Bloom is one of those words that has several different meanings, which is useful when you’re trying to think of an album title that’s both evocative and innocuous. It’s also the collective noun for jellyfish and just fun to say. bloom.
It was surprisingly easy to part with all of my Ryan Adams’ records. With a few taps I’d already deleted his songs from my phone and wiped them from my computer. Over twelve years I’d acquired all but two of his studio releases on vinyl and overpaid for a 15-disc vinyl box set of a solo acoustic tour. The owner of The Old School Records in Forest Park gave me $170 for the lot. When he sorted through the stack of vinyl I brought in he asked, “Has the backlash begun?”
If you haven’t already seen it, The New York Times ran a disturbing article about Ryan Adams, detailing a pattern of abusive and manipulative behavior toward younger female musicians and romantic partners–promising career advancement before reneging the offers when the relationships didn’t progress to his satisfaction. For years, Adams was my all-time favorite musician and one of my creative heroes. I remember sitting at a high school graduation party, all of us trying to ignore the drunk band playing on my friend’s deck, when someone started talking about Adams’ record Easy Tiger. I downloaded it when I got home, the album moving from “Goodnight Rose” into “Two,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Halloweenhead,” followed by “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” I wanted to ask someone, what is this? It was a huge moment, similar to when I first heard Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All BackHome, or Hendrix singing, ‘Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.’
When I left for college that fall I was well on my way to a Ryan Adams obsession. Easy Tiger was his solo ninth album, and I had serious catching up to do. One thing Adams does exceptionally well is give all of his songs such a satisfying ache–he believes every word he sings, even on seemingly throwaway records like Rock n Roll. For a depressed person it was comforting to see someone else take beauty and inspiration from extreme sadness. Even more startling was the sheer volume of songs Adams had written, far more than any other contemporary artist I’d listened to, and so many of them were amazing. Songs like “When the Stars Go Blue,” “Dear Chicago,” and “Crazy About You,” a song that feels like it’s been around forever that Adams wrote when he was 25.
All of this was happening while I was dealing with undiagnosed clinical depression, trying to talk myself into loving biochemistry while secretly indulging an interest in writing. For my first two years of college, listening to Ryan Adams was the only thing that felt good. I enjoyed writing but felt like an impostor. For everything else I was going through the motions. Finding an artist completely unafraid to create so much remains inspiring to me. The same way I’ve never sat down to write anything without thinking of Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ve never picked up an instrument without thinking of Ryan Adams.
There will probably be a time when I’ll wish I held on to some of my Ryan Adams records. “Dear Chicago” is still my favorite song by any artist, but since I read the article I haven’t been able to think of playing it without getting a weird feeling in my stomach. For situations like this, I’m not sure we get to pick and choose. If the idea of Louis C.K. “dropping in” to perform comedy sets makes me want to punch something, continuing to support Ryan Adams is also off the table. I’ve probably left a wake of co-workers and first dates who only remember one thing about me, that thing being that Ryan Adams was seemingly my end-all be-all. Even if this is only true for a few people, I find it deeply embarrassing, but I don’t get to take it back. For years I acted as an Adams evangelist, on some level hoping people would conflate my enthusiasm for Adams’s music as part of my hip, cool personality.
The New York Times article states “seven women and more than a dozen associates” were interviewed regarding his behavior. That’s at least 19 people. 19 people who confirmed Ryan Adams is, in fact, a monster, and in need of serious help. What is most alarming to me about the piece is the story of Ava, a gifted bassist who began corresponding with Adams at age 14. He offered to produce her band and jumpstart her career, had “pet names for her body parts,” initiated naked Skype calls, and sent her the text “I never see pics of you anymore. You were blowing my mind.” By the time all of this ended, Ava was so discouraged she has since stopped pursuing music. This is blatantly predatory, but Adams also robbed a young woman of her passion. I’ve tried to think of anything that would make me decide to give up on writing or music, and short of losing both of my hands I can’t think of anything. How awful do you have to be for someone to give up doing what they love?
After selling my Ryan Adams’ records my first thought was to donate the money to charity, maybe Women In Music or a local domestic violence shelter. I still might do that, but that money would help with The Mechanic’s publishing costs or countless other worthy pursuits. For now it’s collecting interest in my bank account.
Today is International Women’s Day, so I hope we can all do something positive to mark the occasion. However you do that is up to you, but please don’t listen to Ryan Adams. Here are some things you can check out created by amazing women.
Aimee Mann is one of my all-time favorites, and while she doesn’t need any help from me I do feel like The Forgotten Arm is a sleeper among her better known albums. It’s a loose concept album about a couple that falls in love, one of them struggling with crippling alcoholism. I promise it’s not as depressing as it sounds, and all of the songs are flat-out gorgeous.
Maybe you’re completely sick of YA-dystopian novels with a bit of romance, but this one is badass! Half the United States is underwater, and the Navajo gods erected an enormous wall of stone and turquoise around their territory while giving some of the Navajo clan powers (a very nifty way of introducing double-edged superpowers). Oh, and the Navajo have to use these clan powers to fight off monsters, witches, and trickster gods. I inhaled this book and can’t wait for the next installment.
Whoever you are, man or woman, I encourage to approach today with the confidence of Pete Davidson. The dude looks like he’s had a cold for the past decade but is dating Kate Beckinsale. Truly anything is possible with the confidence of a mediocre white man.
Hello friends, and welcome to the year of our lord 2019. I promised real updates last month, so please join me as I imitate Nate Silver to discuss the query process for The Mechanic.
Since submitting my first query letter on August 3rd, I have sent 36 in total. Of those, I have received 18 rejections, as broken down below:
Say what you will about literary agents, but they are unfailingly polite. Each rejection has assured me it is not a judgement of my writing ability, but that the “industry is incredibly subjective” and they hope I find an agent “who will be an enthusiastic champion” of my work. All of these rejections–including the two clearly not written from a template–are so similar the language and tone is clearly agreed upon at an industry-wide conference.
For the remaining half of my submitted queries, one agent was kind enough to inform me they were currently closed to submissions but would accept them at an unspecified time in the not-too-distant future. The others have provided no response whatsoever.
Of those queries that received a rejection, the average response time currently stands at 20 days. I sent my most recent query on November 20th, which was more than 50 days ago. I think it’s safe to assume that any queries sent last year with no response have either timed out or are lost forever to the great slush pile in the sky.
Additional Fun with Statistics:
83% of the agents I queried are female
Despite being smaller in number, male agents were 1.4 times more likely to not respond
All male agents requested materials in addition to the query letter (e.g. synopsis, page/chapter selection), but 20% of female agents requested no additional materials
38% of literary agencies that did not respond to queries began with the letters F or P
The size of my sample is too small for any of this to be really meaningful, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
What does is all mean? It could be that The Mechanic isn’t ready for publication, my query game is terrible, or some combination of both. The first queries I sent out were objectively awful and all of them are perhaps premature.
I took a break from querying over the holidays, largely because querying feels a lot like looking for a job while managing to be more depressing. Over the break I worked on a short story I’m excited about, but I also started going through The Mechanic chapter by chapter, trying to make the prose as tight as possible. Definitely should’ve done that before sending any query letters, but here we are. I’ve also put one of the more exciting/scary chapters first, since a lot of agents are only willing to read the first 10 pages. It’s embarrassing how long I held on to the idea that the whole story mattered more than immediately grabbing someone’s attention.
I’m really proud of The Mechanic, but I also understand it would be difficult to market: It’s sort of a novel, sort of a literary thriller, parts of it flirt with body horror, and it has enough chronological shifts to make Quentin Tarantino blush. Some agents request a one-sentence pitch when you query them, and mine was always “a superhero story for the #MeToo era.” It is not a feel-good story, but it is a good story.
I’ll probably send more queries when I’m finished with these edits. I’m also thinking about self-publishing again (I already designed a cover I like), and I’m toying with the idea of releasing it as a podcast audiobook.
Those are my updates. I hope you had fun with stats.
Andy and I are excited to launch the Badwatch merch store, featuring shirts, hoodies, and tote bags all in a variety of colors, with more stuff on the way. For the next two days our shirts are 30% off, so don’t wait!
Album of the Year – Master Volume by The Dirty Nil
I didn’t listen to a whole lot of music this year, mostly podcasts and audiobooks. But since Master Volume‘s release, not a week has passed without me playing it my car at high volumes. It’s punk meets classic rock meets totally freakin’ awesome. Click to hear the record on YouTube.
I’m writing this before the mid-term elections and scheduling it for the day after. If things went great you can celebrate with my new podcast! If things went not so great, you can embrace/stave off an existential crisis with my new podcast!
The show is called Badwatch, and it is co-hosted by myself and my brother-in-law, Andy. He’s fine by himself, but together we are hilarious. On each installment of Badwatch, Andy and I watch an episode of what I would consider an objectively bad television program and then make fun of it. It’s great!. So far we’ve covered the Hawaii 5-0 reboot, Quantico, and a miserable SyFy show called Dark Matter.
Andy and I had a blast making our first few episodes, and we’re excited to finally share them. You can subscribe to Badwatch here, or in the podcast provider of your choice. Our first episode is out now, and we’ll be releasing new episodes every other Wednesday.
If you would like to see this content, please become a Patron! For $1/month you'll be able to see everything on the site. Or you can wait six months for this post to become public, but who has the time?
For years, various people have encouraged me to try yoga; my mother, a personal trainer, and most gently, my therapist. All of them said something to the effect of “it will help you get out of your own head.”
I was always dismissive in response, saying “Why do I need to get out of my head? I know the territory.” The unspoken being that even though the stuff in my head might be weird, dark, and a little anxious, I was perfectly capable of handling it without yoga. This is essentially the thinking man’s version of “If I meditate I’ll lose my creative edge,” which is bullshit.
For over a year I meditated every day on the train home from work, and I’m familiar with all its benefits. It made me a much better, less anxious driver. Snafus at work bothered me less and less, and when others started to panic I stayed calm. On one of the initial dates with my now girlfriend, Leslie, I asked about her yoga practice. At that point I knew she went several times a week, and I definitely made a joke about “meditating hard.” Although athletic and fit, she was modest about her level of skill. “It helps me be connected to my body,” she said.
I replied, “Sometimes I wish I was less connected to my body.”
Thankfully, she laughed. Maybe a month or so later she asked if I wanted to join her in a yoga class.
I didn’t say yes because she’s great and I wanted to keep seeing her, although that was definitely part of the reason. After having so many smart people pushing yoga on me it seemed like a good idea to finally try it, mostly so I could ignore any and all future suggestions.
It was a few weeks before we could go to a class together, and we planned to go to an easier session appropriate for new yogis, something called Outdoor Flow. The morning of we were a little late in leaving and hit traffic on the way. “We’ll have to do the next one,” she explained. “My studio is strict about not letting people in after the class has started.”
“That’s fine,” I said, not realizing the drastic disparity between different types of classes. I was only looking to avoid hot yoga or one of the more intense classes Leslie preferred, sessions with names like Sculpt and Power Yoga. We arrived and signed up for a ninety-minute class called Vinyasa. Leslie left to park her car and the woman at the front desk gave me a mat and a towel. “The mats sometimes get slippery,” she explained, “so you can lay the towel on top for more traction.”
Right, as if I wouldn’t be able to master my own yoga mat.
Leslie returned and found me in the entry area where yogis take off their shoes. She walked up and kissed me. “Thank you for doing this. Vinyasa is a harder class than I would normally start you with.”
“It’s fine,” I said again. “And I’m definitely not nervous at all.”
Part of the reason I had agreed to Vinyasa was because Leslie had described Derek, the instructor, as somewhat “basic,” which I took to mean easier than most. We set up our mats at the back of the room, and after a few minutes the instructor came by to shake my hand, welcome me, and ask if I was okay with him using his hands to adjust my poses. “Sure,” I lied. My new goal was to avoid having him touch me at all. Derek was attractive in a stereotypical yoga bro sort of way. His brown hair hung to his shoulders, and he was muscular without looking like a beefy gym rat. He vaguely resembled Russell Brand, although I doubt he would’ve considered marrying Katy Perry.
I was not the only male in the class, but I was the only one wearing a Ryan Adams t-shirt, which made me feel perversely superior. I got this shirt for $20 at a rock concert, not Lululemon! I felt an immediate kinship with a woman wearing a shirt covered with cupcakes and unicorns. Before now, anytime someone asked if I practiced yoga I said I practiced bro-ga. “It’s when a bunch of people who probably should do yoga sit around and talk about how they don’t do yoga,” I would explain.
Things started easy enough, with all of us lying with our backs “to the earth,” focusing on our breathing. About ten minutes after that I was drenched in sweat and having a very hard time staying on my mat. My beloved Ryan Adams shirt proved ineffective in wiping my face since it was completely soaked. It was another fifteen minutes before I relented and put down my complimentary towel.
I’m by no means a yoga savant, but I also didn’t completely embarrass myself. I at least did better than the lady next to me, and she had her own mat. (I know it’s not a contest, but let me have this one.) This might not make sense to non-musicians, but I knew I was doing the movements properly when it felt like my body moved where it needed to go, exactly the same feeling of completing a V – I chord progression in a song. To put it another way, hum “Pop Goes the Weasel,” but stop before you get to the final note. When you stop the song on wea-, our ears are conditioned to expect the melody to resolve to the root note sung with -sel. Delaying that is how I’ve always imagined Tourette’s to feel, like there’s an itch you need to scratch. When you finally do resolve the melody there’s an inherent sense of rightness to the entire string of notes. For most of the class I tried to adjust my poses until I got to that sense of completeness or resolution within my body. It wasn’t until then I understood the attraction of yoga for so many, and the sense of connection Leslie had described. Yoga felt good, even though I was quickly learning it was a brutal workout.
I doubt I have ever sweated as much as I did in those ninety minutes. My hair did that annoying thing when it’s wet to form a big curlicue on my forehead. At various points Leslie reached over to squeeze my hand. I squeezed back and smiled, trying to indicate I wasn’t nearly as dead as I looked. I did take a breather about an hour into the class, laying down on my back to catch my breath. As I rejoined the class Derek came over to delicately correct my pigeon pose. Up until then he’d only come near me to suggest I try to get slightly lower during crow pose. As he pulled my leg a little farther back behind me I again felt the sense of completeness in the motion. I also realized how exhausted I was because even my toes were tired. The class ended with backbends which felt surprisingly good, although I didn’t bend all the way to the floor as Derek demonstrated. (The worst part was that he wasn’t even smug about it. Damn, yogi.)
When we stood up Leslie hugged and kissed me even though we were both impossibly sweaty, thanking me again for doing the class. “You were a rock star,” she said. “I was surprised you were able to do some of the poses.”
“I… liked it,” I managed, still trying to catch my breath. Leslie ran to get our things from her locker, and I wandered around the lobby to convince myself I wasn’t about to vomit everywhere. It was a close call for a few minutes, but by the time Leslie returned the nausea had passed.
As we were leaving Derek thanked us both for coming. Turning to me he asked, “Are you new to the practice?”
“Today was my first day.”
“Really? Very impressive! You did a lot better than some people in their first class. Seriously.” He seemed sincere although it’s possible he was merely being kind in the hopes I’d come back.
Walking back to the car I asked Leslie, “So Derek’s class was basic?”
The Mechanic is finished! Sasha is now Ana. The word count dropped from 84,000 to 80,0000. My mom is reading the latest draft and said “it’s tighter,” which is maybe all I’ve ever wanted to hear about my writing. I don’t plan on making any changes unless an agent or editor tells me to. I have started querying, but that’s a long, slow, demoralizing process. Updates to come.
To give you a sense of where my brain has been since I finished the book, I have a blister on my right index finger and I’m not at all sure how I got it. I also bought three mixing bowls at Target last weekend and two of them have completely vanished. I also went to Costco and thought, “ooh quinoa salad, that sounds good!” I was watching TV the other night and had an idea for my next novel. Right now it’s about cults, dementia, time travel, and bank heists. Should be dope.
Many thanks to all of you who read various sections and drafts of The Mechanic. I’d especially like to thank my friend Miriam, who had to listen to me try to explain what this book was about before I’d written much of anything. Her thoughtful questions were crucial in helping me think through so many parts of the story. In no particular order, I also need to thank Sara, Jean, Marissa, Kerry, Julianna, Andy, mom, and dad. The feedback from all of you was so so helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’m gonna go turn into a werewolf now.
P.S. I stole the Donezel Washington joke from Brooklyn 9-9 which is a great show that was and then wasn’t canceled and you should definitely watch it.
Well, probably you don’t, but that’s why we should talk about it. I know I’ve mentioned it at some point, but for as long as The Mechanic has existed, the titular characterwas an African-American woman named Sasha. I recently decided to revise the book for Sasha to be a white woman with a new name.
I wanted Sasha to be an African American because it’s important that my fiction be representative of reality. Not all of us are cis-gender heterosexual white people, and neither is good literature. To me, Sasha has been black from the moment I first thought of her. Regrettably, it was only recently I stopped to ask myself why I’d imagined her this way.
Once I’d finished the first draft of The Mechanic I knew I would need people of color to read it and to pay attention to their feedback. I also knew that if I was lucky enough to ever be interviewed about this book, the conversation would include my decision to write a novel whose central character is black when I so clearly am not.
Before asking any person of color to read The Mechanic, I read So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo, which is great even if you’re not struggling to write characters of color. Oluo’s book gave me ideas for improving The Mechanic, and I felt confident about moving forward. Not long after that, I asked a person of color to read The Mechanic. I knew this person from school, was confident they would provide frank feedback, and I genuinely thought it was a story they’d enjoy. In my request, I included a synopsis and an offer to pay them a dollar per page for their time. They respectfully said no, expressing concern over “reading about rape and assault – especially violence against black bodies.”
My initial reaction was, “Don’t you want to see how I’ve handled this as an artist!?” which is the wrong response and thankfully remained unsaid. It wasn’t until my friend declined to read The Mechanic that I was honest with myself about why I’d written Sasha as an African American; she’s an inherently angry character, and I didn’t think readers would believe that level of anger in a white character. This is racist and plays on the stereotype of an angry black woman, for which there is no excuse.
Using race to render characters more believable is dangerously lazy. Once I realized this I knew I had to remove Sasha in favor of a white character. This will ultimately serve the story far better, forcing me to write effective characters regardless of race. The book will certainly be different, but it will also be much better.
I am still passionate about writing compelling characters of all races, and it was difficult to realize I’m not yet a strong enough writer to do so. Good intentions don’t mean shit if it leads to bad, offensive writing.
Sorry to get so heavy after last month’s whimsy, but my only other idea for this newsletter was to send an inflammatory email full of “would” statements, and then send a follow-up correcting all of them to “wouldn’t” statements. I’m not sure that’s any less depressing, to be honest.
To end on a cheerful note, here’s a song I really enjoy by Wild Pink, whose new record came out today.