“Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.”
I’ve got to get a few things off my chest. Ever since officially publishing my book and launching this Myspace profile in January of 2006, I’ve come across a slew of other artists and writers trying to network and collaborate for the greater good: finding our work a wider audience. I’ve spoken to visual artists, poets, songwriters, spoken word slam champions, entrepreneurs and of course, writers (both novelists and memoirists). Many of these people have shown themselves to be true-blue, sawdust on the floor, trustworthy people who are true to their word. Unfortunately, though, the majority I’ve come into contact with have been about one thing and one thing only: finding a way to promote themselves with little regard for the group’s (i.e. other artists) better interests.
I’ve been mulling over whether or not I want to name names with this post–part of me feels enough anger and animosity to do just that, and call these thimble-deep self-promoters on their bullshit. But another part of me hesitates. When I stop to consider the reasons for this hesitation I come to two conclusions:
a) I fear a severe backlash by others who pledge allegiance to those who have treated me like some kind of fucking pariah (those whose names I’m considering naming). And directly connected to that I
b) also hesitate because, in the words of the most genuine and down-to-earth writer I know, all of this animosity I’m feeling right now is only a distraction from the real work at hand–writing damn good books. After all, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? I didn’t get into this racket, spending countless hours writing, rewriting and editing my novel so that I could spend more countless hours agonizing over slights against me and my character.
But then again, there comes a time when one must flush the system all together and really just once and for all exorcize the demons haunting him. So here goes.
Without naming names (I made that choice and I’m proud of it), I’d like to point out that when I went on my book tour back in October, a fellow artist, who I’d supported when he was on a tour of his own, stood me up even though he assured me that he’d be at one of my signings. This was the first experience I’d had with getting unabashedly fucked by a supposed friend and supporter. When I mentioned this in my blog of the tour, mutual supporters of ours inexplicably dumped me like a hot potato, taking sides against me because I’d had the audacity to call this guy out on his shoddy friendship reciprocation skills. I was removed from Top Friends lists on Myspace. My feelings were hurt.
Somehow I managed to continue living.
The next debacle involved the now infamous collective I’d assembled last summer, RiotLit. I thought I’d made it clear to every member I recruited that the entire point of the collective was to strengthen authors’ ties to each other and to empower us in ways that the mainstream publishing industry was incapable of–nay, directly opposed to. It is not in Big Publishing’s interests for writers to have any power. This takes away from their bottom line when their bread and butter actually has influence on its audience and what the writers want to publish without interference from agents and editors as to what will make the book more “sellable.” Due specifically to the internet and new advances in publishing technology, anyone can put a book out there and find recognition directly from readers without having to go through the middleman of a corporate publishing house. So when the time presented itself to call out publishers for their backwards ways in promoting writers, I wanted the group to publicly take a stand against the OJ publishing debacle, to say that it was bullshit that a known murderer was getting all kinds of money and press for some half-baked pseudo-confessional– that this was taking food directly out of real writers’ mouths. Of the nine members of RiotLit, ONE had a problem with the group-post and refused to be party to anything so brazen and outspoken as calling OJ Simpson a murderer, and more inportantly, directly calling a mainstream publisher what it was: a money-hungry monster with absolutely no scruples. ONE member.
I ran the post anyway. Then this one member, having access to the blog, as every member of our group did, took it upon himself to pull the blog down. Fed up with his p.c. bullshit, I told him he was out of the group that I’d founded. This wasn’t our first clash. We consistently butted heads on almost every issue and this was frankly the last straw for me. Once again, inexplicably, many of the other RiotLit members took his side against me despite the fact that eight of nine mebers had no problems with the post, and under the guise of my having gotten too big for my britches, said they also wanted out of the Collective. So in the span of one or two days, the great collaboration of nine semi-successful writers had come to a bloody, screeching halt. I was heartbroken and not a little humiliated. It took me weeks to get my head on straight after that. I couldn’t understand (and still can’t) how something so good could have gotten so rotten so quickly. I’m starting to believe that it might have had something to do with the fact that I’m nothing if not a little outspoken and perhaps seen as something of a loose cannon. And maybe I am. But one thing everyone can be assured about me and has been able to count on about me from the get-go is that I don’t bullshit, I don’t talk about people behind their backs and I’m not just out to kiss ass and make a buck at any cost to the more important issues, such as principles. And I’ve held on to this ethos, to a fault. Fact is, futureproof would be a mainstream-published book right now if I’d been willing to compromise my principles and turn futureproof, which is obviously informed by real-life experiences, into a memoir (the flavor of the moment in the litworld).
The final slight came just a few days ago. Again, I won’t mention any names (you can find out yourself what I’m talking about by even the most meager efforts at digging), but a group that had invited me into its folds AS A PARTNER, without notice told me I’d been demoted from partner status to “associate”. The reason? Becuase I’d sent them the following email about the contents on the first issue of the magazine the group had just released to the public:
“A few notes on the first issue:
1. I have a couple of great writers interested in contributing to the next issue of __________. As soon as I get the submissions I’ll send them to you guys.
2. There were several typos in the first issue. Is there any way I can get in on editing/choosing content? Personally, I thought the poems we printed in there were kind of subpar. One story had a word missing and several words edited out, probably inadvertantly, but I was bothered by it nonetheless.
3. The book you are considering publishing by the British guy didn’t really do anything for me. It had too much British slang, and despite the guy’s webste claims, I found it to be far from a masterpiece. If I’m alone on this and outvoted, that’s cool. Just my two cents. I just want us to publish the most cutting edge, most well-written stuff out there.
I’ve got people so excited about the project. I’m going to need more copies sent ASAP. I have some great ATLanta connections, and can get the mag into some great spots down here. So let me know.”That’s it. This email had me demoted from partner to “associate” (whatever the fuck that means). I get the sneaking suspicion that people’s feelings were hurt because I dared suggest that the project could be better. When I confronted the powers that be over this injustice I was told the following (no shit, this is a direct quote):
“Too many drugs has (sic) made your head filled with delusions of how people
really are. That’s worse than a wrongly spelled word. It’s broken logic, too many assumptions, and painting people into demons,(sic) who aren’t. My advice for the future: be a team player, not a team hater.”
You heard it right. Because I, as a partner, offered suggestions to improve quality (as any PARTNER in a venture would do), I was labeled not a team player and unceremoniously kicked out of the club. It goes without saying that the inevitable Myspace friend removal directly followed. One less Myspace page now showcases yours truly.
So what are the lessons here? There are a few.
1. Never open your home to someone you’ve never met, no matter how cool they seem. Your act of good will will inevitably be treated not as an act of kindness, but rather as a duty to someone who deserves to have total strangers open their doors to them.
2. When joining forces with others, ALWAYS make it clear what your intentions are, to the letter, from the outset. The RiotLit implosion never would have happened, I’m convinced, had I been more stringent on choosing members of similar goals and mindsets.
3. No matter how well you think you know someone, no matter how upstanding they come across, never get involved in a business transaction without having something in writing, otherwise you can get kicked in the nuts without any warning and with absolutely no recourse.
So, these lessons being learned (the hard way) I can make a few definitive resolutions (New Years be damned). I will from now on focus only on writing and kiss working with other writers a fond farewell. This is not to say that I haven’t met some TRULY stand-up people, or that there aren’t writers and artists out there trying to do the same thing I’m doing. But too often my writing has been hampered by the continual mindfuck that comes with trying to work well with others. It’s a losing battle all around when you bring the egos of writers into the same room and try to get them to work together, too many cooks in the kitchen, too many chiefs and not enough indians and whatever other cliche you want to throw at the situation. And ultimately, this is why the underground writers movement hasn’t taken off with the speed it is most certainly capable of. People are ingracious and self-centered and caught up in their fears of being blackballed by the titanic hydra that is Big Publishing. And most are completely incapable of recieving criticism at all, constructive or not, even when it comes from the inside.
Which leaves one final request: if you are a writer, or any type of artist for that matter, who has balls and isn’t afraid to shake things up, by all means contact me. Because I promise you that no matter how bleak things look sometimes, eventually we will succeed. The market demands it. The people demand it. We might have our backstabbing inner-squabbles from time to time, but eventually we’ll figure it out and learn to work together to take the power back from the corporatized culture we all suffer under now. Jesus, just imagine how dire the situation would be if not for this wonderful, glorious thing we have, the internet.
All this being said, I promise this will be the last you hear from me on the matter. I am not going to be distracted for another day from the true work at hand. My next book is going to blow futureproof out of the water. I’m really excited about where it’s going. I’ll post more from it next week on this very blog. See you then. (I’m feeling better already.)