Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My (small press) writing day : Tracey Waddleton


Been up half the night trying to find the tri-force shards in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which I’m playing for the umpteenth time. Comfort gaming, you could say. I sleep until noon when the cat jumps on my chest, all 13 pounds of her, little stick paws digging painfully into my ribs. She is rewarded with treats.

I dump some coffee in the French press. Put the kettle on the stove. Wash my face. Check email. Chat for a few hours with writer friends about the rise of fascism, some new Netflix shows and how we’re all supposed to be meeting deadlines but most of us aren’t. At three, when the pre-packaged noodle thing that will be my breakfast is almost done cooking, I realize I’m out of butter and it’s just not gonna taste right.

Spend a few hours reading new books and manuscripts. I make notes about the style, the winning sentences, the sheer genius, but I won’t pass it along, not all of it, or folks will think I’m strange. I’m so proud of people who are writing, I can’t even take it.

I fancy a trip to the park across the street with a pen and a notebook and whatever book I’m into but now it’s already six and I’m hungry again. By the time I grab a shower and get supper on the go it’s seven and by the time I’m recovered from all of that it’s eight and the sun is setting and it’s time to get stuff done for real.

I write some dialogue for the play I’m working on, speaking each line out loud, getting all worked up over the lack of rhythm. I’ll probably delete half of it later. No—I definitely will. But every worthy line is a step closer to making deadline.

The novel is still sitting in disconnected bunches but I write more, and this bit is far outside of where I’ve been heading. Every time I look at it, I’m struck with a thousand ideas, too much to fit on any page. But maybe I catch a good idea about a character or a scene and so the day has meaning, after all.

Someone has asked me to meet them somewhere but I make some kind of excuse. I’m already powering down. Some silly TV show grabs my attention for an hour, then I thumb through a short story collection. The cat goes out, the cat comes in. I get a cold glass of milk from the fridge. I start thinking about milk and milking machines and how husbands drink their wives’ breast milk and then I write a short piece of what I’d like to call nonfiction but that actually may qualify as reverse sexism, if that’s even a thing. I save it on the hard drive with the other stuff that will never see the light of day and I’m reminded what a mess of stuff I have on the computer and I say to myself for the hundredth time that I need some kind of filing system.

No time for that now. It’s midnight. My eyes are strained from all the screens. And Ganon is waiting and he doesn’t deserve to be out there living it up and making Link feel like such a loser. Not after all Link has been through. I boil the kettle. I charge up the controller. I press play.



Tracey Waddleton is from Trepassey, Newfoundland. Her stories were shortlisted for the NLCU Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers and have been published in Riddle FenceThe TelegramNQParagon 6 and several volumes of the Cuffer Anthology. In 2015, she received the Lawrence Jackson Writers’ Award for the manuscript of Send More Tourists… the Last Ones Were Delicious. Waddleton lives and writes in Montréal, Quebec.



Monday, August 19, 2019

Brandon Freels : MY WRITING DAY


Timestamps are approximate.

4:30 am. Since I’ve started working overnights, I’ve found it hard to tell when my days end or begin. As my shift comes to a close, one of my co-workers asks me how I got such big calves. I find his question curious. Why do I have big calves? What’s with my body anyway? I write his question down on my iPhone. At the moment, I use the Drafts app for these one-liners. In the past, I used the Notes app. As you’ll see, technology plays an important roll in my writing life. Maybe it is because of the immediacy, or maybe because of the convenience.

5:00 am. I get on the R train at Prospect Avenue and transfer to the A train at Jay Street-MetroTech. On the train, I see a woman on her way to work wearing see-through high heeled rain boots. I will probably never use this in a poem or a story, but I make a note of it. I feel like much of my writing life is spent collecting and arranging fragments. Sometimes I’ll spend weeks just collecting until one day I’ll try to mash them all together like a Kurt Schwitters or Max Ernst collage.

On the train ride home, a drunk man at the back of the car starts harassing people. An older homeless gentleman gets on with a shopping cart and the drunk man starts hooting and hollering at him. The homeless gentleman says, “Oh no,” under his breath and rolls his eyes. “Hey, hey, are we at Broadway Junction yet?” the drunk man shouts. A train car full of people and no one responds to him.

6:00 am. I get off the train at the Ralph Avenue stop and start walking to my apartment but I get sidetracked when I see some weathered signage. I take a photo of the signage. I’m part of a group on Facebook called Involuntary Painting, so when I’m walking around the city I’m always looking for some misshapen blob of paint or some tattered sign to photograph. The key to understanding involuntary painting is that it must be unintentional.

I go to the bodega by my apartment and order my usual sandwich, the Broadway Special. I’ve had this sandwich so many times that I don’t really know what’s in it anymore. All I know is it has a lot of turkey and some melted cheese. The cook teases me. He says it’s too early and that I should be eating breakfast.

6:30 am. I enter the apartment and Wally, my housemate’s dog, barks from inside her room. I eat the sandwich and fall asleep. I have a dream where I’ve woken up in San Francisco. In my dream, it’s night and I’m in the backyard of my old house, a place nicknamed Bay Area 51. I walk up the stairs and enter the house through the back door. Inside its pitch black and empty. There’s no furniture. I stumble my way into what I believe is the living room. My old housemate Tasho is there. He whispers something to me in the dark. Then we see some car lights flash on the wall and hear the voices of the rest of our old housemates. It’s almost as if we were all called back to that house by some kind of magnetic energy.

2:00 pm. Wally’s barking wakes me up. He barks at the front door as the neighbors go up and down the stairs. My housemate has gone to work. It’s just Wally and me. I walk to the bodega again. There’s been a shift change and it’s a new cook. I order a cheeseburger and fries for lunch. I take my laundry to the laundromat.

4:00 pm. I’m at my computer, looking over my writing notifications. I have several weekly writing prompts set up in the Reminders app. This keeps me writing. The older I’ve gotten, the harder it is to stay organized and focused. These notifications help. They range from simple goals like “write a poem this week” or “write a diary entry in Day One” to more project-based goals. I don’t always complete my goals, but it’s good to have them.

One project I’ve been neglecting is my irregular reports that I send out through Tiny Letter. I have the newest one outlined already and I spend the next several hours writing the text. For me, the reports function as a substitute for a blog. I write about the art I’ve seen, the events I’ve gone to, the places I’ve been, and my life in general. For organizational reasons, I compose all of my projects in the Ulysses app.

5:00 pm. Wally comes into my room and messes with his blanket. Eventually, he settles on just sitting in my doorway.

5:30 pm. My writing gets interrupted by a call from my boss. He asks me if I want to work full-time. I say, “Yes, of course.” He says he didn’t want to take Ashley’s word for it and wanted to speak with me first. He says he’s working on it and he’ll get back to me later.

5:50 pm. My boss calls back. He’s updated my schedule. I go full-time starting Monday. By now, I’ve just about finished a draft of my newest irregular report. Another of my writing notifications is to do some free writing. I use the Flowstate app for this. With the Flowstate app, you have to keep writing for a certain amount of time or the text will disappear. I do several five-minute writing exercises. Mine often read like semi-automatic texts. Much of my regular writing is done through association and collage, so these free ramblings are a nice change of pace. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with the finished pieces.

6:30 pm. I start watching Swamp Thing, which I haven’t seen in maybe fifteen years. At some point, I stop watching it and start listening to Marc Maron’s podcast. He’s interviewing Geena Davis. They mention The Fly and for some reason it reminds me of Swamp Thing.

9:30 pm. I don’t work tonight but my friend Tooth is performing nearby at a secret venue called The Glove. I walk up Ralph Avenue, stopping to get a half-pint of whiskey, and head to the location. I run into Tooth on the way in. He’s headed out to get some beers. Four or five bands play. Some are punk, some are electronic noise projects (like Tooth’s). I notice the guitarist for one of the punk bands is also the co-owner of the best bookstore in Brooklyn, Better Read Than Dead.

2:00 am. On the way home I stop at a bodega near the venue and get a steak burrito. New York burritos are very mediocre compared to San Francisco burritos, but they are okay drunk food. I get home and my housemate is awake. I just got health insurance and she asks me if I’ve made a doctor’s appointment yet. I haven’t. Wally is happy we are both home.

3:00 am. Still kind of drunk, and with a migraine coming on, I try to work on my writing a little but it feels uncomfortable. Then I try to read a few poems from Ariana Reines’ new collection A Sand Book. I’m too drunk to concentrate. I put on a documentary about UFOs and pass out.



Brandon Freels has an MS in Writing/Publishing from Portland State University. His poems have appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Exquisite Corpse, Hobart, and other publications. He currently lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works at a home improvement supply store. You can follow him on Twitter at @koalacanth or visit his website at brandonfreels.com.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Mandy-Suzanne Wong : My Small Press Writing Day


The kiskadees come at eight. Sometimes on the roof, often on the wooden pergola, they peel palmetto nuts. Their idea of peeling involves their forefathers’ method, refined over generations, for bashing lizards’ brains out. Obstreperous hammering resonates through the house. This is my awakening.
A kiskadee is about four inches tall with a knavish mask and fluorescent yellow breast.
~
This new morning, if it’s a good morning, is a moment in the middle of a long night.
An all-nighter kind of night. That’s what novel-making feels like when it’s really happening. The souped-up trembling of going on because I have to, because the characters’ desperation allows for nothing else. In such a crackling, concentrated night, nothing is real except the characters’ throbbing energy. Nothing is real except those who don’t exist. As in dreaming.
Those beings who are not beings (or are they?), they are the reasons for everything. Kenji, you were relentless.
If today should happen to be a moment in that dire night, the pages of some notebook will crackle and crinkle under lists. Lists of pros and cons (so you die, Kenji, so what?). Disordered lists of possibilities (so you don’t die, so what?). List of happenings as linear time would list them. Lists I hear in my head as conversations.
When the night has been very long, gone on perhaps for years, I hear them almost schizophrenically. With timbres. “I have a spiel. I have a stance to go with the spiel. It’s a stance like I’m conducting a minuet…” For god’s sake, Kenji. My editor asked: Do you ever just want to shake him?
Spinning lists into ink threads. Weaving them into a textured expanse that will fade into the background. Adding the prose feels like I imagine painting feels. Mixing up the colors, slashing or splashing colors or dribbling them onto the canvas of the plot. Painting over inevitable spills and misjudged proportions. Sometimes I do it in Gregg. A shorthand system of loops and lines dancing to phonemes. I turn to my computer when it’s time for detailing. Dabbing and stabbing words. Coaxing and caressing words one by one. Giving Kenji plenty of Backspace.
Palmettos snuggling the house sound like the ocean.
~
If today is not a moment in a moving night but in a gleaming day, it means a forced march through the desert.
Kenji’s desperation drove me on such blinding days as if I were a thirsty horse underneath him. For his sake I dared not stop. But every step seemed heavy, every consideration of a step threatened to burn us underfoot. An unhealthy too-awareness, as if my every move were tracked by an enormous spotlight that no one hung up overhead, brought on an overwhelming anxiety.
I shouldn’t have said no one hung it (at this point I’m doubting everything). I should’ve said it was the capitalist that contemporary cultures breed and feed in me. That minion, eager to be known as a professional, is desperate to sell her work, to have her dreams spotlit. But that base longing for attention isn’t Kenji’s desperation. It misses the point of novel-making.
In a too-bright moment of a day that carries on for years, when my situation is too visible to me, and everyone else, touchable everyones, along with tangible obligations, those I have and those I’m wishing for, seem to be breathing down my neck—I find myself unable to pull away from my computer even if my words aren’t ready for it yet. I make excuses: I’ll have to type it in sometime if anyone’s going to see it. But at this point, more often than not, to be seen is the last thing my shapeless jumble of desperate energies and mixed-up colors needs. My clinging to the computer, clicking and reloading, has nothing to do with people like Kenji.
Why this inconvenient compulsion?
Essays, excerpts, stories, novels, so many of my manuscripts hover in the charged ether of “for your consideration.” Have they been seen? Will they be seen? Will they sell? The identity-shifting heroine of Wilkie Collins’ No Name literally almost dies from the suspense of not yet knowing whether she counts as a member of society-at-large.
Meanwhile voices of invisible, nocturnal frogs tremble the whole island.
~
Every evening as I work at other things, I hope the following day will be a sliver of night.
Now that Kenji is a book with a beautiful cover, a proper spine, and a publisher’s colophon, the next desperate protagonist should have a better chance at being born in an unbroken all-nighter, no? No. Not-yet-knowing is a chronic condition.
As if to make matters worse, I’ve set myself a challenge: for each new project, a new prose style. This is one small way in which I like to celebrate difference. My new not-yet-a-novel has no protagonist at all.
~ ~ ~
Mandy-Suzanne Wong is the author of the award-winning fiction chapbook Awabi (Digging Press, 2019). Her novel Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal House, 2019) was a finalist for the Permafrost Book Prize, a semifinalist for the Conium Review Book Prize, shortlisted for the Santa Fe Writers' Project Literary Award, awarded an honorable mention in the Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest, and nominated for the Foreword Indies Book Prize and PEN Open Book Award. She was also the 2018 winner of the Eyelands International Flash Fiction Competition. Her stories and essays appear in Entropy, Manqué, The Spectacle, Waccamaw, Chaleur, Quail Bell, The Hypocrite Reader, and elsewhere. She is a native of Bermuda.

Kenji Okada-Caines is the Bermudian protagonist of Drafts of a Suicide Note, which will be published by Regal House on 11 October 2019.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Douglas Luman : Small Press Writing Day


TRON              If you are a User, then everything you've done so far has been according to a plan, right?
FLYNN            You wish. You know what it's like: you just keep doing what it looks like you're supposed to be doing, no matter how crazy it seems.
TRON              That's the way it is for Programs, yes.
FLYNN            I hate to disappoint you, pal, but most of the time, that's the way it is for us Users, too.
Tron (1982)

To those whose professional lives approached their apex in the 1980s, my workspace or general process might not seem so unfamiliar to those who held the position of a “Computer Operator.” Coffee in hand, I sit at a computer terminal, push the power button on a computer screen, the glow washing over me in the early morning light. The command prompt’s ever-ready cursor awaits input. The machine needs instructions.
In abstract terms, it’s not so different from the situation which any writer might experience: the perpetual problem of the “blank page,” the perpetual struggle to invent or reinvent objects which are, sometimes poems, sometimes fragments, sometimes doodles. At worst, nothing happens for a while, and the state never changes.
Often, when I use the word “computational” to describe the work I do, the listener or reader imagines some flashy platform or fully-fledged automated system completing my work for me. And sometimes that’s partially true: I send a Twitter bot out overnight to gather tweets which contain language such as “garbage” or “waste.” When I come to the console in the morning, I put the robot to sleep for a while and trawl through the night’s collection for interesting coincidences. One user, having spent a much larger-than-average amount of money on a garbage can, writes “i don't think it gets any more adult than this.”
In the 100,000+ lines captured, there’s an equal possibility that I won’t find anything of interest. The state does not change.
In an essay entitled “Poetry and Pleasure,” Jackson Mac Low talks about coming to a realization about his process that, after strict adherence to chance-based, deterministic methods, he came to identify as a poet who “engage[s] with contingency,”[1] opening all of his interests and abilities upon which to draw at any given moment. While I once thought of the computational as a way to abandon intention, authorship, and choice, I’ve come to identify more with Mac Low on this point as I too discovered my workaday writers’ approach to sitting down in the morning and attempting to invent, reinvent or discover word-objects with code on a screen. (I am, however, a subscriber to Brenda Hillman’s “holographic” method as it comes to transforming massive amounts of language into even quasi-finished writing.[2])
            Perhaps Mac Low’s perspective offers me the thought that I’ll get as close as I can to a full-contact sport in the process of combing through computationally-sorted, or generated text and, using some “contingency” emerging at that time and place, pick out a word, phrase, or strange combination from the sifted resultant language that turns into some part of a work. Sometimes, I’m more like a fireworks technician having set up an elaborate, well-coordinated, and programmed display, set the process off only to generate some form of disappointment or, at worst, to discover that nothing happens. Or, it might be more apt to write that my process gets me closer to that of an amateur scientist playing at being a professional in a proper lab.
I once began a job talk (that anxiety-inducing invention of the academic interview) claiming that humans, despite baffling amounts of effort and capacity are, ultimately, bad at making choices. Though I avoid comparing my practice to any kind of economic or psychological study, depending on the kind of project I’m working on, I offload some at least decision-making authority to “the machine.” Admittedly, I now spend more time writing code than strictly “writing,” which is likely a sign that I’m automating or surrendering some greater amount of intention to the pure output of process, modeling authorial intent in the “self-executing” language of script or computer code.
            But, as several other computational writers may point out, this difference in process—which can engage or create new forms—is certainly not unfamiliar to the writing mind. In an age that predated the digital era in which we find ourselves, William Carlos Williams wrote of the poem that it is, after all, “a small (or large) machine made out of words.”[3] And this machine, as noted by Robert Pinsky in an article on the classic computer game “Zork” operates on “speed and memory,” sharing the “discovery of large, manifold channels through a small, ordinary-looking or all but invisible aperture.”[4]
            Though the aperture of the screen in front of me is by some standards not so narrow, is no less common looking than any other of many writers’ tools. And despite that my current language may not be as necessarily as recognizable, I begin the day typing as fast as I can, recalling the words.


Douglas Luman is a co-founder of Container, art director at Stillhouse Press, head researcher at appliedpoetics.org, a book designer, and digital human. He is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Allegheny College. His first book, The F Text, was released in fall 2017 on Inside the Castle.


[1] Mac Low, Jackson. “Poetry and Pleasure” in Thing of Beauty: New and Selected Poems. Ed. Anne Tardos. Berkeley: University of California Press (2008): xxxv.
[2] Hillman, Brenda. “The Holograph.” in Poets on Teaching. Ed. Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press (2010): 110-113.
[3] Williams, William Carlos. Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions (1969): 256.
[4] Pinksy, Robert. “The Muse in the Machine: Or, the Poetics of Zork.” New York Times (19 March, 1995): BR3.