The right to sepulture in modern context

On page 114 of The Intellectual History of Cannibalism, Catalin Avramescu writes:
“In contrast to the debate about the right to punish, about which it could be said that only its contents have changed, it is clear that the entire debate about the right of sepulture has vanished from among the identifiable concerns of the ethical philosophers.”

He asks:
“By virtue of what reasons was the right to sepulture removed from the contents of modern ethics?”

Avramescu answers his own question, arguing that discussion of the right to sepulture is not absent because it’s resolved, but because our definition of “natural law” has transformed from the idea that there exists a divinely ordained moral order to mean the scientific laws which govern the natural world. To discuss something as “natural law” in the 16th or 17th century had a very different philosophical underpinning from what it means when we say “natural law” now, and as “natural law” arguments in moral philosophy have receded, utilitarianism has ascended.

I disagree with Avramescu.

We no longer mutilate or expose corpses in posthumous continuation of bodily humiliation, but we cast the bodies of enemies of the state into the sea to deny them a monument and place of remembrance. (See: the burial of Osama bin Laden.) We no longer mandate the corpses of prisoners or the poor be turned over to science for dissection, but we have discussions about whether organ donation should be opt-in or opt-out as a matter of public policy, and whether fetal tissue is entitled to a burial. (See: US states passing laws to mandate the burial of aborted tissue.) We still have discussions over who is entitled to be buried in accordance with their beliefs, and where that may take place. (See: Muslim cemetery in Quebec.)

These discussions aren’t predicated on a 16th century understanding of “natural law” but our current ideas about human rights.

Our century thus far has been shaped by the global impact of a single act of punishment which culminated in a political denial of sepulture. The ongoing war in Afghanistan began in the United States’ declaration of its right to punish Osama bin Laden. Ten years later, the United States achieved that in killing him. They then put bin Laden’s body in a weighted bag and dropped it anonymously into the ocean, asserting the right of the victor to control the burial of an enemy.

Moral and philosophical ideas about the treatment of the dead are as relevant a topic now as it ever was, both in public discourse and to ethicists. I’d argue, in response to Avramescu’s assertion the right of sepulture has been removed from modern ethics that, that as human knowledge and society have evolved, so have our ideas and discussions about that to which the dead are entitled.

See: China’s disposal of Liu Xiaobo’s ashes in the ocean.
See: scientific research and the repatriation of human remains.
See: digital resurrection.

On meeting Robert Frost in a snowy wood

I never much considered Robert Frost, that ubiquitous poet of school English texts. The sort of thing people think of when they think of poetry — pastoral, conventional in rigid rhyme and meter. Easy. Old-fashioned.

Irrelevant.

I came across him again in Turco’s Book of Forms:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

— ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost

And he thrilled something in me, old Robert Frost. Born in a time of war, coming of age in the Gilded Age, writing in the conventions of his time and place, oh this pretty picture of New England. A snowy wood on a winter evening. And yet.

And yet.

I’ve been in snow soaked woods in the dark of night, places where there is no ‘farmhouse near’ and they are not moments from Currier and Ives. They are dark, wild places where humanity is small and I feel the Fimbulwinter that awaits. Looking at the skeletal trees, the pines shrouded, and the world blanketed in white and silence, I imagine the end of the world and the heat death of the universe.

Robert Frost, with his little horse, thinking he’s crazy to stop here, in this lonesome place, this end of time place, this place of wolves and silence, he must have felt that too. The winter wood is not a pastoral place; it is not charming or idyllic. It is a savage place, a place that sleeps and dreams of death. And there is Robert Frost, longing to enter that wood, ‘lovely, dark and deep’.

Oh yes, that place of darkness in all its seductive power. And how easy it would be to ride his little horse into that dark. But he can’t. Not now. He has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.

Sometimes there is the right time for meeting someone. Meet them too early, and you don’t recognize them; you overlook them. When you meet them too late, the moment you could’ve fallen in love with them is already past. And I wonder, maybe, if I have met Robert Frost, again, at exactly the right time.

Winter morning when earth and sky are the same color the only way of telling where land ends and heaven begins is the ragged black line of pine sawing the horizon. White flakes drift in a suspension of air. The snow doesn’t fall.

Reading Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco.

on reading ‘Peanut Butter’ by Eileen Myles

I was in the salon before our trip, waiting to have my hair done–it’s a little different than last time. Similar. But not exactly the same because I never get exactly the same haircut. I don’t know if you’d be able to tell the difference if I hadn’t told you. It doesn’t matter.

I was reading poetry on my phone. As I do when I’m somewhere with no wifi, waiting.

It’s good to be places without wifi. And to wait sometimes for something you want.

I was reading ‘Peanut Butter‘ by Eileen Myles. I never heard of her, but that doesn’t mean anything. There are lots of people I never heard of that are worth knowing. And some people I know that aren’t. But anyway. I like her. We are sympathetic animals.

She begins,

I am always hungry
& wanting to have
sex.

Then she talks about peanut butter. I, too, like sex and peanut butter.

Not together.

I, too, know the way hunger makes you aware of your body. Everything is more intense when you’re hungry. The physical becomes acute. There are times I live for weeks in the edge state of hunger. If you cannot, or will not, feed one primal urge, satiate another.

We are not meant to be fat and bloated animals, drugged on food. Lazy, castrated housecats. Do you remember what it’s like to need?

We are meant to be lean and always moving. We are meant to be hungry.

She says:

Pleasure
as a means,
and then a
means again
with no ends
in sight.

Pleasure being an end unto itself. I have a joke for you. It begins, an ascetic and a hedonist walk into a bar…

I don’t know how it ends.

I do wonder how they got to be friends.

This part reminds me of you:

When the water
boils I get
a cup of tea.
Accidentally I
read all the
works of Proust.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read Proust, but I can imagine you having that kind of accident. This is a love poem, but the love parts don’t make me think of you.

Eileen Myles and I are sympathetic in love, also.

She says:

why shouldn’t
something
I have always
known be the
very best there
is.

It’s important to know what hunger feels like. If you don’t know the ache of it, you don’t know when it’s soothed.

I’ve known people with a black hole where their stomach ought to be. They’re so out of touch with their own hunger, they don’t know when to stop eating. They can’t ever feel full because they don’t understand the nature of the hunger.

I’ve been reading The Qur’an as well as Moby Dick. I’ve been writing a lot about it also, though I haven’t posted anything. I thought I might, after I was finished with Moby Dick, but I’m not sure it’s entirely separable. Reading them in tandem, I think about them in tandem also.

It’s a complicated book to read as an atheist, The Qur’an, in part because I come it with preconceived cultural ideas about what a god is and what it does but no personal ones, and, I realize, I develop expectations, given those ideas and the parameters in the book (‘Allah hath power over all things’, ‘Allah hears and knows all things’), of what a god should be. I’m trying, really trying, to read this book and understand what it is that over a billion people on this planet believe, and not just what it is they believe, but how they believe it. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the nature of God.

In the shower, standing in the steam letting the water run over me, I was thinking about God and whales, and I brushed my arm on the wall and left an impression, a moment of clarity in the condensation.

In Moby Dick, Ishmael describes artistic representations of the whale:

But these manifold mistakes in depicting the whale are not so very surprising after all. Consider! Most of the scientific drawings have been taken from the stranded fish; and these are about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken back, would correctly represent the noble animal itself in all its undashed pride of hull and spars. Though elephants have stood for their full-lengths, the living Leviathan has never yet fairly floated himself for his portrait. The living whale, in his full majesty and significance, is only to be seen at sea in unfathomable waters; and afloat the vast bulk of him is out of sight, like a launched line-of-battle ship; and out of that element it is a thing eternally impossible for mortal man to hoist him bodily into the air, so as to preserve all his mighty swells and undulations. And, not to speak of the highly presumable difference of contour between a young sucking whale and a full-grown Platonian Leviathan; yet, even in the case of one of those young sucking whales hoisted to a ship’s deck, such is then the outlandish, eel-like, limbered, varying shape of him, that his precise expression the devil himself could not catch.

I think God, the idea of God, may be like Ishmael’s whale. Too vast, and too much obscured to depict accurately, and if you did somehow manage to extract it from its element, to separate it as a discrete being, to say this is what God is, this is what God looks like, you have lost something of its nature, some essential quality.

And there’s another thought, too. That it’s not possible, not really, to say God doesn’t exist. God patently does exist–the effect of its passing is visible. Not as a discrete being, an entity that makes men from earth and raises the dead, but God exists in the way that justice and love and mercy exist. It’s not a thing that can be hauled from the sea and examined in its physical form, but only seen in its displacement, its wake, the impression it leaves on the world.

There’s a line in Moby Dick—the second mate sends the cook out to lecture the sharks because they’re too noisy while he’s eating, and the cook tells them:

‘Your voraciousness, fellow-critters, I don’t blame you so much for; that is nature, and can’t be helped; but to govern that wicked nature, that is the point. You is sharks, certain; but if you govern the shark in you, why then you be an angel; for all angel is nothing more than the shark well governed.’

(Melville wrote it in heavy dialect, which I find moderately annoying to read, and more irritating to try and type out faithfully, so I didn’t.)

The idea that an angel is only a shark with self-control is in some way beautiful, and yet in another it makes me recoil: ‘wicked nature’, the moral judgment that a shark’s sharkness is inherently wicked and that a shark should, instead, bind his own nature, and seek to be an angel. That to be an angel is a better thing than to be a shark. And if being an angel meant that you must fetter your most essential self, then is being an angel a beautiful thing or a horrible one?

Someone told me how Fort Lauderdale made it illegal to feed homeless people in public. He talked about how his church meets in a park, and how they help the homeless there, and how they were forced to change parks, and this wasn’t in Florida, but in Missouri.

That church, the one that helps homeless people in the park, it sounds like a good church, you know? Good people. And I was thinking how some churches are like that, good. And others are base and petty and ugly. I can think of a couple of those, too. And how when they’re all Christian, it’s got nothing to do with God or Jesus, and they can’t say ‘it’s because my God is a loving God and yours is false and malicious’ because they all have the same god, the same book.

It’s the people, and how they come together, maybe like calls to like, and you have these loving churches because they’re made of loving people, and they focus on helping, on caring for others. They lift people up. Then you have these nasty little churches that focus on sin and laws and how wicked you are, because they’re made of small, nasty people,  and they’re constantly policing each other’s Christian-ness and judging each other, and it becomes a kind of debasement. If religion encourages us to be worse than we are, or allows us to be our worst selves, what’s the point?

There’s this argument I hear sometimes, how if you don’t believe in (and fear) God, nothing will stop you from being selfish and evil and wicked. Why be good if you won’t be punished for being otherwise?

I think about this a lot lately, how gods, the Christian God anyway, I don’t know enough about the others, Vishnu & Waheguru & the rest, to have an opinion on them, but the doctrine is used to debase and devalue humanity. It doesn’t tell you you’re beautiful, that you’re good; it says you’re fallen and unworthy. Your nature is wicked. It says God made you in his image and you fucked it up. You fucked it up so, so bad.

And maybe in some ways it’s right, because how terribly, terribly sad that when a man comes along, a humanitarian and a social reformer, and he tells people ‘be kind to each other’, that to be that revolutionary, to be allowed to be that sort of a person, to possess that nature, to be believed in, he had to be made into a god.

And what does that say about how we feel about ourselves, our own nature? That if we are beautiful and if we love, really love, other people, this comes not from our own humanity–that whatever is good in us, it is not our essential self.

I’ve been reading Moby Dick. I don’t know why I put it off so long, I guess the monolithic reputation, maybe,  and  it’s been dogged with the descriptor ‘boring’, probably the result of being featured in multiple high school English lit classes (never any of mine), though I’m not exactly sure how gay cannibal whalers on a quest for vengeance led by an insane captain against his nemesis, the monstrous white whale who ate his leg, is boring, even in high school. Maybe it’s the chapters about Ishmael’s proposed classification system for whales.

Anyway, somehow, it ended up on the shelf, unread for much too long, though I’ve always found Herman Melville delightful. (And he had magnificent whiskers. )

Herman Melville

Magnificent, amirite?

I expected it to be about whales, and whaling, and humanity and obsession. I didn’t expect it to be so profoundly concerned with religion: religion as an institution, personal belief, the effects of that belief. I don’t mean I expected it to be devoid of religious reference (unrealistic in 19th century literature, for a number of reasons) but I also didn’t expect overt championing of religious tolerance, and especially not tolerance extended beyond Protestant sects.

I guess it makes a sort of sense if you consider Melville as a product of his time in the context of the Second Great Awakening & the reform movements of the era (his occasional remarks about temperance crack me up), and I suppose it makes me a product of my time & culture that I’m surprised there wasn’t huge American controversy over it–if 21st century American religious groups can get hysterical enough over a fictional boy wizard to burn books, you’d expect homosexual idolaters to cause a moral panic in the 19th. Apparently not; as far as I can tell via some cursory googling, the British censored some of the text for sexual content and sacrilege (and insults to the monarchy lol), but I didn’t find anything similar regarding the US edition; it was largely ignored. Not to worry! It took 150 years, but America managed to ‘catch up’ to the point of banning it, in the form of a Texas school board, wouldn’t you know.

Anyway…

I love this passage (from the end of Chapter 10):

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth—pagans and all included—can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?—to do the will of God—that is worship. And what is the will of God?—to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me—that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world.

What fascinates me is how Ishmael chooses, impeccably, to sin and thereby please his God. That what he does here is to put love for his fellow man above obedience to scripture, and thereby love both God and his fellow man. None of this ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ crap, just love. And it begs the question, is a sin, according to the letter of the law, committed in service of the spirit of that law, still sin?

My surprise might also be colored by recent association with the Godly. I’ve been hanging around some internet Christians of late—not regular people who happen to believe in the Christian God and consider the Bible a good general guide for how to be a decent person, but some capital X Christians, the kind for whom Religion is their primary identity and things like idolatry and false gods are srs bsns. I have a hard time imagining someone with that kind of belief, even 150 years later, in a similar situation choosing love above technical obedience and joining Queequeg in his ritual, or even allowing Queequeg to worship his idol as he will, suspending judgment and without interfering and attempting to ‘save’ him.  (Just in case you were thinking I sit around by myself pondering idolatry. There’s context, people.)

On a side note, a concerned gentleman recently made me aware that I’m unclean, having been contaminated by sex, drugs and rock-and-roll and my flesh corrupted by fornication, and this renders me unfit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  (Also there was something about gay sex, but I stopped listening because I didn’t think that part applied to me.) I’m a little suspicious of the authenticity of his Bible; it’s been a while, and I could be wrong, but I don’t recall that particular book addressing ‘rock-and-roll’ at all, but I thought you should know anyway, in case I’m spiritually contagious.  I promise not to intentionally fornicate you with my impurities, but accidents happen.

Safety first.

A badly written financial self-help book by a now bankrupt guy, who, as best I can tell, made his money peddling financial self-help.

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
  • Teipei, Tao Lin
  • Rule 34, Charles Stross
  • Soon I will be Invincible, Austin Grossman
  • (unpublished manuscript)

Reading Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Nearly gave up on her; hate her latest stuff. Keep trying because I remember how much I enjoyed her earlier work.

Zombie’s good, so far.

Joani Reese’s “The Skull Beneath the Skin”

Father’s Day sucks for me these days. I get it twice; Sweden and the US have it on different days. I think the American one is worse. It proliferates until it’s inescapable.

My dad is dead. Even two years on and counting, it’s still hard as fuck to really think about. When the reality pokes its ugly head up, and it does, I change the channel. Living on another continent, talking to my family infrequently with a year or more between visits, I can, most of the time, pretend like it’s just, you know, been a while since we talked.

But Father’s day, all the people talking about their dads, renders it unavoidable. I considered just shutting the internet off, calling it a day. Hiding. But everything is needles under my skin these days. What’s one more sharp thing?

I knew from the title, “The Skull Beneath the Skin” and the opening line, My father always loved to dance, that I didn’t want to read Joani’s story today. Probably not ever. Even the title reminded me of the last time I saw my dad, his skin translucent and shrunken to the contours of his skull. I tried not to look at Joani’s story. The elephant in the room.

Finally, I said: “Just fucking read it, Frankie. Get it over with.”

There is no happy ending. It’s exactly what I expected. The experience of watching someone you love slowly unbecome, losing them as they lose themselves, piece by piece. My dad died of cancer, Joani’s dad died of Alzheimer’s, yet the experience is much the same. The hospitals. The nursing homes. The confusion and exhaustion and emotional numbness, the submission to dispassionate authority. Joani’s story brought back the white sick feeling, the teary-eyed anger, of the helplessness I felt then.

It’s not something we talk about. Losing people like that. The slow but relentless decline. The hope & the gradual realization that this only ends one way. The fucked up feelings that linger afterward. The things I wish I’d done for my dad then and the choices that turned out to be mistakes and haunt me now, that will always haunt me.

And, in a fucked up way, it made me feel a little better to know Joani’s hurting that way with me.

Read “The Skull Beneath the Skin” by Joani Reese

Tyson Bley’s Drive-Thru Zoo

Straight up, I’ve been a Tyson Bley fangirl ever since I read an extract of Normal Service Will Resume Shortly on decomP and wandered over to his blog at Soapstain. I was super excited when I found out Gobbet Press was putting out an honest-to-god old school paper collection of some of Bley’s poems. Tyson sent me a copy of Drive-Thru Zoo, fondled by his own Cheetos stained appendages.

(I like to imagine he dropped it in a post box while he was walking a dog.)

I read it the day showed up in the mail. It was awesome. I read it again. It’s still awesome. Which makes it hard for me to write about. I get weird and self-conscious when I write about stuff I really like. And explaining Tyson Bley challenges my powers of description on my best days. Double whammy.

What the fuck can I say about reading Tyson Bley?

His poems are the noise which we plumb for signal. The idea that Bley is saying something, maybe something important, rubs up against me like calculus. Among the aborted robot fetuses and gorilla shit, redolent of 4chan and America’s next pop culture, ADD as a Higgs boson and disjointed as a Twitter feed, lurks something profound.

My girlfriend has for a number of years been an Elvis impersonator.
The ghost she puts on every night like a gown, just before bed,
wants her body. One day, it will have it. In bed, it is a species
of ambulance that emits dengue beams and whose sweat smells
like tap water. She has not yet heard its threadbare siren. She thinks
the noise comes from the ants living in the pipes.

from “JEDI SANDALS”

Tyson Bley’s poems are achingly human: confused, random, and beautiful with stabby bits and festering warts and hentai tentacles that make me want to shower like I’ve never been clean.
They smell like the Ewok lunch box I had in the second grade. They’re blocky chunks of animation in Thundercat colors. They’re the sick fascination the first time I saw Goatse.

And they’re funny. Tyson Bley is a funny motherfucker.

There are not many books that make me laugh, but Drive-Thru Zoo is among them.

BALANCE IS KEY

my inner ear is circulating hot earwax as all inner ears must
my balance is not out of kilter
but why is there a squishy sound under my shoe?
it’s unlikely to be Jerry
but it is Jerry
Jerry is the insect I’d welded together from tiny shiny parts
I’d euthanized Jerry because of his unbearable anxiety
I am a human
I am not a prick
I have a heart
I euthanize tiny mechanical insects when they’re in pain
I am not a shit

when I created Jerry, a certain hope became unhinged and
dribbled
through my innards in grains
I’d hoped to create a truly cute being

but why does Jerry make a squishy sound and not a crispy sound
when I step on his little corpse?

Brass tacks, Bley’s like sex or drugs; I can tell you what it’s like for me, but you’re gonna have to read it yourself to really understand the experience. Lay back and enjoy Drive-Thru Zoo for the sticky dadaist mindfuck that it is. The point isn’t to dissect each poem and suck intent from its cracked bones, it’s to enjoy the frottage as the weirdness in Tyson Bley’s panting brain presses up against you in the crowded media train.

(Check out the sweet cover by Matthew Revert, too. Shiny.)


You can find Tyson Bley at Soapstain. AFAIK, Drive-Thru Zoo (Gobbet Press; 2013) is only available via Amazon.

An Indie Writer’s Guide to Picking Up Readers*

(In which I tell you how to seduce me.)

  1. Write awesome stuff. This is purely subjective.

    For me, this means you’ve got wowful style that makes me quivery in my belly and shivery in my knees and a little breathless when I read you.

    It also means that spell-check is your friend and that your promising beginning doesn’t peter out somewhere in the middle, leaving the rest of the story to drag itself along on its forearms like a junkie that’s been hit by a texting soccer mom in an SUV, until finally it manages to roll into a ditch and die (much to everyone’s relief).

    If you can’t, or won’t, edit your own work, get someone else to do it before you start asking readers to pay for it.

  2. You have to pursue me.

    You, the writer, come up to me, the reader, where I’m sitting alone at the bar, swizzling my straw in my Tom Collins and looking bored. I give you the once-over, because, you know, I’m used to writers sidling up to me and whispering blurbs in my ear, then pinching my ass and sliding me a matchbook with their Amazon link written on the inside cover. Right before they slither on to the next reader, playing the numbers.

    If you spend some time with me, make me feel like person, not just another notch in your Kindle list, and you’re not pompous or smarmy or pushing too hard, and I like the twinkle in your eye, I might take your book home to bed. (And if you show me a real good time, I’ll be open to future releases.)

    I’ve got two library cards, and, at a conservative estimate, enough books and magazines (print and e) to keep me occupied for the next ten years. I don’t need anything to read. I have Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf and Tyson Bley and Ibsen and a stack of the New Yorker I still haven’t read; make me want you.

    And if you want to pick up readers, you’re going to have to leave the safety of the writer-sausage-fest and go to where the readers are.

    “But!” you splutter, “Writers are readers too!”

    “Yes,” I say, “But they’re a small subset of all available readers. And most of them are at least as busy as you are trying to get read. They’ve got a backlog of books to read and reviews to post for other writer friends trying to get read. And they’re spoiled for choice. If you were trying to sell sex, would you go looking for clients exclusively among your fellow prostitutes, on the basis that prostitutes like sex too?”

    “Your analogies are starting to weird me out.”

    “Yeah, sorry about that.”

    Forget that you’re there to sell your book. (You’ve already linked it in your profile, anyway, right?) Go ahead, join the Sherlock Holmes fan forum or the Murakami discussion group. Whatever rocks your socks. Let your inner bookworm hang out.

  3. Stop acting like a badly programmed spambot.

    If I’ve friended, followed, or circled you, I already know about your book.

    Read that sentence again. It’s important.

    Just because you caught my eye in the juke joint (see no. 2) and I’ve gone back to your place for a nightcap doesn’t mean you closed the deal. If you go all supercreep and turn into Mister Hands now, I’m still out the door.

    Social media is supposed to be social. That means give and take. Conversation. The web is not a broadcast medium, it’s an interactive one. When your stream is a constant flood of “Read my blog! Buy my book! Like me here! Vote for me there!” it’s a big ol’ turn off.

    And for the love of god, don’t resort to third party software that will emulate you acting like a badly programmed spambot because you’re too lazy to do it manually. I mean Bookbuzzr, specifically. It annoys the fuck out of me. I develop negative feelings about books based solely on the fact that the author has chosen to sully my Twitter feed with Bookbuzzr spam.

  4. Don’t whine about your sales.

    Crying to readers about how nobody is buying your book is a straight-up dick move. It makes me feel weird and uncomfortable, like you’re just looking for a pity read. I e-like you and everything, but the only reason I’m going to buy your book is because I want to read it, and no passive-aggressive bullshit on your part will incline me toward that. And if I am one of those “nobodies” that bought your book, try and guess what mistake I’m not going to make again.

    You can talk about money and the financial realities of indie publishing, but once you start whaling on the guilt button, you’ve gone from keeping it real to sleazy and manipulative.

    Remember this: just because you wrote something doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it.

  5. Be authentic.

    “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

    — Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye

    The reader doesn’t fall in love with the marketer, the spammer, the salesman, or the huckster. The reader falls in love with the writer†, and simply being writer-you is the greatest enticement to reader-me. Authenticity is the foundation of that love affair, and that comes from the writing, whether I encounter it first on the screen of my Nook, or in a post on a blog, a message in a forum, a reading at an open-mike night, or even ink on paper. It’s the enchantment not just of the story, but of an inner life laid open.

    Go find your future readers and start doing what you love. Right in front of them. Some of them will love it too.

*At least this reader.

†Or more accurately, the writer’s work—though sometimes the nuance is lost, and not only to readers; a number of writers also have difficulty with the distinction.


Note: this is the result of a Twitter conversation that made me want to clarify what, exactly, makes me buy a book by an indie writer. (And what tips me the other direction and puts me off an indie writer.)

Oh don’t pretend, ’cause I don’t care: reader punk

#fridayreads

I used to just read. You know, back when I was younger and more naive and didn’t think that people would judge the fuck out of me based on what I read, didn’t read, and most importantly, what I was seen reading.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a place and among people where (outside my own family) reading itself was seen as a little outré. I had a couple friends that read sci-fi and fantasy. One girl, she read romance novels by the bucketload. I tried a few, checked them out from the library before I knew I should be embarrassed being seen with a handful of Harlequins. To the librarian’s credit, she didn’t bat an eyelash. Or when I requested just about every book Harlan Ellison ever wrote through the interlibrary loan system.

That was my literary circle. For a really long time. I’ll tell you some stories someday.

Then I started writing. Restarted. And there are stories about that, too, but not now. The more I write, the deeper down the rabbit hole I go. Somehow I ended up here.

Here being the kind of place where you get shit like the > kill author Indie Lit Community Survey[1]. Up front, I enjoy > kill author, and I love what they’re doing. They say clearly that there’s no subtext intended in the questions. But read the answers. There’s a whole fuckload of subtext being answered. And I applaud every motherfucker who’s owned their social neurosis.

But, seriously, what the fuck, people.

They are books and stories and poems. They are a private act between you and the author, the closest you will ever come to being inside another person’s brain. There is no experience more intimate, more exposed, more vulnerable, than that between writer and reader. And it goes both ways; the reader gets to enter the writer’s mind, but god, the things that happen in there. That is literature.

And it is a mindfuck.

We’re doing surveys on this? Really?

The indie fiction world is so fucking tiny. And so fucking dependent. There is no media machine, just readers. You want people to read your shit, you gotta get them by word of mouth.

Which brings me to what started this thought-train along its inevitable tracks. This is the locomotive, baby.

Spreading the word is not accomplished by being ashamed to talk about what you’re reading, what you enjoy reading.

I can put whatever shit I want up on my Goodreads banner. I can review it in all the right places, comment on all the right blogs. I know what’s hip, who’s overrated, who’s up and coming. I been told, and I can pass for indie, pass for literary. While I’m reading Dan Brown on my Nook.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Not one of those indie-popular authors. Not even Amy Tan or Junot Díaz. Dan motherfuckin’ Brown.

Don’t you fucking judge me, either. You’d never know if I didn’t tell you.

There’s this fear, being among people who are so fucking talented and so fucking smart. I’m afraid they might catch me out. They might realize I’m not smart and I’m not talented. That I’m not one of them. That I’ve got Dan Brown on my Nook.

And here’s the kicker:

There are people that have been indie for, well, eons. Before it had a name. Before it was cool. Way before. The people that laid the groundwork for what has become “indie.” There are people with a surfeit of talent, and by talent, I mean they are some hardworking motherfuckers who are shaping the destiny of independent literature in what is the most revolutionary time for literature since Gutenberg. Those smart, talented motherfuckers I was talking about before. And they are so inclusive and so non-judgmental, they will welcome you with open arms. They don’t care what you read.

Really.

I’ve got this thirty-second rule.

In a new space, new faces, I give myself thirty seconds for the knee-knocking, bladder-weakening social fear. “Omg, what if they don’t like me, is my hair okay, I’m gonna sound stupid, I don’t think I should’ve worn this, does my breath stink?”

Then I turn that shit off. Because I am awesome. Because I am fearless. Because it’s gonna be a shitty party if I spend it hiding in the coatroom.

And at the end of this really long, really rambling, really alcohol-fueled blog post, that’s what I hope you, dear reader, gentle reader, kinda hot reader, will take away.

Read whatever the fuck you want. Comic books, Playboy, Harlequin romances, Dan Brown, Twilight, Dzanc. Whatever you love, own that shit. Celebrate it. Not everything has to be about image and what’s indie (and what’s not).

I’m not gonna judge you.

There aren’t enough of us.


[1] The Indie Lit Community Survey 2011