To Publish or Not: Street Lingo or Literary Shibboleths?

future.0A friend recently asked me about publishing, whether one should as an author go literary with quality, or go to the great youth worlds of the day with street talk and music. He was interested in this idea of “publishable quality.” Asking me how I would characterize it? 

I wouldn’t, at least not in the sense of some universal notion. From what I’m reading most of it is beyond doubt all too subjective in the area of editors and publishers these days. The culture I grew up in is gone: the age of print is gone. Even if you see it everywhere, books are dead.

This is the time of Indie’s and self-publishing. Getting published by a formal old-time book publisher is an iffy business from what I read on post after post of even the best published authors in various fields… so who am I to presume to know that answer?

My remark was mainly dealing with the typical aspects of openings, hooks, etc. And it depends if your audience is for the mass appeal, or literary? That truly is the cutting line: how many people do you assume you want to have read your work – the top readers, the echelon who love difficult and complex prose, etc. Or just your basic internet blip reader whose vocabulary is built out of the base set of street talk and music? Nothing demeaning here, but there is a difference.

In my fictional writing I’ve had to compromise a great deal and tone down my knowledge of the English language, so that I might be able to reach the younger generation. I’ve begun tapping into the blogs and sites that cater to younger people to see what kinds of things are actually being bought. In other words I’m a word whore discovering the tribal worlds around me: a cartographer of YA if you will.

The other issue many authors are facing now is the glut of writing being published. One reads over and over how if one takes the road to publish in the more reputable magazines and publishers that one will need an almost informidable tracking record of already published works within the lesser or newer markets. Even books like The Writer’s Market, etc. offer the base approach that if your a newly unpublished author then begin slowly, and they offer selections of publications seeking only new unpublished authors etc.

Others have gone the way of the Indie, the self-publishing world where it’s truly up to you to find your own fan base, market your own work, spend the time and effort building up a circulation and network of sites to promote your work, etc. Even among some of the better known authors this seems to be the way to go these days. Is there a clear cut answer? I doubt it.

Luck always has had a lot to do with markets: that, and having something that connects with a certain segment of the population. In some ways that’s always been true: who is your fictitious reader? Who is your audience? Knowing that is half the battle. Once you know who you are writing for, then one needs only to know what this audience likes and dislikes.  

Blogging has been interesting for me in the fact that I have a small audience, which leads me to believe that for the most part I do have at times difficult aspects to my work, else the things that interest me are not wide-spread fare. Obviously philosophy and the sciences are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the depth of knowledge one needs to ponder many of the current things going on in the various enclaves of both philosophy and the sciences is tremendous. Just the background knowledge alone, years of reading the various players in the fields, let along the history of philosophy and the sciences that play into it. My poetry tends toward a specific mode of dark romanticism edging into the posthuman, weaving eros and thanatos in differing forms. So I’m sure it will only have certain types of readers, which is fine for me.

Yet, as I ponder the SciFi and Fantasy markets I realize the gradient of expertise must come down a notch or two, must deliver a fictional ensemble that is full of action and suspense, yet that is neither simplistic nor over the top writerly crap. What’s interesting in SciFi and Fantasy is not that they are already overly cliché ridden, but how certain authors can take the oldest clichés and make them new, bring to the table new problems and solutions to the old twists and patterns. Maybe that’s the secret: taking the old and making it new, giving it a new twist, a new container and language in which to tell the tales that seem to live own endlessly in that realm between potentiality and actuality.

David Foster Wallace: Waking to Darkness and Lightning

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a stale promontory, this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.


Depression is no laughing matter, is it? It eats up life like a black hole that has no bounds. It sucks the life force out of even the happiest of beings. Someone once said that happiness is a state of mind. Milton said: “The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” How do we survive in a wasteland of our own making? Samuel Beckett once told us that “nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most  comical thing in the world (Endgame).”   Someone asked Ken Bruen, the Galwegian Crime Writer: “How do you define humor?” His response to this was: “It’s our way of getting even.” Maybe that’s the key. Maybe that’s the only way we can confront our despair of existence – the darkness within and without. Getting even. Laughing till the pain and bleakness disappear under the burden of darkness. As David Foster Wallace says it: “You are a trained observer and there is nothing to observe” (The Pale King). That’s DFW to a tee. A man all guzzied up ready to take on the whole world who realizes at the last moment that the world he’d take on resides in his own brain pan all curled up like the Cheshire cat winking back at him with the feint smile and gnomic wisdom of a Dostoevskian idiot. A gentle giant of a man whose compassion and passion gave us the Infinite Jest.

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Kurt Vonnegut: A Homage

My country is in ruins. So I’m a fish in a poisoned fish bowl. I’m mostly just heartsick about this. There should have been hope. This should have been a great country. But we are despised all over the world now. I was hoping to build a country and add to its literature. That’s why I served in World War II, and that’s why I wrote books.

– Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interview: And Other Conversations

Along with Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Ballard the fourth Musketeer in my pantheon of authors is Kurt Vonnegut who awakened me from my own long sleep in ideological Slumberville. My gang of four troubadours taught me an alternate mode of existence, they challenged me every step of the way to question everything, to trust nothing more than the truth of my own life. If Diogenes were alive today he’d have called these men friends, he would’ve known them as the creatures they are: intelligent, fierce, and full of that unique ability to care about the creatureliness of all creatures on this good earth.

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J.G. Ballard: The Fragile World

I felt strongly, and still do, that psychoanalysis and surrealism were a key to the truth about existence and the human personality, and also a key to myself.

– J. G. Ballard,  Miracles of Life

Ballard enters one’s blood like a virus that is forever replicating its noxious programs in the neuronal filaments of the mind. As a young man I came upon his stories of bleak Martian landscapes where the voice of Ballard drifts over the alien world revealing a history of past atrocities in such allusive poetic elegance that one is almost tempted to forget the dark truth it presents:

At the Martian polar caps, where the original water vapour in the atmosphere had condensed, a residue of ancient organic matter formed the top-soil, a fine sandy loess containing the fossilized spores of the giant lichens and mosses which had been the last living organisms on the planet millions of years earlier. Embedded in these spores were the crystal lattices of the viruses which had once preyed on the plants, and traces of these were carried back to Earth with the Canaveral and Caspian ballast (366).1

In such passages Ballard offers the keen eye of a scientific naturalist with the caustic yet elliptic truth of a deadly but visible underworld of viruses that will bring to the homeworld of earth not an Edenic  resurrection of ancient life forms but instead the merciless agents of its own final apocalypse. At the end of this bleak tale Bridgeman one of the few who never left earth for the great adventure looks out on a sea of black obsidian dust, the plenum of the viral infestation that has now turned the homeworld into one giant desert:

He watched the pall disappear over the sea, then looked around at the other remnants of Merril’s capsule scattered over the slopes. High in the western night, between Pegasus and Cygnus, shone the distant disc of the planet Mars, which for both himself and the dead astronaut had served for so long as a symbol of unattained ambition. The wind stirred softly through the sand, cooling this replica of the planet which lay passively around him, and at last he understood why he had come to the beach and been unable to leave it. (372)

He didn’t need to leave it, Mars had come to earth with a vengeance.

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Old Bill Lee: Sultan of Sewers

The Socco Chico is the meeting place, the nerve center, the switchboard of Tangier. Practically everyone in town shows there once a day at least. Many residents of Tangier spend most of their waking hours in the Socco. On all sides you see men washed up here in hopeless, dead-end situations, waiting for job offers, acceptance checks, visas, permits that will never come. All their lives they have drifted with an unlucky current, always taking the wrong turn. Here they are. This is it. Last stop: the Socco Chico of Tangier.

The market of psychic exchange is as glutted as the shops. A nightmare feeling of stasis permeates the Socco, like nothing can happen, nothing can change. Conversations disintegrate in cosmic inanity. People sit at café tables, silent and separate as stones. No other relation than physical closeness is possible. Economic laws, untouched by any human factor, evolve equations of ultimate stasis. Someday the young Spaniards in gabardine trench coats talking about soccer, the Arab guides and hustlers pitching pennies and smoking their kief pipes, the perverts sitting in front of the cafés looking over the boys, the boys parading past, the mooches and pimps and smugglers and money changers, will be frozen forever in a final, meaningless posture.

Futility seems to have gained a new dimension in the Socco. Sitting at a café table, listening to some “proposition,” I would suddenly realize that the other was telling a fairy story to a child, the child inside himself: pathetic fantasies of smuggling, of trafficking in diamonds, drugs, guns, of starting nightclubs, bowling alleys, travel agencies. Or sometimes there was nothing wrong with the idea, except it would never be put into practice—the crisp, confident voice, the decisive gestures, in shocking contrast to the dead, hopeless eyes, drooping shoulders, clothes beyond mending, now allowed to disintegrate undisturbed.

Some of these men have ability and intelligence, like Brinton, who writes obscene novels and exists on a small income. He undoubtedly has talent, but his work is hopelessly unsalable. He has intelligence, the rare ability to see relations between disparate factors, to coordinate data, but he moves through life like a phantom, never able to find the time, place and person to put anything into effect, to realize any project in terms of three-dimensional reality. He could have been a successful business executive, anthropologist, explorer, criminal, but the conjuncture of circumstances was never there. He is always too late or too early. His abilities remain larval, discarnate. He is the last of an archaic line, or the first here from another space-time way—in any case a man without context, of no place and no time.

– William S. Burroughs, Word Virus

What is there to add? Growing up in the fifties and sixties, being a rebel, loner, and wild man one drifted in and out of the madness as if it were the natural course of things. The Beats, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, etc. were not so much our troubadours as they were the misfit vanguard of some strange new sign of life. As if they had moved into a future that slid sideways, sidereal to our own, marked out their own nightmare paradises, bitten the fruit of other strange forbidden trees.

Scholars of the night and streets they dove into the cesspool of existence and brought back the darkness instead of the light, but this was no ordinary darkness: this was the depths of hell, a place we all live in but never knew before. Most of us live with blinkers, blinded to our own inescapable truth, the truth of our own nightmarish realizations. Never realizing that hell is paradise, a place of unbidden dreams, a realm of hope and plenty, we wander as zombies, asleep, frightened, unable to envision an escape into one of these zones of pure joy.

It took these poets of the madness, shamans of a joyous despair, to lead the way out; or, was it the way in? The Labyrinth is neither in or out, it leads nowhere; or, it leads elsewhere, toward some hidden zone of being where the nightmares live.  Men like Old Bill Lee walked before us, explored the intricacies of these dark chambers, and returned to tell us about love and the thoughts of love. We have only to follow this Philosophy of the Sewer, break out of the frozen world of our caged normalcy and begin to know and live a life that is what is

– S.C. Hickman, A Zombie’s Journal

R. Scott Bakker: Disciple of the Dog; or, How a Cynic Bites his own Ass

“Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty.”
—Fredrich Nietzsche 

Existing is plagiarism.
—E.M. Cioran 

“Throughout my life I have always wanted to tell the truth even though I knew it was all a lie. In the end all that matters is the truth content of a lie.
—Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence


That old ironhorse of comic relief communism, Slavoj Žižek, identifies our age as a profoundly cynical one, in which ideology’s ultimate triumph lies in a perverse revelation of its deepest secrets: “today, however, in the era of cynicism, ideology can afford to reveal the secret of its functioning (its constitutive idiocy, which traditional, pre-cynical ideology had to keep secret) without in the least affecting its efficiency.” Many of the so called critics of our age consider cynicism a toxic conundrum: as either the deathly fruit of an ancient lineage that has infiltrated our posthistorical underlife like viral machines rendering critique impotent; or as the zombie politics of a paralysed horrorfest or recidivism at the zero point of a posthuman transmigration into machinic existence devoid of even the dream of democracy.

Some would have us believe that our (post?)modern-cynicism leads individuals and nations to abandon all moral values and to drown in a fetid sea of intellectual and ethical moroseness and pessimism.” 1 Those followers of the tub man, the dog-man, Diogenes, have always been contemptuous in their rejection of social convention, their impudent shamelessness, and their reversal of the ordinary hierarchy that placed man above the animals, closer to the gods. The “dogs” willfully flouted customary norms in public, such as proscriptions against public sex, masturbation, or defecation, refusing to view “natural” actions as shameful. Most contemporaries condem such gainsayers as attention-seeking provocateurs, sacks of dog shit, windbaggers full of spittle, rabid devils forsaken of all human sympathy, werewolves bred in the darkest recesses of our nightmares.

Then we turn to noir, to the crime ridden singularity of unfathmable bloodworlds filled with the inhuman semblances of our former residences on earth; where our fragments, our memories, situate themselves side by side our constructed hells and our zombiefied lives of endless labour. Here broken creatures devoid of even zero degree blankness tremble on the edge between religious apocalypticism or cynical despair.

Creatures join hand in hand the living dead in excess of their unused lives.  Trumped by the neuropathic torpididity of a failed existence they spin out their ghoulish tales of dripping corpsespatter in speakeasy lisps that fall empty before the liquididity of the marled void. While twisted trogladytes splayed open on crosses rise above an anamolous theatre of the mind awakening strange thoughts and vampiric ectasies, filling the darkness with alien laughter, where beyond the farthest horizon a screech comes across silent skys and what reanimates a dead city lures the final thought of all being from its black lair… a thought beyond all sense of extropic redemption, which flutters in the voidic wind flickering out in the nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not…

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