If you haven’t heard yet, my new book, This Is Fine: Poems 2011 – 2017, is out! The proof arrived the other day and I approved it for distribution. As I was writing this post, the book appeared on Amazon as well! This is exciting for me. It’s been a while since I’ve been through this entire process from start to finish and I thoroughly enjoyed the the thrill of both writing and publishing a new book. It’s not easy to do either thing and I tend to take what I’ve accomplished for granted. Taking a concept from an idea to a finished product is a helluva endeavor, not to mention, it gets a little funky switching gears from publisher to writer and then back to publisher again. But I cannot help but reflect on how I got here, and how in many ways I have come full circle.
When I published my first book – my first real book, Demon in the Mirror, I was elated. This was during the infancy of social media and I knew next to nothing about the world of professional publishing. I had just ended my career as a firefighter/EMT and decided that pouring my experiences into a book would be a good idea. I was both right and wrong. It’s been a crazy ride.
During that time I struggled for ideas to promote the book because i didn’t have any experience. Despite being excited about being both a published author and starting my own business as a publisher, I had no idea where to start promoting my book, or how to run the business. It was (and still is) a learning process. I started all of this with a “punk rock” DIY attitude and I’m proud to say that I still have the same core philosophy. The only difference now is that I have some experience under my belt.
Back then I knew no one in the business. I didn’t have a large social media presence, no agent, no contacts, no marketing plan, nada. It seemed impossible to get your book ‘out there’.
I remember my ‘eureka’ moment was searching for local book stores in the Yellow Pages. I settled on one that sounded promising and called. To my surprise the owner answered and agreed to look at my book. She invited me to bring the book to her shop so she could check it out and decide if she wanted to carry it. Success! Or so I thought…
I grabbed a box of books, put on my business face and burned rubber on my way to down to her store. I was so excited I almost passed out. This was it – I was going to have my book for sale in a real book store! Woohoo!
And then it all blew up in my face.
Upon entering the store, carrying a box of freshly printed books, the owner gave a me look that said: who the fuck are you and why are you in my store? Uh oh. Keeping my composure, but starting to feel the quicksand underneath my feet, I introduced myself and reminded her about the book and handed her a copy. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she looked at my book.
Her face contorted into an expression of both horror and revulsion. She hated it. She skimmed a few pages, handed the book back to me and promptly told me that my book would scare her customers and that she was not interested. The room started spinning and her words echoed in my head…”scare my customers’.
I almost passed out again.
And just like that my writing career was over. I walked back to my car, like an asshole, tossed the box into the trunk, and contemplated my life for a moment. I had that pit in my stomach that all writers get at one point or another in their career when they question their sanity for wanting to do this. I was dumbstruck and felt like a complete failure. I’d left a stable career for this?
I had much to learn.
So what was my next move? I sent my book to the local alt weekly to see if they would review it. They did. It was a disaster.
They lost the first copy of my book. After sending a second one, and hounding them about it, the writer who they allowed to review my book misinterpreted it and ripped it to shreds, smearing me in the process as some kind of misogynistic, psychopathic hate-monger. Good times.
This was not the kind of way I wanted to start my writing career. But I did not give up.
After those experiences I started sharpening my pencils into weapons, steeling my will and reminding myself that I am not a “Double Day” kinda guy to begin with and that my approach would have to be completely different than most run of the mill writers/publishers. And so I began my journey as a guerrilla publisher. That was 10 years ago.
So here I am today, with a copy of my brand new book in hand and it’s gorgeous. I’m elated again. I have those butterflies again. I’m excited…but things are oddly familiar. In fact, things feel just like they did 10 years ago when I was lost and had no confidence. I feel like I did when I started this whole thing and that’s both exciting and a little frightening.
It’s funny, through this journey I met some amazing people and did some amazing things. This has taken me places I never thought possible. There’s been ups and downs but they’ve all taught me something and I’ve never quit. They say the difference between a professional writer and an amateur is that a pro never gives up. I am a long ways from that first review and that book store owner’s expression of disgust.
And yet I am right back where I started, which is completely disconnected from anyone or anything in the industry and by myself. This is familiar territory.
When you’re on top, everyone wants to know you. I’ve been on top and man, does that ever feel good! When you’re on the bottom, no one knows your name and trust me, that can feel awful. These past few years have seen tectonic shifts in perspective and attitude, not just for myself but for many people. Emotions have run high and we’ve all been flooring it and pushing the needle to the red for a while now. The watershed moment for many occurred on my birthday, last year, which just so happened to be election day, and no one has been the same since.
People no longer talk to one another. Some folks simply stopped communicating at all. Friendships were lost, families broken, neighbors divided – people keep waiting for the next civil war but it’s already started. We are at war, both with ourselves and each other. We have all of this great technology and the ability to reach out to one another instantly and yet we all hate each other. Life is hilarious sometimes.
I wanted to capture the past few years into a book because I believe this decade is important. It’s one I believe will be talked about in the future the way we talk about infamous periods of time. If Hunter Thompson wrote about his era and being able to strike sparks anywhere, I believe this era is doused in gasoline and matches.
I wrote, sometimes feverishly, about the daily events from this year all the way back to 2011. The result is This Is Fine, which, if you haven’t already figured it out, is a play on a famous cartoon and meme.
I struggled for months with this book’s title. In fact, it delayed the book’s release by several months, if not a full year. I went through multiple titles and concepts before I settled on This Is Fine. I kept searching for a concept that would convey what living through the 2010s has been like so far. Ultimately, I settled on what best describes what it’s like now in America.
We live in such a disposable culture now that what happens today is forgotten almost instantaneously. This is wrong and I wanted a permanent record of this era, because we forget things too quickly now. The result is my book.
I employed the talent of artist and friend, Emilio Medina, to bring this concept to life. He far exceeded my expectations for this project. I am happier about this book cover than any of my other titles, and that’s saying a lot! After pitching him on the idea, Emilio sketched my image out and that was the moment I settled on the title.
This Is Fine is everything I’ve written poetically from 2011 to now. That covers a lot of ground and several shifts in attitude and perspective. To put it another way, the book is not just one thing – in that span of time a lot of shit went down. I address this in the book’s intro in more detail.
Fun fact: all the ‘hot takes’ that I used to spew on Twitter, and which caused much ire and infamy, are all in the new book. Consider the new book one long ‘thread’ of social criticism of this decade. I decided to stop rambling for free on social media and instead put it in print. It’s a gamble but Twitter isn’t paying me for my opinions. If you want my ‘hot takes’ on the last several years, please buy the book.
One thing you’ll read about in the book’s intro is that this may very well be my last book of poetry.
I haven’t made up my mind about that yet but I feel that I have reached the end of wanting to express myself in poetic form. Poetry is a difficult genre to sell to begin with and being unknown makes it next to impossible to market it. But here I am anyway, with the same chip on my shoulder I’ve always had.
That said, after this book, I would like to explore other genres in writing and I’m excited about that. The curse of being a poet may finally be over! Maybe…
But my point is this: I am right back where I started. I am, in a sense, starting all over again.
I consider what I achieved in this last decade reaching the top of the mountain. For being a no name start-up, with no resources, experience or capital, I achieved a lot! This last couple of years has seen me walk back down the mountain. And now, I am at the bottom again, ready to start climbing once more.
For a time, I had connections to people in Hollywood. I had the attention (and friendship) of Nobel prize-worthy people and famous authors. I was invited to hang out with the cool kids at book events and panels. I had signings and events, and gave lectures across the country. I had higher ed people writing dissertations on my books and also teaching from them! People taught from my books in universities! That still blows my mind!
I had exposure on television, radio and print. I exceeded my expectations in every way and I never lost my integrity doing it. To put it simply: it has been amazing.
But all of that slowly evaporated and now no one knows my name once again…or at least now they pretend they don’t, ha ha.
But I am at peace with all of this. It’s a journey, all of it, and I’ve learned as much as I can along the way. I have regrets, sure, but there are many more things that I relish and appreciate. If this journey has taught me anything it’s not to take anything for granted. What matters, to me anyway, is to keep on truckin’ and to not compromise yourself along the way. Easy come, easy go. It’s all good.
I am still me and doing things my way, with that same punk attitude and that’s always been most important to me.
So, dear reader, that’s a long-winded explanation of why I feel that things have come full circle and why that’s both good and a little scary. Starting over again is not going to be easy but it will be a challenge and I dig that.
There’s a Twilight Zone episode where a rich guy makes a deal with the Devil to live his life over again and start over when he had nothing. For him, the pleasure was in acquiring the wealth, no the money itself.
Ok, that said I don’t want it to sound like any of this is a downer. It’s not. Life is cyclical. I’m stoked about the book and I want you to be stoked about it as well!
I will be doing things a little differently this time around and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Probably the most important thing will be counting on support from folks who have been there since the beginning. I probably don’t say it enough but I appreciate all of you. I’m hoping you will dig this new book. I will probably say this way too many times but I believe this is my best book yet.
The world may be burning but as you can tell by my expression on the front cover of the new book, this is fine.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to #SupportYourLocoPublisher!