 Short Stories and 5000 Photos – 6 months on

Today is June 1st which means it’s time for an update on my progress toward the Year of 50 Short Stories and 5000 Photos. Astute readers will have noticed that I continually update the box on the right side of this page with my current progress as I make photos or write, whether or not I post them here. What you will not know is that I have been keeping a log since January 14th of the progress I make per update. Here is the breakdown for my photographs.

Jan 14 23/5000 (0.460%)
Jan 17 152/5000 (3.040%)
Jan 19 230/5000 (4.600%)
Feb 16 354/5000 (7.080%)
Feb 21 659/5000 (13.180%)
Feb 24 1104/5000 (22.080%)
Feb 26 1202/5000 (24.040%)
Feb 28 1318/5000 (26.360%)
Mar 06 1834/5000 (36.680%)
Mar 07 1904/5000 (38.080%)
Mar 22 2013/5000 (40.260%)
Mar 23 2131/5000 (42.620%)
Mar 28 2206/5000 (44.120%)
Apr 20 2276/5000 (45.520%)
Apr 26 2400/5000 (48.000%)
May 08 2821/5000 (56.420%)
May 09 2919/5000 (58.380%)

You can see that not only has my progress been consistent, but that even early in May, I was beyond the 50% mark before half the year had elapsed. All in all, I think my progress has been appropriate and, frankly, pretty impressive. I’m surprised and pleased that I’ve stayed on track with this. Good job, Joe. Even better is that merely half way through my quota for the year, I can see and feel my photography improving. That is really encouraging and makes me want to get out there and keep making photos. The remaining 2000 (I have some on my camera waiting to be offloaded) should be a piece of cake. I will be interested to see what the final tally will be for the year.

Ok, thats great and all, but what about the other half? Let’s look at the breakdown.

Jan 14 0/50 (0.000%)
Mar 31 1/50 (2%)
Apr 07 2/50 (4%)

Ooooh. Not so good. 4% at the halfway point? Pretty fucking pathetic actually. So what’s my problem? I think I’m being my own worst enemy here. I’m getting caught in creative webs, constantly trying to write brilliant material so that when what’s coming out isn’t sparkling, I get dismayed and stop. BAD JOE! I need to learn from the photos—not every photo I take is brilliant, but every one counts. I just need to put the words down and then worry about them later. Luckily I have 6 months left, which averages out to about 2 stories every week. Totally doable. I just need not to be so fucking hard on myself with the writing and just let it be loose and creative and dark and funny and whatever. Not everything needs to be perfect. I need to remember that.

And with my impending unemployment, I will need to learn to schedule better and make time to be creative for the remaining 48. I can do it.

I will update on my progress when I hit 3/4s on September 1.

A Life In Art – John Camp

I think this is an interesting article: “A Life in Art” By John Camp

This is a particularly inspired idea.

Of the successful artists I’ve known, I’d say that the two things that led to their success were compulsion (virtually to the extent of mental illness) to do the work, and the eventual ability to monetize the effort. Most of them never get that success—they’re finally ground down and give it up….

Both suggest that while inborn talent is of some utility, the thing that really determines success in the arts (or any other field) is simply doing it. Gladwell even suggests a standard: ten thousand hours. He suggests that if you work very hard a particular art form—art in the widest sense, including sports, music, law, medicine and so on—that you will begin to reach a mastery of it after 10,000 hours of hard work. That’s 40 hours a week (no cheating!) for five years, or 20 hours a week for ten.

Check it out. Camp has some interesting ideas about what makes an artist and what it takes to excel at your chosen craft, writing or photography or editing or whatever. It boils down, as he notes above, to being a little crazy about it. Food for thought.

But most artists tend to be somewhat reclusive, because of the “compulsion” and “10,000 hours of work” aspects of their lives. They’re not back-slappers, drink-buyers, hale-fellow types.

So selling can be one of the toughest hurdles for a real artist to clear, even those who put in their time, who are doing excellent work.

Hah! I am definitely a “back-slapper, drink-buyer, hale-fellow type”, often to the detriment of my creative pursuits. I guess I have that working for me…and against me.

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart

By page 5 of Absurdistan, I found something that I could relate to.

Alyosha-Bob and I have an interesting hobby that we indulge whenever possible. We think of ourselves as the Gentlemen Who Like to Rap. Our oeuvre stretches from the old-school jams of Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Public Enemy to the sensuous contemporary rhythms of ghetto tech, a hybrid of Miami bass, Chicago ghetto tracks, and Detroit electronica. The modern reader may be familiar with “Ass-N-Titties” by DJ Assault, perhaps the seminal work of the genre.

Those who know me know that I have a secret love for ghetto tech in all its lustrous forms. There’s something magical in its hard-driving misogyny that I find alluring and seductive. Shteyngart’s appraisal of the form is accurate, but for further reading here is the wikipedia entry.

Yet, the more I read of the book, the more I find myself having a hard time with it. The writing is good—very good—but there’s something about it that I find a little off-putting. I know it’s supposed to be satirical, but it feels just a little too self-aware. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. It’s just that it’s turning me off a little, so, in this case, yeah, it’s a bad thing. The Crying of Lot 49 was satirical and self-aware, but for some reason that didn’t grate on me the same way as Absurdistan does. And really, I just can’t help thinking one thing… Misha Vainberg = Ignatius J. Reilly. Think about it. It’s true.

I have more of the book to go, so I will report back once the book is finished. Who knows? Maybe it will turn around. And maybe it’s just the mood I’m in these days. It’s been known to happen.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in real time

I read Dracula during sixth grade. Every day we had a period called SSR, Sustained Silent Reading, where we’d sit wherever we wanted and read, silently, for an hour or 45 minutes or whatever. I remember quite clearly (an increasingly rare thing for me) sitting beneath a table on the windowed side of Mr. Williamson’s classroom with the green carpet reading my Penguin mass market paperback version of Dracula, enthralled by its revolutionary (to me, at least) format as a series of journals and letters. It blew my 11 year old mind. It was lush and suggestive, filled with horrors and darkness only ever hinted at indirectly. You never experienced the event as it unfurled, but were left to fill in the gaps for yourself based on what the characters had elected to describe in their writings, what they thought was important, how they felt about things. It turned what can be a very passive arrangement between author and reader into a more dynamic, exciting, interactive experience. Like 1898’s version of the best video game ever, but so much more because you got to do all the work. You were allowed to make the world your own. Indeed, to get the most out of the book, you needed to make the world your own, lest the experience become a disjointed, jumbly mess of conflicting view-points.

Let’s just say that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was important for me as a boy.

Today, Tiffany sent me a blog that is posting the entirety of Dracula as it happens in the book. The novel starts on May 3, and their first post is May 3. Such a cool idea. You can add it to your RSS feed and it will update you every day as the novel progresses.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If you get reading it, and find you can’t wait for the next chunk, you can read the entire novel for free on Project Gutenberg.

A side note, a few years after reading Dracula, they canceled SSR which is a real shame. I’m confident that, as grueling as it was sometimes to convince a bunch of post-recess 11 year olds to sit silently and read, those mandated reading periods were instrumental in the development of my love of reading and writing and my supreme respect for the power of words. There probably would never have been The Black Laser if I hadn’t been forced to read after lunch every day. Imagine a world where you delightful people would have no place on the internet to abuse your optic nerves with my black and pink layout. Horrifying, I know.

Narrative Magazine Spring 09 Short Story Contest

Matt Toder of the inimitable Steve’s Word sent me this today. It’s a short story competition held by Narrative Magazine. I’ve never read or seen Narrative Magazine, and with the current downturn in the print industry, who knows how long it will be around, but a contest is a contest and who am I to turn down the possibility of earning a little money? So I intend to enter. And since the deadline isn’t until July 31, I have time to write a new piece. What the hell, right? I’m going to try for the full 15000 words. I’ve never written anything that long before; I think the challenge will be exciting. I know that when writing for Hunter I thought I was going to have a hard time getting to 20 pages with my idea, but really I ended up having the opposite problem. I think that Julian & Clive suffered because I was trying to shove so much into 20-25 pages. I ended up cutting a bunch of ideas that probably would have made it better, or at least made the plot make more sense, feel less stilted.

Now I just need an idea.

Anyway, Matt Toder you get the seal of approval.




Oh well. I can’t say I’m not disappointed by this news, but what are you going to do? It’s not fruitful to sit and fret about why I was not selected since there’s no possible way for me to ever know the truth. And, luckily, it was not the only thing going for me. Still, I’m bummed out about it. I don’t feel personally rejected, just disappointed not to be able to pursue something I was really excited about.

I guess there’s always the long shot that they come back to me as potential filler for a longer list if there are still empty spaces, but that’s an even slimmer chance than this was. I’m not even going to think about that.

There is, of course, always next year. I didn’t get into NYU the first time I applied either. Maybe history will repeat itself. Or not. Just got to keep creating, I suppose.

Now, let’s never talk about this again. Well, a few weeks at least.

Update to the terms of The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about my progress on the Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. So far, I am doing well on toward my total of 5000 photos for the year, currently at just under 40% after only 2 and a half months. That’s 1904 photos in 10 weeks. In 2008, before the arrival of my new camera and my decision to embark upon this theme for 2009, I only shot 2325 photos. After the new camera and my 2009 theme decision, the total was 2084 photos, but I think that the former count is more representative of my pace than the latter. 1904 photos in 10 weeks versus 2325 in 11 months. It is clear how much more productive I’ve been this year in regards to my photos.

I think that’s because I’ve not limited myself in any way regarding what constitutes a “photograph”. Well, I did make a differentiation between test photos and photos I keep, but that is, to me at least, quite clear. Test photos are just that—for testing new equipment or familiarizing myself with equipment I haven’t used in a little bit. Obviously I shoot more test photos with new equipment than with old, but test photos are test photos and don’t count toward the 5000. In case there is any curiosity, warm-up photos DO count. Specifically, warm-up photos are whatever photos I shoot at the beginning of a shoot while I am still getting into the feel of the thing. Sometimes they can be as many as 100 or as few as 10, but there are always warm-up photos. Since I shoot these with the same intent I do with later photos in the set, I count them. Test photos are shot with little concern for subject matter or composition; warm-up photos are just the bad photos early in a set while I’m getting my bearings.

What about my short story count, then? An astute reader would notice that the count in the box on the left has read “0/50” since I put the box there on January 14th. What is the difference? I’ve been cranking out the photos, but why not the fiction? After the creative submission for Hunter which I submitted on January 31st, I took a little breaky-poo from writing every day. Then I went on vacation for two weeks to CA. But, now I’m back, had plenty of time to get something done, yet there is still nothing to show.

Why not?

I think it comes down to the terms I set for myself initially. While my standards for photos are quite broad, my standards for short stories are much more regimented. I think the thing that’s fucking me up the most is the lower word limit. I have ideas, but then there’s this nagging voice in my head that says, “Well, can you really stretch that idea to 1500 words at a minimum?” and then I get stuck thinking about that stupid, arbitrary number I established. The point of the number was to get me thinking about what I’m writing, not to limit my output because I get hung up on it. It has served exactly the opposite of the intended purpose thus far. Not good.

Therefore, I submit this change to the terms of my definition of what constitutes a valid short story.

Here is the original definition:

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing between 1500 and 10000 words. It can be about anything at all, but needs to fall roughly within those two limits. The upper limit is looser than the lower. 1500 words is a bare minimum, but ok since, once I get rolling, I’ll bang out 1500 to 2500 words in a sitting.

And here is my revised definition:

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing up to 10000 words. It can be about anything at all and in any style, but it must be fiction.

Much better. Much less restrictive. Is it possible that some of my stories will be longer than the old minimum of 1500 words? Of course, but it’s just as likely that they’ll be 900 or 1000 words, below the old minimum, but nothing to scoff at. I have no intention of using this new lack of a lower limit as a way of copping-out on the assignment I’ve provided myself for the year. What would be the point? This is just a way of opening the door a little bit so I’m not artificially restricted, allowing my brain to breathe and focus on the task at hand—writing—rather than hitting 1500 words.

An example of what I love about Cormac McCarthy

My first experience with Cormac McCarthy was when I was 16 or 17 and my older brother’s friend Doug Lowney came over and read a passage to me from Blood Meridian. Since 16 year olds are idiots, and I was an idiot, I couldn’t really comprehend what he was reading to me. All I knew was that there was raping and scalping and killing and shit. I imagined a blue-grey morning and Vikings doing the slaughter, which was, as it turns out, exactly wrong. But the point is that it piqued my interest. I later purchased a copy of Blood Meridian which I successfully finished reading on my second or third try during my sophomore year of college. It’s a difficult book, what can I say? Since then I’ve read Suttree, No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain—I am a full blown Cormac McCarthy nut. I even have a two year old Oprah saved on my DVR at home that has an interview with him.

After finishing You Shall Know Our Velocity, I figured it was time for something a little more…gritty? I pulled his first book, The Orchard Keeper, off my shelf and within 40 pages came across a passage that reminded me of what I really love about McCarthy’s writing. It’s primal, it’s fierce, it’s forceful. The prose leaps out at you like a mountain lion, waiting for you to come around the corner of the trail so that it can tear your throat open and drink your blood. It is so good that I just have to share.

Whether he fell forward or whether the man pulled them over he did not know. They were lying in the road, the man with his face in the dirt and Sylder on top of him, motionless for the moment as resting lovers. Something in Sylder’s shoulder traveled obliquely down to his lungs with each breath to cut off the air. He still had one hand locked in the man’s neck and now he inched himself forward and whispered into his ear.

Why don’t you say something now, bastard? Ain’t you got some more talk to spiel for us?

He was jerking at the man’s head but the man had both hands over it and seemed lost in speculation upon the pebbles of the road. Sylder let his hand relax and wander through the folds of the neck until they arrived at the throat. The man took that for a few minutes, then suddenly twisted sideways, spat in Sylder’s face, and tried to wrench himself free. Sylder rolled with him and had him flat backward in the road and astride him, still the one arm swinging from his broken shoulder like a piece of rope. He crept forward and placed one leg behind the man’s head, elevating it slightly, looking like some hulking nurse administering to the wounded. He pushed the head back into the crook of his leg, straightened his arm, and bore down upon the man’s neck with all his weight and strength. The boneless-looking face twitched a few times but other than that showed no change of expression, only the same rubbery look of fear, speechless and uncomprehending, which Sylder felt was not his doing either but the everyday look of the man. And the jaw kept coming down not on any detectable hinges but like a mass of offal, some obscene waste matter uncongealing and collapsing in slow folds over the web of his hand. It occurred to him then that the man was trying to bite him and this struck him as somehow so ludicrous that a snort of laughter wheezed in his nose. Finally the man’s hands came up to rest on his arm, the puffy fingers trailing over his own hand and wrist reminded him of baby possums he hand seen once, blind and pink.

Sylder held him like that for a long time. Like squeezing a boil, he thought. After a while the man did try to say something but no words came, only a bubbling sound. Sylder was watching him in a sort of mesmerized fascination, noting blink of eye, loll of tongue. Then he eased his grip and the man’s eyes widened.

For Christ’s sake, he gasped. Jesus Christ, just turn me loose.

Sylder put his face to the man’s and in a low voice said, You better call on somebody closer than that. Then he saw his shoulder, saw the man looking at it. He dug his thumb into the man’s windpipe and felt it collapse like a dried tule. The man got his hand up and began with his eyes closed to beat Sylder around the face and chest. Sylder closed his eyes too and buried his face in his shoulder to protect it. The flailings grew violent, slowed, finally stopped altogether. When Sylder opened his eyes again the man was staring at him owlishly, the little tongue tipped just past the open lips. He relaxed his hand and the fingers contracted, shriveling into a tight claw, like a killed spider. He tried to open it again but could not. He looked at the man again and time was coming back, gaining, so that all the clocks would be right.