Lining up the Spines

2015-05-19 10.33.50

Reading is complicated sometimes.

I don’t mean the actual reading of the book, but rather the volume of books we all end up accruing and stacking in those wonky piles, in our digital files and on various tables around the house. I hate to miss something.

From time to time I need to make a list of what’s in the current rotation and what, while interesting, can await a future date. And forget about defending our ziggurats of books, Daniel Pennac writes in Better Than Life:

Our reason for reading are as eccentric as our reasons for living

God Bless This Child by Toni Morrison
My Struggle, Book Four by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Treadmill Nearly Done/Academic Now
Satin Island by Tom McCartney (treadmill)
The Novel by Michael Schmidt
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise deSalvo
On The Move by Oliver Sacks
Treadmill Next
The Hundred Year House by Kate Walbert—June 3 (treadmill, next)
Notebook by Jeff Nunokawa
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace—May 30th (nearly finished)
Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust—June (schedule)
The Hundred Year House by Kate Walbert—June 3 (treadmill, next)
August Reads
My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (Anniversary by the Sea)
No Time to Say Goodbye: A Memoir of a Life in Foster Care by John William Tuohy
Late Summer/Fall Academic
Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach
How to Write Inspirational Memoir by Emily Wierenga
Camping Titles
Dune by Frank Herbert
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Music without Words by Phillip Glass
2015-05-19 11.54.08

my “self-help” stack

Weekly & Occasional
My Self-Help Stack — Mondays
Music and Literature Journal — Tuesdays
Harper’s — Wednesdays
New York Review of Books — Thursdays
New York Times — Weekends
Writing Projects Related
On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf
Dream, Death and the Self by JJ Varberg
The Origins and History of the Consciousness by Erich Neumann
The Sunken Cathedral by Kate Walbert (June 9)
Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser (add to treadmill)
The Vorrh by Brian Caitling (add to camping)
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (September)


A lot surrounds the life of a writer, and most of it doesn’t have anything to do with writing.

One of those things is “the reading.”

A friend of mine, about to have his debut novel published, contacted me recently to ask if I wanted to do some readings with him. It was kind of him to consider me, but he was a little surprised when I wrote back saying while I would help him in any way get his book out there, I wasn’t interested in doing readings.

What? What author today doesn’t do readings? Well, this one.

Readings are obstensibly author-events where passages from books are read aloud in order to sell books. But readings don’t sell books. Unless you’re one of those Big Time Authors–a reading is a chance for fans to hear their favorite author’s voice, have their book signed, get a Selfie, be in the room with the author, etc. And that’s one of my issues with author readings, this idea that somehow if I read my book out loud to you this magically entices you to buy the book. It works if you know me, or are family, but reading my book to a complete stranger is hardly going to result in a purchase; more likely not. Especially for small press literary authors, readings don’t produce buyers. If I might borrow a term: the profit margin is slim. 

So why do public readings. Again, if the book is authored by a biggie or a newcomer with a big time publisher, a reading is required and usually advantageous. Poetry/poets is an entirely different kettle of fish. For authors like me, come on. Whose kidding who? Readings are a bore, odd and uncondusive to having your work before new eyes. The reading is an ego booster for the author without an ability to imagine their readership. It’s like an unstated agreement between the author and their friends: I am going to read to you and you will pretend to enjoy it, and pretend that I have readers, a following. Why having an adult read aloud to another adult came to be some form of commerce I’ll never understand. And that’s the rub for me.

Readings are public begging by an author. I won’t do it.

I’ll read to start a conversation. I’ll read to celebrate. I’ll read to honor someone (well, isn’t reading with a friend whose book is coming out a way to honor him, true, but I’d have to preface my reading by stating this very intention and it would be just too weird to do so). I won’t read in order to sell a book. There are other ways. (Word of mouth. Radio interviews. TV interviews. Book reviews. Newspaper articles???) 

Have you been to a good reading? I’ve been a member of the writing community for decades, and I can recall perhaps one or two readings that I actually enjoyed. Most were these horrendous bores, overlong sessions of gibberish where an author at a microphone, book open to a page marked with a Post-It, head down, wearing glasses, drinking water, turns pages, offers pregnant pauses, affects stutters….ugh….reads. Meanwhile the audience coughs, gets a sore ass and allows their minds to wander over hill and dale.

My dislike for readings was the reason why I started the Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices Literary Salon in Columbia, Missouri, which was designed to have writers read their work for less than fifteen minutes, but be a part of a conversation for a longer period of time. In every way, the conversation afterwards was far more enticing and engaging than the actual reading. Readings are off-putting unless it’s highly performed, a narrative with a plot or offered by Benedict Cumberbach or Sappho (to overstate matters). 

Readings don’t sell books. Good writing does.

But how to get the word out?

Author signings? Even more idiotic than readings, if that were possible. 

So how?

Really, I haven’t a clue. 

Other than good writing.

What did you expect? I’m a writer, not a marketer. 

I’m a throwback. I’m a throwback to a time when writers wrote and sellers sold. Today, a writer has to be both. I understand, and I still don’t care.

I write. 

Someone else can do the selling. 




There are as many different kinds of writers as there are books produced. While all share the vanity of self-possessed flowers, each blooms with a unique fuse.
Being a Writer | Writers wore a certain kind of clothes and lived in a certain fashion–bedraggled barflies. And to my way of thinking there was a particular way to be a writer. All of this is hogwash, I now know, but I allow it once rang true and might even still be so for beginning writers today. Old habits die-hard and sometimes stereotypes live much longer afterwards; after all it is work to dispel stereotype, and the happy coincidental byproduct is the creation of new habits.The first thing to help you on becoming a writer is to simply be one. This isn’t to mean you need to fake anything until you make it, rather it means you should write. Type on a keyboard, write in longhand, anything. Just write. As much as possible.
Write | This is the first and the only step required to begin a writing practice. Here are some other tips which can be adopted or ignore.
Read | I would suggest that you read every thing you can get your hands on, but I know this sounds a little too zealous. It is not presumptuous however to assume you are now a reader; you read books in prose both short and long. You might even have some favorite authors. If you don’t read it has to be said you are in the wrong business wanting to be a writer. Reading is completed writing, it helps in a back and forth way to become a better writer. From reading the works of others you learn from their mistakes and their success. Carve out time every day to read. Anything.
Time | Pause for a moment for some self-reflection and during this interlude ask yourself honestly what time of day are you at your best. This is not to say your best is anything other than a time when you feel the most yourself. For example, I am at my best fairly early in the morning. This doesn’t mean I could hold great conversations with you or build a bookshelf; for me it means it’s the time I feel is the best for writing. I can concentrate, I feel good about getting work done early and I tend to be able to sit for longer spells in the morning. I have learned over the years the exact calibration of what times exactly work for me. Too early and I’m only kidding myself. Too groggy. Too late and I begin to panic my best material has been swallowed by the day. Each of us has a specific time. Pick yours.
Space | It is equally important to my thinking, which might not be your own, to have a regular space to spend some time every day to sit down and be your best while writing. For me, it’s a desk in a quiet part of the house. For you it could be in a busy coffeehouse or on the deck of a houseboat. I don’t really care. But what is important here is that you decide where you want to be when you are writing. It is important in establishing your practice to have as few variables as possible.
Tools | I don’t chide anyone their whims. Every writer comes to the page differently. Some write directly into their computers, others write longhand. My own choice, over many years, is to write longhand in a journal and as material accumulates I then begin to translate this material in a digital form. For some projects I add step between paper and computer by typing up material on a manual typewriter. Choose was works for you. People will give you plenty of advice here, but ultimately it’s all about you and you’ll figure it out for yourself. Once you do you’ll need no one’s advice on what to do to get your work down.
Feedback | At a point in time, again a decision that is solely yours, seek out some readers; they can even be fellow writers. Let others read your work and provide you with some feedback as to what you have produced. In draft form the idea is simply to understand how others will come to perceive what you were intending. Writing for yourself alone is not to be devalued, but for now it’s best that in beginning your practice you share the fruits of your labor. This feedback helps you continue to sit down and attempt to write given either nebulous or specific criticism; more on levels of criticisms later on.
The Take Away:
1 Decide to write
2 Write as much as you can
3 Read
4 Find a time
5 Find a space
6 Choose your tools
7 Get feedback

An Andy Goldsworthy production

An Andy Goldsworthy production

As you can see there is a lot of room here for personal choices to be made because remember for every different kind of book out there, there’s a different kind of writer who penned it.
Write and write well.

Hundred Feet Tall

(for San)


You’re a hundred
Feet in the air
Quarantined, parting a sheer curtain
Waving to me
In a vacation-bound station wagon
We were heading West
You to motherhood: I was looking for you
And thirty years, forty, fifty doesn’t matter
I’ll still see you
There, up at the hospital window
White gown, flaxen hair
Your porcelain hand gently moving
But incredibly your eyes
They sink into me the most
Looking out
With a love a hundred feet tall

Poetry Month

Found this digging through my files today, the first day of National Poetry Month. (click on picture to enlarge)


Yellow Bird

oil by E. Sivas

E. Sivas


As with all dreams

Fortune and ill alights

When you call it back

From its far-flung adventures

Amazing some with your gentleness

Others your gentile brutality

The room both lit and filled with witnesses

Darkness and echoing emptiness

Something comes your way to carry

To peck to bring no one knows

But the bird


Fishing (twice told Irish folk tale)

  The family no longer fishes. This has to do with history and the blackness that came to the potatoes. The family was starving; there was no food. There was rot in the fields. The English bastards would not help, … Continue reading


A dress.

Blue and black, gold and white.

Scan 1The eye of the beholder.

Light is seen in different ways, of course, but the same kind of light or color can be witnessed according to one’s field. In this way, who you are is found in the eyes.

What of color? It can’t be corrupted, right? Well..

The physicist notices the waves of light’s length. To the psychologist, the physiologist the notice of color is a matter of the synapses, of our neurological responses found deep in our eyes seeking marriage with the brain. Unfortunate few, frayed nerves, rickety nervous systems suffer limitations when absorbing color.

Color in nature is boon and bust; it offers nature-lovers awe when beauty fills their eyes, however, the hue and tone of a beast, of the flora and fauna is camouflage; it’s hiding place and its survival.

Understanding black, blue, ochre social historians and linguists unravel threads, tied to the shawl of community and culture. The art historian fumbles with skeins; seeing over time how, say, muted earth tones take on the patina of dream. For that artist, color is a turning of the inside out, bringing what lies beneath, atop, surfacing and glistening like blood, like stars in a dark sky. The intangible becomes wood, dark loam; a canvass of sea.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time

— Emily Dickinson

AWP: Go?

As the annual Associated Writing Program conference inches closer I contemplate attending, again. I came across this blog entry I wrote a few years ago for a site dedicated to the conference.


I go.

But: For introverts and malcontents, like myself, competitive and conspiratorial introverts, conferences are a test of wills. I find the entire enterprise to be exhausting on so many levels I often chide a higher-ranking myself in mid-conference stream for having fooled a lower-ranking myself once again in attending. You’re never alone when you’re schizophrenic, I might say jokingly to myself while humming Ian Hunter.

And then there are the people. I love people, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve come to adopt Dostoevsky’s stance “demands of the particular,” which states — “the more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular.” Heartstrings trill until someone plucks with me. I see an arch nemesis; a hectoring former professor trailing neck-scarf, their own tomes artfully arm-pitted; the jilting agent latte whore or the plainly insane publisher borderline plushie who inched your manuscript across the glass desk with the tips of her manicured fingertips as if the leaves were a dead carcass – and I lose my mind.

The hoards don’t help either. All sweaty and earnest swinging bulging, hemp book-bags. All the theorists in fancy eyewear, all the writers in torn cardigans.

I go.

Because I’m a writer. And there is nothing lonelier save perhaps a svelte long-distance runner than a writer sans his or her community of ink-stained neophytes and blithering zealots. I go because writing is the most important thing in the world and it is an art that is maddeningly elusive and achingly beautiful. I go to commiserate, to conspire with dead poets and novelists, to sing, to mingle in some circumscribed manner; and learn, learn, learn. I am not done yet, and even so acknowledge: the only way to grow and know is to rub up against that which produces friction. I go for this heat.

I have attended writing conferences for many years now and yes there are many instances where I find myself in a stuffy banquet hall nodding over my cooling Styro’ of coffee glancing at the dais and thinking: I could have given this presentation. But I go. And I go now, unlike in the past, knowing a lot more about myself, and why conferences are a test for me.

A few years ago now, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II, a disorder of hypomania and depression on the spectrum of autism, Asperger’s and other bipolar disturbances; some days a little ebullient, on others, bluer than blue. Couple this with my Jungian personality type — INFJ — of the introvert (where energy is reaped through solitude, a good book) who feels his way through the world by way of intuition, feelings and judgment and conference-dread makes sense.

Well this makes sense to me anyways.


So I go? This year?

I’ll have a conference with my selves and get back to you, dear reader.