POST FEST REFLECTIVE DISORDER
After my pre-Fest networking spree, Jazz Fest itself kept me busy for the next three weeks (as hopefully you’ve already read!) dancing, blogging, eating, and, well, not really drinking—I only imbibed one of my seven days, finding I had more energy and could avoid the long portalet lines. Seven days of Jazz Fest was wonderful but definitely sensory overload, which in turn set off this period of reflection.
Not that that’s a bad thing. During this lull, in addition to a short respite in Florida, I’ve found a fabulous apartment on Decatur Street, caught up on the blog and other writing, explored Uptown like a local, and connected with a group of local writers.
A WRITER FRIEND OF A WRITER FRIEND OF A WRITER FRIEND
I’ve frequently mentioned my friend, Chris Tusa, who teaches at LSU and has written an excellent debut novel set in New Orleans, Dirty Little Angels (love that title!!!). During Mardi Gras I met a fellow writer and LSU professor, Daren Dean, through Chris, who a couple of weeks ago invited me to two readings he organized for his grad school friend, Eli Hastings. Eli was in town from Seattle visiting his brother and Daren was helping to stir up a little local publicity for his recently published a memoir, Clearly Now, The Rain.
first reading was on a Sunday afternoon at the Maple Leaf. It was a lovely spring day under the canopy of trees in the courtyard and the sunny, mild weather contrasted sharply with Eli’s dark, chilling prose exploring a close friend’s losing battle with mental health issues and heroin addiction. Afterwards we retired to his brother’s house to grill on his back deck and discuss the woes of publishing.
Most everyone there had a published book, yet based on their experiences this was not deliverance or triumph but rather the beginning of the next slow and frustrating phase. The gist of the evening’s conversation was that publishers don’t promote writers—you have to do that one your own—and good luck getting local book stores and libraries to embrace you. Tusa can’t even get his acclaimed New Orleans novel in local bookstores because they feel it isn’t a ‘positive portrayal’ of New Orleans. (Cause God knows there isn’t a seedy underbelly to New Orleans, this most-Mormon of cities!) Eli had contacted about every book store in town for a reading but had been turned away.
NEW PUBLISHING PARADIGMS & FANTASY FOOTBALL FAILURE
When I shared that I’m thinking of self-publishing I was encouraged to seek a small press instead, but the talk on the deck that night did little to convince me of traditional publishing’s merit. There has always been a stigma against self-publishing, though with the advent of the internet this is slowly changing. The powers that be want to remain the gatekeepers, yet we now live in an age where you don’t have to go groveling to ‘the man’ to get your voice heard. Yes, it is hard to be heard amongst the self-published masses and there’s a lot of crap out there, but you can only hope that, with effort good work will find a niche. Either way it sounds like I’m going to have to promote my own work, yet at least this way I retain my rights (and royalties). It’s the same logic that led me to blogging. Today you have the ability to get your writing out there and let the public, not a book or magazine editor, decide. You don’t need validation from some corporate entity to find any audience anymore. Then again, I’ve been wrong before. I sure hope I know about the future of publishing as opposed to athletics, based on my fantasy football teams!
Of course, I have researched the topic and like everything else in life, half the people say self-publishing is a dead end and career killer; the other half say it’s a wonder experience and the wave of the future. Well that helps!
NOW THAT’S A LOT OF DATA!
The following Wednesday we gathered for a second reading at The Rusty Nail. Tonight, though, before Eli read again Daren shared a story that was a finalist for a prestigious award, Tusa read several published short stories (one culminating in a man pressing his scrotum against the microwave in an effort to thwart his wife’s ambitions of procreation!), and Margaux Fragoso, another transplanted author, read from her brave and controversial memoir, Tiger, Tiger, detailing years of sexual abuse by a trusted family ‘friend.’
After a decade and a half removed from academia it was pleasant to sit around a table over beers and discuss art and politics in depths that would drive most people away screaming, especially since this crowd is devoid the haughty arrogance that eventually drove me screaming from academia. Still, chatting these writers in search of an audience was another reality check. I recently read that Google indexes more data in two hours than the entire human race produced since crawling from the ocean/fleeing the Garden of Eden up to 2003. There are literally billions of voices crying out to be heard and only a select few will ever rise about this massive chorus.
PASSING THE PLATE AT A SOUP KITCHEN AND COFFEE CAUSED C.L.A.M.ITIES
Perhaps, then, my period of reflection was set off by the twinge of sadness I felt leaving that reading. All these talented writers were there to share their work, but the only people who showed up were other broke-ass writers. It’s like passing the collection plate at a soup kitchen!
As I drove back to Florida a few days later my imagination was racing after five cups of coffee and, by way of solution, I came up with a grand scheme for a collaborative festival combining local musicians, writers, and artists. For sustenance we could even invite the beleaguered food trucks who the city is currently targeting for whatever ass backward logic drives local government. After recruiting a venue like Tipatina’s or Public House, we would have artists decorate the stage with their work—maybe even dress up uber-adventurous musicians or paint one of their guitar for auction—and then writers could read between sets (maybe even during a few brief pauses during the show). My spiraling imagination even came up with a name for the event: The New Orleans C.L.A.M. Bake (Cuisine, Literature, Art, & Music!)
Alas, by the time I got to Florida my coffee buzz had worn off and it all seemed coffee fueled delirium.
ENUFF WITH THIS PENSIVE CRAP!!!
And thus began the period of reflection that ends here. Tomorrow I’m moving into the French Quarter to live the dream, so reality be damned. Let the fun resume. As I’ve said multiple times: If this adventure is a failure, it’s going to be the ‘funnest’ failure in human history!