Thoughts on the Work of Book Cover Designer Chip Kidd

When I was a kid my brother would regularly draw football (soccer) kits: jersey, shorts, socks — the works. With him being older, I would usually copy whatever it was he was doing (including asking for the same Valencia CF home jersey one Christmas, which understandably infuriated him – “We’re not twins, dickhead!”). So, I picked up a variety of colouring pencils and began to draw (or to be more accurate design) my own kits. (Yes, brother, you and I were in fact practising fashion design.)

Alas, my designs weren’t up to much; there was a subtle art to designing a football kit — get too carried away and you’d wind up with something more appropriate for an LSD trip than the football pitch (although some goalkeepers jerseys over the years have definitely sparked thoughts of tripping balls).

My desire to draw didn’t end with football kits: extraterrestrial sketches, bubblified cartoons, watercolour paintings… I would attempt to tap into the creative well that existed on my mam’s side and show what I could do (for the sports genes, see the old man’s side)… which, clearly, wasn’t very much. My brother, however, certainly had a talent which he never fully pursued (although he’d tell you he wasn’t very good, which is inaccurate to say the least).

Anyway, I had tried my hand at it, and I learned early on that I definitely wasn’t going to be the next Edward Hopper, Ilya Repin, Todd McFarlane… or Vivienne Westwood.

Which leads me to the following statement: I’m hardly an authority when it comes to the visual arts.

But I do have an uneducated opinion I can share, kind of like someone on the TV who has zero understanding of basic economics talking about minimum wage and price controls — it’s an opinion we really shouldn’t take seriously.

But if I may indulge myself, I’d like to share my unqualified thoughts on the work of someone I greatly admire, the one and only Chip Kidd.

Now, when I say share my thoughts, I mean I’m gonna share some of my favourite works by Mr. Kidd — i.e. his book cover designs I admire most — and scribble a few words underneath each design, basically something like, “I dig this because the colours are nice. Isn’t the picture he used here really impactful? Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?

Chip Kidd is probably one of — if not the — best-known graphic designers around, and he’s created book covers for major names in literature including Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Michael Crichton, Jay McInerney, Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, John Updike, and David Sedaris. His designs have also graced the covers of the perennial publications Rolling Stone and TIME.

So, let me share my most-loved works by this master designe, complete with uninformed thoughts on a subject I know nothing about…

1. Imperial BedroomsBret Easton Ellis

BEE Imperial Bedrooms

The rather disappointing sequel to Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms was released in 2010 to mixed critical response. Apathy, narcissism, violence, and debauchery are regular features in the author’s work, and this novel doesn’t shy away from delving into hedonistic territory. Kidd’s design does a good job at capturing the superficiality and overindulgence that permeates Ellis’ oeuvre.

2. Jurassic ParkMichael Crichton

Chip Kidd - The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Every now and then Kidd takes a minimalist approach to his designs. For Michael Crichton’s sequel to his now legendary Jurassic Park (arguably thanks to Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation), Chip’s minimal execution works quite effectively: Black, white, red. Unglamorous font. Menacing T-Rex gonna bite ya… Simples.

3. FasterJames Gleick

Chip Kidd - Faster by James Gleick

This one speaks for itself. So clever. One of my favourites beyond Kidd’s work, that’s for sure.

4. The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller

Chip Kidd - The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Maybe it’s because I purchased Miller’s iconic graphic novel years ago and it’s been on my bookshelf since, but this cover instantly screams “You know you want to read this. You know it, you bastard. Now OPEN ME!!” Mr. Kidd has designed many graphic novel/comic book covers over the years, including Watchmen, Before Watchmen, Rough Justice, and All-Star Superman.

5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I could have included this purely because The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favourite Murakami novel. But there’s something mysterious, magical, and alluring about the cover, prompting the potential reader to pick up the book and become a curious cat. (Murakami fans will appreciate that last line).

6. Villain by Yoshida Shuichi

Chip Kidd - Villian by Yoshida Shuichi

Various human bones positioned to form the shape of a pistol + hot pink. I’m sold… Even the position of the text feels right.

7. Reporting by David Remnick

Chip Kidd - Reportings by David Remnick

The long-time editor of The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Remnick published Reporting in 2007 — a collection of his writings from the aforementioned mag. Again, Chip’s execution is simple and, in my opinion, perfect in its simplicity.

8. The Little FriendDonna Tartt

Chip Kidd - The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Oh dear God — Kill it! Kill it!! (Now that’s an effective book-cover design).

9. GulpMary Roach

Chip Kidd - Gulp by Mary Roach

It could be down to this cover bringing out my inner perv because it reminds me of the poster for Inside Deep Throat, or it could be that it’s simply pretty cool.

10. Seek My FaceJohn Updike

Chip Kidd - Seek My Face by John Updike

This is just one of a number of pieces Chip Kidd has designed for the late American great John Updike. This painting-style (if it isn’t actually a painting), brush-stroke cover implores us to — as the title asks — seek a face. It’s somewhat suffocating, almost haunting, certainly striking.

11. What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningHaruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased towards this one for two reasons: 1) it’s Murakami, and 2) he took the title for his memoir on long-distance running from one of my favourite collections, What I Talk About When I Talk About Love, by the hugely influential short story writer Raymond Carver. But besides all that, Kidd’s once again simple design finds a way of being effortlessly striking: The formidable font towers above the minuscule figure of the Japanese author on one of his many runs, giving us an idea of the mammoth tasks he regularly faces when tackling marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons, even well into his sixties. Which is all the more impressive when you consider he was a heavy smoker until his early thirties. Oh, Haruki, we’re not worthy!

12. No Country for Old MenCormac McCarthy

Chip Kidd - No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The great American author Cormac McCarthy originally wrote No Country For Old Men as a screenplay (which begs the question: Did the Coen brothers read his draft before writing their own for their faithful 2007 Oscar-winning adaptation?). Anyone familiar with either the novel or the film will know the pickle Llewelyn Moss finds himself in having stumbled across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong — and a bagful of cash. They’ll also be familiar with the seemingly unstoppable monster who pursues Moss, the truly terrifying Anton Chigurh. For me, Kidd manages to convey the feeling of helplessness — of being hunted — as the lonely silhouetted figure traverses the red-hot, baking terrain, as the sun goes down… possibly for the last time.

There you have it — some of my favourite Chip Kidd book cover designs. What did you think? Do you have any favourite book covers you’d like to share? How about some designers I may like? Feel free to add a comment in the box below — and thanks for reading.

Nothin’ But the Hits Vol. 2

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

It’s 2010. I’m adored. I’m surrounded by women. I’m the lead singer in a hugely successful rock band. I’m a Sagittarius. I’m the savior of rock ‘n’ roll, according to Rolling Stone. I’m the self-proclaimed Devourer of Pussy. I’m a vagrant. I’m bored. I’m writing songs. I’m playing Madison Square Garden. I’m the recipient of four Grammy awards. I’m in recording studios. I’m partial to drugs. I’m jaded. I’ve been singing in a band since I was fourteen. I’ve been touring with that band since I was twenty. Seven years up on stage. Seven years travelling, sweating, drinking, puking, fucking. Seven years having a good time. Seven years. I’m bored. Did I mention I’m bored? I met Pauly recently. Pauly. Yeah, Pauly. Me ‘n’ Pauly. All right. Seven years. Now Pauly.

   I’m gonna kill.

 

The merciless present

                                _

I’d grown a beard, and to my surprise it worked as a deterrent; people didn’t seem to recognize me. It added at least ten years. Two weeks earlier I’d been approached by a chubby sonuva bitch who introduced himself as Pauly. Pauly, who spoke with a New York accent and sounded like he was suffering from indefinite indigestion, told me that he worked for important people, whatever the hell that meant. He wouldn’t disclose who his employers were. He said they weren’t bad guys, but they weren’t necessarily good, neither. But I didn’t care. He asked me to kill. I told him I’d been killing all my life. He told me to cut the shit, that he meant really kill. I asked him who he wanted dead, and he told me it didn’t matter, and whether or not I was interested. I told him I’d sleep on it. That night, before sleeping on it, I drank, like most nights. The beard resulted in the absence of attention. I liked it. Maybe I’d keep the facial hair. One of my songs played in the bar. I sang along.

   I watched the drunks. I smoked a cigarette. I’d considered quitting because, while I loved it, my lungs were hurting. Constantly. I felt like I was on the verge of death. But the doc checked me out, said I was good. Told me I was healthy as a beautiful butterfly fluttering around in the sunshine. Another doctor once told me that if there were something really wrong, my body would tell me. The problem was my body had been telling me for so long that I could no longer believe it. My body was a god damn liar.

   The next morning I phoned Pauly and told him I’d kill, but that it would have to wait a couple of weeks while the band finished working our latest record. He told me he was proud of me. I told him to cut the shit and that I’d speak to him in two weeks.

   Did I agree to this because I was bored? Was I out of my mind? When wasn’t I out of my mind? I’d always been out of my mind. What harm was there in disposing of a few fuckheads, anyway?

 

♠♠♠♠

 

   It was to be more intricate than I had anticipated. Pauly caught up with me and informed me that the person I was to kill was, like me, in the public eye somewhat. I had never heard of him. He was a politician. Politics never really interested me – politics gets in the way of progress.

   We were sat in a bar near the Garden. It was daytime, and the bar was gloomy and stank of something stale. There were only about a dozen people there, and Pauly sat by a window with a drink in front of him.

   Pauly was tired. Not only on that day; he was simply tired. His defeated brown eyes offered no hope or expectations. They were done, disinterested. Why he kept going I did not know, but, then again, what’s the alternative, heaven? He was in his fifties and had a mass of untidy, flaxen hair. His belly always cried for food, it seemed. Every time I saw him his shirt was unbuttoned in some place. He always wore stubble. I couldn’t understand why he played the role of arranging for people to be murdered; it all seemed too macabre for him. He looked like someone who had let things get to him, a thinker, and surely that meant he was in the wrong business. Maybe he’d be murdered himself if he didn’t cooperate. I didn’t really wanna know, anyway.

   I just wanted something else.

   Something new.

   ‘You’ve sold a lot of records,’ said Pauly, sipping his scotch.

   ‘I know,’ I replied.

   ‘You wanna know why it was you who I approached, not some ordinary, everyday lowlife. Some schmuck?’

   ‘No.’

   ‘You looked tired, fed up.’

   ‘So do you.’

   ‘That’s why I got in the game.’

   ‘You were so fed up that you decided to get involved in executions?’

   ‘Isn’t that why you’re here right now?’

   ‘I’m a little bored, sure.’

   Pauly turned and faced the bar that was to my right, then sighed and looked at me.

   ‘There’s no reason to most things. Even though the people I work for see a reason in doing what we do, it’s all bullshit at the end of the day. It’s just something to keep me ticking over, I guess. Something to keep me from . . well, it’s something.’

   ‘You have a family?’ I asked.

   ‘I did. I don’t see ‘em no more. Couldn’t stand being a family man, to be honest. Too much noise. I like a quiet house.’

   Just then, as Pauly’s tired eyes looked down at his pathetic, bulbous belly, a brilliant ray of sunshine invaded the bar, shedding light on us all, and for that brief moment I felt a sense of elation. A reminder that space was still there.

   And space made sense.

♠♠♠♠

 

   Over the next few days (in between recording) I made some lists. The first list I made was apt: ‘Reasons for Killing’. Another list I made was a ‘Favorite Drinks’ list, one a ’Top Five Live Concerts’ list, and the last list was ‘Women Whose Pussies I’ve Devoured’.

   I ran out of paper.

Nothin’ But the Hits

 

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

Preamble
                                _

Most of you who pick up this—what is this?—this ramble, will know me as the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world—This Week’s New Release. You’ll know me as the guy on stage who shouts and swaggers and swears and sings, who has written rock songs that topped charts in countries all over the world, who’s played the biggest venues, who’s been voted Sexiest Man In Rock ‘n’ Roll on two separate occasions. You’ll know me as the man who was labeled the savior of the music industry: the Second Coming.

   What you don’t know is what I’ve been involved in behind the veil of rock stardom. This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time, and only now do I feel I’m ready to share this side of my story that has been known about by only a handful of individuals, most of whom are no longer with us—many of whom chocked on their own puke, or drowned in a swimming pool alone at 4am high on Valium and cocaine.

   I don’t crave attention; I’ve had enough of that over the years. What I crave is clarity—it’s what I’ve always craved, but it had always seemed elusive. At the end of this confession you will understand that I’ve found something which I hope is close to clarity.

   This does not change who I am. The words written here are probably true to what you think you know about me: The Dylan Reed onstage is the Dylan Reed offstage.

   This is merely an addition to the story.

   An encore, so to speak.

                                                                        —Dylan Reed, Berlin – May 1st, 2018

♠♠♠♠

 

I grew up in a sunny, blue-collar neighborhood. A quiet American town the likes of which seem like they’ve been lost to the past, but which still exist—you just have to look for them. My neighborhood was near a bunch of lakes and housed residents who smiled and cared about each other and who were just regular, nice people. Sure they had their secrets, but didn’t everyone?

   I’d spent days in school bored outta my mind and days after school down by the lake listening to music on my battery-powered radio: Nothin’ But The Hits was the name of the show I’d listen to day after day. The disc-jockey’s name was “Madman” Maurice McGonagall and his show would start at 3pm every day and run for two hours. On most days I’d catch the last hour but on Wednesdays and Fridays school finished early and I’d listen to it all the way through. The Stones, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Band, The Smiths, The Jam, The Fall, The Beatles—all the legendary “THEs”, and then there was Dylan and Hendrix and Bowie and Iggy and all these hits would play, one after another, with some brief intervals from Maurice talking in his smooth voice like he was an MC at a dark, smoke-filled jazz club, painting a picture of himself in the studio—legs up, sunglasses on, cigarette in mouth, maybe one hand down his pants. Maybe he’d jerk off while he listened to the music along with the rest of us—climaxing during the epic guitar solo.

   I did.

   Sometimes.

   Down by the lake.

   It was my own place, surrounded by a wall of trees, the sun glistening on the dead-still water. I’d breathe in the air through my nose and it was like life invading me, telling me everything was good; everything was as it should be. And because I was alone and because I was a teenage boy I’d get hard-ons and sometimes I’d stand there among the trees, by the lake, in the quiet, and I’d work myself until I jolted and a part of me became a part of the earth. Yeah, I was one with nature and the sonic waves that surrounded me.

   Sometimes I’d bring literature to the lake. I didn’t read all that much but my old man had a few books on the chipped wooden shelf in the living room, and every now and then I’d snatch one, drop it into my backpack and take it out once school was done and I was down by the lake. One of those books was a short story collection by a guy called Ford, and I enjoyed dropping in and out of these people’s lives, just catching a glimpse of what was going on with them, learning about their struggles and their flaws and their dramas in a few thousand words or less. I liked that. It made me more empathetic. It helped me understand the long-ass wrestling match that life is for some people; and some of em don’t even have a tag-team partner.

   That’s around the time I started writing. Some would call it poetry, but I didn’t because I didn’t know poetry apart from what we had to read at school. And I hated that shit. All I really knew was my family, my street, my school, the lake, my body and my songs, because though they played through the radio and were written by all those different people, they were my songs. I reached out and grabbed them as they made their waves from the speakers and I made them mine. And so I wrote about all those things I knew and I put them on paper like songs. I was writing songs without the music. Words with rhythm but without a beat, a hook.

   I met Daniel that summer. Daniel was a scrawny thirteen-year-old, like me. He had the beginnings of a pubescent moustache, and he said he was never gonna shave it. Daniel moved into the neighborhood with his family; his mom, dad, and older sister, Maggie, and we met while I was cycling my bike, and he was cycling his, and I noticed his Clash t-shirt and without a word I nodded and he followed me and we rode together to the lake and listened to Nothin’ But The Hits together, and so we were best friends in the space of a few hours.

   Daniel and me asked for music instruments that Christmas. We both wanted electric guitars, but we argued because someone would have to either play drums or pick up the bass. Neither one of us was willing to concede the guitar so we settled it with a fight by the lake late one autumn afternoon. The sun was hanging low but the air was crisp and it was still warm. The argument reared its head again as Maurice spazzed out about a new band that was making its mark on the industry, right before he signed off for the day and ended the show with their new single. Daniel said if we ever wanted Maurice talking about us like that we’d need to hurry up and get a band started. But still we couldn’t agree on who would get the guitar, so it began with a push, and then we were rolling around on the soft grass, staining our music t-shirts, wrestling for the upper-hand, holding each other’s shoulders when one got on top, punching each other’s gut when we were balled in a brawl. After about ten minutes we both fell to the grass, exhausted; blood on our faces, aching bones and limbs. I’d tapped out after Daniel had worked my arm behind my back and threatened to break it. He had me by the wrist and elbow and pushed my arm further and further towards my neck, and as the bone threatened to snap like a twig I screamed and said OKAY! OKAY! FINE, YOU FUCK!

   So it was decided—Daniel would get the guitar that Christmas. And after he did and he practiced and I used a half-empty cardboard box to provide beats, and as spring arrived and we’d spend our days down by the lake again, I found the courage to mention my songs. Daniel asked me to sing them to him . . . I’d had some trouble with girls at school and I had gotten in trouble with the principle and with my parents for different reasons, but Daniel asking me to sing for him was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. But we’d bonded and I trusted him and we loved each other in a way, and so I sang one of my music-free songs, only my voice was the instrument and Daniel listened and looked at me and I think in a way kinda fell in love with me. He didn’t say anything for a minute or two, just looked at me and at the towering trees that surrounded the lake, and he looked at flies hovering above the water—who were oblivious to how close to death they were, like some of us—and he just stared. Eventually he asked me to sing the song again, and so I did, this time with more confidence, and he began playing something on his guitar and before we knew it we’d written our first song together. Little did we realize we’d write a thousand more.

   We looked at the rest of my lyrics and we worked on more songs and we wrestled and we jerked off and we listened to Nothin’ But The Hits by the lake and we were happy.

   And that’s how I spent my teenage years.

Expressionism #1 — Liquid Pills

Anyone familiar with Jack Kerouac will know of his ‘spontaneous prose’. His method was well developed and it had its rules laid out in his “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”. For his ‘set-up’ he compares it to an artist before they put pencil to paper, or a brush to canvas: “The object is set before the mind, either in reality, as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face)  or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object. . . .”

I took that idea of a blank canvas and the brush, but without a clear object or idea. I opened a word doc and jotted down whatever arrived in an attempt at writing a very short, somewhat coherent story. I suppose you could call that ‘spontaneous prose’, or ‘subconscious prose’. 

This is how many writers approach the first draft of their works, with nothing really in mind. Then they take that first draft (or ‘vomit draft’ as some writers call it), and refine it from there. But here I wanted the vomit to remain; there’d be no clean up on aisle five. So I’ve called it Expressionism, and this is my first effort. No edits, no path — just words that flowed out onto the page.

 

Liquid Pills

Liquid pills.

Take them, slowly.

Take them in a few mouthfuls.

Down them like there’s no tomorrow.

They’ll dampen the thoughts but liven the spirit.

I pass through the narrow, rain-speckled, rouge-lighted laneway with a stumble and a fumble. I curse — cunt — who? Anyone. Whomever. And I fix my long cashmere coat and I will an argument with someone, but no one’s here.

5am.

Who’s around then?

Some taxi tarts. Some residual rodents of the night before. Some of those without a home to go to. Some of the heroin heroes and the wannabe di Neros waiting for the moment to pounce.

I’m classless — that’s lacking class, not a class. Gauche. Inelegant. Ungainly. Graceless. I do have a class. A working one. But I’m not stateless. Of which I’m not a devoted fan — not a centralized, expansive, militarized Europe. Who decides on the situation when Theresa, Jacob, and co. set sail? Us? No, the Junk, that’s with a ‘yuh’ —  Here, you! Piss off!

I don’t want to get into that, though. Who wants to? We’re all tired of it. All we want to do is to be left alone. Let us be. Let us do a bit of work and live life to a decent standard. Let us work and play. Let us live and love and let us not be drowned by the greedy and the corrupt.

We’re drowning. A stretched arm from the icy wall of water. A gasp, an open-mouthed cry — a raw caw, caw, caw. Can’t… breathe… Help… No help. No, we don’t need help, we need release. Release from your cold, stifling, suffocating grasp.

You. Corrupt. The Corruptors. The parasites. But enough of that… Because I’m loaded. I’m loaded on liquid pills and I’m looking for some new thrills. Some cheap thrills. Something that will let me forget… something… someone…

I approach The Beast. I don’t notice him at first. He’s the man with the plan.

   ‘All right, Beastie,’ I slur.

   ‘Sebastian,’ he purrs. ‘Sebastian, you’ve looked better.’ His voice. That voice. The Beast, a paradox. He’s a gentleman — a cock-hungry gent who speaks the Queen’s English as well as Hitchens the Polemicist did.

He chuckles, does The Beast. He laughs giddily like a schoolgirl.

He’s big — boisterous belly; nosey navel peeking through his partially unbuttoned shirt.

   ‘Sebastian, be a darling and give me your lighter. Mine… lost its way somewhere earlier in the night. I can hardly be held responsible for everyone and everything.’

I fumble around in my pocket and find the lighter. I rev the engine — the flame greets the ciggie.

   ‘I’ve got work in the morning,’ I tell The Beast.

   ‘You mean in a few hours?’

   ‘Yessssss.’ I stumble. ‘I’ve got work and it’s for the devil.’

   ‘The big C…’ he nods his head.

   ‘Tell me, Beasty boy,’ I say, attempting to stand up straight, with dignity — whatever that is. ‘Do you think we’re headed for the big bang of the nuke? Europe… Balkanization… China… The T Man… Where are we headed?’

   ‘Oh,’ The Beast says. ‘Oh, my sweet little Sebastian. That’s not for me to say… I’ve got a date with Mister Junk and The Elephant’s Whiskers — they’ll decide your fate… they’ll make the call on the Big Bang…’

   ‘What’s the way to go? I don’t want the big C…’ I say, half moaning… ‘I gave myself to It…’

   ‘It doesn’t matter,’ says The Beast, dropping the fag and twisting his foot on the concrete. ‘It’ll all be over soon.’

   ‘Soon,’ I say. ‘Soon I’m in work… It won’t be over by then…’

   ‘I’ve got to go,’ says The Beast. ‘I’ve got a lot to devour.’

   ‘So…’ I hiccup. ‘So, does the big C,’ I say.

   ‘We’re not so different, then,’ he says as he paces down the street — giant, meaningful steps.

I lean against the wall. The Beast left a half-empty pint behind.

I reach for the liquid pills.

I drink it.

We all drink it, in some way.

                                                                                    – 20th September 2018 — 8:19pm

American. Porn Star. President.

The first two chapters from a work-in-progress satirical novel.

¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯

us flag 1

American. Porn Star. President.

 

“Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”

                                                – Calvin Coolidge

 

 

“. . . The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

                                                – George Bernard Shaw

 

 

“You can’t talk about fucking in America; people say you’re dirty. But if you talk about killing somebody, that’s cool.”

                                                – Richard Pryor

 

 

“Having sex with beautiful women for money? My God. I want to shoot myself every night when I get home.”

                                                – Porn Star

 

 

1. THE JAM

­SITTING IN TRAFFIC—is there a better metaphor for life?
   Coldcut City has the worst traffic congestion in North America. This isn’t statistically true, but it’s what I was thinking as I sat next to my wife of three years, Karen, in the back of a cab which crawled along 99th Street at a pace more appropriate for an escalator.
   We were flanked by skyscrapers, and I watched as people passed by on the pavement, moseying, hurrying, trudging to their respective destinations; handbags strewn over shoulders, heads bowed consuming information from their cell phone Gods; rucksacks straddling backs. A few of them would glance in the direction of the cab, one or two catching my stare.
   I checked my watch: 6:45pm.
   I turned to Karen, who was looking out the window.
   “I read somewhere that we spend at least three months of our lives stuck in traffic,” I said, to no response. “Approximately thirty-eight hours a year.”
   “Fascinating,” she eventually returned tenuously.
   ‘But think of what you could do with that time,” I said aloud, which was greeted with silence.
   I looked out the window again: Autumn had set in. The sidewalk was littered with crinkled bronzed leaves, and the evening sky in the distance looked as if it were a canvas on which a frustrated painter had lashed out with aggressive streaks of blues, pinks, reds.
   “We’re going to be late,” Karen said, checking her pallid reflection in her pocket mirror. Sometimes when she spoke she would close her eyes and her eyeballs would engage in some kind of scanning activity, reducing her appearance to that of the woman possessed. This is how she looked as she clamped the pocket mirror shut in the palm of her hand.
   I sat up and leaned forward to address the cab driver. “Why don’t you get off 99th at the next turn? We’ll be here all night.”
   The turban-wearing, bearded driver looked at me in the rear-view mirror.
   “That is what I plan on doing. You know there’s bin a crash, yis? You know traffic is more congested now going north ‘cause of the crash, yis? Do you think I like sitting here like a slug?”
   “Hey, padre, I’m just asking—”
   Karen wrapped her fingers around my arm. “Please don’t get into a fight with the cab driver.”
   “I’m not trying to get into a fight, I—” but I wasn’t interested in explaining myself, so I sat back in my seat and looked out the window once again.
   More people: man, woman, child. American, Chinese, Zimbabwean, Irish, Polish, Afghan, Canadian, Scottish, Japanese, Mexican, Russian, English, Indian. Multiculturalism — love it or hate it — at its finest. All of these passers-by were possibly mocking the two idiots sitting in a cab that moved a few yards every couple of minutes.
   I was tempted to get out and walk, but then I’d just be another person on the pavement.
   “That meter works on distance covered, right?” I asked.
   “Yis, yis. Don’t worry; the foreign man isn’t trying to rob you,” the driver replied with a jerk of the head and a roll of the eyes.
   I turned to Karen, raised my eyebrows: What’s with this guy?
   “I wasn’t implying that you were trying to rip us off, hombre” I said. “Not everyone who gets into your cab is racist, OK?”
   “Just leave it,” said Karen.
   The driver made some kind of frustrated noise — a wide-open-mouthed yahh! — and waved a dismissive hand before muttering something in his mother tongue. I rested myself against the backseat, fingered my phone from my trouser pocket and opened the browser. I’d forgotten to clear the browsing history, and I was greeted by a thumbnail featuring a supine couple nude and engaged in a not-so-subtle sexual exercise. ‘Alfie B. Lee/Raspberry Rose in The 2nd Annual Fuckathon’ was the title of the video. I experienced a momentary snippet of recollection: me furiously masturbating as I watched the video earlier that day, in the en suite bathroom before I took a shower — one hand gripping the sink as I looked at the video, the other hand wrapped around my chafing stiffy — while Karen did her make-up in the bedroom.
  I quickly swiped the window closed, not before checking to see if Karen had noticed, but she was busy staring out the window people-watching as the cab picked up the pace — finally — only for the driver to brake a few seconds later resulting in deeply felt desolation for the two passengers.
   I tapped my way to the settings menu on the phone and selected Clear History and Website Data.
   I thought to myself: Who knows about my internet history? Who was aware that I was watching two porn stars fuck like bunnies only a couple of hours earlier? Who’s monitoring me? When will I be exposed?
   “Will you text Steph and tell her that we’re going to be a little late?”
   I looked at Karen as if she’d asked me to undress for the driver.
   “It would be good for you if you tried to engage with her,” Karen elucidated.
   “That’s what I’ll be doing at dinner, sweetie. Dinner is one thing. Texting, that’s a whole other level of interaction. That could almost be misconstrued as amiability.”
   “Could you just try? For once?”
   “She’s the one who holds grudges, Karen. She’s the nutcase.”
   Karen shook her head and sighed as she leaned forward and fished her bag for her cell phone. I watched her as she typed; her manicured fingernails glossed with a deep red polish ferociously tapped against the screen.
   I took in her facial features, because there had been times recently when I had closed my eyes and ordered my brain to present to me an image of my wife, but the result wouldn’t be entirely accurate; the visage presented to me in my mind’s eye was mostly made up of Karen, but some of her — minute details like a fleck of color in her eye, or a slight variation in the angulations of her eyebrows, or a more obvious structural misrepresentation — would be made up of previous lovers. Lately in my mind Karen was an amalgamation of almost every individual I had met underneath the cover of bed sheets.
   There, in the cab, I registered her firm, confident expression, an expression that rarely changed and which communicated determination. I observed her bold blue eyes which were garlanded by unnaturally long eyelashes. Her blonde hair, which she had recently trimmed, fell obediently around her boney shoulders. Her exterior was both sexy and cold, and her interior could be both frosty and warm, depending on her mood.
   “Just try, please,” she looked at me with those blue eyes. “Just make an effort.”
   I nodded: Sure.
   “Don’t forget your appointment with Dr. Lillard tomorrow.”
   “Great, let’s talk about our personal problems in front of our cab-driver friend here.”
   Unexpectedly, the driver looked at me in the rear-view: “I don’t give a shit about your personal life, yis?” he said before turning his attention back to the road.
   I raised my eyebrows: Fair.
   I looked at Karen, who ignored the driver’s comment.
   “Maybe you should consider talking to him about Evan.”
   “What good would that do?”
   “Because it’s an important issue, Lukas.”
   “It has nothing to do with why I see Dr. Lillard.”
   “It’s important.”
   “I know it’s important. But we’re his parents. We’ll deal with it.”
   “It’s un-parentable.”
   “Is that a word?”
   Karen, not amused, sighed.
   I reached for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
   “It’s something every parent has to deal with, I’m sure. Maybe we should talk to Stephanie and William about it.”
   Karen withdrew her hand.
   “God, no. I don’t want Stephanie knowing about this.”
   “Well, how about Janice and Elliot?”
   Karen considered this proposal.
   “Maybe Jan and El.”
   I didn’t respond; I was in no mood to further discuss the recent revelation about our only son; a disclosure he didn’t know his parents were aware of.
   The cab fell into silence yet again, the traffic surrounding us — the impatient honks and frustrated engine revs being the only source of conversation.
   Eventually Karen said, “Maybe we should see Dr. Lillard together.”
   “No,” I said immediately. “No way.”
   “My father recommended him to you — I’d seen him before you began your sessions. It could be good for us. To talk about Evan . . . and us.”
   “Karen, no.”
   “We need to address these things.”
   “And we will,” I said. “And now I’d prefer if we stopped discussing all of this in front of a stranger.”
   This time the driver didn’t look at me. Karen pulled on her seatbelt absently as she stared out the window again. There was a deep sadness about her that I hadn’t observed in a while.
   “That poor kid,” she whispered.
   “Who?” I asked. “Evan?”
   But she didn’t respond.
   Then, a hint of success: The car moved a little faster, picked up the pace. The asphalt below us became the running belt of a treadmill, and eventually the driver accelerated hard as he turned off 99th, and now I could enjoy looking out the window at the pavement walkers who drifted behind and out of my life, like a memory unworthy of preservation.

2. THE DINNER

AS I EXITED the taxi, having paid the driver and providing him with an obscenely generous tip — an ironic fuck you of sorts for his unwarranted hostility — I breathed in the crisp autumn evening air which was diluted with exhaust gas from vehicles passing through the busy street, a vague odor of sewerage (the result of nearby construction work — there was always something being built in this city), and the jarring cigarette smoke which came from the direction of a group of suit-wearing gentlemen puffing away as they stood by the front entrance of The McDonald Hotel. The natural grace and splendor of autumn could be spectacular in this city if you kept your distance from downtown.
   I thumbed the waistband of my flat front trousers, ensured my shirt was neatly tucked in, and fixed my suit jacket with a single, synchronous tug from both hands. Following chivalrous tradition, I took Karen’s hand and guided her out of the cab. She took the lead while I slammed the cab door shut, maintaining my pose for a moment as if I’d just launched a bowling ball down the slick, lustrous wooden lane.
   After I turned and scratched the two-day-old stubble on my face, I took in the spot-lit visage of the hotel where I’d be conducting my next interview — possibly my final exposé — in a little over a months’ time: The seven-storey hotel’s distinctive, elegant châteauesque style belonged to a European vision of old; that of the 16th-century French castles.
   I pocketed my hands as the taxi pulled away. Looking up at the Salem limestone-covered exterior I regarded each window with squinted eyes as I considered the innumerable potential scenarios taking place behind the expensive, luxury curtains that hung from the equally expensive rails which were mounted above each expensively glassed window.
   I thought to myself: Plenty of fucking.
   I, too, would be in one of the executive suites in less than six weeks’ time at the expense of my employer. And while the thought of the upcoming interview excited me, it also sent my stomach into an anxious knot.
   “Lukas!” Karen’s widened eyes reprimanded me. I slowly withdrew my hands from my pockets and approached the entrance, before waving cigarette smoke out of my way as Karen and I entered the hotel.

XXX

   “Immigration,” drawled William, pointing his fork which proffered a piece of medium rare steak; the bloody juice dripping into the small pool on his plate next to the cut of meat and assortment of in-season vegetables. He was a rotund man who perspired almost incessantly, and when he spoke he regularly elongated syllables, and would sometimes jitter like a car attempting to start as he emphasized a point or a vowel. His grey hair was neatly combed back (as always) and the elasticity of his face had waned in recent years, causing the skin to sag under the cheekbones and below his chin and jaw.
   I thought to myself: Gravity and Time always win.
 He was beginning to look every bit of his sixty-four years, and then some. Originally from the United Kingdom, and still possessing a sonorous, haughty accent, he had been living in the United States for more than thirty years, and considered himself an Anglo-American. “This country was built by immigrants. We’re all immigrants. Every last one of us. Immigration. That’s your next piece.”
   “Immigration?”
   “Yes, yes. Immigration,” he said impatiently. “I want you to interview the everyday man who came to this country, or whose parents or grandparents came to this land. I want you to tell a linear story through a dozen or so immigrants. I know what this country stands for.”
   “It’s quite a shift from the Alfie B. Lee article—”
   “It’s important, Lukas, boy,’ he interrupted, jittering. “It’s relevant, with the current administration . . . And, well . . .” William paused, as if something had struck him there and then, his expression melancholy for a beat, but he shook it away before repeating softly, sadly: “It’s important, Lukas.”
   “With the greatest respect, Bill,” I began. “Immigration. It’s a little stale. I know with everything that’s going on in Syria and Europe and even here with the wall it’s been talked about, but right now . . . I don’t know. It feels like it isn’t the right move. People are getting tired of it . . . And, again with the greatest respect, you don’t assign me my jobs.”
   “That I don’t, but I do pay your salary, along with that of your editor-in-chief.” He leaned forward and pointed his fork at me again, smiling wryly. “And if I tell Melissa that I want you to write a story on immigration, you’ll write a damn story on immigration.”
   “Are you boys discussing work at dinner?” Karen asked cheekily and cheerfully (always the perfect actress when in the presence of family and friends) as she checked her cell phone; I noticed her “like” a picture posted by a friend on Instagram. She kept touching her nose, and for a moment I wondered if she was using again, and whether that was the source of her sadness that was so palpable in the cab.
   “Your wife has spoken,” smiled William.
   “What took you two so long, anyway?” asked Stephanie. She was wearing an outfit that I would call sexy if I could bring myself to compliment her. It was an Alexander McQueen sheer stripe dress that Karen had first noticed while watching Milan Fashion Week, after which she had called Stephanie to inform her of its existence: These days she used her sister to vicariously live out her sartorial fantasies having made a vow to herself that she would no longer frivolously indulge in her penchant for expensive fashion. The final straw was the January 1st 2016 purchase of a Dior dress along with a pair of Prada ankle boots, topped off with a Karl Lagerfeld suede bucket bag. That night she had dressed in each item she’d purchased and sobbed openly and uncontrollably on our king-sized bed.
   “Racist cab driver,” Karen said.
   “There was a crash, traffic was terrible,” I explained. “And yes, the driver appeared to be racist towards anyone he considered to be potentially racist, i.e. the white male.”
   “Ah, the white man: the oppressor. The privileged,” said William before he released a brattling cough, after which he patted his mouth with his napkin.
   I thought to myself: He’ll be dead in a few years, if not sooner.
   “Maybe he just didn’t like you,” Stephanie offered.
   “He wouldn’t be the first,” I replied with a sardonic smile.
   “Well,” said Stephanie, ignoring my retort with well-rehearsed apathy. “Karen, guess what I’m having shipped in next week.”
   At this William rolled his eyes and jerked his head in a single upward motion.
   “What?” asked Karen.
   Stephanie sat forward and placed both hands on the table, each side of her dinner plate which housed a half-eaten Cajun chicken salad.
   “A miniature camel.”
   “A what?!” replied Karen.
   “A what?” I repeated.
   William shook his head, remaining silent.
   “A miniature camel,” Stephanie beamed. “All the celebrities are getting them; they’re the latest trend.”
   “Jesus Christ,” I said involuntarily, another response that was ignored by Stephanie.
   “Caitlyn Jenner is rumored to have two, although People had no pictures to accompany the article, so I’m a little skeptical. But I’ve seen them. They’re genetically engineered, or something. Or inbred — like the micro dogs. They. Are. The. Cutest little fuckers. You have got to get one.”
   “A miniature camel?” asked Karen incredulously, mouth agape, as she swirled the cocktail pick in her dry martini.
   “They are so adorable!” said Stephanie as she unlocked her phone and presented a picture to Karen of what to me looked like a retarded monkey.
   “But . . . they’re camels,” Karen reasoned, or attempted to.
   “Miniature, Karen,” replied Stephanie. “Miniature camels. They’re teeny. They’re so cute with their two little humps and their dopey expressions. And they’d be great in the event of a drought; you know how dry it can get here in the summer.”
   William looked at me; his face had turned a deeper shade of red.
   “Camel’s humps are mounds of fat, Stephanie,” he said, exasperated. “They’re not filled with bloody water.”
    He turned to me once again and took a deep breath.
   “Anyway, I was thinking about something else for you to sink your teeth into. You know, Venezuela,” he said, and I felt a flurry of butterflies in my stomach as soon as he mentioned the state which had recently descended into chaos. This was followed by a flood of intense heat permeating my body and draping my skin.
   I quickly rose from my chair and excused myself.
   “Sorry, Bill. I’ve to . . . run to the little boy’s room.”
   William looked surprised, but as he did the math — considering that I had just eaten and my sense of urgency — his expression morphed into one of concession, followed by a look of empathy which was solidified with successive, approving nods of his head and raised hands.
   I exited the restaurant hurriedly and in the lobby I leaned against the wall, loosened my tie and released a long exhale as I attempted to banish the thoughts of the socialist state from my mind. Sweating, I removed my phone from my pocket, looking around the foyer to check if anyone had noticed my rather obvious mental disintegration, but thankfully nobody was staring at me.
   I immediately dialed the Friedman Hotline.
   As usual it clicked after a single ring, and I held my breath as I was greeted by a sage voice which said:
   “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.”
   When the voice ceased a prolonged beeeep followed, and I ended the call with an unintentionally loud exhale framed by circled lips as I reached into my trouser pocket and fished out two loose Ativan I’d stuffed in there earlier, before our taxi arrived. I placed them in my mouth, fixed my tie, re-entered the busy restaurant, and as I returned to the table I raised my eyebrows and smiled apologetically, before reaching for my glass of Nebbiolo and washing down both pills.
   “All okay?” asked William, concerned probably not for me but for the mere idea of a fellow diner shitting his pants and returning to a table afterwards.
   I smiled, still a little choked. I managed to force out a couple of labored words: “Okay. Good,” I nodded, mildly red-faced. “Great.”
   “Now,” William resumed. “Where was I?”
   “We were talking about immigration,” I said as, surprisingly, I found myself returning to a calm state almost immediately after ingesting the pills.
   “Well,” began William, before hesitating. “No, I wanted to talk about something else, uh, Venu—”
   “I think an article on immigration is a great idea, actually,” I said as quickly as possible.
   “You do?” asked William, surprised by my calculated U-turn.
   “Yes, yes,’ I nodded enthusiastically.
   “But I don’t want an opinion piece,” William replied. “I’m fed up with the unholy bombardment of opinion pieces adding to the nonsensical Sturm und Drang we’re constantly experiencing these days. It’s all identity politics, self-obsession, political correctness, lazy journalism. And it’s not only blogs on the internet; the heavyweights, they all resort to it now. They’re using emojis on the BBC. Emojis, Lukas.  I don’t know what’s happened to journalism. It’s dead, in the reportage of Western issues. Foreign Correspondents, more of them are — they’re still well-versed in the art of old-fashioned reportage. But pick up any paper, click on any US newspaper’s website covering national news, click on a link on Facebook and you’re guaranteed to find overwrought and melodramatic, often factually scant articles laced with ‘I, ME, ME, I, ME, WE.’ It’s a shambolic state of affairs.”
   I shuffled in my chair uncomfortably as I took another sip of my wine.
   “You do know that my next interview—”
   “With the porn star,” interjected William curtly.
   “Yes, with Alfie B. Lee . . . it is something of an opinion piece.”
   “Well,” said William, shrugging his shoulders and looking down at his dinner plate. “It’s a popcorn article, isn’t it?”
   “Is it?”
   “Yes,” he nodded firmly before looking me in the eye. “It’s a popcorn article, Lukas. It’ll entertain — it’ll help boost sales. It’ll please the shareholders. He’s a big name. He’ll grace the cover of The Cutter. But we’ll have you back to real journalism once it’s wrapped up.”
   I thought to myself: Ouch.
   And then I thought to myself: Miniature fucking camels.

XXX

Later, the four of us sat at the hotel bar. The elegant glass bar countertop underlit by neon-blue light gave the place a false vibrancy, because this was countered by the lazy jazz playing low, emitted from multiple wall-mounted speakers, and with the bar being only half full the atmosphere was unquestionably relaxed.
   Right before Stephanie brought up the recent murder which had happened not far from our house on Rutherford Drive, and which I’d learned was connected to the most famous porn star on the planet — the man I was scheduled to interview in December — Alfie B. Lee . . .
   I had immediately thought to myself: Will he still make porno videos?
   After that, I’d thought to myself: Will this affect our interview?
   I flashed back to earlier that day in the bathroom, and the momentary reminder of the pornographic video I watched gave rise to a mild erection, and I hunched slightly so as to ensure it wouldn’t be noticeable; my elbow rested clumsily, but not ostentatiously, across my thigh, as Stephanie opened with:
   “It’s scary as hell. To think that it happened not far from where you guys live. Seriously. It’s, like, how many blocks from your place?”
   “It’s five or six blocks away,” Karen said with what I thought was an affectation of concern. But she followed this with “They’re saying he was just a kid,” with sadness in her voice, which led me to believe that her worry was genuine. And which also led me to believe that this is who she was referring to in the cab on the way over.
   To be precise, they were saying he was Leighton Le Ché, an up-and-coming pornographic actor who was hot property within the industry, having only starred in a handful of videos which had quickly become some of the most popular on major porn sites. He’d been found in his downtown Coldcut apartment which overlooked the Dalloway River — which was seen as the divider between the north and south sides of the city — with multiple stab wounds to his cherubic face. His well-toned torso was gashed and sliced, and on his left wrist (which bore the tattoo Forever Young — how prescient he was) were what appeared to be two puncture wounds; deep bite marks, although this last detail was mere conjecture. A quick Google search would lead you to graphic images which had been taken by the cleaner who’d found the teenager’s blood-spattered and eviscerated body. The revelation that he was in fact seventeen — ergo underage — was causing a stir, as expected.
   As tempted as I was to share the Alfie B. Lee revelation — which had been passed on to me by a producer contact at PleasureVille Studios, Jay Jay Bonch, during a post-dinner bathroom trip — I felt it was best to keep it to myself for now; I couldn’t be sure that Bill wouldn’t pull the plug on the entire piece, and it had taken me months to persuade Maggie — the editor-in-chief of The Cutter magazine, the periodical for which I wrote, and which Bill owned — to give the article the green light, and I wasn’t going to lose it now.
   “It’s the viciousness that I don’t understand,” said Karen as she rested her elbows on the countertop and sipped her fifth martini of the night. “The poor kid suffered a terrible death.”
   “Rent boys are always at risk of meeting such an end,” said William as he sipped his scotch.
   “He wasn’t a rent boy,” I corrected. “He was an adult performer.”
   “And the difference is?” asked William rhetorically.
   “Don’t be so heartless,” said Stephanie, who was the only one of the party of four who wasn’t drinking alcohol. “He was some mother’s son.”
   “She’s right,” said Karen, her face still draped with concern, sadness.
   “And what was with those bite marks?”
   “Bite marks?” asked William.
   Stephanie rested her elbow on her husband’s shoulder.
   “There were two holes on his wrist.”
   “Bullshit,” I said.
   “Oh yeah? Why so, detective?”
   “Those photographs are blurry as hell, and even if there were puncture holes on his wrist, I doubt they’re the result of a bite.”
   “Well we live in fucked up times. Who’s to know?” replied Stephanie. “Karen, you’ve read about the elite and all that Satanism — the sacrifices, the pedophilia, right? I sent you articles, lots of them.”
   “I never got around to those,” said Karen.
   “There’s some fucked up people out there. Powerful people.”
   Stephanie removed her cell from her handbag and proceeded to show us all what she referred to as a ‘video on the occult,’ but which in fact was a mix of scenes from the movies Eyes Wide Shut, The Hunger and The Brotherhood of Satan. Afterwards she moved on to a video called Dogs Do Funny Things, and as Karen and Stephanie made thrilled noises like puppies whimpering as they watched the cute canines, and while William sat in solemn thought, I sipped my whiskey silently and willed the end of the evening.
   I thought to myself: Bill’s a powerful person.
   And then I thought to myself: This is your life, Lukas Lazaruk.

¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯

A Significant Nothing

 

I wrote A Significant Nothing (originally — and, you might say, oddly — titled Cow Goes Moo) back in June. It’s a short script about human behviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

Our protagonist — an introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city in which he works — has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. And despite being quite romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he has found someone with whom he can connect.

The problem is — has he found hope in a hopeless person?

You can read A Significant Nothing here: A Significant Nothing

‘It’s Ours’ by Charles Bukowski

It’s Ours

there is always that space there
just before they get to us
that space
that fine relaxer
the breather
while say
flopping on a bed
thinking of nothing
or say
pouring a glass of water from the
spigot
while entranced by
nothing

that
gentle pure
space

it’s worth

centuries of
existence

say

just to scratch your neck
while looking out the window at
a bare branch

that space
there
before they get to us
ensures
that
when they do
they won’t
get it all

ever.

You know how I was gonna self-publish my novel?

Well, if ever I felt like a liar . . .

Earlier this year I excitedly announced that I would be self-publishing my debut novel, Leaving Sadie, in June. Then, as the month approached like a freight train bombing along the tracks towards our tied-up hero in an action movie, I realised that I needed more time to free myself from those restrictive ropes; i.e. I needed to make additional changes to the story, let alone finalise the book-cover design (wonderfully executed by Chloë Keogan), get an ISBN, and prepare the final manuscript for digital and physical publication.

To be crude about it all: I’d blown my load.

So I said I’d aim for an autumn publication date, with October being the definite deadline. I’d even contacted Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin over at writing.ie about promoting the work on the site, as I had promoted my old blog Sounds From a Dublin Cafe. And Vanessa — wonderfully supportive of emerging writers as she is — was happy to offer me a slot on the site. That was that: I was certain I’d self-publish the novel by October at the latest.

But.

I had some thinking to do: Had I truly exhausted the traditional road to getting a novel published? Definitely not: Off the top of my head I would guess I’ve approached around six or seven literary agents — 10 max. Now, most people interested in literature know the famous J.K Rowling story, and how her Harry Potter manuscript was rejected time after time: The road to publication or landing an agent is a long one, and for that you need patience — like waiting at a railroad crossing for that freight train to pass by.

Now, I’m someone who has plenty of patience when it comes to writing a novel; I know it takes a lot of time and isn’t something that should be rushed. I know that landing a publishing deal is incredibly difficult and that these things take luck and time; and the world of literature can be kind to the aging process.

Despite my patience for the writing and publishing process, I had decided that Sadie was what it was: my first effort writing a novel. Completing the first novel is the real achievement, I’ve read umpteen times; it means you’ve got what it takes . . . when it comes to the next novels. Many authors don’t see their first completed novel published, and many of those who do wince and shudder when asked about that usually inexpert-though-rich-with-potential first novel (think Haruki Murakami and Hear The Wind Sing).

Sadie was sitting on my computer; a learning process that instilled in me the confidence to go and write my next novel. There it would stay, in the dark, left untouched, without a reader to heap praise upon it or tear it to shreds. And that to me felt . . . wrong. I’d poured a lot of energy into that work. And more importantly I loved my characters, for their talents and their flaws, for their courage and their cowardice, for their demand to be brought to life on paper — to be heard by someone.

It was the characters screaming from the laptop or the cold, dark desk drawer, who prompted me to decide to self-publish. If the work wasn’t up to scratch — if it was clearly the work of a novice; a writer experienced in film and advertising but not experienced enough in long-form fiction writing — then I’d learn that through the feedback of readers, the most honest critics. Why not put it out there? It would be a valuable learning experience.

And as explained above, I made that decision and had planned on publishing the work by next month, following that premature release date.

But then something else happened.

An early draft of Sadie was given the editing treatment by a young, recently graduated editor in the U.S. back in 2016. The feedback was mostly helpful and informed the future rewrites of the manuscript. But the story had changed so much since that first edit that I had to consider whether or not to have another editor take the story apart and find the flaws and inconsistencies.

Originally I’d said, ‘No, no, this is what it is. I’ve rewritten and rewritten and it will go out in its current state.’ That was a tad naive of me, but I knew that: I knew it would be a risk to self-publish without the final draft getting the editor’s touch. But then I was contacted by a fellow writer and copywriter, who informed me that their published-author sibling was now editing as well, and would possibly be interested in looking at Sadie before I put it out there, at a very reasonable fee.

At first I said it was okay; I had made the bed, tucked in my plot and characters and kissed them on their way into the unknown. I could no longer protect them, they were ready to be unleashed and whatever was to come their way would come; I could only hope that I’d equipped them well enough to deal with it. Then panic sat in: what if the work is awful? I mean, I knew the work wasn’t awful: I’d had plenty of feedback (no, not just from the mother and girlfriend!), and when I compared my work to other emerging writers on workshop sites I knew there was real strength in my writing. But the structure, the character growth, the conclusion — these aspects of the story could benefit greatly from the eye of a published author and editor.

I had to pause the self-publishing plan and send it over to that editor.

And now?

Now I have the editor’s invaluable notes.

Now I see where the story needs work: it needs more work.

And now I have the belief that Leaving Sadie could very well find itself a home by going down the traditional publishing road; the feedback definitely suggests that.

So now I have to get back to work.

The novel wasn’t ready for self-publication, I have to accept that.

But it could be ready for a traditional publisher very soon.

I’m going to go down the road of finding an agent, because while there was great appeal in self-publishing the work, and while I spent money and time on preparing for self-publication (cover design, ISBN, etc,), and while I know I had input from people on WordPress and Facebook on the book cover (for which I’m forever grateful), I shouldn’t self-publish until I’ve fully exhausted every option available to me when it comes to finding an agent and a publisher.

And if I fail to find one after all this?

Well, I guess I’ll self-publish; only this time I’ll be driving the freight train knowing the cargo is in the best possible condition.

Gallery

A short story . . .

 

 

Gallery

 

It was Raymond’s suggestion. I understood art about as much as I understood Chinese, so I was never inclined to visit art galleries. I like the colours, I appreciate the skill; the talent involved. I understand that there’s talent. Well, most of the time—as Bob Dylan said. Other times . . . Well, I just don’t know.

Like I said, it was Raymond’s idea, and it sounded like it would be a nice thing to do; I don’t see my brother often enough and if I’m to be completely honest I don’t get out often enough myself. Not since John became ill. And when I do get out it’s usually to visit him at the nursing home. Once a month at the home there’s a support group for the spouses of the residents of the home. One of the women there—Julia—she calls it the “Sad Bastard Get-Together” (SBGT). I laugh at that, even though I shouldn’t. I like Julia; she sees the humour in the sad side of life. She said there’s always a sad side (and don’t I know it), so why not try paint over it with humour?

Like an artist painting on a canvas, I guess.

At the support group they encourage you to be more active; become involved in different activities; join clubs; be more sociable. Now that’s all well and good, but I don’t drive, and with the miserable weather we get here most of the year I don’t want to go out half the time. And as for being more sociable; well, that’s all well and good, but any time I go out it’s always with couples, because almost all of my friends are married and have been for over thirty years. And I know that’s the way it is, because that’s the way it is. But it can be a little hard. It’s hard being around couples all the time when you remember what you had; when you instinctively reach for that hand.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. That’s not important. At the SBGT they encourage us to avoid indulging in negative thoughts; not to spend too much time swimming around in the past. So, I shouldn’t do that, I guess. And in any case I’m not a very strong swimmer—never have been. But sometimes I forget that I shouldn’t linger on those thoughts. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.

But the trip to the gallery . . .

It was a Saturday and as usual it was raining. I had taken the bus from the shopping centre to town, which left me only a few minutes’ walk from the gallery. Once I’d rambled up the cobblestone street I found Raymond standing at the entrance in his rain jacket. He’d always wear the same rain jacket, even if it was a sunny day. He has a gloomy disposition; always has, always will. John used to call him “Smile Awhile”. John always liked to joke and tease, but not in a mean way.

Raymond and I have similar faces. We both share a petit, stubby nose and a big mouth, as if one was compensating for the other. But while Raymond has always had cheeks decorated with freckles, my skin has always been clear and soft, thank you very much. That’s one thing I’ll hold on to, please. Raymond’s black hair—like mine—is greying in places. He has these narrow eyes which have become narrower with time. You see, his eyelids droop, like curtains, and so there’s not much of an opening for his vision, but he never looks like he’s squinting—just gloomy, like I said. Me, I’ve got my mother’s eyes: big and blue and full of surprise. Although there isn’t much that surprises me anymore.

We kissed each other on the cheek and Raymond smiled in his usual way: as if it took a tremendous amount of effort. He paid the admission, and I thanked him, and we began to wander around the gallery. See, Raymond’s the cultured one in our family; he’s the smart one — the educated one. The one who went to college. Of course, I couldn’t go to college because I was running the family home from the age of fifteen; my mother needed all the help she could get because she was ill, and my father was out working most days. We were a poor family: Me, Raymond, and our sisters Debbie and Cassandra, all shared the same room growing up just outside Dublin’s city centre. The three of us sisters would pile ourselves into the same bed—which was good for keeping warm during the night, and for those moments when we’d hear a noise and become scared—and Raymond had his bed to himself. Considering our financial constraints, the fact that Raymond got to go to college is a miracle in my book. But he did, and he’s reaped the benefits of an education. And I don’t begrudge him that one bit. He teaches now, at a college out by Crumlin.

The gallery was quiet for a Saturday, or so I guessed; I don’t know what’s busy for that place. Raymond would comment on paintings every now and then; saying things like “isn’t the use of vibrant colours here marvellous,” and “the despair’s in the work; isn’t it obvious? This captures a moment in the artist’s life—a moment of despair. It all over it, isn’t it?”. He would look at the works in different ways; every now and then he’d place an elbow on a wrist and a hand under his chin, and would tap his lips with his index finger as he studied a painting. He’d seemed displeased in many instances. I just looked at them and liked the ones I liked and didn’t think much about the ones I disliked. When we came to a painting, “A convent garden, Brittany”, by a man I’d never heard of named William John Leech, I asked Raymond what he thought of it. In it a very pretty woman holding a book is looking up at something, maybe the tree, maybe the heavens—I don’t know. Behind her there are a number of women looking away so you can’t see their faces. There are branches and leaves and flowers in the foreground.

“You like it?” he asked.

“Do you?” I replied.

“I do. I’m a great admirer of Leech: I share his love of sunlight.”

“Then why do you still live in Dublin?”

Raymond smiled and placed a finger over his lips as he looked at the painting.

“Do you like it?” he asked again.

“I do,” I said as my eyes lingered on it. “It’s like life, in a way, isn’t it?” I said tentatively.

Raymond turned his head to me; I wasn’t used to talking about art.

“How do you mean?”

“Well,” I began, and hesitated before continuing. “We can see her face. She’s very beautiful. You want to look at her. It’s like we’re the ones looking at her through the leaves and flowers there at the front, isn’t it? But the other women; they’re just there. We can’t see their faces.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t know. I think it’s like life; only a few will be seen and the rest will live in the shadows of others.”

Raymond nodded. I don’t know if that’s what the painting meant. I don’t think it did: I don’t know very much about art.

“It’s his wife, actually.”

“Oh.”

“It’s oil on canvas. Beautiful execution.”

I nodded as once again Raymond tapped his finger against his lips.

It wasn’t long afterwards that we came across the tank. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight—not to my eyes. There were a number of people around it. It was hanging from the ceiling and was a few feet above the floor. There was a big fish in it, surrounded by blue liquid. The big fish’s mouth was open and its razor-like teeth were on display. It must have been around 6 ft long. It was a horrible-looking thing. We got closer and a few of the patrons moved along. There was a sign in front of it that told us the name of the piece:

                        In the Eyes of the Beholder—Death or Life

Raymond nodded.

“This is the piece everyone’s talking about,” he said excitedly.

“It’s a fish,” I said.

Raymond nodded again.

“It’s a lancetfish,” he said. “That liquid is a formaldehyde solution. It slows the decomposition process.”

I took a step back, walked around the tank, and inspected it. The fish was skinny, and its fin was tall. It’s dead, I kept saying to myself.

“It’s like it’s alive, but it’s not,” I said to Raymond.

“So it seems.”

“Why put a dead fish in a tank?”

“Why not?” he said.

“Is it art?” I asked Raymond.

“It’s in the gallery,” he replied.

We stood in silence for a few minutes, staring into the eyes, the mouth, the soul of this dead lancetfish. I felt sorry for the thing; it shouldn’t be there on display like this, I thought.

While we were standing, looking at the fish and the tank, my phone rang.

Raymond looked at me with disapproval. I hunched my shoulders apologetically. It was the nursing home calling. I couldn’t let it ring out; I’d missed the last SBGT, maybe there was something they wanted to update me on. I walked away into a corner where there was no one else and quietly answered the call.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Callaghan?” came the voice of a young woman.

“Yes—Mary. Mrs. Callaghan makes me feel ancient—call me Mary. Is everything all right?”

“It’s fine, yes, nothing to worry about, Mary. John’s just been worried and has been asking us to contact you.”

“What’s wrong? There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

“No, no. Not at all. John just wanted to tell you to remember to bring his cigarettes when you’re coming up next.”

In the background I could hear John.

“I’ve only five left,” he was saying.

“Yes, I have some there for him. I’ll be up later today.”

“Okay,” said the young woman. “John just wanted us to call to make sure.”

“Okay,” I said. “That’s okay.”

 

The rain had stopped when we left the gallery. Raymond waited with me until my bus arrived. I hugged him and we said we’d do it again soon. He trundled off in his raincoat as I waited in line to get on the bus.

On the way to visit John, as the bus travelled along the river, as the traffic crawled tediously, I thought about that poor fish. Then I thought about the beautiful woman in the oil painting. I imagined her there on that day, in the heat of the sunshine, surrounded by the leaves and flowers, and all that beauty. Then, after all the hours her husband had spent on the work, he would reveal it to her.

When I got to John’s room I opened the door slightly before stopping. I imagined the artist’s wife as she approached the door to the room where she would see the painting for the first time. She’d see herself on that canvas; she’d be the focus of attention for years to come. I imagined the excitement, or the apprehension, as she prepared to enter the room and see the work her husband had made for her. Still I stood outside the door. Then I closed my eyes and entered the room.

 

 

ATTN, ISBN, and Other Abbreviations — Thoughts on an Author’s Road to Self-Publication

Earlier this year I set my sights on June for the release of my debut novel Leaving Sadie. That, it turns out, was a tad ambitious.

From last-minute rewrites and cover alterations, to figuring out where to publish and getting an ISBN (a barcode) – there’s a lot more to self-publishing than I had initially thought. And, apart from all these boxes that need to be ticked before publication, I’m learning that most of the hard work comes after the novel is launched.

Self-promotion nightmares

Anyone who knows me personally knows that a) I’m quite modest, b) I can’t dance, and c) the idea of self-promotion makes me shudder and wake up screaming in the middle of the night covered in sweat and clenching the bed sheets. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but other than writing “ATTN Readers” on my book or website, I’m not crazy about discussing myself or my work.

But self-promotion is an unavoidable necessity in the age of the internet (that’s why I’m keeping this blog). People do it on a daily basis with the likes of Facebook and Instagram, and they may not be pushing a novel, releasing an album, or even selling a product. For some – as you definitely know – they are the product. Many of these types are known as influencers – but I won’t get into that.

I read a comment from an aspiring writer on how Dickens would handle social media – they suggested that he would be all over it; he’d be a self-promoting machine. I do wonder how some of the greats would get on today, when the entire nature of the publishing industry has changed with the advent of eBooks, Kindles and the beast that is Amazon. Or is it more of same-same, but different? Bret Easton Ellis and others have in the past talked about grueling book tours – so yes, self-promotion has always been a part of the deal. However, in the age of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, and Tumblr (to name a few), aspiring authors are now expected to have a presence on each platform. For some readers, they care as much about the life of the writer as they do the writer’s work. And again, maybe that’s a case of same-same, but different: before the prevalence of social media, public appearances during those book tours gave fans a chance to get to know the name behind the novel; it offered them a glimpse into the life of the person who’s words wooed and wowed readers.

Jonathan Franzen despises social media

In a piece I wrote for writing.ie a couple of years back, I described myself as someone who had a Franzen-esque aversion to social media. For those of you who don’t know who Jonathan Franzen is, he’s an American novelist who has written five novels, three of them being well-known and widely celebrated (and hotly debated) — The Corrections, Freedom, and Purity.

Mr. Franzen is someone who has been severe in his criticisms of social media, to say the least, and has thus been ridiculed across the web for his failure to embrace the likes of Twitter (his true bête noire), and see the positives in social media, not just the clear – and sometimes not so clear – negatives. One could argue that Franzen – who has produced exquisitely written and enjoyable articles on climate change – could use his status to help promote the causes about which he cares so deeply. How many of his readers – devout or casual – may be open to discussions on climate change following a 140-character tweet by Mr. Franzen, as opposed to being presented with a four-thousand word essay to fit into their already hectic schedules?

Anyhow, I digress…

My nod to Mr. Franzen is because, yes – as I’ve already suggested – I did have a strong disliking for social media. In all honesty, I’m still not crazy about it. But it’s part of the industry today. Until I become successful enough to not need it, I need it. Although that’s not to say my Instagram or Twitter pages are overflowing with followers. Quite the opposite, in fact. But a presence at the party is necessary, even if you find these gatherings a little awkward (although was I even invited?).

What’s Leaving Sadie about anyway?

For all my talk of putting out a novel (let’s be honest, I’ve probably mentioned it less than a dozen times on social media), I haven’t really gone into detail on what the story is about. If I’m on a night out and it happens to come up that I write, and that I’ve recently completed a novel, the question “So, what’s it about?” is almost unavoidable. I’ve heard that many writers hate this question; what, exactly, are you supposed to say in response? “Oh, you know, it’s about the crippling and depressing realities of life… the unbearable company of certain types… the unavoidable failures and suffering we all face… the subtleties of relationships and how they impact on us day after day… a postmodern critique of corporate capitalism told through the eyes of an earthworm… the depressing knowledge that we are – all of us – doomed to death, and we know it, and how the hell do you cope with that, man?!… And yes, you can order a copy here… It’s really, really good. Trust me…”

For the record, that’s not me talking about Leaving Sadie.

It’s hard to summarise your novel in a quick sentence, let alone in a blurb on the back page. I even found it difficult when people would ask me what my debut feature film, A Day Like Today, was about… (Well, it’s about life… It’s about relationships… It’s about domestic abuse… It’s about hope… Just go see it!).

Damn it, Shane, what’s Leaving Sadie about?!

Okay, I’ve got to do better than “just read it”. As someone who’s paying the bills by working in advertising and marketing, that’s a pretty tame effort at getting people to read your work.

To put it simply, Leaving Sadie is about relationships, and in particular a couple who are questioning theirs. What happens around these doubts are the events that shape the novel: Henry, a writer, is hoping his next play will be his seal of success, and he’s even met a washed-up, alcoholic Oscar-winning actor who’s agreed to star in it – what could go wrong? Sadie is a musician who’s focus at the minute isn’t her art, but her family; a critical mother, a successful sister, and a cardiologist brother all come together to address the central issue in all their lives: their ill father. But a serendipitous meeting may present to Sadie a career opportunity that’s too good to turn down, and which could take her away from her family, and Henry.

Is this truly a work of fiction?

So, like Henry, I’m a writer. And I happen to have a girlfriend who’s a musician. Those close to me will see other similarities between the story and my life find their way into the novel — that’s guaranteed with this one. Hmm… Am I writing a roman à clef here?

No, I’m not. Unlike my previous work, Leaving Sadie is inspired by a number of real-life events that are quite close to me, but that’s about as far as it goes. There are real-life inspirations, but beyond that, the rest is fiction. Characteristics may be borrowed, but characters are fictitious. Scenarios may mirror reality, but when stepping through the looking glass you’ll find yourself a different world.

Isn’t focusing your debut novel on a writer an absolute no-no? Doesn’t that make you an idiot, Shane?

Maybe. It’s often said that publishers will automatically reject any story who’s protagonist is a writer — if the work is by an unpublished author. I’ve read this, I’ve been told this, but I also read enough books and watch enough films to know that it’s not necessarily true. Countless debut novels have focused on a writer, and too many films to mention do the same. Anyway, Leaving Sadie is as much about Sadie as it is Henry; it’s as much about relationships as it is the arts. In fact, I’m a big fan of Ivan Turgenev, who would devote plenty of pages to his supporting characters – maybe that’s something that’s rubbed off on me (I can only hope a degree of his talent has!).

Also, after submitting Sadie to a mere five or six agents, I decided to self-publish. So I need readers, not publishers, to get on board with a story who’s protagonist happens to write.

What has inspired the work?

Real life always inspires my work, whether it’s something close to me, or something I observe or read about. To be honest, when I wrote the first lines of Sadie I was setting out to write a short story inspired by short fiction masters like Raymond Carver and Richard Ford. The former in particular has been a huge influence on me, and is someone whose mastery is often mistakenly labelled with the misnomer “minimalism” — there was nothing minimal about Carver’s work. It was what is was. It was exactly as it needed to me. It was enough. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest).

Eventually the story developed into something longer – something more adventurous than I had initially imagined – and so it became a completely different project that I would work on on-and-off for a few years.

Carver’s hero – and greatest influence – was Anton Chekhov, another writer I’m a big fan of, although rather than embracing his short fiction, I was first drawn to his major plays which had a profound impact on western theatre. Other writers who I regularly revisit and whose style I suppose I use as inspiration, for I am attempting to craft my own style (I hope I’ve achieved that with this novel, after many years of writing badly, then writing not-so-badly – I hope), include J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nick Hornby, Hunter S. Thompson, Haruki Murakami, Françoise Sagan, Woody Allen, Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, Charles Bukowski, and Christopher Isherwood, to name a few. There are many, many more.

So, when’s it coming out?

I recently moved back to Dublin, Ireland from Vancouver, BC, and there’s a strong chance I’ll be on my travels again sooner rather than later, so it’s a bit of a crazy time right now. However, I’m hoping that Leaving Sadie will be ready to go by late August. If not, it should certainly be released this autumn.

I’ll post further updates here and on my Twitter and Instagram pages, and I may even post another extract soon.

Thanks for reading, and for allowing me to partake in a bout of online self-promotion — perhaps Dickens would give me his blessings, but don’t tell Franzen.

Shane