I think it’s pretty cringe-worthy that Marvel thinks they’re so progressive for gender swapping certain characters, like Thor, instead of simply creating strong female characters that are independent of pre-existing heroes.
“I think that the most “successful” poets have always been ones who manage to navigate between arrogance and humility with ease. Arrogance often makes the poet, and it isn’t necessarily that the person herself is arrogant. It’s simply that she knows when to employ it to her advantage. I’m thinking back to when Walt Whitman made his dick bigger in a reprint of Leaves of Grass. Or when another poet came up to me at a bar and told me he bought a gold chain to “rebrand.” There is a vulnerability that manifests in both of these actions, but they are also statements of self-importance. These small moments and small statements frame a poet’s body of work; these engagements with the public sphere.”—
The venerable and surprisingly melodic Don De Grazia (American Skin) invited me to do a blog hop, despite his complete lack of a blog. Don was invited by Paulette Livers, who’s got a book called Cementville that’s worth checking out. In a blog hop, you answer questions about the fictional characters in your work. See Don’s answers here. See mine below!
1. What is the name of your fictional (or historical) character? Where is the book set?
Robot. A post-apocalyptic Chicago (which is a little worse than contemporary Chicago, though there IS less gun violence after everyone dies).
2. What should we know about him?
Robot is a robot. He’s sadder than you, but not in a glib, dry, comedic kinda way. While he’s sometimes comedic, his thoughts are more akin to that of someone growing up. A teenager, maybe. This is basically a coming of age tale that stars a robot. There’s a lot of death. And sadness.
3. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Everything living dies, including his human friends. He’s sorta aimless after that. Since most other robots don’t share his love for humans, he’s got no one to connect with.
4. What is the personal goal of the character?
To have his dead best friend, Mike, back. Which is of course impossible.
5. What is the title of this book, and can we read more about it?
Sad Robot Stories! The digital version is free, but if you’re into super nice, handmade books, you can buy a physical copy from the publisher or a local bookstore.
I’ve invited Matt Rowan, author of Why God Why, to answer the same questions above. Guess we’ll see what he has to say!
The United States is launching an effort to save some of its busiest workers: honey bees.
i’m still surprised by how many people FREAK the FUCK OUT when they see a bee. i recognize that some are allergic, but still, our society as we live it depends on bees. you don’t have to hug them, in fact please don’t, but they’re so important and beautiful, it’d be great if we treated them better.
The worst L train I was ever on had a bee in it. It was packed, the middle of summer and the air conditioning was broken. Even though people had zero room, they freaked the fuck out when they saw the bee. Some attempted to run from it (there was no where to run), others jumped in random directions, some tried to swat it.
Mason Johnson is a writer from Chicago who currently works full time writing and editing articles for CBS. You can find his fiction at themasonjohnson.com. Also, he pets all the cats.
I was surprised when Jason Pettus of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography approached me at a book release I’d read at and asked me if I had anything CCLaP might be interested in. Though I did readings and wrote plenty of prose, I’d always considered what I performed at readings and the novel drafts and short stories at home to be different and separate entities. I didn’t really expect my performances around Chicago to have any substantial effect on me ever getting a book published, but it was those readings that caused Jason to hear about me in the first place.
I guess this makes sense in hindsight.
Excited, I sent Jason a few things I’d been working on.
He didn’t like what I sent him. Welp.
He suggested I try to take a piece of my Sad Robot Storiese-book, which some people liked and a decent amount of people definitely did not like (shrug), and try to make it into a serious novella.
I hated this idea, but I said I’d try it out. After two weeks of thinking that I’d never be able to do what he asked (and that I really had no desire to do it), I started getting ideas. They were mostly scenes in my head. Scenes that would theoretically work well in, say, a Sad Robot Stories novella. It got to the point where I knew I’d write the damn thing regardless of whether CCLaP wanted it, so I started writing the damn thing.
I had miscalculated. I thought I’d be able to finish this in the same amount of time it’d take College Mason to finish it, which was a huge mistake. I wasn’t College Mason anymore, I was office Mason, working 9 hour days (minimum) in a cubicle. And it didn’t matter how much time I spent in front of a computer screen attempting to write this damn thing after work, my mind was too jellified by the day to get a lot done. Still, I sat in front of my computer every night and got a tiny bit done at a time.
What I ended up doing was writing most of the book in notebooks. Every free little moment I had, be it at home, work, on the train, waiting at a bar for a friend, I’d write a sentence or two. Eventually, I had a few notebooks with a bunch of jumbled scenes that weren’t in any order whatsoever. I’d made an outline initially, to help get me going, but hadn’t stuck to it whatsoever. A lot of the initial editing was just getting shit in the right order as I typed it.
After a few months of crazed writing and reordering, I had half of the draft finished in a word document, which I sent to CCLaP. Having read this, CCLaP finally agreed to publish the thing for realzies.
From there, I was given a date to finish the book by, and I missed it. I missed the next one, too, and the one after that. What we initially thought would be a January release, got pushed back to August after I missed goddamn date after date (I still thought I was College Mason, whelp).
To my knowledge, Jason never cursed my name (over me constantly missing deadlines, at least).
Eventually, I got the book in the correct order from beginning to end. After that, I read through it and saw what stuck out and what didn’t, theme-wise (I had no real “authorial intent” before this, I just kinda wrote). The themes that stuck out the most, I emboldened a little, the themes that didn’t, I let fall to the wayside. I can’t remember exactly what got lost from that first draft, but I do remember looking at the draft and feeling very… certain about a few of the themes: gender/sexuality, loneliness/hope in nature, etc. So I sorta used those as tentpoles to hold the story up, I guess.
Finally I sent a full draft to CCLaP. Jason Pettus, Robert O’Connor and Allegra Pusateri then read it and, while getting coffee, assaulted me with questions that might help the editing process. I don’t remember what they had problems with (I don’t think there was a lot), but this has less to do with their contribution (which was great) and more to do with my terrible memory (for example: I’ve probably forgotten key elements of the book itself, despite having written it, because I’ve got a shit memory).
After that, they edited the book chapter by chapter, sending me a chapter every few days. Robert and Allegra would pass on their comments to Jason, Jason would add his comments/tweak theirs, then send the comments over to me. Most of this was about individual sentence structure, we were making sure that the thing sounded how we wanted it to sound. We weren’t focused on grammar or punctuation yet; that was for the copy editing stage. We just wanted to get the voice right.
I remember as this was happening, I was also rewriting the end extensively, because I wanted to be a pain in the ass, I guess. So I was always slow getting back to them about edits. I have no idea what I changed in the end, but it changed pretty significantly (actually, I’ve got a slight idea, but it’s sort of a spoiler).
The biggest change Jason demanded for the book was to take out a very short chapter. In the middle, there was an interlude that was a couple of pages. I was adamantly against removing it, most of my motivation coming from the point-of-view that it was MINE and no one else could touch it.
Jason said something along the lines of, “it’s a HUGE fucking mistake” to leave it in.
After about two weeks, I realized it was more my ego that wanted to keep the damn thing, and found I could look at it a bit more objectively. Though Jason told me I could keep it if I wanted to, I saw that it was a huge fucking mistake to leave it in, and decided that, yeah, we should take it out.
Good thing Jason was so adamant!
From there, we copy edited it for about two weeks (I must of read the book a dozen times during the editing process, yet mistakes still remain, guess I’m a shit CE), then it was finally ready to be published…
Before Jason approached me about the book, I’d been thinking a lot about the forms books can/should take. I wondered: Should I even bother to attempt to make something I write into a physical novel? Should I just make ebooks? Should I find a group of humans willing to let me tattoo my gender bending, hardboiled alien-sex-romp-detective novel all over their bodies?
CCLaP’s want to publish my book kind of temporarily answered that question. Their “thing” was totally in line with what I wanted.
CCLaP had started by publishing their books exclusively in a digital format. Eventually, they moved on to making handmade books. The physical being of their books was beautiful, something I noticed with Lauryn Allison’s solo/down.
Years before, I’d make my own zines and comics the old fashioned way, folding and stapling them myself. At first, I hated this; I just wanted to write. But as writing became more and more of a job, I longed to fold and staple things, which became a sort of Zen activity that allowed me to pull my mind away from my writing. CCLaP’s hand bound books were light-years ahead of my stapled creations, a dream come true for anyone who wants care to not only exist in the words on the page, but in the entire physical creation of their book. That, combined with my preference of reading digital books over paperbacks and hardcovers (digital books weigh a hell of a lot less than real books, though I’ll purchase the physical form of a book I absolutely love), made me excited about the prospect of having both the beautiful handmade book CCLaP makes, while also having a convenient digital version.
Of course, it’s not easy to do this. By the time Sad Robot Stories had come out, CCLaP had several books that were being handmade. For an indie press, the time and work it takes to make what CCLaP calls their “Hypermodern Editions” is immense. Also, it was primarily Jason making the books. So as CCLaP became more successful, with more and more book orders coming in, it became harder for Jason to keep up. Not too long after Sad Robot Stories came out, with more book orders than ever, Jason became sick, delaying any books people had recently ordered.
Needless to say, CCLaP was becoming too successful to continue like this (not the worst problem to have).
Now, they publish their new books as paperbacks. They get the job done. You can still buy their “hypermodern Editions,” though they’re a bit pricier and seem to come in limited printings. For all I know, they may soon stop doing the “Hypermodern Editions” altogether.
Which just makes it that much nicer to see something I wrote exist in that form.
I have no clue how I’ll publish my next book, but I’m glad this is how my first was published.