Monthly Archives: March 2007

Shout-Out For Artists (and other angst)

In a moment, the shout-out for illustrators will be made clear but first let me explain. I captured the above picture with my cellphone while I was substitute teaching in an 8th grade technology class last week. I stared at it for eight hours. It was huge, probably 10’x10′ and was pretty much taunting me all day because subbing has to be one of the most boring yet at the same time most taxing jobs on the planet. Every day you’re in a new school or at the very least a new classroom at the same school with a whole new batch of kids and they always want to know if you’re from Jamaica and if it hurt to get the tattoos and if the tattoos are real and if the dreadlocks are real and if you are in a rockband and all of them profess a deep-seated hatred of reading–not a good indication that the future of books is anything close to assured. So I’m staring at that giant cockpit photo and even though I have a nearly parlyzing fear of flying, it was a taunting motherfucker of a picture, let me tell you. It symbolized everything I was thinking, how I just wanted to get the hell out of that room, out of that school, go home and write. I NEED to write. I need to get these things out of me otherwise they eat at me. It’s a madness of sorts, nee an addiction. But better than crack and less of a comedown at that.

So why, you ask, is such a stellar example of contemporary writing (tongue in cheek–don’t get all bent out of shape at my blatant hubris) working in such a mind-numbing job, why is he putting himself in these positions? The answer can be seen in the above photograph. See how there’s a truck (it’s not pink it’s (faded) purple!) parked in that idyllic yard? That’s my back yard. It’s the nicest plot of land I’ve ever in my entire life lived on. There’s close to an acre there with all kinds of trees and it’s all fenced in and has a firepit and a giant playset with treehouse for my two kids. I, like many of you I’m sure, want to give my kids a better life than I had. I want them to have stability and a fat fucking yard to play in. Not to spoil them or anything like that but to instill memories of how their childhood wasn’t too bad, maybe even pretty good. And of course, it costs money to maintain something like this magnificent yard. And I’m not talking about any fancy landscaping. I’m talking about paying the mortgage (also the first house, at 33 yrs. old, that I’ve ever owned). Every month like a visit from a Jehovah’s Witness another bill comes through and every month there’s a scramble to come up with the cash to make sure this yard stays my kids’ yard for another month. I have to be honest, I am very despondent over what has happened (or rather, NOT happened) with futureproof. Even after the Needle Award nomination and other great breaks I got with this book, not the least of which was so many of you who have shown great enthusiasm about the book, I never got a book deal or even a solid offer for representation from a reputable agent. That’s three years of work, 3 years of writing and pounding the pavement to get noticed in a glutted market–down the drain. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting on something somewhat big happening with this book. Now I feel like I’m back at square one and fighting a hell of a depression to keep moving forward. I’m not asking for pity, so don’t take this as such–we all have our own issues, I’m no different–but I want to make it clear that being a person who feels driven to create in a culture dominated by corporate interests and the bottom line (re: how much money can be made over all other considerations) is, to put it bluntly, a giant pain in the ass. Sometimes it feels like a curse. I’m pretty sure that it’s alot easier to be happy when you aren’t chasing dragons. But still, probably against my own best interests, I press on with this writing thing. Because there’s really no choice but to. It has to continue, if for no other reason than sanity’s sake.

The above picture was taken with my cellphone at a stoplight next to a chick-fil-a. It was nearly dark and this vintage Ford or Chrysler pulled up next to me with a surfboard on the rack. I live in Atlanta, at least a three hour drive from any beach, and many more hours than that from any beach that would offer any wave worth a surf. Point is, the surfboard was on top of that car for aesthetic reasons only. It was part of the mystique and badassness of the car. And it gave me an idea. Bear with me here on the tenuous connection here, because it is most definitely more along the lines of random association or whatever that’s called when somebody gives you a word and you tell them the first thing that pops into your head. Anyway, the surfboard gave me an idea.

As anyone knows who’s read futureproof, there are a few illustrations/pictures within its pages. But the surfboard made me realize that I should take that aesthetic to the next level with this as-yet-untitled ‘sequel’ to futureproof. (HERE’S THE ARTIST PART) One of the main goals I had for my book when I wrote it was that it would directly appeal to a younger demographic than that which is generally associated with the book-reading populace. There are so many other distractions, competing forms of media that offer more immediate gratification than sitting down and looking at page upon page of words words words. So here’s what I’d like to do. I’m sending a call out for TEN (10) artists who feel it within their capabilities to create a full-page panel a la any comic book you find out there these days, and adapt a section of my new, as yet untitled book, into illustration. Billy Jacobs, the artist who created the artwork for futureproof, is already a shoo-in for one of the ten slots. That means I need nine more up-and-comers. Do you have it in you? The rewards will be semi-great at the very least. You’ll be published in a book that will have at least a thousand readers. And since I think this book will be better than the last, I’m pretty sure we can get 11 or 1200 readers on this one should it too fail at getting picked up by a mainstream publisher. Here’s an example of the text if you haven’t read any of book 2 yet. If this is the kind of thing you think you could turn into panel art, drop me an email: nfrankdaniels@gmail.com, and we’ll go from there. The book is about a third of the way written (rough draft) and I anticipate publication by the end of 2007. So hit me up. And please, if you can’t do at least as good a job as this police sketch artist, then please refrain from wasting our time. I mean, obviously the newscaster didn’t do it….or did he?!?!?

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What (has been, might eventually, actually is) Goin’ On

Year In Review

Long time no post. I’ve been busy as shit. Last year was, artistically, one of the best years I’ve ever had. 2006 saw futureproof published, where it was met with a bunch of recognition and enthusiasm, including most prominently not only an appearance in Entertainment Weekly and the vaunted New York Press, but also nominated by the infamous PODdy Mouth (girl on demand) for her prestigious Needle Award (as in needle in a haystack). Each year she “wades through a sea of print-on-demand tiles and gives you the buried treasure.” In other words, her blog is set up exclusively to review the best self-published books every year. As a published author herself (Penguin Putnam), she has clout in the industry and it’s a given that many of the books she chooses will go on to find book deals for their authors. This year futureproof was not only chosen as one of the 15 books she reviewed, but made it into her top 5 finalists for the coveted Needle. According to Ms. Mouth herself, the 15 books she chose this year were selected from over 1,600 entrants. This past Wednesday the winner was announced and it wasn’t futureproof, but hope of the American Idol flavor still reigns in my bloodstream. As in, many of the AI runners-up have found record deals despite not having won the title, most notably Jennifer Hudson, who just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the movie Dream Girls. Not bad for having lost what was surely in her mind her one shot at a career in entertainment. So here’s to perpetually crossed fingers.

But I’ve also realized that I should have done a few things differently. I had more than five opportunities to sign with top-tier agents in 2006 but in the end chose not to because I was too stubborn and “married” to the book as it is. My rationale was that it wouldn’t have been able to gather as much support from readers as it already had if it wasn’t good enough to be published as is–with possibly a few minor changes. But when I was asked to change entire story lines and themes, on down to the point of the book in the first place, I respectfully declined. Now I’m not so sure that was the best choice. As a first novel, and as a first time novelist, I should have realized that when one is trying to break into such an exclusive club, one almost always has to compromise. Then, when one gets one’s figurative foot in the door, one publishes what one really wanted to write. At times this facet of publishing has depressed me greatly. And when I’ve gotten so close to publishing success that I could taste and was ultimately denied I have felt ready to yank every dreadlock out of my red head. But I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I’m new at this and I have to give myself some slack. I’m learning as I go along. There’s no guidebook (that I know of) that tells writers how to comport themselves in these situations. Thankfully, though, there are many great, established writers that I’ve had the great privilege of meeting and getting sage wisdom imparted to me from. I know the preceding sentence is grammatically fucked up as all hell. Sue me. Point is, I wanted to give shout outs to several writers who have been of great importance to me personally and professionally over the past year. I’d already be committed to some state mental ward if not for them:

Susan Henderson
James Frey
Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Will Clarke
Jeremy Robert Johnson
Brad Listi
N.L. Belardes
Kate Holden
Tony O’Neill
Brandon Stickney
Samantha Dunn

Thank you, all of you, for your great friendship. Hopefully I’ll some day be able to repay the generosity of time and imparted sanity. Oh, and if I left anyone off it’s not because I’m a dick, I’m just trying to get a thousand thoughts out my head before they slip away.

Maybe?

As many of you know, the loyals who’ve been following along for some time now anyway, I started up a writers collective toward the end of last year, RiotLit. It didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, but I still hold out (more) hope that it will return in all its glory and then some before too much longer. Mostly this is dependent on two factors: money and time (doesn’t everything depend on those two factors?). I’ve been working with an investor to help me get it off the ground in its new and improved incarnation, but it’s slow going. These sorts of things always are. Aside from that, I need to find the time. I’m a writer at heart, but also a husband and father. Writing must and always will take a back seat to making sure my family is taken care of. In this case that entails working two jobs, which leaves less time than ever to pursue literary dreams. But I sleep less than ever now, so my writing has that going for it. Plus, there’s no fucking way this motherfucker is ever giving up. That’s just how I roll. Wheat separated from chaff, all that. So with that in mind, here’s what I’m working on currently (should you still care):

Upcoming

One of futureproof’s greatest supporters,
Deena Neville, has commissioned me to help write her memoirs. The working title for this project is SOMETHING OTHER THAN LOVE, and details her travails growing up in foster homes and her subsequent fight with state adoption laws to find the parents and sisters she lost touch with at four years old. She has a great story and I hope I can do her amazing journey justice. The book should be (mostly) completed by this summer. Then I’m leaving it up to Deena to find a(n) agent/publisher. I can only beat my head against that wall so many times a year.

I also have some of my own shit on the burner, despite the time constraints. One is the long-awaited “sequel” to futureproof. I’d originally intended to put this project off for a few years in the interest of other pursuits, but the demand has been great so I’m capitulating (see, I AM learning!) and writing the fuck out of it, and having more fun than ever. Since I’m mainly focused, writing-wise, on Deena’s book for the time being, I don’t see this as-yet-untitled sequel being finished until the end of the year, at the earliest. At which point begins the grueling saga of trying to find a publisher. I can’t even imagine doing that again at this point, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Finally, I’m actually working on a memoir of my own. I never thought I’d do this, write a memoir, but I received so much positive feedback on the write-up of last October’s book tour that ended up being posted on Brad Listi’s Nervous Breakdown site that I decided to turn it (mainly on James Frey’s advice) into a full memoir. The book will cover more than just the tour, it will be about the entire journey of writing and publishing a book, replete with sordid details of familial struggles and the roller coaster ride that is writing and (attempting to) publish a book. I’m actually really looking forward to turning my full attention to this project–it might even come before I finish the FP sequel. We’ll have to see what the muses decide is best.

Recommendations

I read constantly, always trying to enrich not only my story-telling ability and vocabulary, but also my appreciation for fellow writers’ work. Aside from the writers I already mentioned (BUY THEIR BOOKS!), the five books I’ve read most recently are also very much (very very) worth your time and money.

GIRLS by Nic Kelman: Point blank, if you like sex and have ever been or known a girl, you must read this book. Kelman is a master of getting inside both the male and female brains, and has a topnotch writing ability.

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy: McCarthy is already widely regarded as one of the greatest living novelists (his book BLOOD MERIDAN is THE best western I’ve ever read), but this book (which is not a western) is a tale of post-apocalyptic America the likes of which I have never seen. It contains one of the creepiest/scariest scenes I’ve ever read. And McCarthy is like a one-man lexicon of 50 cent words (no relation to the mush-mouthed rapper). So you can increase your vocabulary too.

ALL I DID WAS ASK by Terry Gross: This is a compilation of interviews that Gross conducted on her NPR radio show, Fresh Air (pronounced FRResh Air). Over the years she’s interviewed everyone from Chris Rock to John  Updike to Grandmaster Flash. Her questions are always insightful and the shit she gets these normally guarded people to talk about is nothing short of amazing. A couple of my favorites from the book are Gene Simmons of KISS fame (he tells her he’ll only answer question from women if they open their legs for him) and writer/director Paul Schrader. If you are a writer you need to read this book for Schrader’s insights alone. Worth every penny, and also great encouragement when you discover that he wrote TAXI DRIVER while living in his car in L.A.

</font>SEVERANCE by Robert Olen Butler: It’s been said by some science “experts” that a decapitated head goes on contemplating shit for 90 seconds after it’s unfortunate demise. This book, in an incredibly moving and poetic fashion, imagines the final thoughts of 62 decap victims ranging from Medusa to Nicole Brown Simpson. Sounds morbid but it’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years, with insights you wouldn’t believe and will have to re-read to get the full effect of.

WHAT IS THE WHAT by Dave Eggers: This is the novel I’m currently reading, but only halfway through I can tell you that it is an amazing achievement by Eggers, and an inspiration to me, as he is basically doing the same thing I am doing with Deena Neville’s book in that he has taken someone else’s riveting story and turned it into a narrative. And the narrative of an African man who has escaped the ravages of civil war only to confront the fucked up shit that happens in America is a tough one to pull off. But Eggers does it here flawlessly. His best book since A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS.

That’s it for now. I hope you guys will stick around to see what 2007 brings us. If history is any judge, it’s gonna be one hell of a rollercoaster.

Talk soon.
~NFD


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