The Big Bad Book Launch (and other recent events)

My new book, the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, has technically been out for a couple of weeks now, and we’ve had a series of “soft launch” events in that time, but this past week, we held our official launch party here in Tacoma!

So, what follows is a series of photos and some notes from our various events over the past three weeks.


PNBA Tradeshow, Sept. 30

 

 

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We unveiled the book for the first time at the annual tradeshow for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which was held here in Tacoma this year (Tacoma and Portland, OR trade years back and forth). I spent the day giving giant grins and hugs to literary friends like Ali Shaw, of Indigo Editing (the company we hired to edit my book) and Laura Stanfill, of Forest Avenue Press.


Creative Colloquy Crawl, Oct. 2

 

 

My first post-publication reading from the book was at the fourth annual Creative Colloquy Crawl, a literary pub crawl through downtown Tacoma. Following a couple of other events at nearby King’s Books and the Harmon Taproom, I joined poet (and my publisher) Christina Butcher and memoirist Terrell Fox at Doyle’s Pub for some war literature. I read from the opening story, which follows brothers Pedro and Hernando Jimenez after their brief and disastrous participation in the borderland Cortina Troubles of 1859.


Tacoma Studio Tour, Oct. 14

 

 

Last weekend, I joined Blue Cactus Press and a collection of artists at the Real Art Tacoma studio for a reading, open-mic, and chapbook workshop! The latter part was tremendous fun, as Christina Butcher taught folks how to construct their own hand-bound chapbooks. Most of us — myself included, were just sewing together blank books, but local poet Lux Barker brought the last unbound copy of their own first chapbook and put a cover on that beautiful manuscript! (The original run of their chapbook, There Must Be More Than This, was ultra-limited, but you can still buy an ebook version of it from Blue Cactus Press.)

Between chapbook-bindings, we also held a reading and open-mic, where I joined poets Lux Barker, Alissa Tu, and Abby E. Murray for a fun and rowdy reading punctuated by open-mic poets and even a stand-up set!

And yes, I made a blank chapbook. 🙂

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THE BOOK LAUNCH, Oct. 17

Finally, on Wednesday, I joined author DL Fowler (we call him Larry) at Tacoma’s Manifesto Coffee for a joint launch of our books, my story collection and Larry’s collection of “poems and proems” (his description), Bittersweet.

 

 

We began the evening with a short talk from representatives of Centro Latino, a nonprofit in Tacoma working to support Latinx and indigenous communities. Fowler and I donated a portion of all our book sales to Centro Latino to help them in their important and necessary work.

 

 

 

 

After Larry and I read from our books, we did a short Q&A and then spent a little time mingling with the audience and chatting with folks.

 

 

Then the three of us — Christina, Larry, and I — sat down for a couple of group photos. One serious, the other . . . not so serious. 🙂

 

 


And there’s more to come!

If you feel like you missed out on all the fun these past few weeks, not to worry! I’ll be down in Olympia, WA, twice this coming week:

And even if you have been some some of these events, I make it a point to offer new material at every outing, so you should come out again anyway. Hope to see folks there!

Go Ahead and Worship Them . . .

TINOWtWT front coverIt’s my book’s birthday!

Today is the official release date for There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, my new story collection from Blue Cactus Press.

Which means you can order it online now, direct from my publisher, through Barnes & Noble, or via that behemoth that made Jeff Bezos obscenely rich. But if you’re like me and you love giving your business to your local, independent bookstores, I would be thrilled if you asked your local bookseller to order copies for you!

Here in Tacoma, I know it will be on the shelves at King’s Books and The Nearsighted Narwhal, and we plan to have it in Broswers Books and Orca Books in Olympia, WA. I was also at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual tradeshow yesterday, where my publisher talked to reps from several other PNW bookstores, so if you’re in this area, keep an eye out and/or help spread the word!

Now that the book is officially born into the world, that also means I’m gearing up for a book tour! You can keep tabs on where I’ll be on my Events page here, but just to give you an overview, here’s my itinerary for the next few weeks:

  • Oct. 2: Creative Colloquy Crawl — The whole event occurs around downtown Tacoma from 6-9 pm; I’ll be one of three readers as part of this three-hour, multivenue literary event! My gig: Doyle’s Pub, Tacoma, 8-9 pm
  • Oct. 14: Tacoma Studio Tour — This is another multi-venue event; I’ll be a featured author, alongside poets Lux Barker and Alyssa Tu and writer Abbey Murray, during a reading and open-mic session. Blue Cactus Press and the youth writing community Write253 will also be creating and producing chapbooks live on-site from 11am-3pm, so come hang out! My gig: Real Art Tacoma, 3-4:30 pm
  • Oct. 17: BOOK LAUNCH — My friend and fellow author DL Fowler will be holding a dual book launch. His is a mixed-genre collection of poetry and essays, and we’ll be reading from our books, but the real treat will be the Q&A. I’ve done a few events with Fowler before, and that man is fascinating to listen to during audience discussions! My gig: Manifesto Coffee, Tacoma, 7-9 pm

I’ve also been in talks with some other indie bookstores around the Pacific Northwest for events later in October and throughout the fall. And if you’re in the area and want me to visit your bookstore or library or school, please let me know! You can contact me or Blue Cactus Press at BlueCactusPress@gmail.com.

I’ll also be hovering around the internet in the coming months, with podcasts and interviews and blog posts. And the same deal applies there: if you run a podcast or a blog and want to chat with me, please contact me or Blue Cactus Press at BlueCactusPress@gmail.com.

In the meantime, order a copy of There Is No Other Way to Worship Them and/or help spread the word!

And if you get the chance to light some candles, eat a piece of cake, and/or drink some tequila or whisk(e)y in celebration of my book’s birthday, well, here’s to you!

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#AmWriting — off the screen, onto the page

Writing is hard work.

That probably won’t surprise anyone reading this blog post, but it constantly surprises me.

Take my current novel project: I started the first draft of it back in 2013. It was my NaNoWriMo project that year, and while I had a pretty strong idea of what the book would be, I had no idea how to write it, and I only managed about 36,000 words before the clock ran out on NaNoWriMo.

I kept plugging away at it, though, adding another 4,000 words, but eventually I trashed all 40,000 words of that first draft to come at the book from a completely different perspective. By the time I took the second draft to workshop at the 2015 Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I’d pulled together nearly 80,000 new words. And that workshop went great, with some strong feedback on the work so far.

But the feedback also showed me that I was writing a different novel than I had thought, so come NaNoWriMo 2016, I trashed the second and third drafts and wrote a fourth.

By then, I’d been through this story a few times and knew the characters and the most significant plot points quite well, and for the fourth draft, I finally had an outline — a vision for where the book needed to go — so I raced through November 2016 and wound up with 60,000 brand new words. Things were going great!

But NaNoWriMo is a rushed, messy process, and when I started reviewing what I’d written, I realized what a spaghetti bowl I’d created. Threads all over the place, many of them leading nowhere and many others contradicting each other. I knew to straighten it all out, I’d need to break the whole thing down and get my notes in order. So I set to work.

And in the meantime, I was teaching, and tutoring, and editing. I also revised and finished a novella and pulled together a new story collection — There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, which should hit shelves in a couple of months! — and I even (stupidly) started yet another novel.

So, as you can imagine, I had a lot to distract me from straightening out my book, and the more I worked on it, the more new ideas I turned up, taking notes in my notebook and on my phone and on my laptop. And I was still doing research along the way, checking maps and reading more background material.

All of that became hard to keep track of, so I set about transcribing everything — and I mean EVERYTHING — into my Scrivener program. And that’s when I realized how huge this project had become. What started five years ago as a 36,000-word draft had evolved into a massive collection of notes, character sketches, outlines, scenes, and chapters totaling nearly 160,000 words. The whole document is so large that even with notecards or outlines in Scrivener, I can’t see the whole book at once in a way that lets me wrap my head around the whole story.

20180822_152455And in my Aeon timeline app, I have the same problem: I have so many plot points across such a long time frame that I can’t see the whole scope of the story on one screen, even when I zoom all the way out.

 

So I’ve printed out my whole timeline, across several sheets of paper, and taped it together into one long outline. And I’ve collated all my notes into sections (plot points, scenes, character backgrounds, chapters, ideas, reference material) and printed all that out as well. All 360 pages of it.

 

 

This way, I can spread the whole book out on the floor and begin rearranging the elements, matching scenes to plot points, character backgrounds to chapters, reference materials to the ideas they generated. And from there, I can match everything to the overall timeline and my narrative outline, and then — back on my laptop — I can bring all those rearranged notes back together into what will become the first nearly-complete draft of the novel.

I’ll still have a lot of work to do filling in gaps and writing connective material to make the story work as story. But for the first time in five years, I’ll be able to see the gaps — I’ll know what is left to write and how everything is connected and where the whole story is going to wind up.

This is not at all how I wrote Hagridden (which, by the way, is FREE on Kindle today). It’s also not how I wrote my new book, There Is No Other Way to Worship Them — though there are some similarities in terms of making connections and arranging the overall narrative(s). But this book is different.

As it should be.

There are a lot of “truisms” in craft lingo, like write what you know or write every day, that I don’t put too much stock in. But I am definitely living by the axiom that with each new book, you have to learn how to write all over again.

Which makes for a lot of surprises, a lot of reconfiguring and reworking and relearning — a lot of hard work.

Which is one of the things I love about writing.

Cover reveal for There Is No Other Way to Worship Them

We have a cover!

In case you missed the announcements yesterday (on the Blue Cactus Press site, on Facebook, and on Twitter), the cover for There Is No Other Way to Worship Them is now an official thing.

(Back cover on the left, front cover on the right, as you’d see it if you flattened the book)

As I wrote a while back, the artwork on the front and back covers is by tattooist and painter Evie Yapelli, aka Show Pigeon. And it is stunning!

But the design for the book (the title, the blurbs, the Blue Cactus Press logo, the arrangement on the page) is brand new. And I’ve been fortunate, y’all! Most authors don’t have much say over cover designs, and that’s largely as it should be — leave the design work to the experts, I say, and while I dabble in design myself, I’m no pro. I’ll do the writing and leave the rest to people who do this for a living. But in this case, Blue Cactus Press and I have spent the past few weeks kicking the design back and forth, so I’ve had an exceptional amount in input on it! Not that I did much; the only major feedback I offered was on font color (from a colorblind perspective) and blurb placement, but otherwise I just nodded in approval because this design was wonderful even in its rough-draft stages!

In related news:

If you want to be among the first people to read There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, check out this post from Blue Cactus Press about securing an ARC (advance review copy). They’re planning to send out around 20 copies, in print or as an ebook (your choice!), so if you want to publish an honest review of the book, jump now while the ARCs are still available.

Also, I’ve been updating my Events page lately. The closest two events are later this fall — an appearance at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association at the end of September, and an event in the Tacoma Studio Tour in mid-October. I’ve also committed to a couple of readings at AWP in Portland next spring, which I’ll add to the calendar once I have more details. I’ll also be adding more events as Blue Cactus Press and I begin to arrange my book tour (and if you’d like to invite me to read near you, feel free to contact me or Blue Cactus Press for details!). But for now, know that you can keep tabs on my upcoming appearances on my Events page.

Author photo outtakes! (aka: “The One With All the Props”)

A few weeks ago, I shared some of the photos from my Blue Cactus Press photo session. And no photo session is complete without a whole bundle of ridiculous outtakes. And when people are taking photos of me, not all the outtakes are accidental — I come from a long line of goofballs and I have a hard time taking any photo session entirely seriously.

But, first, the accidents:

 

And then I made “jazz hands” and cracked myself up.

But I wasn’t done! As I wrote in my earlier post, I had explained to my wife that I wanted to look like “a guy who writes books. And isn’t always a total douche.” That sparked a conversation about what a “douchey” author photo would look like, and my wife and I started compiling a whole list of pretentious, absurd characteristics, including the “author props” we would need. And Christina Butcher, my publisher and this session’s photographer, was gracious enough to let us play.

We began with my walking stick, a lovely new one I picked up in Tacoma recently. It has an intricately carved shaft and a brass elephant for the head. I bought it because the elephant reminded me of the three wooden elephants (two from Africa and one from India) that I inherited from my ship-captain grandfather.

But, much as I like the walking stick, it really has no purpose in this photo session, which is why I had so much fun vamping with it and then — in true “douchey author” style, leaning it against the wall, completely useless but still deliberately in the frame.

 

And then I got REALLY silly.

 

We also pulled the “gazing into the distance” photo, as well as a couple of “pensively reading my own notebook” poses.

 

I wasn’t alone in goofing around, of course. Not only did my wife suggest many of these silly poses, she also (accidentally) got in on the action — she’d been wearing my hat just for a place to keep it, but when she walked over to help me with my cuffs, I stole the hat back from her, and Christina — bless her! — kept the shutter clicking!

 

So, just to repeat something I wrote in my last post: when taking author photos, if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. 🙂

Author photo session

As I continue to work with Blue Cactus Press on the publication of my forthcoming story collection, There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, we decided I needed updated author pix. So I consulted with my stylist (my wife, Jennifer) and Christina Butcher, the publisher behind BCP and also our photographer. And then, a few weeks ago, we all headed into downtown Tacoma for a photo session.

When my first novel, Hagridden, came out a few years back, Jennifer took my pix and they turned out so good that we went ahead and used them. Which is to say, this more recent set of photos with Blue Cactus Press was my first “official” author photo session, so I wanted to share a few thoughts on the process.

I also asked Jennifer and Christina to chime in from their perspectives as stylist and photographer, respectively, which I’ve set apart with “Jennifer says” and “Christina says” quote boxes.

For starters, the clothes. Because I’m color-blind and because my wife is so naturally stylish, I started by asking her about my outfit. She, in turn, asked what I wanted to project in my pictures.

Jennifer says:
It’s important that you’re involved in the process. It should represent who you are, and you should feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, because comfort is one of the most important elements.

I said, “I don’t know. Ease? I want my pics to say, ‘Here is a guy who writes books. And isn’t always a total douche.'” (More on that last note in my next post!)

So, we started with a combination of casual comfort and writerly professionalism, which basically meant blue jeans and a blazer.

Jennifer says:
I was trying to think of colors that would look good with the backdrop — gray and greenish tones. I didn’t want anything too overwhelmingly patterned, because I wanted the focus to be on you. So I thought a focus on texture would be better to add visual interest to the photos. And I wanted whatever you would wear to look timeless and classic.

I brought out five possible outfits, different shirt and jacket combinations, and then you gave me feedback, and that’s what led to the final outfit.

We opted for my most casual blazer, a soft, vintage green corduroy, and a dark pair of jeans. We sorted through a variety of shirts, but ultimately we settled for a casual gray chambray and, just to add a bit of panache, I selected my brown brogues and a gray fedora with a brown hatband.

Jennifer says:
We added the hat for variety, and because you like to wear that style of hat. It’s very you.

All of which was perfectly comfortable for me, because once the outfit came together, I realized I’d worn nearly the identical outfit to teach my poetry and literature classes the week before.

For the location, I again relied on the eye of my wife, who picked out a few local spots around Tacoma. We settled on an ivy-covered wall downtown, near the museum row, and we tried a variety of poses along leafier and barer portions of the wall.

Christina says:
I look for backdrops with vibrant pops of color, like murals, graphic art or unruly greenery. As an introverted author myself, I know it’s tempting to try to blend into the background whenever possible, but I enjoy photographing people in places that highlight and enhance both their own beauty, color and grit, as well as that of their surroundings.

One thing that we found both challenging and interesting was the varying light. The day was supposed to be overcast — ideal lighting for a photo session — but as is typical in the Pacific Northwest in spring, the weather was fickle and the sun decided to make a surprise appearance, ducking in and out of cloud-cover during the session. You can see the difference in the first three photos (in full sun, up top) and the second two (in cloud-cover, above).

Not that the lighting was much of a problem. Christina has a great set of photography gear and made all sorts of adjustments:

Christina says:
Always have a fully charged, second battery with you. Always.

Use as much natural light as possible.

Take photos in a high resolution. You can always crop and reduce an image, but trying to enlarge one with low resolution later on will leave you disappointed.

We also took some photos without the hat, including some close-up shots. I’d worn a hat in my first author photo, mostly because I like to wear hats, which is why we brought one along this time, too. But I figured I’d try some photos without the hat just to shake things up.

During the session, I would shift posture occasionally, trying different poses but mostly just trying to keep loose and candid. Once in a while, Jennifer would step in to suggest alternate poses or to adjust a bit of my clothing.

Jennifer says:
Poses are hard because it’s like, what do you do with your hands? You want to look natural, but also not awkward, so you need to do something with your hands. Putting one hand in your pocket still looks pretty natural, for example.

With the poses, you want to feel natural, which is counterintuitive when you’re literally posing for photos. So I spent a lot of time talking off-camera just to help create a more natural vibe, a conversation, so everyone felt more relaxed and to help bring out your natural warmth.

And the whole time, Christina just kept clicking the shutter. This is a classic mode of photography — to take as many photos as you can so you can be sure to capture those one or two magic shots — and it’s made all the easier with digital photography. I think Christina must have taken a couple hundred photos, and we were only out there for maybe 20 minutes.

Christina says:
I LOVED photographing Sam, especially because he came with a stylist. 😉 Jennifer Snoek-Brown (Sam’s wife and librarian) has a great eye for fashion and she and Sam already had a clear idea of what they wanted Sam’s photos to convey. Couple that with the cool props and accessories they brought and that they didn’t take things too seriously (this is important), it was delightful.

Speaking of adjusting my clothes: it’s hard to remember to suck in one’s stomach during these things, and eventually I just gave up. I look how I look, and I look like I eat a lot of bread and cheese and I enjoy the occasional whisky, both of which are true. But all that shifting and turning for different postures and camera angles makes for constantly shifting clothes, which is why it was nice to have someone “on set” to keep an eye on shirt wrinkles and flipped collars. Jennifer also reminded me several times not to squint so much — I’m a very squinty-eyed smiler to begin with, and as you can see from my wife’s (very cool vintage) sunglasses, that sun did get rather bright sometimes. So pro-tip: bring your stylist along! The photographer is going to be focused on the camera, so you want someone else to help with your wardrobe malfunctions.

Jennifer says: 
My job was to loosen you up. And I also was making sure of the little details — is your collar flipped up? is your sleeve straight? And I was in charge of switching out the props.

Of course, trust your photographer, too. Christina is a pro and had tons of great tips for prepping for a photo session:

Christina says:
If at all possible, try to ensure the person you’re photographing is comfortable with the tone/style of the images. Don’t ask someone to smile if it’s clear they want to appear fierce. Don’t tell someone who’s already smiling and laughing to tone it down.

Also, bring layered clothing and accessories. Hats, jackets and maybe a second top to change into are great ways to bring variety into the session.

You just want to make sure those “props” are authentic. Or, I did, and my stylist-wife wanted the same thing:

Jennifer says:
We obviously brought props for a lot of options, including goofy outtakes, but they were sincere props, like the journal you actually write in or a hat you normally wear. So even though we could make the props look ridiculous when piled into the photo all together, they are actually things you use in your regular life.

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So, that was my first “official” photo session for author photos. And it was loads of fun, which, ultimately, I think is probably the most important tip. Enjoy it. It’s a lot like writing, really. Yeah, you’re trying to convey something to an audience, and yeah, behind the scenes it can feel like a lot of hard work, but if you’re not having fun, you’re missing the point!

Besides, we all know how ridiculous those over-posed “serious” author photos can look — which is why Jennifer and Christina and I had an absolute BALL taking fake “poseur” photos, too! And stay tuned, gang, because you know I’m going to share those in a future post! 🙂

Cover art reveal for my new book of stories

Gang, Blue Cactus Press and I are trucking along on the production of my next book, the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them. And ICYMI, this past week we revealed the cover art!

The cover design is still under construction, but the artwork going on the front and back covers is simply stunning, and I’m utterly in love with it. Both pieces are original work, done specifically for Blue Cactus Press and my book, by tattooist and painter Evie Yapelli, aka Show Pigeon!

Here’s the artwork we’re using on the front:

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Front cover art by Show Pigeon (aka Evie Yapelli)

And here’s the artwork we’re using on the back cover:

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Back cover art by Show Pigeon (aka Evie Yapelli)

I think the coolest thing — apart from the artwork itself — is that Show Pigeon consulted with us on the book, reading the manuscript and asking me about my intentions with the stories before designing these custom paintings of a shadow-dog and a yucca plant. (Wanna know why those two images? Read the book! Or stay tuned for future interviews, blog tour posts, and my public appearances where you can ask me in person!

Show PigeonAnd while you’re out and about and thinking about my book, keep an eye out for Show Pigeon. She’s based in California, but she’ll be in Portland, Oregon, from June 28 – June 30 at Icon Tattoo. (She’s booked for appointments on 28/29, but she’ll be taking walk-ins on June 30.)

The Jersey Devil celebrates 100!

JDP cover April 2018Today, I had the distinct privilege to launch the ONE-HUNDREDTH ISSUE of Jersey Devil Press!

Break out your Kool and the Gang, y’all, because it’s Celebration Time!

This milestone issue contains poetry from from Matthew Byrne and C. G. Thompson and fiction from John Gabriel Adkins, Carolyn A. Drake, Kimberly Kaufman, and Alyn Spector. We’ve also got gorgeous cover art from Kerry Cole. 

Enjoy it, y’all. It’s a beautiful, heartful, tearful, wonderful issue. 🙂

A sneak peak of my new book from Blue Cactus Press

I don’t know how many of you are sitting around on tenterhooks waiting for updates about my new book, but if that’s you, I have good news!

Blue Cactus Press has put together a short video in which I talk about my writing process, offer some background on the new book, and give you some glimpses of me working in my study. (It was actually fairly tidy! I straightened up just for you, gang. You’re welcome.)

Like what you see? Spread the word, gang!

New publication

You know the old saying, right?

Sing like the angels are listening.
Feel so hard it hurts.
Dance your way into the shadows,
and murder like it’s heaven on earth.

pexels-photo-101710.jpegWhich is to say, I have a new short story online today. It’s called “Godsend,” and yeah, it’s about singing, and beauty, and angels, and murder. 🙂

Thrilled to join the authors at Typewriters and Salve — there are some fabulous writers over there! And now there’s also me.

Read it online here.

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