Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tales from The House of Hot Beverage

At The House of Hot Beverage, my roommate Larry and I had a room in the back wherewe'd entirely covered the walls with butcher paper.  There were two small, mismatched couches sitting in the shape of an L and by the legs of one of them was a basket. In this basket were an assortment of chalks, crayons, colored pencils, and every type of marker conceivable:  standard office supply black markers, highlighters, a rainbow of Sharpies, black light markers… we even had 3D markers and the glasses with which to view them.  I stood against one wall with my arms spread wide and had Larry trace around my body.  Then I used the outline to create a lifesize self portrait of me crucified upon a cross.  Above the door I’d done a landscape with gently rolling hills rising above a forest;  a mushroom cloud billowed in the background with it’s fireball streaked with 3D oranges, yellows, and reds.  Toy soldiers were lined atop the door frame and with the 3D glasses and strobe light on, it actually looked as though the entire scene was flickering with distant fires.  The rest of the room was covered with jotted bits of prose, scraps of poetry, drawings, scientific formulas, spiritual symbols, and just about anything else you can think of.  If it was your first time visiting what we referred to as The Drawing Room, you were expected and encouraged  to add something to these walls.

It was in this room that Larry, his girlfriend Erin, and I dropped acid.  We added to the wall for a bit, but after awhile it all became a bit too much.  My crucified self seemed to accuse with his unblinking stare and I could have sworn some snippets of rogue poetry were shifting positions when I wasn’t looking.  So we took the chalk and went elsewhere.  Of the nine couches within The House of Hot Beverage, two of them were positioned on the front porch.  Sometimes we’d sit there and watch speeding cars approach a curve that was as deceiving as it was dangerously sharp.  We’d then rate them on scorecards like a pair of Olympic judges as condensation beaded on our beers.  On this night however, we began drawing on the porch with the aforementioned chalk.  The screen door suddenly had a decorative border and the banisters were coiled with two dimensional serpents which bled over onto the sidewalk,  Drawing out way up the walkway, we hit the main road and scribbled all the way to Sean and Mary’s house.  They’d already settled down for the evening and declined the offer of joining our chalk festival, so we sketched our way back to our place.

At some point, Larry and Erin went inside, leaving me to my own devices.   Finding an unmolested patch of floor, I sat down on the porch and began drawing a Tibetan mandala.  I took my time with it, ensuring that every line was as precise as it could be when drawn with chunky, colored chalk;  concentric circles and squares, interlocking geometric patterns which seemed to grow ever smaller, eventually disappearing in the corridors of infinity.   It felt like I spent hours pouring my soul into this ridiculously complex drawing and during that time, thunderstorms had rolled across the valley.  As I stood, admiring my handiwork, the first fat drops of rain began splattering on the roof and ground.  Within minutes the tentative rain grew confident and gathered muster while booming thunder echoed back and forth between the hills like a battle roar.  The darkened sky flickered electric blue and sheets of rain cut through the night with diagonal slashes.  Water quickly pooled on the porch floor and I saw this drawing I’d worked so hard on washed away by forces of nature.

"There’s gotta be a lesson there somewhere."  I thought.  Then I went back inside The House of Hot Beverage, nodded at the Dead Kennedys poster in our living room, and sat down at my word processor to write.  That’s kind of the way it was there.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Undead Press & Anthony G: My take

A few years back, I released a collection of short stories called Sex in the Time of Zombies as a free download to help promote my other work.  Overall, the collection was a success:  it drove people to my website, garnered favorable reviews, increased sales, and introduced me to thousands of readers around the globe.  Around the time when downloads of the collection had died down a bit, I was contacted by Anthony Giagregorio who wanted to publish a print version through Living Dead Press.  Yes, that Anthony Giagregorio.  If you don’t understand what I mean by that statement, then you’ve obviously been sequestered from the firestorm burning through the indie author community over the last couple days.  It’s not my intent to rehash everything that’s transpired, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google Tony’s name and/or Undead Press to get brought up to speed.

Like the other authors coming forward, I also never received galleys for the finished product.  There were changes made to the stories in the collection that I would have argued against until I was blue in the face, but they weren’t nearly as dramatic as the incidents being reported by other authors.  Most of the changes may have seemed inconsequential to most:  changing a whispered bit of dialogue to something that was shouted, replacing the word courage with strength … that sort of thing.  But to me, those words were important.  They were stylistic decisions I’d made when drafting the stories, specifically chosen to add a little something to the atmosphere and character development.  While I was less than thrilled with the revisions, I chalked it up as a learning experience.  After all, I had signed a contract giving them the right to edit the collection. (In the spirit of fairness, however, I should mention that there were a few changes that I actually did agree with and which we’d discussed over the phone.  Tony, for example, was the first person to point out I overused the word that.    Now, every time I write I reread the sentence to see if it still makes sense with that taken out.  If it does, I strike it and move on.)

That being said, I want to go on record as stating that Mandy DeGeit and the other authors have my full support in this controversy.  Regardless of whether Tony was within his legal rights to do what he did to their stories, there is no excuse for the way he treated them in the resulting fallout.  If he truly believed he did no wrong, he could have made the exact same points in a tactful manner instead of belittling and mocking someone who was simply trying to get her story published.  

While I deeply love the stories and characters contained within Sex in the Time of Zombies, I am just as deeply embarrassed to have them represented by a press which has so little regard for professionalism and common decency.   What Tony needs to remember is that authors are just as important to the success of a press as readers;  regardless of whether that author is submitting a novel or a short story for inclusion in an anthology, they thought enough of that imprint to want their work placed there.  To degrade and humiliate them when concerns are expressed is not only unconscionable, but also the height of arrogance.  Show a little appreciation.  Show a little modesty.