Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Name Of The Store Is ALDI

The band Talking Heads once released an album called The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads perhaps to silence those fans who kept calling the band "The Talking Heads".  Apparently, the band disliked having "The" attached to their name.  The Beatles, of course, felt differently and always included the "The".  Then there's the band just called The The.

And then there's the grocery store called ALDI, which everyone almost always calls "ALDIS" or "ALDI'S" (we'll get to the spelling issue in a moment).

I've always found this little linguistic phenomenon fascinating.  I suppose that many people are used to shopping at a grocery store which has an "s" at the end.  Say, Ralphs or Albertsons, or, closer to me, Heinen's.  As a result, perhaps they apply the "s" to the name of any grocery.

This theory would make sense except that no one calls Giant Eagle "Giant Eagles" (well, no one I know of anyway; someone somewhere probably does), so perhaps the grocery also has to have a one word name (say, Joe) and seem like a name that should take a possessive (with the hypothetical example producing Joe's, short for Joe's Grocery--not Trader Joe's, a store ALDI is connected to).

Thus, ALDI ends up getting called "ALDI'S".

I've never met anyone named Aldi though.  According to The New York Times, the name came about from "Albrecht Discount," with Albrecht being the surname of the brothers who started the store in Germany, so part of ALDI is a name, so making the store name possessive isn't completely wrong in that sense.

Perhaps Language Log will do a post on this someday.  I'm surprised they haven't already, but maybe they're paid better than I am and don't shop at ALDI.

I still haven't figured out the capital letters, but I suspect that's just a corporate affectation.  So far, the store hasn't weighed in on the "s" being added to its name, so unlike Talking Heads, it apparently doesn't care what you call it as long as you shop there.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dollar Cat Days

Well, we might be approaching the dog days of summer rapidly where not only will you sweat so much that you want to bark, but also you can get a dollar hot dog at the ballpark occasionally, but the Cleveland, Ohio USA Animal Protective League is holding dollar cat days instead.  That's right, you get a kitty for a dollar!  I got my cat at the APL.  I picked her because she stuck her paw out of the cage and grabbed my attention.  Here's a picture of her the first day I got her:
She's about twice this size now, but bourgeois cat life, instead of digging from garbage cans on the street, will do that.  Spending a dollar on a cat is a good deal.  The cat will pay dividends in covering your every piece of clothing with cat hair, purring, leaving deposits in the litter box for you to clean every day, meowing, constantly standing on whatever you're working on, lapwarming, scratching up your furniture, and, of course, loving.  In fact, here she comes now to remind me that her food dish is empty.  That dollar you'll spend at the APL will be the first of many!  However, what you get back is priceless!  Some people think that cats are aloof, so maybe it depends on the cat, but it's hard for me to imagine a better buddy than my Antigone.*

*OK, maybe one that doesn't chow down her food so fast that she pukes a minute later.**

**Fortunately, she eats it all again, so I don't have to clean it up.***

***Until she pukes again.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Wish The Lady Down The Street Would Stop Feeding The Stray Cats; They're Getting Kind Of Large


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Will Vowel-Americans Still Support The President?

In 2008, Vowel-Americans overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama for president of the USA.  They were delighted by his victory, ending an over two-century dominance of Consonant-Americans in the presidency.  Yes, no longer would Vowel-Americans have their needs ignored by presidents whose last names had perhaps one vowel in them such as Polk, Taft, Ford, Bush, or, worst of all, Grant (four consonants to one vowel).

True, there were brief flourishings where vowels stood in equality to consonants in presidents such as Monroe, Pierce, Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, and Reagan, but not until Obama did vowels outnumber consonants in a president's last name.

However, the euphoria of Vowel-Americans did not last long after Obama's election.  Aaron Aeiou, the president of Voters Open Wide Epiglottis Lips (VOWEL), a Vowel-American political action committee, says, "In hindsight, we should have viewed the selection of [Joe] Biden for VP as a bad sign.  I mean he could have selected Tim Kaine."  And, instead of appointing more Vowel-Americans to high cabinet posts, Obama appointed essentially the same old crowd of Consonant-Americans with names such as Clinton, Holder, Vilsack, Bryson, and Duncan.

The White House has argued that selections such as LaHood, Napolitano, and Sebelius demonstrate the president's commitments to the Vowel-American cause, but Aeiou points out that even the previous president, Bush, appointed cabinet members such as Chao, Mineta, Rice, and, best of all, Paige and Peake.  "All in all, I have to admit that Bush had a better record of appointing Vowel-Americans to his Cabinet.  Obama has been a disappointment," Aeiou sighed.

Asked whether he would support Obama for a second term in 2012, Aeiou wasn't sure, "Romney might not be that bad.  I mean 'y' is sometimes a vowel."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Apologies To The Tigers Of Indonesia

I was once asked if I bought my toilet paper from military overstock from the Guantanamo Bay torture restrooms.

And while this is a vicious and untrue rumor, I must admit that yes, I don't spend a lot of money on products designed to be scrubbed with fecal matter and then thrown away.

The same goes for paper towels.  Thus, I was delighted to become acquainted with Paseo at the local Marc's.


Unfortunately, about a week later, my mom pointed out that the World Wildlife Fund was boycotting Paseo since they were made from paper from a rain forest in Indonesia that was a habitat for an endangered species of tiger and other creatures.  The campaign, Don't Flush Tiger Forests, has been fairly successful in getting grocery chains to drop the brand and in getting the company that produces Paseo, Oasis Brands, to get their paper elsewhere.  "What kind of jerk would put saving money above saving tigers?" Mom asked.

I treated it as a rhetorical question and didn't answer.

Nevertheless, I have eight rolls of tiger guilt in my cupboard.  I suppose I could return them to Marc's.  "I don't want to kill tigers," probably wouldn't be the strangest reason the customer service desk ever heard for a return.  That still seems like passing the buck though.  The paper's made already.  I might as well use it.  I just won't buy Paseo again (I probably can't--it looks as if Oasis is just going to phase out that name).  So, my apologies to the tigers of Indonesia.  It's nothing personal.  I'm just cheap.

Please don't eat me.   

Monday, June 25, 2012

Donnie Iris Says, "Keep Rocking!"

Thanks, Donnie!  I was just about to stop (as the sign in the photo commands), but your encouragement has given me the strength to carry on.  Maybe I'll even write some new songs.  None will probably be as good as "Love Is Like A Rock" though.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Zygote In My Fez Book

After the Zygote In My Fez shindig in Toledo, Ohio USA last year, Michele McDannold wanted to put together a zine commemorating the event.  It looks like the zine has morphed into a book.  I believe I sent her a short story called "Thank Heavens . . .", but I'm not even entirely sure.  I guess I'll find out when I read the book after it comes out later this summer.  It looks like it'll be a fun read!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Telling Stories: A Documentary By The Orphans Of Kakamega


My pal Scott Rudge has a new film project he's working on called Telling Stories:  A Documentary By The Orphans Of Kakamega.  He's raising money for it on Faithfunder, which appears to be a Christian version of Kickstarter.  He's the kind of guy who lives his faith rather than talk about it.  In addition to organizing the fun Genghis Con comics and zine convention, he'll also sell you some comic books if you're in Lorain County, Ohio USA (as you can tell from the pictures on Facebook, he also likes to dress up as The Flash and a Mexican wrestler).  If you have some spare bucks (unlikely in the Great Recession, I know--on the other hand though, I saw many people chugging ten dollar lawnmower beers* at the Radiohead concert recently, so clearly some disposable income is floating around), then you could do worse with it than helping Scott get to Kenya to help some orphans make a movie.

*Lawnmower Beer, according to Ryan Kearney, is the type of cheap American lager such as Bud or Miller that you can drink all day while mowing the lawn and never get drunk enough to cut your foot off.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Indie Bookstores Want Customers To "Buy Local" But Don't Want To Buy Local Themselves

Thanks to Book Inq., I came across an interesting article from the American Booksellers Association.  It's about how some independent bookstores work with self-published authors.

Some of the actions make sense.  For example, the bookstores that take damn near anything on consignment and give it a go--why not?  A lot of stock in bookstores does just sit around.  I've been going to some stores and I've seen some of the same books for years, and not different copies of the books, the same copies (Go to Mac's Backs in Cleveland Heights, Ohio USA sometime.  Please buy Corey Frost's My Own Devices.  It's a good book, and the poor thing's been sitting there for nearly a decade--well, you're there, pick up a copy of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus as well.).  So why not try something new?  If it sells, it sells.  If not, have the author come pick up the unsold books a couple of months later.

However, some of the actions don't make sense, either for the bookstore or the author.  Who on Earth would pay a store to hold a signing, and then let the store take 40% of the money from the sold books as well?  Here's a hint, authors.  Find a local coffeeshop or bar.  Tell 'em you'd like to hold a reading/signing and that the people who show up will likely buy some drinks.  Most likely they'll go for it, especially if you pick an off-night anyway (say, a Tuesday).  Then you make a flyer, send out some press releases, email some friends, and then go have a good time, and you get to keep 100% of the proceeds from the sold books.  The whole point of doing a signing through a store is that the author gets some help with the promotion and together the two make money.  Instead, it seems some of these stores are exploiting neophyte authors.  Admittedly, a lot of self-published material is crap (then again so is a lot of the stuff coming from major publishers--vampires who eat bears, anyone?), but that's no excuse to gouge them.  They're probably going to lose enough money on their vanity run as is.  Bookstores make a big deal about the cost of adding books, but that's mainly nonsense.  It's not hard to stick a few books on a shelf and enter them into computer inventory.  Whenever I'm in a bookstore, the clerk's usually reading a book instead of working anyway.  Bookstores, hold a reading for a self-published author.  It's not hard to set up some folding chairs.  Maybe people will show up and buy some other books as well.  Readings get people through the door of the store.  That's a good thing.

This issue is very ironic.  Most independent booksellers always make a big deal about shopping indie and buying local, yet many of them often sell only corporate products and are hostile to indie, local, and self-published fare.  This is an unfortunate tendency.  They should practice what they preach.  Many bookstores have closed over the past decade.  Many of the ones that have survived have survived precisely because they're providing things that Amazon and Barnes and Noble can't, which is a local touch.  Many of those self-published authors are customers, and it's likely they'll return the favor with patronage if the booksellers stick their books on the shelf and smile rather than turn them away or try to fleece them with an "administrative fee".  Are these bookstores taking business advice from Black Books or something?

Buy local and shop indie is for everybody, stores included.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Zyfez 2012

Last year, I read at Zygote In My Fez, a literary festival in Toledo, Ohio USA.  It was a lot of fun.  This year, they're doing it again in Oakland, California USA in July.  I won't be there, but some of the fine folks I read with last year such as Lynn Alexander and Michele McDannold will be, along with some West Coasters who weren't able to make it last year.  If you're in the Bay area in July, check out Zyfez 2012!  The poetry pub crawl sounds especially fun.  Rimbaud would approve!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

R.I.P. The Inner Swine Print Zine

I recently received a distressing postcard.  Jeff Somers, proprietor of The Inner Swine, the longtime zine devoted to alcohol abuse, cats, pantlessness, rants, and well-written fiction has now gone online only.  It will be available as an ebook and archived as a pdf. 

Somers cites costs for abandoning print, but I wonder if his growing audience among prisoners also had something to do with it (the audience for print zines these days seems down to hardcore longtime zinesters and convicts without access to the Internet).  I still traded zines (a serialized print zine version of Blog Love Omega Glee--it's hush hush) with Somers, so perhaps it's my fault.  He might have been sick of waiting for years to finish reading a novel that's available complete online instantly.

Somers, I'm sorry!

Seriously though, I'm sorry to see the print zine go.  I enjoyed reading it when it popped up in my mailbox twice a year.  The good news is that given Somers's increasing success in mainstream publishing (check out the Avery Cates novels for some sci-fi fun) that he has time to still do a zine at all.  He's a fine writer, so let's be grateful that we still have the Swine at all.

Keep on oinking!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Hazards Of Self-Publishing

As the old line goes, everyone's for freedom of speech until they hear something they don't like; then instead of answering that speech with more speech (the correct solution), they try to shut up the source.  Conventional publishing types such as newspapers know this, which is why they typically have journalistic standards and a lawyer on speeddial.  Self-publishers often don't know this, until their ignorance/innocence (take your pick) is shattered by being served with an invitation to a lawsuit.

I've come across two cases in the past week or so where self-publishers got that kind of wake-up call.  Both cases strike me as ridiculous, and I wish the respective self-publishers luck in dispatching the censors (and, yes, I know, officially that censorship comes from the government, but what else sums up so neatly in one word someone trying to shut someone up?).

The first case is The Oatmeal lawsuit, which apparently started out as an attempt by one website to shake down another.  The website called Funnyjunk (you'll have to Google it; I generally as a rule of policy don't link to jerks) was republishing cartoons from The Oatmeal without permission and thought suing the cartoonist, Matthew Inman, would be an effective way of getting Inman to stop demanding they stop ripping off his work.

I hope you got all that; the syntax was complex in that last sentence, but it's a complex situation.  It involves charities being sued, bears having sex with moms, and more.  Read all about it here.

The second case is more local to me in Ohio USA (you know, the place where we delight in getting presidential candidates to lick our boots; that is, if we could afford boots).  It involves a blogger in Burton, Ohio, who runs a blog called Burton Blog (I like the alliteration, but no points for imagination--of course, my blog is called Wred Fright's Blog, so who am I to complain?).  If you know anything about Burton, you'd think Burton Blog would be a pretty tame blog about maple syrup, Amish buggies, and maybe how great the local library is, but no, Burton Blog is pretty uproarious since its publisher runs a gun store called The Gunrunner and likes to critique local politics from a conservative viewpoint.  At one point, the blogger, Scott Weber, made fun of the local football coach, who had gotten picked up for drunk driving, and complained that instead of getting fired from the school district, the coach was put on paid administrative leave.  The coach, apparently a sensitive soul, responded by suing the blogger.  You can read all about it here, here, and here.  This thing's being going on for over a year and, according to court records, has now seemed to morph into a second lawsuit involving an insurance company that's suing both the blogger and coach (see that's why we need bloggers; newspapers are always falling down on the job).  You can visit the Geauga County Clerk of Courts and puzzle over it yourself.  The whole thing smells like nonsense.  I'll say one thing for the coach.  Even if he has no sense, he's got guts.  I wouldn't sue a guy called The Gunrunner who was well-armed and whose blog photo shows him holding a rifle.  Nevertheless, perhaps the suit will lead finally to a merger between the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, wherein the NRA shows up with guns whenever someone's freedom of speech gets threatened, an idea that I believe I once heard columnist Dan Savage fantasize about when he made an appearance at the local bookstore to promote Skipping Towards Gomorrah a few years ago.

All of these suits smell of SLAPP, and lawyers who are responding to the downturn in litigation (that's also led to many law school graduates being unable to find a job and drowning in debt--issues that first emerged on blogs such as Third Tier Reality and Inside The Law School Scam) by enabling clients to file suits without merit such as these.  Yes, there is a reason why lawyers have a bad reputation.  Thankfully, there are some good lawyers who will fight these suits, sometime seven pro bono.

I've been fortunate enough not to have to deal with this type of nonsense yet myself.  If I did, then I suspect I'd not only fight it all the way legally (where it comes to defending the First Amendment, I head into scorched earth mode), but document it publicly every step of the way.  If the intent of these type of suits is to shut people up, then one would get me to pour out the speech even more.  A few years ago, I traded links with The Professor, an anonymous blogger, who ran an amusing political commentary blog called Political Science 216.  He got sued by a local mayor and effectively disappeared.  The mayor apparently was never able to serve a summons on The Professor because the mayor didn't know who he was, but the mayor was effective in shutting up The Professor, which was a shame.  I miss The Professor.  You can read about that case here.  I rather liked the mayor in question until then.  He liked to dress up as Superman.  Who wouldn't want a Supermayor?  If only he had concentrated on the "purr" part and not the "sue," I might like him still.  Alas.

The point is that these lawsuits are almost always pointless.  Clearly, there are such things as defamation, libel, and slander, but, due to the First Amendment, winning them is difficult since hyperbole, opinion, parody, and satire are all protected speech.  So, the intent of the suits is usually to intimidate people into shutting up.  But, if you don't like what someone says about you, then don't sue them: tell them.

Hell, start a blog of your own!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wenclas Does Washington

My recent interviewee King Wenclas has a new blog titled Election Follies 2012, and it's pretty amusing political satire.  These days, politics is so absurd though that it takes some effort to find some humor in the horror.  Wenclas does it though.  The latest episode features Mitt Romney trying to learn how to be human.  Good luck, Mitt; you'll need it!

As for me, I already covered the 2012 presidential election in Blog Love Omega Glee, so I don't have much to say about it.  The wonderful Project Vote Smart lists 353 candidates for president, from Dorothy Adams to William Zollinger.  The 2012 crop display similar characteristics to the 2008 crop that I had fun with in my 2008 Third Party Presidential Candidates Sonnet.  My favorites so far this time around include the perennial Vermin Supreme, Robert Newborn Jorgenson (who wishes to "Paint the White House Green to symbolize our commitment to sustainability!"), and Ole Savior, who seems to be running on some sort of Outsider Art platform.  However, many of these "candidates" can't even be bothered to set up a blog nor get on the ballot, so beyond amusement for us, their campaigns are little more than exercises in vanity or flights of fancy for the mentally ill.  Many of the others have fallen to the sides in their respective party contests or are independent candidates who probably won't be on enough state ballots to technically even have the chance of winning.

One candidate who will be enough state ballots to technically have the chance of winning is Gary Johnson, who will be the Libertarian Party standardbearer this time around.  Also, Jill Stein of the Green Party looks like she might be on enough ballots to technically win.  Usually, people get so caught up in the wrestlingmatchesque hype of Democrat vs. Republican (with one side the hero and the other the villain) that they ignore any other choices.  This is, of course, fueled by the massive amounts of money spent propagandizing for one side or another.  You know something's wrong though when millions are spent on getting a job that only pays four hundred grand a year (only--how many of us would like to make that amount though?).

Well, unless you want more debt, wars, looting of the public treasury, and attacks on civil liberties, keep on voting that way.  The track records of both Obama and Romney and their respective parties suggest you'll get more of the same regardless of who wins.  To choose just one example, under the administration of the the last Republican president, George W. Bush, the national debt nearly doubled in eight years.  One might think that given the distaste Democrats had for the Bush administration that the Obama administration would have halted that trend.  Unfortunately, instead the trend has accelerated, with the debt increasing more in four years than it did in the previous eight.

Perhaps the real problem is that the presidency was likely never intended to be as powerful as it is today.  Despite the American revolution over two centuries ago, given the fascination in the United States today with the British royal family (or parasites, if you will) with exhibit A being the attention last year's wedding received here, Americans still desire a king.

It's been said many times before, but it merits saying again.

Be careful what you wish for. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John Galt Blvd.

I got an ad in the mail today from Omaha Steaks ("Special Invitation For a Select Few" . . . Million People), and noticed that their corporate headquarters is located on John Galt Blvd.  John Galt, of course, is a fictional character created by Ayn Rand, so it's pretty nifty that he has his own street in Omaha, Nebraska USA.  According to the Douglas County Historical Society, the street was named by a real estate developer whose favorite book was Atlas Shrugged.  I guess now you can enjoy some Randburgers as a result, and I can heartily endorse naming streets after fictional characters and other literary figures.

Perhaps someday someone will name a street after Funnybear.

It probably should be a street with a lot of bars on it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Peasants Are Getting Sonnets: An Interview With Pop Novelist King Karl Wenclas


If I recall correctly, I met King Karl Wenclas when I was doing research on zines for my dissertation back in 2000 or so.  He was just starting the Underground Literary Alliance (ULA) with some fellow zinesters, and they were going to invade American literature and make it less boring through some protests and other literary activism.  That they did, and I got caught up in the fun, joining the organization myself for a few years.  I appreciated Wenclas's literary criticism and his zines, particularly War Hysteria, which he bravely released at the height of war on terror fever in 2001/02.  Since the ULA has run its course, Wenclas has been concentrating more on his own writing than on literary activism, but he and Anis Shivani probably still duke it out for the title of the most caustic critic in literature today (sorry, Michiko Kakutani, you're a pussycat compared to these two tigers).  He just released The Tower, a novel about a group of activists protesting a new sports stadium in an American city, and that's how our conversation starts.

1) Why did you put out The Tower as an ebook and not as a zine?


For two reasons. One is that it's easier to produce an ebook, once you figure it out. Second is that right now I'm flat broke and couldn't afford the copying and mailing costs. But I think The Tower would be great as a zine. A person can actually do more with zines-- like selling them at readings. Kinda hard to do with ebooks. That said, ebooks look to be the future of reading. I'd like to get at the forefront of what promises to be a sea change in how literature is produced, distributed, and read.

2) How do you think ebooks are affecting American literature?  Are things better than last decade when the Underground Literary Alliance was protesting the dismal state of it?

A good question. My impression is that the literary elite is more insular and hostile to change than ever before. They fear what ebooks are going to do to them. In public comments from the likes of Ann Patchett and Leon Wieseltier about Amazon and ebooks one receives nothing but emanations of fear. Ten years ago they were so complacent about their standing and their art that they could afford to let the ULA make a little noise. This couldn't happen now.

Unlike ten years ago, real change is coming that will sweep aside their world. I saw change in the city of Detroit, of a different kind, throughout my life. Wrenching change.  I saw the same complacency and the same underlying economic forces that were impossible to stop. The same kind of change is happening to publishing because of ebooks. There's just no way for a top-heavy publishing system with enormous built-in overhead costs to compete, in the long run, against 99-cent ebooks produced by low-rent characters like you or me. The Big Six are producing cheap ebooks also, of course, but that's not where they make their money. They're still dependent on the $25 print novel to pay the bills. It's what the Apple-Amazon lawsuit is about. The big guys were trying to stop natural forces that can't be stopped.

What underground writers have going for them is that we're not locked into a rigid model. We have flexibilty with our art. I believe that the novel can be both literary and pop. It can be readable and fun but also art. No one knows what kinds of writers will survive the coming sea change. What won't survive is the standard finely-detailed, slow-moving "literary" novel, which has been artificially propped up by the mass print media and the official arts organizations for decades. That kind of introspective writing isn't what people want. The public wants characters who dominate a stage; who are larger-than-life. They want superheroes. So I'm trying to make my characters, or at least one of them in my latest ebook, properly "large." Classic storytelling art. Homer after all gave his listeners larger-than-life characters.

If we can't create or lead the changes, we can at least surf them.

3) Speaking of the Underground Literary Alliance, what do you think the group's legacy is?  Literate-driven precursors of the Occupy and Tea Party movements, or a brief flare-up of the underground into the mainstream that will chiefly be remembered as communists and terrorists as their enemies described them (the Tom Bissell Believer essay was recently republished in his essay collection)?

One of the questions I ask in The Tower is: Who gets to write the history? Who constructs the narrative? Those outside the systems of authority and power are unable to, unless they construct their own histories, their own organs of voice and message; their own platform. That's what the ULA was attempting to do.

Those in the halls of established literature constructed a distorted narrative about the ULA, pushed it home and made theirs the accepted narrative about us. As you point out, "literary terrorists." If it's printed by authority, it becomes the truth. It's why our window of opportunity was so brief-- we had to establish a platform before the walls went up against us. We moved too slowly. We thought we had forever to get our books out there, or to build some kind of substantive foundation, even a nonprofit organization, which in hindsight we should've done. We lacked urgency, even I did, though the urgency I sometimes expressed was taken as too demanding by some.  The odds against us were impossible from the start. For myself, I was too easily sidetracked by the ULA's opponents, when I should've stayed narrowly focused. But that's hard to do. One has to restrain natural temper and have no ego. Life is a process of knocking away ego, stripping aside vanity and illusion.

I believe our legacy is more than we can see at the moment. We had a great history. That can't be taken away from us. The ULA is like Crazy Horse. Exterminated in cold-blooded fashion. Yet Crazy Horse lives on. You can't exterminate an idea. You can't exterminate authenticity, which the ULA had by the truckload and which new generations are always looking for.

The irony is that now literary elitists like the folks at n+1 and even those who most scorned us are supporting the very kinds of actions that the Underground Literary Alliance engaged in ten years ago. Yes, we were ahead of the curve. Definitely precursors. The contradiction doesn't register with them, except maybe at the back of their heads. They push the notion to the rear, but it's still there. I find curious the idea that years after we were relevant, many literary people remain fascinated by us and what we did. We're the Other. The ultimate literary rebels. I notice that even Bissell, in a recent interview with Ed Champion, discusses the ULA. (I haven't listened to the interview, but was told about it.) I'm sure he gives the false narrative, again, but the notion of the literary Outsider continues to trouble him.

It's a psychological truth that the more you repress an idea, the stronger it becomes.

4) What ideas are you interested in now?  What are your current projects?

My current project is American Pop Lit. Like a million other writers, I'm producing ebooks. I hope to distinguish mine from the mass. Instead of making easy genre lit, I'm attempting a fusion of styles, so the reading is fast and fun but also meaningful and relevant.

Having ideas about a style or genre of writing, to support and justify that style, is necessary in today's crowded literary scene. Supporting ideas add value to the writing. I still believe that the indy and populist ideas we inherited from the zine scene are winning ideas. But ideas are useless without ways to bring those ideas to the mainstream. How do we announce our writing to the larger society? I ponder this question often.

5) Anything else that you want to tell the world at the moment?

I would simply ask the world to support indy literature by purchasing independent ebooks. Thanks.

Check out more King Karl Wenclas at his blog!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents & Underground Classics

Critical Survey of Graphic Novels:  Independents & Underground Classics has apparently been published (I haven't seen it yet).  It's a huge encyclopedia about graphic novels.  It has a companion devoted to superheroes, but the alt volume includes three entries by me ("Alec:  The Years Have Pants," "Our Cancer Year," and "Wilson").  Read them at your local library, unless you have $395 to spare!  

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Zine Novel: An Emerging Canon of Underground Literature

I was going through some old papers and came across the following one, which I presented at the Popular Culture Association National Conference in 2005 (and which is still written in the MLA format of the time).  Some of the ideas I adapted into an encyclopedia entry that I wrote about zines for an encyclopedia called Books and Beyond, but the paper has never been published (I moved on to other topics).  Still, I found it interesting, and perhaps you will as well!

The Zine Novel:  The Emerging Canon of Underground Literature

Within the last decade or so, the subculture surrounding zines—personal, noncommercial publications produced with the most affordable and available technology and typically opposed in some manner to mainstream culture and society—has begun to produce several novelists, including Sean Carswell, Aaron Cometbus, Jeff Gomez, Pagan Kennedy, Joe Meno, Jim Munroe, and Eddie Willson.  Initially, these zine writers turned novelists were published by major publishers, but in recent years zine novelists are avoiding major publishers in favor of either smaller, independent publishers, or self-publication.  This paper examines the characteristics of the “zine novel” and how the movement of these writers from zines to novels is affecting their work, the zine subculture, the larger literary culture, and contemporary society.

Small press literary works have a long history from revolutionary war broadsides to the little magazines of modernism.  Zines trace their direct lineage from the fanzines produced by science fiction enthusiasts in the late 1920s/early 1930s.  Spreading to other enthusiasms beyond science fiction such as rock and roll music and mixing with other dissident media such as mimeograph literary chapbooks and underground newspapers, zines became more common in the late 1970s when photocopying made mass production of a personal publication increasingly affordable and available.  The golden age of zines was perhaps the 1980s/1990s when more zines were produced than ever on innumerable subjects, zine publishers established a network of trading publications with one another, and the entire zine phenomenon attracted mainstream media attention complete with book deals (Wright 23-48).

Although most of the zine writers who received contracts with mainstream publishers during those boom years produced books about zines as a cultural phenomenon, or anthologies of work from various zines, or a collection of their own zine, at least two zine writers produced novels:  Jeff Gomez and Pagan Kennedy.  Gomez’s novel Our Noise, about the lives of indie rockers and slackers in a small college town in Virginia, emerged from a series of short stories he had published as a literary zine, or “litzine” for short, by the same name (Gomez, Satellites).  Kennedy, who turned to zine-publishing for relief from the traditional fiction-writing world, found that her first novel Spinsters, about a pair of sisters who take a roadtrip after their father’s death in the late 1960s, was envigorated by her zine publishing experience (Kennedy, ’Zine).  In addition to Gomez and Kennedy, earlier zine writers also wrote novels.  For example, Kathy Acker published a serial novel in the mail art network of the 1970s before she came to prominence as a postmodern novelist in the 1980s and Bob Black in Beneath the Underground, his look at early zine culture in the 1980s, notes that some zinesters such as Thom Metzger later published novels with mainstream presses (typically horror fiction) (Acker 8-9; Black 23-26).
 
By the late 1990s, more zine writers migrated to the novel.  As Black explains, “The book trend is likely to continue since, as Jacob Rabinowitz of Verlag Golem says, for the effort it takes to put out a fanzine you might as well publish books” (25).  However, perhaps because the zine writers who followed Gomez and Kennedy lacked those writers’ mainstream pedigrees (Gomez’s work was championed by novelist Bret Easton Ellis and Kennedy has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University) or were simply more firmly entrenched in the do it yourself (DIY) independent stance of zines, most of these writers were skeptical of mainstream publishing if not openly hostile to it.

In fact, two zine novelists, Joe Meno and Jim Munroe, published novels with corporate publishers earlier in their careers but chose to publish their later works independently.  Aesthetically, Meno produced the best novel of his career, Hairstyles of the Damned, about a teen growing up in Chicago during the early 1990s, by stepping away from the major publishers to an independent press for his third novel.  Given the insult to major publishers on the acknowledgments page, it’s clear that his qualitative leap had not just to do with more experience in writing novels but also with having more creative control over his work (Meno, Hairstyles).  Munroe’s decision also has to do with autonomy, but went beyond aesthetics, as he realized after his first novel was published by a major corporate publisher that he could probably make just as much if not more money publishing on his own,  and have complete control over his work and its marketing to boot (Munroe, No Media Kings).  He’s subsequently published his later novels on his own (at least in Canada, in other countries, some are licensed to larger publishing houses such as Four Walls, Eight Windows in the United States) starting with his second novel Angry Young Spaceman, a comedic science fiction novel about a human who goes to teach English on another planet.  Furthermore, Munroe has shared his experiences in self-publishing to help other writers and artists interested in striking out on their own, by organizing the Perpetual Motion Roadshow, a tour circuit throughout North America for independent artists, and by offering a wealth of resources for self-publishers on his website (www.nomediakings.org).

In addition to the zine novelists who have returned to their DIY roots, there are also zine novelists who skipped the mainstream experience entirely.  For example, Victor Thorn and Sean Carswell both self-published their first novels.  Thorn’s The End of Fiction is about, appropriately enough, a maverick writer who takes on the publishing industry, whereas Carswell’s Drinks for the Little Guy concerns a carpenter’s disappearance in Florida.  Both novelists then went on to found presses that published other writers (Sisyphus and Gorsky respectively).  In addition to the ultimate act of self-publishing, other zine novelists sought out independent presses to publish their novels.  For example,  Bill Brown, publisher of the zine Dream Whip, published his novel Saugus to the Sea, a hipster mystery set in Los Angeles, with independent press Smart Cookie Publishing, who in the classic zine tradition try to publish works that “present an alternative to mainstream culture” (Smart Cookie).  Indeed, these three writers are representative of many other zine novelists who moved from publishing or writing for zines to writing novels and publishing books.

Though the books by Brown, Carswell, Meno, Munroe, and Thorn look the same as any other trade paperback that a reader would find on a bookshelf in a bookstore, some zine novelists even keep their work closer in appearance to their DIY roots.  Aaron Cometbus, publisher of the long-running punk personal zine (or "perzine" as it is referred to in the zine community) Cometbus, publishes novels as regular issues of his zine.  One such novel Double Duce, about a group of punks sharing a house, was later republished in trade paperback format by Last Gasp.  Cometbus’s novels appear to be mostly autobiographical but since the roman a clef is a long tradition in literature if he wants to call it fiction, there’s no reason to quibble.

Because Cometbus is a very popular zine, it is offset printed and not photocopied such as most zines are.  However, British writer Eddie Willson keeps his novel The Black Car Leaving, about a group of friends in a small English town in the 1970s who get into punk rock, even closer to zinedom by photocopying and stapling it.  Willson turned to the zine format for his novel after frustration with traditional publishing circles led him to an epiphany that he should do what one of his characters would do and just publish it himself.  He sells the novel via mail order, in book and record shops, and, most enterprisingly, on the streets of London person to person.

Not all zine novelists keep as close to the classic zine format as Willson however.  Some zine novelists have left print for electronic publishing (as have many zine publishers in general as electronic publishing with the spread of blogs and websites has become more accessible and affordable than print for many people).  For example, Jeff Somers, an extremely prolific writer who has published the lit/perzine The Inner Swine for a decade and who published his novel Lifers, about a group of office workers turned criminals, in 2001 with Creative Arts Book Company (an independent publisher often accused of being a vanity press that went out of business in 2004), publishes some of his novels as ebooks on his website (Somers, Inner Swine).  Other zine novelists such as Mickey Hess and Crazy Carl Robinson have also published online in serial installments or as a whole (Hess; Robinson).

Whether online or in print, the swell of zine novelists in recent years has become quite notable in zine circles.  The number of zine novelists has also crested to the point where it cannot help but attract the notice of the larger literary world, a notice fueled by a conscientious assault upon the literary world in recent years by a group of zine writers known as The Underground Literary Alliance (or  ULA), of which I am a member.  The ULA formed in 2000, to promote underground writers such as zine novelists and confront the mainstream publishing industry about what the ULA views as the poor quality of contemporary literature, blamed on nepotism in the publishing industry and on the cookie-cutter poetry and prose produced by graduates of university creative writing programs (Underground Literary Alliance).  Furthermore, the ULA argues that those selfsame creative writing programs are not only elitist, attempting to professionalize writing at the expense of democratic vitality, but akin to pyramid schemes, taking in students who can only get jobs teaching creative writing, producing yet more students who can only get jobs teaching creative writing.  The ULA led by King Karl Wenclas, a longtime zinester, has been quite controversial but successful in attracting mainstream attention, much of it alarmed--an article, hysterical in more ways than one, about the group in an issue of The Believer suggested the group was akin to literary terrorists and Stalinists--but so far, aside from their zine The Slush Pile, the group has not published any novels (though individual members have), but that seems to be among their ultimate goals (Bissell).

If the ULA did publish novels, what would they be like?  Taking ten zine novels as a representative sample of the movement--Our Noise, Spinsters, Hairstyles of the Damned, Angry Young Spaceman, The End of Fiction, Drinks for the Little Guy, Saugus to the Sea, Double Duce, The Black Car Leaving, and Lifers—some characteristics of the zine novel become evident.  One is that the majority of the novels utilize a first-person perspective (nine out of the ten—only Our Noise does not), though two of the novels—Drinks for the Little Guy and The Black Car Leaving--offer a third-person perspective in addition.  This preference for first-person perspective is entirely keeping with the zine emphasis on personal communication. 

Furthermore, all of the novels deal mainly with youthful characters, usually teens or twentysomethings, typically involved in fringe culture, whether punk rock or crime.  This too is not surprising since most zines are produced by younger people, usually looking for friends one way or another, and most zines are steeped in some sort of marginal subculture opposed to the mainstream such as punk rock music.  In fact, most of the novels are set in contemporary times as well, only Spinsters and Hairstyles of the Damned take place in the past (the late 1960s and early 1990s respectively), and Angry Young Spaceman takes place in the future home to most science fiction (and only Angry Young Spaceman clearly utilizes a recognized literary genre, though both Drinks for the Little Guy and Saugus to the Sea exhibit traits of mystery novels).

In addition, the majority of the writers (nine out of ten) of the zine novels are men (Pagan Kennedy is a woman).  Most do not appear to be of minority descent aside from Gomez who is Latino and Cometbus who is Jewish.  None of the writers are known to be homosexual.  The majority of the writers appear to be straight, white, heterosexual males.  What are we to make of this?  Perhaps demographically the majority of novelists overall are still straight, white, heterosexual males, but it could also be suggested that just as the publishing industry and literary community have embraced multiculturalism (and rightly so), writers who would in past times perhaps find spaces on major publishing houses lists find those spaces filled instead with gay, minority, and women novelists.  It is also interesting to note that most of the zine novelists do appear to come from modest means (working class or middle class backgrounds), while many contemporary mainstream literary novelists appear to emerge from ivy league schools and wealthier backgrounds.  Furthermore, only four of the zine novelists (Gomez, Munroe, Somers, and Willson) live in centers of the publishing world such as New York City, London, or Toronto, and of course two of those four were published by mainstream publishers in their careers.  Thus the class and geographic factors may explain that the zine novelists lack the social connections often necessary to get published by mainstream presses, and feel some exclusion that way (clearly, the ULA feels marginalized in this manner, based on their caustic critiques of mainstream publishing being elitist).

However, the majority of the zine novelists appear happier independent anyway, taking the DIY credo of the zine world into books.  They’ve found a warm response from readers as well, at least within the zine community, where their books are reviewed in zines such as Zine World and Xerography Debt.  There are some bookstores where they feel right at home as well such as Quimby’s in Chicago, which stocks numerous zines.  Indeed, to walk into Quimby’s is to stumble upon the physical manifestation of an alternative literary canon.  Although one will find many representatives of the mainstream literary tradition there from issues of McSweeney’s to books by Franz Kafka, one finds more books by writers sadly too often ignored by the mainstream literary canon (based on anthologies of literature typically taught in college courses) such as writers from the past such as Charles Bukowski to contemporary writers such as the zine novelists.

Though the zine novelists haven’t set any sales records yet, nor will they be in consideration anytime soon for the Nobel Prize in Literature (regardless of the quality of their work, they’re simply too far under the radar at the moment), the trend of zine publishers turning novelists is likely to continue and gather strength as efforts such as the Perpetual Motion Roadshow and the Underground Literary Alliance build a larger audience of readers interested in this alternative literature.  However, unless the novelists expand their range beyond slacker lifestyles and youthful characters, it’s unlikely that they will ever attract much attention outside of the zine subculture.  However, if they expand their range and continue to develop their expertise in publishing and writing while remaining rooted in the personal, DIY, alternative roots of zine culture, they could represent a real challenge to mainstream literature and publishing.  Particularly if they keep bringing issues and voices in a spirited, if scruffy, fashion to the literary world that would be otherwise ignored, the zine novelists could rejuvenate literature for the better, and affect society through literature (clearly, the ULA’s goal).  At the moment, however, the zine novel appears to be in an early stage, but a 21st century canon of underground literature does appear to be developing.  Kennedy once wrote in her book ’Zine, about her experiences publishing a zine that  “I had finally learned how to write the Great American Underground Novel—though it ended up being a ’zine instead” (9).  Now the reverse appears to be true as zine writers start out creating zines but end up producing Great American Underground Novels instead.    

Works Cited

Acker, Kathy.  Hannibal Lector, My Father.  New York, NY:  Semiotext(e), 1991.

Bissell, Tom.  “Protesting All Fiction Writers!”  The Believer July 2003:  3-17.

Black, Bob.  Beneath the Underground.  Portland, OR:  Feral House, 1994.

Brown, Bill.  Saugus to the Sea.  Vancouver, BC:  Smart Cookie, 2001.

Carswell, Sean.  Drinks for the Little Guy.  Cocoa Beach, FL:  Gorsky Press, 1999.

Cometbus, Aaron.  Despite Everything:  A Cometbus Omnibus.  San Francisco, CA:  Last Gasp, 2002.

---.  Double Duce.  San Francisco, CA:  Last Gasp, 2003.

Gomez, Jeff.  Our Noise.  New York, NY:  Scribner, 1995.

---.  Satellites That Don’t Call Home.  6 Dec. 2004  http://www.dontcallhome.com

Hess, Mickey.  Mickey Hess.  6 Dec. 2004 http://www.mickeyhess.net

Kennedy, Pagan.  Spinsters.  New York, NY:  High Risk/Serpent’s Tail, 1995.

---.  ’Zine.  New York, NY:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995.

Meno, Joe.  Hairstyles of the Damned.  New York, NY:  Akashic/Punk Planet, 2004.

---.  How the Hula Girl Sings.  New York, NY:  ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 2001. 

---.  Tender As Hellfire.  New York, NY:  St. Martin’s, 1999.

Munroe, Jim.  Angry Young Spaceman.  New York, NY:  Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001.

---.  Everyone in Silico.  New York, NY:  Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

---.  Flyboy Action Figure Comes with Gasmask.  Toronto, ON:  Harper Flamingo Canada, 1998.

---.  Infinity Points.  Willowdale, ON:  Lickspittle Ventures, 1995.

---.  No Media Kings.  6 Dec. 2004 http://www.nomediakings.org

---.  An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil.  Toronto, ON:  No Media Kings, 2004.

Robinson, Crazy Carl.  “Dead in the Head Excerpts.” WredFright.Com 16 May 2004.  6 Dec. 2004 http://www.wredfright.com/ccdith.html

Smart Cookie Publishing. 6 Dec.2004 http://www.webspotter.com/smartcookie/

Somers, Jeff.  The Inner Swine.  6 Dec. 2004 http://www.innerswine.com
---.  Lifers.  Berkeley, CA:  Creative Arts Book Company, 2001. 

Thorn, Victor.  The End of Fiction.  State College, PA:  Sisyphus Press, 2000.

Underground Literary Alliance.  ULA Fan Page.  6 Dec. 2004 http://www.literaryrevolution.com.

Willson, Eddie.  The Black Car Leaving.  London, UK:  Self, Self, Self Publishing, 2002.

Wright, Frederick.  “From Zines to Ezines:  Electronic Publishing and the Literary Underground.” Diss. Kent State U., 2001.