Writing at the Powell's Café

I'm at Powell's right now, sitting in the café and looking through the window across Burnside.  This is a view (dream) I've enjoyed many times in my life, especially the three years I lived in Portland, back when my only dreams concerning my writing, was publishing my short stories in great literary journals and someday getting into a legit MFA program.  Eleven years since I was here last, I can't help but take a personal inventory of my life, noting the achievements I've fulfilled and those that I'm still trying to achieve.  Among other things, I realize that:

1.  Contrary to what I assumed in 2003, when I took my first fiction workshop at the age of 28 at Portland State, publishing a short story in an excellent journal, even publishing a bunch of short stories in many respected journals, doesn't mean you've "made it" at all as a literary fiction writer.  Or maybe it did once, but then you begin moving the goal posts with each tiny success

2.  Getting accepted into a legit MFA program doesn't mean you've "made it" either

3.  Ditto with a legit PhD program

4.  Ditto studying with famous authors (all of who have tried, each in their own way, to get their agents to pick me up as a client)

5.  One of my biggest fears since the day I realized I wanted to be a literary fiction writer, was not publishing my novel, short story, and memoir manuscripts.  My second greatest fear was being one of those professors who teaches writing, but who hasn't published his books.  Right now, these two fears resonate with me, not because I think I'll never publish my manuscripts (actually, I think I'm incredibly close right now because I have many agents reading my first and second novels and just as many indie presses reading similar and different manuscripts), but because before you're a published author in the book sense of the word, you're nothing.  Or at best, you're simply a published author in the literary journal sense of the word, which isn't the same thing.

6.  As I was talking to my good friend Leigh, two nights ago, at this vegan trattoria, it hit me that as a fiction writer trying to make a career publishing his novels in hard copy, I'm essentially fighting for a lost world.  A world that doesn't even exist anymore to anyone except literary fiction writers

7.  I need to find an illustrator and a coder and then finish my electronic novella, Dukkha, My Love, as soon as possible because I can still leave my mark in that medium, regardless of how long it takes me to publish my other work

8.  On the flip side, at the cost of sounding smug, I'm happy with life right now.  I'm in love, I'm married, we have a bomb loft apartment in DTLA and two small dogs that we absolutely adore.  I have an awesome gig teaching hybrid class of lit, creative writing, rhetoric, and comp, at a great school (UC Irvine).  Besides that, I'm healthy.  I get to travel with my boo at least once every year.  And with the exception of this annoying reoccurring red patch on my cheek (that is either eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, or rosacea--and makes me feel like an angry lush clown), I think I look pretty good for my age.

9.  I think I'm at a very major threshold here.  I'm hopeful, shamefully, possibly even unjustifiably hopeful about my future.  My hope is that in a few years, I get to come back here to Powell's not as a customer, but as an author.  Until then, I keep fighting, keep submitting, keep improving my manuscripts

10 Reasons Why You Should Buy Your Books Locally

Whether we like it or not, Amazon.com has become the interface of the new commerce. And while there are a things that I think Amazon.com does extremely well, especially in terms of its broad marketplace of products, it's endless library of customer reviews that can be really helpful (predating Yelp by like a decade), especially when not sockpuppeted, at the same time, it's impossible for any company to excel in every department, which is a good segue I think to why you should buy your books locally for the holidays + forever after:

1. Every time you buys books locally, you help support small businesses (and small business are actually people's dreams made real), which means you're helping support your city, which means you're helping support a neighborhood in your city--those are already good enough reasons. For every semester at SC, I'd print out my long list of books for my graduate seminars + take the subway to Skylight Books in Los Feliz + order a shitload of books. And after I'd dropped like $500-$600 for books for my field exams recently, Meg, one of the savvy, charming bibliophiles working there, said to me: --Hey, thanks for paying for my job. And then it hit me how interconnected local businesses + individual needs are . . .

2. No matter how cheap the deals are on Amazon.com (et al.), saving a few dollars will never replace the material marketplace of culture + creativity inside physical bookstores. Bookstores are places where you can escape from your roommate who watches 15 hours of "Sex in the City," where you can look up shit in the Writer's Guide to Literary Journals, skim the next McSweeney's, shake your head at a dog-eared, mostly wrinkled copy of the New Yorker + sometimes "glance" at an already-open copy of Penthouse. Bookstores are safe spaces for intellectuals, artists, autodidacts, current event junkies + people-watchers. Bookstores are: 1/4 café, 1/4 library, 1/4 refuge + 1/4 transient hotel. If you're an aspiring writer, you need to see what people are buying on the new book shelf + what journals are publishing in your genre. Period (.).

3. Most of the time, the people working in indie bookstores are fucking passionate about books, passionate about reading + passionate about language, which is not only an amazing resource for you, but also, that kind of bibliophilia is infectious + exciting to be around.

4. Many indie bookstores are also showcases for both established + emerging literary fiction writers + poets. While the big chains can + do offer many of the same privileges (which is a great thing), small indie bookstores cater to great literary fiction. They tend to live + breathe it. On the other hand, at large chain bookstores, they are selling too many kinds of books to specialize in literary fiction/poetry: besides lots of great novels, there's also a lot of absolute shit, coloring books, cookbooks, badly ghost-written celebrity memoirs, romance novels with steroidal male bodies on the cover, CD's + DVD's, a million derivative vampire thrillers, James Patterson drivel, maps + atlases, already-clawed magazines, private journals with lockets, kindle knock-offs, nauseatingly cute animal calenders, even packets of Starbucks coffee, mugs + chocolate bars. And while I think it's great these stores exist to satisfy a larger demographic, not to mention, they routinely have little cafés too (which is rad), at the same time, only the indie bookstores fight the good fight each + every day, showcasing the best in literary writing on both the shelf + behind the mic. If indie bookstores perished in America, literary fiction/poetry would die. College campuses would then become the last protector of great literary art, further removing literary fiction from mainstream culture than it already is.

5. Small, local indie bookstores prove that writing still matters. It's easy as an emerging fiction writer to feel like your writing doesn't affect anyone anymore (except underpaid, overworked editors who reject our asses routinely), but walk into Powell's in PDX, for example, + you'll see right away that the stories we create, the stories we invent, the stories we live on, all have an impact, there's an infinite potentiality of language waiting to be discovered in the aisles, helping us remember that our own literary creativity still resonates with people on an important cultural level

6. Buying books locally is an investment in tangibility in the floating world. While personally I think it's an awesome fucking world we live in when you can download a kindle version of virtually any novel in the whole world + while I think eNovels are also ecologically responsible + also intellectually practical in terms of giving us the ability to carry our entire library with us, at the same time, there are many traditionalists (myself included) who will never get over our love affair with physical books, the intoxication of the smell of a new (old) novel, the way that words have an actual weight in your hand (or in your backpack or purse), the way that pages can be folded, touched, flipped back + forth (a soft splash of air hitting us between the eyes every time), the way paragraphs can be scarred with violent marginalia, even the sound of a book triumphantly plopped on a table after we've finished reading it helps us stay grounded to materiality. All of these things matter, especially in a world where once-concrete objects are now becoming more + more graphic, more iconic, more visual, less tangible--an entire world reduced to jpg.'s, word + pdf files, organized + contained within desktop folders + attachments. And while I think that readers should never have to choose between hard + digital copies, there's something to be said about the intimacy of a physical novel, the way it becomes the center of your life inside your satchel, the way it captures your attention as you pass your bookcase in the hallway years later + suddenly remember the 2-7 days you loved no one else.

7. Indie bookstores foster a sense of community. While there are plenty of valid, seasonal reasons to order books online from time to time (e.g. avoiding holiday crowds or long lines at the post office where you'll drop a shitload of money sending books priority mail or waiting a small eternity for the media rate to do its fucking job), I personally think these situations should be exceptional. It's great we can do so much shit online, but the more we spend behind our computers, the less connected we are with people in the physical world, the less we know how to be human socially (+ writers are intrinsically social artists on one important level since writing involves people + it involves readers). And while large megastores chains are great for anonymity + sheer breadth of selection, smaller indie bookstores are crucial in giving all of us misfits a place to meet up together + exist. Small local bookstores, at their best, becomes subcultures for an art form that doesn't know how to die.

8. Indie bookstores don't bully the publishing market the way the big chains do, they support it. Barnes & Noble, until recently, Borders, didn't just sell books, they actually controlled a large chunk of the marketplace. Editors, for example, use(d) the various sales rankings of the big chains (among other things) in order to not only gauge current projects, but to examine future book projects (e.g. "well, this author's last novel never made it to the superstore rankings list . . ."). Publishing houses actively swoon/charm/coddle the big chains because they know that if they can get them to buy a ton of their books, the big chains will actively try selling the books they've invested in, which means those books become more visible because they're marketed, which often means more people buy those books because they're more visible, which makes those books profitable (helping both the large chain + the publishing house), which makes that author a good future investment. And when the big chains aren't interested in a new novel, that novelist's career becomes endangered with poor sales. But not so with indie bookstores who don't give a shit about Nielson Bookscan stats, NYT bestseller rankings, or other dubious metrics of so-called literary talent where great art poses as sales figures (as if great writing could ever be quantified). Small, locally-owned, indie bookstores only care about great writing, plain + simple. And the reality is that aspiring writers need to embrace locally owned, indie bookstores because they are the greatest allies of literary fiction in this whole world.

9. Local, indie bookstores can be meccas for beautiful, articulate, eccentric, stylish, smart, critical-thinking post-hipster hipsters who make reading sexy. 'Nuff said.

10. Your local bookstore is a sanctuary in our bustling word. Inside the aisles, time stops. Like a Borgesian paradise, bookstores are wrinkles of time-travel, passing moments of linguistic rapture + personal evolution. Your local bookstore is the place where you can be anything you want, a babel of narrative voices chanting from the pages, where the din of impatient drivers outside is muted by the soft, slow, sensuality of words circling around you, rushing to meet your eyes with every open book + smother you in an orgy of details.