Monday, October 31, 2011

An Excerpt from the Work In Progress

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

"Trick or treat," you say? Alright, then. Here's your Halloween candy, kids. The opening chapter of my currently untitled novel. The first draft is done, edits and revisions have begun, and the deadline for the final completed manuscript is sometime in May, 2012.


ONE

     The way Caroline reached up, tied her blonde painted hair into a messy knot, and looked at me with a mixture of expectation and disappointment, I would have tried anything to win her just then. So I let her talk.
     “He’s very protective,” she said, “and he’s met a thousand guys just like you, Jarrod.”
     Pierre, she meant. Her brother. Also my sociology teacher at the university I studied at in France. The one who grimaced and shook his head every time I opened my mouth.
     “When your term is up,” she went on, “you’ll just go back to America and forget all about me.”
     “How could I forget you?” I said, reaching for her chin. Caroline evaded, sat back and crossed her arms.
     “But you’ll go back.”
     “I don’t know about that.”
     “What would you do here? Your French is awful.”
     I mirrored her posture, arms folded across my chest, head tilted slightly in an expression of doubt. It was meant as a playful gesture, but in response, Caroline leaned forward and blew out the candle on our table.
     “Who cares what your brother thinks?” I asked.
     “He’s my brother.”
     “You wouldn’t be here with me if you didn’t want to be.”
     She sipped her wine, a cheap red from Blois instead of Bordeaux because that was all I could afford, and looked outside. A bicyclist blurred by, leaving in his wake the sound of hard rubber tires rattling against cobblestone. We were at some Italian restaurant near Henri IV’s chateau, the Aquitaine sun setting on a decidedly unromantic evening.
     “I’m telling you,” she said, twisting a fork into her pasta Bolognese but not eating, “you have to make friends with him.”
     “That’s it? That’s your big plan?”
     Caroline dropped the fork, drained the rest of her wine. Covered the mouth of the glass when the maitre d’ returned. Even though we were speaking in English, a language not commonly understood that far south, she said nothing until he walked away.
     “You’ve heard about his new project?” she asked.
     “He doesn’t talk about it much in class. And my French is awful, remember? I don’t understand half of what he says.”
     I’d been in France for almost six months, and had barely moved past the basics of language. Even with Caroline as a tutor. Especially with Caroline as a tutor. Her lips kissed words in a way that made it hard to concentrate.
     “He has this obsession with gang mentality,” she said. “He goes on and on about how groups of people act much differently than any of the individuals would on their own.”
     “They egg each other on?”
     “No, like the group develops its own separate consciousness.” She waved this off as if it weren’t important, then said, “He started by going to a different bar every Friday night. Taking notes as everyone became more and more drunk.”
     I laughed, picturing Pierre in a corner booth, half shaded in low light, John Lennon glasses sliding down his nose as he watched and scribbled. He’d still be wearing a tweed jacket with black tie underneath, smelling of the finest Parisian scents—roses and oleander and fancy eau de toilette—overdressed even in the most chic of French pubs.
     “It’s not funny. I’m afraid for him.”
     “I’m sure he can take care of himself.”
     “Haven’t you seen?” she asked, eyes narrowed. “Don’t you pay attention? You saw him on Monday.”
     Monday. I had come into class early in the morning, after running laps around the campus to burn off a mild hangover. It was unusually cold for June, crystals of dew spread out over the lawns like a shiny white blanket. My breath still formed in clouds when I came into the classroom. Pierre sat behind his desk, popping the generic, French version of Ibuprofen.
     “And I swear he was wearing makeup,” I said, laughing again.
     “He was beaten up the night before.”
     The laughter lodged in my throat like a cough drop.
     “I told you it wasn’t funny.”
     “I hope he got all the notes he needed.”
     Caroline exhaled, taking her hair down as she did. “It’s happened before. It won’t stop him.”
     The first time I had seen Pierre outside of class, I was preparing to board the train after a weekend of tourism in Lourdes, a Catholic mecca about an hour’s ride away from the university in Pau. There, disembarking, was Pierre with his crooked smile and awkward head tilt, pulling a wheeled suitcase behind him and fingering a silver crucifix around his neck. I was sure he’d noticed me, though he turned away as if he hadn’t. The second time, a few weeks later, we’d crossed paths at L’Opera in Paris. I had been training at a martial arts academy up the street, he’d been watching an adaptation of Hugo’s Les Miserables.
     “Pierre has a dark side?” I asked Caroline. “I never would have guessed.”
     “He doesn’t exactly advertise.”
     “So what do you want me to do?”
     She sighed, as if coming to some great conclusion she’d been struggling with for weeks. “Go with him tonight,” she said, quickly adding, “but don’t tell him I sent you.”
     “And why would I want to do this?”
     Caroline sat back in huff. “Don’t sound so indignant.”
     “I think you mean facetious. Or flippant.”
     “Don’t sound those either.”
     I smiled at her choice of words, her slippery accent.
     “Just talk to him like you’re interested,” she said. “And if something happens, you can help him.”
     “That’s exactly why I don’t go to bars.” I propped my elbows on the table, hand covering a fist. “Something always happens.”
     “Even better.” She smiled, one corner of her lips rising higher than the other. “When you come to his rescue, he’ll owe you a debt of gratitude.”
     “A debt of gratitude? Who talks like that?”
     “Don’t make fun of me,” Caroline said, smiling wider, exposing a few too many teeth.
     “Let me tell you a thing or two about men.”
     “I’ll bet I know men better than you.” She winked, the pink tip of her tongue swatting a fingernail.
     “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, you slut. Men don’t like to be rescued. We’d rather take a beating than allow someone to come to our aid.”
     “He’s right, you know,” Roger Watford said, appearing from behind me, slapping my shoulder, and laying straight for that innocuous French cheek-to-cheek kiss on Caroline, a greeting that never seemed very innocuous to me. At least not when it came from Roger.
     “It’s emasculating,” I continued, narrowing my eyes at the back of Roger’s head and thinking how badly I’d like to emasculate him at that moment.
     “What are we talking about?” Roger asked, looking at Caroline, piling his Australian burr on thick. Seeming to conveniently forget I was also at the table.
     “Nothing important,” Caroline said. “In fact, we were just about finished.”
     “Good,” Roger said, “because I locked myself out of the flat again.”
     I frowned, reminded of Caroline’s insistence that they were just roommates. No matter how platonic she claimed they were, imagination was my worst enemy. I closed my eyes and envisioned her in a flimsy, see-through nightgown, curled fetal on the couch and chatting it up with Roger in front of some cheesy old movie. They’d be speaking in French, of course, because he was fluent and I wasn’t.
     The fucker.
     “You’ll talk to him, then?” Caroline asked, awakening me from my nightmare.
     I looked at Roger, trying not to think about what he and Caroline talked about when they were alone at home, and agreed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

After a year-and-a-half of (sometimes excruciating) work, I finally wrote the last line of my latest novel, a.k.a. My MFA Thesis for Southern New Hampshire University. Even though the rough draft alone involved cutting over a hundred pages and eliminating an entire plot-line, the real work is about to begin. Now comes the travail of shaving this hairy beast, trimming its nails, bathing it, and turning it into something people will actually want to read.

And there is another project that has gained a newfound momentum. A while ago, I posted about a Sepultura biography I was interested in writing. In April, I briefly ran my idea past the band at a meet and greet in Massachusetts, they wished me luck, and that was that. Since then, I dabbled with a sample chapter, queried a couple of agents, and decided to move to Brazil for a few months.

Last week, I had the good fortune of seeing the band again in Sao Paulo, and hanging out with them at Manifesto bar the night before. This being a more social environment than a pre-show meet and greet, I got a chance to discuss the project in depth with Andreas Kisser and Derrick Green. Andreas, while admitting it would be complicated to get the band properly involved, told me they would do whatever they could to help and support the project. Fantastic news. That relit the fire under my ass to really get this thing underway.

And Derrick was on board, as well, suggesting that I not shy away from the drama of the story in fear of offending some of the people involved. "Don't sugarcoat it," he said. "Tell the truth."

That was just what I wanted to hear.

with Derrick Green, vocalist of Sepultura

Read more about the Manifesto Bar party here, and the Sepultura/Machine Head concert the following night, here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Productivity

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Most writers I know like to analyze every little thing they do, almost to the point of mania. We stress over whether to use the word insensitive or uncaring, and how either choice might alter the sentence in which it is used. For me, this goes beyond the writing itself, and applies to the process so much that it becomes practically obsessive-compulsive.

Example: I ate a mango for breakfast this morning, and then wrote two excellent pages. Therefore, I shall eat a mango every day. It logically follows that if I eat two mangos, I will write four great pages.

Meanwhile, the only words getting written are on my grocery list.

You might be wondering where this is all heading. Well, I've been incredibly productive in the past couple of weeks and I want to figure out why. This post is going to serve as that self-analyzation, and yes I realize it is entirely narcissistic of me (or should I use egomaniacal? Conceited? No, I think I'll stick with narcissistic) to think you would care. But maybe you'll find something interesting here, something you can apply to your own writing process, or something you can just apply to your own life. Because, as they say, writing is life and life is writing and blah blah fuckity blah.

I know what you're thinking: Such a pretentious bastard.

Anyway.

1. Remove Distractions:

This, of course, is not always easy. Day jobs. Bills. Whiny, needy children who, for some strange reason, have to put food in their mouths and tummies. Whiny, needy adults who also must eat to exist. Sleep. All these things and a million more stand in the way of writing good fiction because writing good fiction takes time. I say eliminate all these things. Quit your job. Don't have children. Drink only liquified nutrients fed from a straw--you know those beer hats? Invest in one.

Okay. I get it. You can't realistically do those things (except buy the beer hat, but you'd look pretty silly writing in one of those). But simplify wherever you can. Pull down the shades, don't put your desk in front of a window. Turn off the Internet, and for God's sake, stop reading this blog and get back to your damned manuscript!

2. Change of Scenery:

Get out of the house. Go to the park or to a bar or even a mall. Surround yourself with new and different people. Yes, I realize this almost completely contradicts what I just wrote, but guess what? These aren't rules. I don't believe in rules when it comes to writing. Do what works for you. I changed my scenery by moving to Brazil, which created a whole new set of distractions. Different language, culture, societal norms. (I refuse to do the beer hat thing here though, because the food is just too good.)

3. Just Fucking Do It:

You know what? I take it back; there is a rule in writing, and this one is it. You want to be a writer? Then write. You want to be productive? Then write more. Sit down (or stand, I don't care) and do it. No more excuses. Don't try to find the time to write. Make the time to do it.

There were more things I wanted to list here, but I have three short stories, a novella, a creative thesis, a novel, and an angry muse to get back to.

JAK

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Words Never Stop

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Another deadline passed, another submission sent. Hard to believe that I will be entering my final semester of grad school in just two months (three, if you count the vacation, which I don't).

The novel I have been working on for my MFA with Southern New Hampshire University has changed so much in the last year-and-a-half that it sometimes feels like someone else's work. It has been, by far, the most challenging--and rewarding--project I've ever suffered through. And I use the word "suffer" in the nicest way possible, relating as it does to passion and determination and unyielding persistence.

Eighteen months after beginning this novel, I finally see the end of the first draft in sight. For every page I've kept, I have probably cut two. An entire story line has been excised, some characters have grown up and turned into people I don't recognize, and others have been erased completely from existence. I have also changed as a writer, though it's hard to say whether the change is for the better or just...different.

So, even though the wind has been quiet on the publishing front, the words don't stop coming.

Once, a long time ago it seems, I co-wrote a screenplay called The Bond. Though filming was completed last year, I know it has been plagued by setbacks, disappearing scenes and missing audio tracks among them, so I'm not sure when it will see the light of day. This year, hopefully.

Halloween soon, but sadly, I will miss it this year. Here in Brazil, the tradition is slowly gaining a grassroots popularity, but no one really "gets" it. And those who do will never get it right. See, it is springtime here in the southern hemisphere, temperatures already beginning to soar into the low 90s. Life is thriving, flowers are blooming, birds are singing and mating. Halloween is reflected best in the end of the life cycle, not the beginning, and that's why our patron saints at this time of year are ghosts and demons and death. Here there are no dying trees, leaves lit up in flame. No gray, chilly skies and keening winds that sound like the cries of banshees. The air doesn't taste like woodsmoke and pine cones.

Halloween is connected to autumn by the season's decaying hand. As it should be.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Absolutely *not* Filler

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Lately, when I glance at the stats for this blog, I see something like "Three weeks since last post," written in italics, as if the damned thing is taunting me. It teases, it lashes out. Eventually, it starts to get whiny. "You don't love me," it says. "Why don't you love me?"

And I feel bad. "Infamy and Misfortune," I say, "I adore you. I do. No, there's no one else. I swear."

It's a lie, though. There is someone else: From the Woods to the Jungle.

But I still love you, Infamy and Misfortune. I will always love you. In fact, very soon, I will have some news for you to spread to the world. Be patient.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Lost Art of Debate*

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

I miss the days when two people could champion severely opposing views, but still discuss their opinions in a respectful, intelligent manner. When did argument become anathema? Is it a result of constant political mudslinging? A perception of increased social aggression? Does it come from watching courtroom dramas where prosecutors manipulate people to confuse perception with truth (and vice versa)? Or from hearing Mom and Dad go at it at 3 am because Dad just came home drunk and stinking of cheap perfume?

Mostly, it is because people have forgotten that argument promotes education, and is not simply a way to fight with someone who thinks differently.

We've all known someone like Imaginary Barry (no offense to any real Barrys out there), whose ego is so big that he can't even entertain the concept of being wrong. So instead of educating himself, or spending five minutes away from Call of Duty to come up with an intelligent, informed response, he resorts to insults or name-calling. He'll keep insulting, and keep name-calling, until the opposing party finally shuts down in despair.

Then there's Sheepish Keith, a quiet and reserved sort of guy, who doesn't like to argue because he's afraid someone might not like his opinion, and therefore might not like him. But there's also Ralph the Pacifist, who refuses to state his opinion out loud because he feels the word "argument" has a negative connotation, and believes the inevitable outcome of every debate is full-on fisticuffs. Let's not forget Apathetic Jack who has no real opinion about anything at all.

"But Jason," you may be asking, "aside from your (successful) attempt at blanket generalization, and (largely unsuccessful) attempt at humor, what's your point?"

My point is that people need to stop being so sensitive. Just because I disagree with you doesn't mean that I think your opinion is stupid. It doesn't mean I think you are stupid. It doesn't mean that I naturally assume your bathroom is a filthy mess or that you wear the same underwear three days in a row. I don't judge your background or your upbringing based on your beliefs, so don't judge mine.

Your opinion is just that: yours. Be proud of it. Support it, promote it. Understand that the best way to strengthen your belief is to listen to - and learn from - the opinions of others. And - shock! horror! - that may force you to question your beliefs, at which point, one of three things will happen: (1) You will work to put some muscle onto your opinion's measly frame. (2) You will consider trading your opinion in for a newer model. (3) You will rebel, withdraw, and call everyone around you an asshole.

Don't be a number three.


*Give thanks to Lawrence Pearce's Twitter Feed for inspiring this post. And check out his excellent blog while you're at it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What's Your Middle?

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Sometime during my latest residency with Southern New Hampshire University's MFA program, my good friend Rob Greene offered up a writing prompt he uses in his English classes. He gave me a blank page, opening line at the top, closing line at the bottom, and left me to fill in the rest. It's a fun little exercise that can pull the brain out of self-imposed ruts and drop it into different grooves.

Here is the unedited, unrevised, perfectly raw and vulgar flash-fiction (slash-fiction?) piece that spilled out. Remember, the first and last lines are Rob's. And don't forget to check out his excellent blog, Going Greene.

     I reached over and calmly gouged out his left eye.
     He was already dead, of course, so it couldn't have hurt him. Still, when my spoon sunk into the socket as if scooping out a boiled egg yolk, the wet squish made my adam's apple lurch a little.
     "David," Mom said, "would you hurry up already?"
     She hovered over me, a scalpel in one hand, a journal of anatomy open in the other, her Fuck Me, I'm Polish apron a canvass covered in red.
     Mom had been working on him all day, studying from her textbook, committing the colorful directions to memory. She had an exam in the morning. Her final test before earning a nursing license.
     "What are we going to do with the leftovers?" I asked.
     "The same thing we did with your brother," she said, peeling off her rubber gloves and massaging my shoulder. "Stew for dinner. All week."
     My father's name was Stu.
     Then my mom took us out for Sno-Cones.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hail Horror Hail*

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

-->
David St. Hubbins, in reference to his band Spinal Tap’s infamous “black” album cover: “It looks like death.”
Ian Faith: “David, every movie in every cinema is about death. Death sells.”

I realized something last night, while working on a particular chapter about 220 pages into my MFA thesis. Even though the story began with a focus on love and relationships and fluttery heartbeats, eventually, someone got their back scratched by a corpse’s hand sticking out of the dirt.

Many, many years ago, reading an old Stephen King interview in Reader’s Digest, one particular quote struck me. King said, “I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin.” We are what we are, and we love what we love. Some might call it “narrow-minded.” Others might condemn it as “limited vision.” After all, even Stephen King has written stories that aren’t creepy, right? But he always comes back to that hand sticking out of the dirt. Why? Because that’s who he is.

There was a short period of time when I was almost apologetic about the type of stories I wrote. I somehow became convinced that “serious” writers looked down on the horror genre, or even dark fiction in general. But, really, do readers care about that blurry, oftentimes imaginary line between “literary” and “genre” writing? Do they care if a novel is in one section of the bookstore rather than another? I don’t think so. I think they care about good stories, compelling and interesting characters, and exciting, original situations that force those characters to change, for better or for worse.

I write horror. That’s who I am. It doesn’t mean that my stories won’t ever contain love or passion or romance, but in one way or another, I’ll always return to the unquiet coffin. Because that’s who I am.
So, consider this entry my informal love letter, and my formal apology to you, Horror, for that brief period when I was ashamed of you.

We good?

*A round of applause to anyone who gets the reference in this blog title without Googling it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Overworked and Underpaid

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Where are my laurels? Who stole my laurels? No matter, there will be no rest on this end for some time.

Some writers work best when they are focusing on one project. Others always seem to have a number of irons in the fire. I am one of those scatterbrained creatures residing in the latter category. My goal this year is to flood the market with the Korolenko brand, bringing all of you fine folks a ton of product you can enjoy and tell your friends about. So, here's a little bit of what you can expect over the course of the next six months or so:

*After speaking with the guys in the band, and polling fans and friends all over the world, I've decided to move ahead with the Sepultura biography. I've received a ton of positive feedback for this project. Big thanks to Sepultura and the Sepularmy and everyone else who has expressed their support. And while you're here, check out the new Sepultura song, Kairos.

*Revisions have begun for my third novel, tentatively titled NIGHT TERRORS. I hope to have a final draft of this completed by the end of the year. Originally a follow-up to a previous novel, it will now stand alone.

*Novel number four, tentatively titled THE DAY I LEFT, written for my MFA program, is still in progress. You won't see this until well into next year, but know that it is coming.

*And then there's this: From the Woods to the Jungle. What is it? I can't give details at the moment, but it will be dedicated specifically to a life-altering project that makes me giggle with excitement. Keep checking back, and maybe I'll drop some hints from time to time.

Alright. Now, let's get to work!

JAK

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dreaming Isn't Enough...

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

...you have to work to make those dreams a reality.

I have been a fan of Sepultura, a Brazilian heavy metal group, for over twenty years now. In 1993, when I was in high school, my band would play Dead Embryonic Cells and Refuse/Resist so loudly during lunch breaks that the songs could be heard on the other end of campus. All those years ago, I vowed to do two things: first, to see Sepultura perform in Brazil, and second, to meet the band and express my gratitude. I accomplished the former in 2005, while visiting my fiancee's family in Sao Paulo, and the latter on April 22, 2011.

But there's more.

Sometime in the past year, I became obsessed with the idea of writing a book about the band. I was tired of the typical rock biography that focuses more on sex and drugs than rock n' roll, and relies on drama and rumors to keep the reader turning pages. Sepultura's story is one of perseverance, integrity, persistence. Most of all, their journey has been inspiring, and I'd love to translate that inspiration into prose.

So, last Friday, when I met the guys at one of their first U.S. shows in six years, I gave my business card to each of them and expressed my desire to write "The" Sepultura biography. It may happen, and it may not, but the point I'm trying to make is this: opportunity is rarely in plain sight, but it's often hidden everywhere. If you aren't constantly on the lookout for opportunity, you are doing your dreams a disservice.

So, thanks to Paulo, Jean, Andreas, and Derrick for listening to a fanboy's dream, and for an amazing show. And double-thanks to Jean for the drumstick.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Is There A Point To All This?

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Buried in a closet somewhere, hiding among piles of old concert t-shirts and empty electronics boxes and framed awards and probably a few crusty pornographic magazines, is a box full of my old notebooks. Some of these are over twenty years old, filled with generic stories of vampires, childish diatribes on the nature of rebellion against tyrannical parents, and band logos designed out of particularly vulgar four-letter words.
            
In one of these notebooks, begun when I was twelve or thirteen—that magical era of life when everything is possible and most of my best personal stories come from—I had drawn blueprints of my dream house. There were three rooms: a large gym downstairs where I would teach martial arts, a recording studio upstairs, and an office lined with bookshelves cluttered with my own published work. I remember that this dream house had no bathroom, no bedroom, no kitchen, because those things—at that time—just weren’t important.
            
All I knew at that age was passion.
            
In Why I Write, a collection of essays by a batch of literary fellows, Richard Ford is reminded of all the times he has been asked, “[W]here does it come from, all this stuff you write?” (pg. 14) For me, this question is the bastard offspring of “Why do you write?” and the answer of one inevitably leads to the answer of the other.
            
Writers are, by and large, self-indulgent creatures. This is not a bad thing. While a “normal” person might not enjoy writing—or even talking—about what they do, I am hard-pressed to find a writer who does not enjoy writing about writing. Truth, in fiction, can be hard to find, since fiction is essentially a fancy word meaning “lie.” So, as a fiction writer, I want to understand what I do, but I also want others—those strange, incomprehensible creatures not known as writers—to understand what I do. It is unique, this form of self-examination, since you don’t often see paintings that explore the process of painting. You don’t often hear songs about the process of writing a song. But five minutes of research on the good old Internet, and you’ll find thousands of writers writing about why they write.
            
In Why I Write, Mark Jacobson admits without shame, “I write for the money” (pg. 116). I, too, write for the money, even though I have been submitting my work for close to ten years and I haven’t made a single penny.
            
From a very young age, teachers and dreamers tell us that if we find a job we love, we’ll never work a day in our lives. If Melissa adores numbers and math and becomes an accountant, she is happy to say she makes a living doing what she loves. If Jeremy has a passion for truth and justice and debate, he would find no shame in making millions of dollars as a lawyer. But things change when we talk about art.
            
There is a demonization of art as commerce. A true artiste says it’s not about the money, but for the love of the work. Why can’t it be about both? An artist—be she a musician, a sculptor, a writer—provides a service to others. That service is entertainment on the surface, depth and critical examination of life beneath it, and attaching a monetary value to her art does not invalidate the heart and soul she put into it. Prostitution, this ain’t.
            
So, yes, I admit that I write for money, or at least the promise of money. Eventually. Someday. Maybe.
            
However, as James Salter wrote, “Money is but one form of approval” (pg. 35). And though it would be so easy to just say I have stories in my head that need to come out, the reality is a large part of me writes for approval. Thinking back to those blueprints of my dream house, the things I love about writing are the same things I love about music and martial arts. Creation. Energy. Individuality, and yes, attention. Since that day in Mrs. McIntyre’s fifth grade social studies class, when I learned that afterschool detention was a fair trade for making my classmates laugh, I’ve been seeking that attention.
            
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Far from it, actually. Writing, for me, is like facing a pit-bull with my arm trapped in its jaws, thick cords standing out in the animal’s neck as it violently yanks back and forth. When it pulls, I push. When it pushes, I pull. And, sometimes more than anything, I dread sitting down at my desk to face that literary beast.
            
David Foster Wallace describes the reason for this dread in a way that resonates perfectly with me:

The fiction always comes out so horrifically defective, so hideous a betrayal of all your hopes for it—a cruel and repellent caricature of the perfection of its conception—yes, understand: grotesque because imperfect (pg. 140-1).

This sort of cosmic letdown reminds me of a quote from Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” But what if I never even make it to the first draft? What if I’ve already imagined my last great idea? What if I’ve already written my best song? What if, after all my training and practice in the gym, my body fails me during a life-threatening situation?
            
What if the blank page remains blank forever?
            
All it takes to eliminate these fears is one moment of action. As soon as the first word is written, then the first sentence, and then the first paragraph, the game is on. It is then about The Process. And the bottom line is this: The Process is fun.
            
Writing and music. They are both about emotion and personal depth and finding a truth within us that others can relate to. And martial arts, as odd as that may seem, is about much of the same. Chinese kung-fu masters ascribe the power of martial arts as blossoming from a unification of mind, body, and spirit. When you fight, your mind must be sound. Your body must be trained. Your spirit must be calm. Music is, on a rudimentary level, math in sonic form. Plus, it makes us dance. It makes us feel good. And writing is almost a form of meditation; it makes us think, it makes us cry, it makes our pulses race. It cleanses us, but if done right, it also makes us dirty. It is, as Rick Bass wrote, “an engagement of the senses; art sharpens the acuity with which emotions, and the other senses, are felt or imagined” (pg. 76). And that is the answer to Richard Ford’s question. This stuff we write comes from every little thing we interact with on a sensual level, on a personal level, on an emotional level.
            
It comes from that unification of mind, body, and spirit.
            
So, I write for money and I write for approval and I write because I dread the blank page and I write because those blueprints I drew as a kid were more than just the model for my dream house; they were the model for my life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Strange State of Affairs

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Ten (maybe even as few as five) years ago, "serious" writers were terrified of self-publishing. We've all heard the horror stories about Big House Publishers that tend to blacklist writers who have self-published novels. The BHPs say that these novels are traditionally bad because their authors don't have an army of professional editors, proofreaders, cover designers, marketers, promoters, etc. They say self-published writers don't take their works seriously enough to submit them through the "normal" channels. They say things like, "Anyone and their mother can write and publish their own book." And they say things like, "The reason it is so hard to get published is because your work has to be publishable, and most work just isn't."

Some of that is true, and to be quite honest, I agree completely with the last sentiment. But, fast-forward into the digital age, the age of Kindle and blogging and worldwide social networking and bankrupt bookstores, and suddenly writers aren't so afraid of being blacklisted by BHPs anymore. Why?

A lot of people who read this blog are writers, so they've probably heard variations of this theme before. This post is mostly for readers who wonder why the hardcover novel they just bought at Barnes & Noble is so terribly boring, but this free e-book they found online is so great. So, writers, if you'd like, you can head back over to Twitter and stare at your number of followers, wishing it to magically rise (oh, wait...that's what I do when I should be writing).

I've been meaning to write this for a while, but something always stopped me. Maybe it was that fear of the BHPs, as if they are some big brother type of organization trolling the Internet for slanderous remarks against them. But then I realized, this isn't about them. It's about writers delivering their product, their art, to the people who care about it most. Readers, of course. Those people who have half-read books in every room of their house, including the bathroom, so there is always a story at hand. Those people who have Kindles strapped to their wrists, or a collection of iBooks downloaded onto their cell phones.

The publishing industry is ridiculously difficult to break into. Say you have a book you've spent two years writing. Once that puppy is finally groomed and ready for the dog show, you have to find an agent. An agent is the man/woman with the rolodex stuffed with important numbers, that special breed of person who makes--and keeps--powerful connections within the industry. Many agents aren't interested in writers who have not been published, and there's the catch: many publishers aren't interested in writers who don't have agents. And these aren't sour grapes I'm chewing on. Any writer will tell you the same.

We've all heard the stories of popular writers who, in the beginning, received enough rejection letters to wallpaper their bedrooms. But even in the face of consistent, crushing blows to the ego, they plowed onward because they believed in their work, and they trusted that others would, too. In the days before the Internet, those "others" were difficult to find.

Thanks in great part to the Kindle Direct Publishing program (a writer uploads a novel to Amazon, sets his or her own price, then unleashes a masterpiece upon the digital world), there have been a rash of articles examining the recent successes of writers who self-publish through digital means. In just ten minutes, writers can have their work available--worldwide--to anyone who has a Kindle. And with Kindle books outselling hardcopies at a rate sometimes as high as ten-to-one, this is a game changer. Just ask Borders, who recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Just ask Barnes & Noble, who are flailing along in a similar boat filled with holes.

Big House Publishers insist that self-publishing isn't lucrative because, mainly, the writers lack sufficient promotion and marketing that fistfulls of cash (provided by the publisher) can offer. This used to be true, but the digital age leveled the playing field. This blog, for instance, has readers from Japan, Brazil, Russia, and about fifteen other countries. A high-profile blogger (which I certainly am not) can easily reach just as many people, if not more, than any marketing machine. I'm looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg.

But, let's be honest, what it all comes down to is money. Green. Dolla' dolla' bills, y'all. Writers write because they love it. That's a given. If we didn't love it, we wouldn't do it. What many writers don't admit, though, is that we want to make money. Where is the shame in that? We've got bills to pay, kids to feed, gas prices to shake our fists at. Some people went to school to become plumbers. We went to school to become writers. If a plumber admits he's in it for the money, no one blinks an eye. If a writer admits he's in it for the money, he's no longer an artiste. He's a corporate whore.

The sad reality is that only a handful of the most successful writers earn enough in royalties to survive solely on their art. This is why we're seeing so many articles about self-published writers now. This is why so many people are choosing the Do-It-Yourself route. Many struggling writers no longer care about being blacklisted by an industry that will never make them any money. And many readers are happy to risk five dollars on a digital book by an unknown writer, because they just can't afford a hardcover for twenty-five.

How will all this turn out? I wish I could tell you. For every success story, there are likely hundreds of digital e-novels that are languishing in a virtual slush pile, selling only one or two copies every now and then to the writer's spouse or close relative. But that is already a publishing industry standard. Most of the books you see in Borders don't sell, and that's part of the reason why Borders is dying a slow death.

What makes these times exciting is that, more and more, the artist--rather than the Big Business Middle Man--is in control.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More "Bonding"

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

Filmmaker Rick Dumont had some nice things to say about yours truly during recent promotion for THE BOND:

"Jason is one of those rare beings that if you are lucky enough to meet spreads the black veil of joy over your life," Dumont said. "He's as twisted as Stephen King, and as personable and light hearted as your best friend. Jason is a very special guy."

Thanks for the kind words, Rick.

To read the rest of the article, go here. To check out the first trailer for THE BOND, go here.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

THE BOND - First Official Trailer

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

I hope everyone's holidays were either calm and reflective or crazy and out of control, depending on your personal preference. (Mine was the former.) If 2010 sucked for you, make 2011 better. If 2010 was great, make 2011 better. Expect a deeper, more profound entry here at Infamy and Misfortune soon.

In the meantime, check out the first official trailer for the film I cowrote with Rick Dumont and Carla Bonney.