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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Dark and Different Brain Trips

By Alex Ness

I was asked what comics are there that are completely new.  Since I don't altogether think new is a possible,  

"Ecclesiastes 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun." 

I absolutely cannot tell you what comic books you might think are new. I can only think about the world we have and new ideas or outlooks.  These four books consider different and new paradigms than normally found in the world of comics, and whatever your personal outlook these are all worth reading and buying.

However different, perhaps transgressive, there are works that assume a paradigm that is different than most, that rise above purely speculative, and by doing so, make good and relevant use of the many issues facing humanity.

What are those issues?  We live in an era of vast amounts of information.  We have choices to make that involve sexual expression, drug use, violence as both sport and lifestyle.  But we also have to do all those things in conjunction with a world that tries to limit one's access to those choices.  If you pursue almost anything, it is found on the internet, as well as within the world.  Should you choose to eat, drink, smoke, inject, or anything, you can find a way to do so, and do so both legally and illegally.  

The Filth by Grant Morrison and Chris Weston (DC/Vertigo)

The Filth features a world that is controlled by an over arching society if not necessarily government, and the options that someone has within that world.  In the world of The Filth the reader is asked to look at the life of a character who pursues an interest sex and pornography, to a possible exclusion of real relationships. He is a member of a world that is both outside of the normal world, and interested in culture in a manner that asserts an interest in creating by participation in secret societies to create a new society that is postmodern.  Drugs, Sex, Violence, are all avenues of creating a new sort of world, with permissions from individuals to allow society, government and personal agency to revalue the world.  At the time The Filth was released the worst excesses of the Patriot acts and subversion of individuals in a post war on terror world had yet to be seen.  It seems, however vulgar, to be more hopeful that one might have thought possible considering the near future choices Morrison saw as possible in his near future world.

Narcopolis by Jamie Delano and Jeremy Rock (Avatar Press)

The Narcopolis world we are looking into is very much the sort that 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley would have perceived, and that isn't in any way to say less of it. The protagonist has to explore his world, rights, causes, and eventually rebel from that world. Drugs are used to enhance, to empower citizens and is used to disengage from society.  The society in question relies upon certain ways to control citizens, while individuals are able to enhance or "adjust" their existence by pharmaceutical means, by ability to adjust sleep, to receive surgery or the like.  The world is one where the individual is forced to transgress against society to be allowed to pursue their own path.  This work, even more so than the Filth, looks deeply into our present world,  if you consider the world we live in presently. Data mining, predictive text and AI, the ability to intercept personal data and knowledge by government of individual behavior, surgery to enhance the individual abilities or even to achieve a level of beauty, and drug use by the individuals as well by government to alter lives, all exist in ways that are frightening to consider, but have become deep parts of existence.  While fiction, Narcopolis imagines a world that isn't that hard to consider.

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (DC/Vertigo)

The protagonists in the previous two mentioned works, feature both rebels and individuals, but Transmetropolitan features a dystopian world with a reporter who is actually a part of that world, and he looks into it, challenges it, and tries to change it.  It seems far more interested in considering the present than the future, that is to say, the world presented is far less futuristic or science fiction, but decayed forms of the presents aspects of life.  Government, media, and culture are presented as dystopian, but are recognizable in ways to suggest, something not so far way in time or event than this our present. Perhaps there isn't an agency to change the present, but perhaps to show that the present world has masses of people who do not perceive the politics, media and cultural forces that exist and that there are forces that alter access to democratic, free, individualistic existence. The lead character is much more a personal character who the reader sees through the eyes of.

Tokyo Ghost by Rick Remender and Sean Murphy (Image Comics)

The three previous series all considered worlds that were mostly extension of the present issues, government, culture that by being made extreme came further into focus.  Tokyo Ghost was a brilliant deep future consideration where the world becomes addicted to forms of entertainment that stimulate adrenaline and addictions to technology, creating a world that allows few areas with little or no technology.  Brilliantly, it suggests that the evolution of tech is something that is self perpetuating, and evolves due to human intervention, but is beyond human perception.  It only reached 10 issues of comics, and has a collected version, but it remains open to further chapters.

So, whatever you are looking for, I think that are new books to consider, the dystopias presented are all means to consider the world of the near future.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Kaepernick Question

By Alex Ness

On occasion I try to go beyond the concepts of media products or interviews of talents here.  I don't say those are bad, but, popular culture includes sports, as in the following commentary, or food culture, and ever changing values and ideas that challenge the mainstream. Challenging the mainstream offers that someday the idea in question might enter our popular ideals, as having been a victor in a free market, free speech, free will society, where the best idea wins the argument. If we do not talk about things, if we erect echo chambers and follow and listen to only those thinkers we already agree with, why talk?  Why bother if the possibility of change is impossible?  We talk to learn, to negotiate culture, we talk to exchange ideas, ideals, and share dreams and nightmares, because if we do nothing, our society begins to decay, for stasis is not a way to lead, it is the path of those who are accepting of being dead or are too ill to realize that they are dying.

The reason Colin Kapernick began his protest was to bring attention to the problems of police brutality, nationwide inequity towards black people from the US Justice department, and the protest was aimed at changing how people think about the people they watch on the stage of football.  These men are not all just muscles and agility and power.  They have minds and do not agree with the National Anthem, because the country has failed them.

Recently pro football exile Colin Kaepernick was offered a chance to work out for NFL scouts as arranged by the NFL head office.  He saw flaws in the plan, and arranged an alternative event, to showcase his talents.  No one signed him. The NFL has suggested either directly or through channels that the overall product offered by the NFL is harmed by his choice to protest the offering of the national anthem.  Some cynics suggested that his play had seriously declined, and that taking a knee was a means to making his presence more difficult to remove.  Others suggested that his previous career earnings were more than enough to sustain him should his "plot" fail. The worst argument for wanting Kaepernick out of the NFL is to say life is so much better today for African Americans that the act of protest is selfish, false, and attention grabbing.  First of all, it is attention grabbing, that was the point to use the attention to draw interest to the cause. Many people were pissed off by it, that too, was the point.

So did his plan work?  Did change happen as a result of his protest, and was he able to be redeemed by the changed world and raised aloft to return to the NFL?  No. It is also categorically wrong to suggest racism does not still exist, hasn't existed throughout the life of the NFL, and that enough has been done to stop it.  He couldn't stop the continuance of such behavior, and his protest didn't change enough minds to do anything.  But does that make him wrong? I'd agree that it does seem foolish to see African American athletes raise the specter of being slaves upon the plantation.  Millionaires have far more choices than those poor, black or white.  That is called hyperbole.  It is also false that there is any connection between the protests and improvements in the situations regarding inequity and outright racism.  But if John Brown had attacked Harper's Ferry only to die, and not achieve his goals, it doesn't mean he failed.  His legend lived on.  In Japan there is a cultural concept that sincerity makes any attempt to change or fulfill the task given, already worthy.  Rebels do not often succeed.  Because they die in the attempt should we say it was wrong to try? If Martin Luther King had not led a movement, would blacks have the vote and power to use it, or would the Jim Crow laws be unchanged still, without his effort, and ultimate sacrifice?

I promise you, I am made uncomfortable by people who think patriotism is foolish, or that love of country is silly. I don't like flag burning. I don't like a number of speakers for the movements of various causes.  But I like the fact that those who fought in wars because of the love of country did so knowing that the end result might be someone burning a flag.  Many believed in free speech and part of that freedom is the freedom to hear opposing viewpoints and not kill the person speaking those viewpoints.  We live in a world where it is FAR easier to walk alongside of people who are not protesting, who are being well paid, and who prefer no one else to rock the boat. Nothing different happens without something, someone or many things changing course. We live in an era where we had Obama, a good man, a President I voted for, who stands to some as a living symbol of the final victory over systemic racism.  I say no.  He was elected for good reasons, I think I have issues with most presidents so I am not going to jump up and down saying I loved his choices.  We are not seeing the end of a revolution.  We are seeing a moment in time that defied the traditional ways of thinking.  As someone who did analysis for a political non profit organization, I believed in Obama, but believed something that had never happened would have to happen for him to win.  And he did.

As a result of his victory we do not thereafter find an African American dominance of politics.  Nor do we yet have equality over all for all people in America.  You might argue the reasons for that, it isn't going to happen here. My point is, we, as a whole people, Americans, haven't made things that much better nor have they been willing to change. Kaepernick is protesting, or was, the true situation, as well as perhaps being used by some to create a movement that his causing waves might be able to take advantage of that person or group.  We have failed to make America the home of righteousness, of hope, of being fed, or being happy.  We have allowed some but not all to do that.

And as I go, remember, just because slavery ended, it does not mean inequality ended as well. There have been race riots in this country, and I refuse to believe that because it is comfortable for me, that it is similarly so for others.  That isn't the truth.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Life isn't like Life Cereal, however much Mike likes it. (Or not).

By Alex Ness

Writing about Robert E. Howard and why I like his work despite various critic's having averse opinions upon his work, led me to receive a few emails asking what I like other than his work, and it made me wonder upon the nature of taste in popular media.

We are obviously free to like whatever we like, and that remains true even if you live in a country with a repressive government that disallows various forms of media, or subject matter therein.  No one has an honorable reason to shat upon your taste, whatever your taste is.  I might not think porn is a valid genre of art, but others do, and it is legal, when not illegal in content, so, I say, if that floats your boat, do it.  Watch it, enjoy it.  But, that isn't the same thing as saying, because you like it, it is of a higher quality than other things that you do not enjoy.  That isn't aimed at saying you like shit.  I am not believing that either.  I am saying, you are allowed, and free to pursue your enjoyment of anything.

So what happens if your enjoyment of a medium leads you to doing things you see in such a thing?  That isn't really the bigger issue, is it?  If you are watching Star Wars and whack your younger brother over the head with a giant foam fake sword, you aren't actually doing anything, are you?  Now, it could be argued that porn is meant to inspire behavior, but, for the purpose of this, let me say, I am not going to suggest that.  But if you get frisky and act the scene you saw, that isn't a bad thing, unless of course you are banging the cat, or doing illegal things to people who didn't give consent. My mother once said my brother's enjoyment of action movies was unhealthy.  If those movies had actually encouraged him to become a mercenary and kill folks, I'd agree. Honestly though, my mother was not actually worried about that. Her moral judgment was about what he watched, and that judgment of taste is really unfair nor is it in any way accurate. I've heard it said that any medium of creative expression is meant to raise the human spirit or conscience, to transcend our lives in the mud and grime, but I do not agree with that statement.  One person's trash is another's treasure. In fact as Ezra Pound said, “Good art however "immoral" is wholly a thing of virtue. Good art can not be immoral. By good art I mean art that bears true witness, I mean the art that is most precise.”

It has always been the complaint by critics of various media that the greatest literature or film or music isn't as popular as works of far less quality, and that higher art and concepts need to be read.  It has always been a response to such a complaint that the masses like what they like and they are not wrong for liking something.  I can say without any hedging of my point, that you cannot lead people into like something that they do not like.  If they do like something great, it is their sense of taste and not your own that led to their appreciation of it.  Someone once said to my saying I didn't like eating a certain food, that I just needed to try more of it to build a sense of taste.  Well, that is like making a person read a genre that they have no desire to be exposed towards, watch a documentary about paint drying, or cause a pacifist listen to a bunch of people singing a song about crime or violent acts and then demanding that they like it. If it happens that you share a book or movie or CD of music, and you've expanded a person's enjoyment of creative works, that is awesome, but it is a very long road with very few success stories.

If you think I do not believe what I just said, you are wrong.  I write poetry and try to sell it.  It does not sell easily, nor do I receive much feedback that is positive.  I write because it needs to be written, so, my motives for writing isn't to exalt or transcend, it is purely aimed at expression. While some think of poetry as a high brow form of writing, I do not.  It is a form.  It is neither positive nor negative.  It is rap versus singing, it is a comic book versus a movie.  It is just a way to express.  However, I've also given away, freely, more than a thousand comics, as many books, and even some music, and usually found that my efforts to evangelize the various people I encountered with great works failed.  Whatever genres, and forms of media I shared, getting people to like what they do not, try what they've never tried, and grow taste is very difficult. Some one told me how a certain crime fiction writer was the best of his class because of the depth of research, and that other writers might know something, but their works were tawdry and vulgar and focused upon the emotion and capricious aspects of human nature, rather than a deeper study if non fiction, or a deeper look into the mind of the criminal, if fiction.  This reminded me of Mickey Spillane's comment about mass popularity versus high culture esteem.  "Those big-shot writers … could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar."

Obviously, people like what they like, and we rarely find people who, as a whole, find the same enjoyment for the creative materials we enjoy... however.  There is something else to say.  You can respect a person's work, without loving it, have the same taste as a person, but find the creative works they make to be out of your area of interest or taste.  I respect many people, but I don't assume shared interests between you and them that therefore you are going to like the things that they place into a form and somehow share.  This isn't saying much, it is obvious, but, I should say, it can be very surprising to learn you share a love of Star Wars with a 90 year old retired minister, or that you can learn that Ezra Pound poetry moves a person you thought would have hated it.  That doesn't mean that if the person you share an interest area with creates something, it will be a thing you like, or even not like,  you cannot predict that, I think.

The germ of inspiration to write this came not from deeper thought, as much, as frustration with others who try to poop on what people like.  If you bring up a variety of creative works you become judged for it, and thought to be a moron or low brow neanderthal to some.  My experience is, we've all this one life, and I am not going to be a slave to anyone else's taste.  That often leaves me with less to watch, listen, play or read.  That is, most of the world we live in tries to create work that will be popular, and if it becomes popular, there will be more like it.  Being original is often thought a risk, because, if someone has never seen something like that, why would they ever want to try it.  Some people love adventure, but as time has gone by I've watched people choose the same old thing over and over again.  I titled this about a cereal that had advertising that suggested just because you don't like it, others don't necessarily think or feel the same.  And if Mikie liked that cereal, maybe it was good.

I have a friend, have for about 15 years and I have worked with him, and we've shared a number of projects and chats.  Michael May is deeply kind and a very generous soul, and I love him, not in the gay way, but if I were gay, hell yeah.  He and I over the years have cross pollinated the others taste areas, but this has been rare.  Michael is a writer as well as a day job, being a father and does great things in the world of ministry.  When he suggests I need to read this, he loves it, I do try it.  But the results have almost never been my being in agreement.  We might in fact liked the same issue of a comic, but when we discussed it, his reason for liking it was X, and my reason for liking it was Y.  And his areas of interest or their form might be the same as my own, but the various products from those areas are unlikely to work for both of us.  I remember reading an article he wrote about a comic he enjoyed, and I had read the very same thing and thought, ew, why the hell did I just read this.

Water is wet, sky is blue, grass is green, yes, all of this is stuff we should know by now.  But, there are a couple different things to consider.  As a writer I think Michael writes well, but more importantly for this, he is fantastic at creating his prose, and I am interested. When he and I have created projects, I will have an idea, it will germ, but I think in poetry, Michael thinks in prose, and the result is, he looks at what I've said, and makes it work for a broader audience.  He inspires me by his way of creating, but he is more than just a writer, he has interests and ideas that I'd never come up with, if I had not interacted with him.  Thanks to mutual friend Joe Kinski Hilliard for his suggestion, in 2004 that Michael and I would be fast friends.  I don't wonder if I hadn't experienced Michael's work that I'd assume that I'd like it.  If I am honest, and I hope to be, if all I knew about Michael was how different his taste was from mine, I'd have assumed that what he wrote was not to my taste, and that we probably are so different we can't be friends.  And that'd be wrong.

My point is, and yes I do indeed have one, that our tastes may vary, or they might well intersect, but taste isn't the same as respect, admiration or appreciation.  So, if you think poetry sucks, it might, and mine probably would suck in your mind if you think all poetry sucks, but if you just reduce your level of distaste for something, you might find layers of worth, even in things you didn't expect to be good.  If you explore an idea, you might find it to be worth your time however that idea has been creatively expressed. A former friend of mine and a friend of Michael had vastly different outlooks on the things from popular media that I liked.  That was all fine.  But I often found myself thinking, how can he think like that and still like my work.  I am not sure he still likes my work, we've not communicated in years, but, it leads me to think, just because you have a different outlook, doesn't mean you can't enjoy the products they produce, ideas they have, or their motives to create.


Things I've been liking lately:

Netflix Ultraman is the greatest animated series I've ever watched and I am genuinely worried that when the series is over there will not be anything like it to replace it.  It is a brilliant sequel to the original series which I do love, but more from nostalgia than deeper thought.  This work takes the past, makes it part of the layers of the present, and tells a story that goes WAY beyond anything I've ever seen before. I truly, and deeply, love it.

The music of Aaron Kerr.  The music artist I interviewed a short while back has a deeply moving quality of music he has created, and before you ask, I can't really say the genre, it absorbs and uses so many different genres it would be silly for me to try to say.  It moves me for the depth of originality, the listenability of it, and how it approaches rather deep ideas without feeling like it has made itself better and higher over the listener. 

A Brief History of The Normans, The Samurai, The Vikings, The Celts by various writers.  This series is fantastic.  I've reached a place in my work and research that I am familiar with the subjects I write about, and just need a quick refresh of facts and statistics and dates.  I read and research all of the subjects I write about, thoroughly, for instance my book, with friends helping, Autumn Painted Red required a mastery of the facts and thoughts about the subject. (*more below).  This series is less about creating new ideas, while I like knowing more, it isn't the point of this series.  It is to capture a large movement or event, and make it easy to know the overall entirety of the subject.

(*I acquired and read more than 25 different books, and watched numerous documentaries.  I might be wrong in who I thought was the culprit, but, thanks to the work researching it, I am very content with what I did.  That isn't to suggest that it is perfect, and as I suggest, I could be wrong on who I think did the terrible crimes, but it remains a work I am proud of. I should briefly note, that while I still trust the source of the work, there are many competing theories and I have an open mind about it all.  I was excited by the "news" that DNA from an item led to identification of the contributors of the DNA, but, I've read that there are more than a few reasons to doubt.)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


By Alex Ness

The Children of Men
P.D. James

The world of The Children of Men as presented by P.D. James is one of sorrow, and worse, approaching oblivion.  The women and men of the UK of that time are infertile, and the very few who can reproduce are considered to be valuable, if not unique.  No children for decades means getting to raise a baby into teen and thereafter adult has become impossible.  The sorrow of childless potential parents is palpable, the pain of knowing what this is a portent of, is worse.

I've mentioned this book here before, but it still stands out as a very personal chapter about how our great global society might end.  P.D. James wrote crime stories and mysteries, this was an unusual, and perhaps unique offering from her but one that was vastly better than most other works in similar tone.

It worked for me for many reasons.  I've recently, in the last 12 months encountered a number of ultra conservative Catholics who've tried to, and in fact made it clear that I should be shamed for the fact that my wife and I used invitro fertilization to find our child after two ecoptic pregnancies ended the chances we might be parents by our own physical natures. 

The story is one that some find too personal but it needs telling, because in the light of the people who seek to shame me, they reveal their own misperceptions and foolishness.  My wife and I are Christians, not Catholic, and while I am not able to say I am a good Christian, I fail far to often, I am one who practices my faith.  When we lost our two children and I almost lost my wife, we were devastated.  We had used contraception so that we'd never have had children we could not support.  And when we tried, we were crushed.  But we prayed, and I was willing to end the quest.  My wife was not.  In the time between the loss and the obvious choice to go forward, my wife was deeply troubled, crying, sorrow filled.  I was more content, as I'd had a view of God that rather accepting of the trials for reasons I am not going to discuss here.  My parents visited to show their love and support, and my father who had to this point struggled to be as good as his heart wanted to be towards me, stood up before it was time to leave and said, Shirley and I want to let you know that whatever the doctors can do to help you get pregnant, we'll be paying for that. The cost of IVF procedures at the time was twice as much as I had made in a year, at any time prior to that.  We already knew we didn't have the money, it would have to come from God or somewhere else.  My father by standing and saying that gave my wife a path to a return of happiness, gave us the joy of a child, and gave us something we didn't feel before, hope.  My father had a troubled life, overcame it, but saw me as a source of pain, usually.  But in his later life, he also came to a deeper level of faith, and it changed him. By doing this, giving us the gift of our child he was offering to do so many things, and by making my wife happy again, he was giving me life.  He died before seeing his grandson, but his grandson existed because of him.

We rejected all considerations of selected prebirth embryonic/fetal reduction, we said no, and were willing to accept all of the babies we might get.  We knew that cost.  And we were successful on that first try, and had our one son.  We tried to have more twice but lost both pregnancies and thereby had used all of the fertilized embryos. I named my son Jonathan Chaim after the Hebrew phrase, God has given Life.  And he has blessed us deeply by his presence in our life.

So when the Conservative Catholics I dealt with took issue with me it was because they believe we are taking the choice of a supreme god out of that god's hands and making ourselves god.  We were told by god, in their view, that we should never be parents, due to having the ectopic pregnancies. I used a small g there, because that is the kind of God they want.  One that is knowable, when he is mysterious, enormously powerful, willful, knowing, all wise.  They want a god that is known by how nature is responding.  Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans because god was so angry at their sin?  They want a god who lets them have children at will, because the alternative is an awareness of having a God, knowing that the child is better if it has two parents who love and support it, and financial ability to support them.

Yes I am a Protestant, a Lutheran even, but I am a Christian.  Shortly after I was told that my wife and I stole God's right from making a child, they said you people of a different religion will only enter Heaven if god gives you mercy.  Well, let me tell you, I've been a Christian, but not a Catholic, and a great deal of my life while I didn't necessarily agree with Catholics, I assumed they'd be on the same track to Heaven as anyone in my faith.  But these Conservative Catholics think you are as lost as a Satanist or an Atheist if you are not one of them.  All people need God's mercy, none of us are sinless, and only forgiveness by Christ will give you any hope to enter.  ALL people.  If you are a Conservative Catholic and never told me these things, well then I obviously am not referring to you.  But if you think these things, and just never said them, well then, nuts to you.  (And just to say I never say who gets into Heaven, it isn't up to me.)

PD James's book is perfect because it considers how children and babies are gifts from God but are wrapped in the flesh of man.  We are sinful, we are short sighted and foolish.  We make bad choices.  And James is able by taking away the children, and the ability to create anew therein, show that we are infinitely wrapped up in the future of our planet by how we treat having children, being childless, or being prevented from or forced to have children. It is a religious concept having children because it speaks to our reproductive cycles and our natural inclinations we are giving life, in reflection to our God who gave us life.  By giving God all of the power religious people can make it a holy or even unholy event.  I can tell you this, I involved God in every aspect of our pregnancy, and my son is a child of God's blessing, divine providence, and hope.  No one can steal that from us.  No one.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Robert E. Howard Considered

October 25, 2019
By Alex Ness

I recently read a high brow writer's article wherein the writer said that while Robert E. Howard had written many characters and had a great imagination, he was nothing more than a hack.  His works were evidence of a writer creating a high volume of work,  but the writing was performed with a rather modest level of quality.  I possess a book titled "And Their Memory Was a Bitter Tree" with stories by Robert E. Howard and art from Gerard Brom, Frank Frazetta and numerous other fine artists.  The introduction written by Arnie Fenner for the book gives a similar assessment of Robert E. Howard's writing.

"The blare of the trumpets grew louder, like a deep golden tide surge, like
 the soft booming of the evening tides against the silver beaches of Valusia. 
The throng shouted, women flung roses from the roofs as the rhythmic 
chiming of silver hoofs came clearer and the first of the mighty array 
swung into view in the broad white street that curved round the golden
-spired Tower of Splendor"   Robert E. Howard

There is a remarkable gulf between the opinion of actual writers and those writers who write about writing, and write about other works.  A greater gulf can be found in the readers who vote with their dollars who is actually effective when it comes to writing.  I am not suggesting anyone is wrong for having an opinion.  I am relatively certain the writers about writing would suggest what I just said is wrong.  It isn't.  It is an opinion.  My overall opinion is, when I read I have a great many reasons to do so, but due to hours spent writing and researching, I tend to not have time to read for pleasure, though it is something I enjoy doing and I enjoy reading Robert E. Howard.  When I read Robert E. Howard, or Alan Dean Foster, or Clark Ashton Smith or H.P. Lovecraft or Lord Dunsany, I get to enjoy what it is I am reading, I moved by it, and I am restored by it.  It is more than comforting, it is refreshing.  I read high brow works, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Søren Kierkegaard and even Friedrich Nietzsche, or Yukio Mishima, while these edify me, make me mentally grow, I don't read them for pleasure, I read them as an intellectual medium for growth.  I think Robert E. Howard was rather brilliant, and his words on paper move me.  Those who see his work as being unpolished, or, ineffective, or dull, must really have such active imaginations that they are constantly seeking stimulus from various sources.  Or they are lying.  I am not suggesting they are doing one or the other, just that, Robert E. Howard's work defies their opinion.

Now, an entirely different avenue would be to say, he wrote in genres that are not respected by the high brow culture as serious genres.  That would be entirely true.  It has nothing to do with the quality of work in that genre.  As such, my main argument about those who dislike or give feint praise to Robert E. Howard is this, because he didn't write in serious genres, and because he wrote in genres and sales formats that appealed to every day buyers rather than high brow academics, he was not given fair treatment by those in the more educated realm of readership.  I've often said Stephen King would be seen as a great writer, even academia had he chosen to write "serious" fiction.  As such we need wonder if 50 years plus passed his death, will King ever receive praise for being a great writer, or will he forever be viewed as, a good horror author.

Robert E. Howard sold work at a time when few could afford to buy works.  His works sold well.  In retrospect, there is an odd manner in which a myth has risen.  Due to his complaining about not getting paid, it is perceived as his not having sold works.  But that is false.  He sold many, but the buyers of fiction in his day, were crushed by the Great Depression.  And they didn't always follow through to pay for what it was they had purchased.   But even with the measure of partial payments, he sold works far more often than most other similar writers of the day. Anyone reading my commentary over the last fifteen years knows I do not equate sales to quality.  Those are different beasts.  But I am absolutely saying, in times of financial disaster, when people pay money to read your work, instead of eating well, or paying bills, it makes a statement.

"Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank 
Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the
Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining 
kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath 
the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyberborea, Zamora with 
its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, 
Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands 
of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose 
riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of 
the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming 
west."  Robert E. Howard

And I do buy Robert E. Howard books.  I make precious little money, but when I have it to spend I do spend it on authors I like.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

An Interview about Life as a Writer with Abberant Literature's Jason Peters.

By Alex Ness

I met Jason Peters online on the site Twitter.  Over time I really looked forward to his posts, his positive outlook.  He was among the most supportive creatives I've met.  I did a review of a couple works from his company Aberrant Literature Here. I can tell you that he is very talented, both in terms of his writing, and his leadership of his publishing house.  His personal kindness made the decision to interview him rather easy.  He has many important ideas, and you'll hear more about him and Aberrant in the future.  So here are the many fine answers from Jason to my questions.

As Aberrant Literature is not yet a household name, describe it, if you will, and tell us what has been released so far through that publishing company?  When you are prepared to go to print is your upcoming novel going to be released through that same imprint?

JASON: Aberrant Literature is a small indie press that focuses on creative fiction. We don’t really stick to any one genre, and tend to drive in the lanes of science fiction, modern fantasy, horror, adventure, or some combination of those genres. We’ve published two works so far, a multi-genre anthology called Aberrant Tales, and an acerbic action/adventure called Whiteout by author Ashton Macaulay. We are actively preparing four novels for publication in 2020, and will be releasing a novella and accompanying audio book set in the Whiteout universe later this year. My novel Preconscious is one of the four novels slated for 2020 release under the Aberrant Literature umbrella.

Tell us more about you?  Are you married, kids? Where do you live, favorite things outside of writing that you do?

JASON: I’m married and have a daughter. We live in a suburb of Los Angeles, CA. I actually grew up two blocks away from the house my wife and I purchased close to nine years ago, which I suppose indicates that I’m one of those sorts that doesn’t like to stray too far from the nest. My interests are pretty varied; I’ve done everything from working as a PA on indie films after graduating film school at 23 (being from LA dictates that you have a foolish belief in being destined for filmmaking to some degree) to performing standup in Burbank. I enjoy/depend on music; rare is the day that I don’t listen to something, and I’m also an adequate drummer.

Horror, weird fiction, science fiction and more are genres that I love, and I know you do as well. What was your introduction to these works?  Do you prefer prose novels for the genres or do movies, games and comics equally serve you in your enjoyment?

JASON: I’m equal opportunity when it comes to forms of media. As a child, I loved video games, television, film, and books. I didn’t actually read many comic books back then, but I did enjoy collecting Marvel trading cards. Remember those Marvel Masterpiece cards? They were expensive, but I used to adore the artwork. Generally, I found comic book writing a little hackneyed as a kid, which is odd because I’ve since come to understand and enjoy comics as an adult. I’ve noticed most of what I read these days is published by DC or Dark Horse, but I don’t have a ton of historical knowledge of the genre.

I didn’t listen to much music when I was young, but I discovered it during high school and never looked back. I enjoy most genres except for the really poppy stuff. Hip-Hop/EDM/Metal/Classic Rock/90’s Rock tend to be my lanes.

Video games and film are my first loves and the mediums I have invested the most time and attention to. I went to film school in college and made some short films, but nothing of note. I’d like to one day make a little RPG to accompany one of our books and try my hand at the form, but that’s probably very far down the road. I still expect to make a movie someday as well, but that’ll probably be twenty years out after my house is paid off. If George Miller can write and direct Fury Road at the ripe old age of 70, I’ll still be able to make bad-ass films when I’m in my late fifties.

As a young reader what writers did you initially prefer most? Which book or book series did you read then, and what are you reading now?

JASON: As a kid, Goosebumps was my jam. I loved those books and consumed them at a relentless pace. From there I went through a pretty solid Michael Crichton phase, which is funny because I don’t really consider him one of my favorite authors to any sort of degree, and I kind of forgot until  just now how many of his novels I read during my 10-12 years. After that I tried to get into Stpehen King, but his books were just way too long for me at the time. I do remember loving Misery and Four Past Midnight, but my King fandom didn’t really start in earnest until about five years ago, when I discovered The Dark Tower. That was the book of his that really won me over. As for what I’m reading now, I just finished Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks, which was an incredible sci-fi adventure; it’s the first in the Culture series, and a friend recommended it. There’s something like 13 books in the series, and I look forward to reading all of them in time. After that, I blew through Poking a Dead Frog in like a week, which is a compilation of interviews with really great comic writers, from Mel Brooks to people you’ve never heard of but are probably quite familiar with their work. Just this morning, I picked up The Shining by King, go figure. I heard they’re making a film of Doctor Sleep, and that it’s a sort-of sequel to both the film and the book, which you may or may not know have many differences in the story, especially with regard to the ending. So having seen the film dozens of times, I’d like to read the book, then the book Doctor Sleep, so that I can watch the film of Doctor Sleep.

I did the same thing with King’s It last year. I like reading the book first, because I find that if I watch the film before reading the book, it’s really difficult not to paint the imagery of the book with the same brush strokes as the filmmaker did. The Shining is a perfect example of this. I’m only 50 pages in, but already, it’s clear that King’s Jack Torrance differs greatly from Kubrick’s/Nicholson’s Jack Torrance. So while I would never picture Nicholson as King’s Jack based strictly on the characterization and description present in the book, I can’t picture anyone else as Jack Torrance, which does create an interesting juxtaposition of sorts, but I prefer my own interpretation first, followed by the filmmaker’s.

What life experiences led you to become a writer?  Did you get a writer centric college education or did you dive in sans higher ed?

JASON: I’ve realized recently that I’ve always simply been attracted to storytelling as an art form. Whether through film, television, novels, video games, or even just telling stories in person or through stand-up comedy, I just love the art of story and how much it really allows us to say about ourselves and the human condition, which sounds pretentious but stupid horror stories about blood-spattered zombies wielding flame-throwers trying to overtake Reagan’s White House can tell you just as much about the human condition as anything by John Steinbeck or the Bronte sisters.

I went to college as a film major in the Cal State system, but got frustrated by the lack of being able to do anything in my actual discipline. Three years later I was still taking weather and biology classes, and had only taken two film-making related classes: one for still photography, which was not a film-specific class, and one screenwriting study class. That was it. So I bailed and went to a one year film intensive at NYFA at Universal City here in Los Angeles. We actually got to film our shorts on the same backlots that the tram ride takes you through. It was without a doubt the most satisfying year of my life, regarding work and art. My actual writing training, though, is anything but formal.

Do you believe that the ability to write is something anyone can fashion into one professional quality standards, or do you first have to have a gift you are born with, to do so?

JASON: One of the crushingly humorous aspects of life is that everyone has a talent for something, but it’s not necessarily the discipline you would like for it to be. So I do believe that everyone has the pure ability to write, but I do not believe that everyone has the temperament to succeed as a writer. By the way, I should clarify that my definition of success as a writer is merely being able to consistently create content that is at least halfway decent, and has nothing to do with profitability, which is an entirely different animal. Authors can take many years to be discovered; Poe infamously died in a gutter, penniless, and Philip K Dick’s estate has probably made more money off of royalties for recent film and television adaptations of his work than he ever came close to seeing during his life; most people don’t realize he lived much of his life in near-poverty, though amphetamines most certainly played a large part in that.

Anyway, while Dick probably would’ve appreciated that tangent, I should get back on track. So everyone can write, but not everyone can write everything, you know? It’s like acting; every now and then you get a Tom Hanks who can play anything, but most people have a very specific character that they are good at playing, and attempts to stray form that character prove far less successful. I think art and writing is that way. Every now and then, you might get an author that can cross genres, but generally, King does horror, Patterson does mystery, Sparks does romance, and there’s a reason that you don’t see them straying too far outside of what they do well, and that’s because they don’t do that as well as they do this.

But at the end of the day, you need to be able to effectively communicate, and also self-isolate and sit your ass in a chair and consistently write. Many people can write, but the percentage of people that can do so for long enough to churn out an actual book, let alone multiple books, are relatively far and few between. It’s not a pleasant process, at least not for me anyway. I do find it important and gratifying once the work is done, but it’s always a painful birth.

Let us say someone wants to become a writer and might have a talent to do so.  What would you recommend they do to improve and possibly become a professional writer?

JASON: Well, that all depends on what you mean by becoming a “professional” writer. Is a professional someone who practices the craft with consistency and dedication or someone who makes a living by writing? It’s not necessary that the two be mutually exclusive, but the reality is that it’s often the case. A lot of people don’t realize that the number of sales required to make the New York Times bestseller list is 20,000 copies. 20K copies! That’s nothing. Books tend to have a profit of about $5 a copy, so if you’re a bestseller with 20K in sales and have a standard 30% with one of the major publishers, that’s about $33K pre-tax. That’s barely above the poverty line and you’re a best-selling author! Now, it is true that you can become a Stephen King or James Patterson or JK Rowling that just print money with each word they type – and all of the lucrative merch licensing that goes with such properties – but the reality is that you won’t. Those few are the 0.000000001% of the authors writing today. So this is not a discipline to pursue if you’re doing it for the money.

But if by professional, you’re referring to my former example, then it really just comes down to writing consistently, and then forging partnerships with editors and publishers who will support you and offer guidance and story help when and where necessary. You can also self-publish, which is a fine option, but you can’t underestimate how much work goes into the elements of publishing and marketing, so just be prepared to take off your author’s hat consistently if you’re going to self-publish. Also, if you do self-publish, make sure to pay for an editor. Every professionally distributed manuscript has been professionally edited, and yours cannot be made an exception simply because you wrote it and don’t have the funding. I know for a fact that if you shop around, you can have you novel edited for $400-$500, which is not a drop in the bucket, but it’s also a fraction of monthly rent (at least, out here in Los Angeles), and even if not’s not the most polished of edits, it’s better than nothing, and you’re audience deserves it. At the end of the day, that’s the most important facet of being another and releasing a book; that everything be in service of the reader.

The reader owes you nothing and you as the author owe them everything; it’s a very one sided relationship, but at the end of the day, if a reader is going to pay a premium for your self-published novel, when they could get a novel by Philip Dick or Stephen King for the same price or cheaper, you owe them the best, most stellar reading experience you can deliver. There is no shortage pf choices for people, and it should be taken as honor when someone decides to pay actual money for your book. Respect that and your reader’s investments of time, money, and energy; I believe that’s the best attitude you can have to effectively work toward a goal of becoming a paid professional in this industry. Check back with me in ten years and I’ll let you know how well it worked out.

Where do you see books, ebooks, paper books, audio books leading? Will we eventually, if we survive 100 years from now, possess only digital works, or, do you see paper products as always having a role in human literature?  Why or why not?

JASON:  Man, I have to admit, I’ve never considered a future where bound paper books don’t exist. But it’s absolutely possible. Kind of a bummer to start off on, don’t you think? Just like people with extensive vinyl record and compact disc collections, I’d like to think my preferred medium of paperback novels will stand the test of time. I know a lot of people have gravitated toward the ease and convenience of e-readers, but this is one of those moments where I get to be Old Man Peters and talk about with paper, there’s just an intangible magic that can’t be replicated digitally. Plus I’ve always appreciated cover art, and the many different interpretations and varieties that come with it. And I’m not talking about modern-day indie covers that feel like posters to straight-to-video action or erotica (or sometimes both), but rather original artwork. I adore the psychedelic, tripped out sci-fi covers of the 60’s and 70’s; artists and publishers took pride in their covers during that area and really embraced the “art” in cover art, whereas I feel today’s covers are generally looked at through a lens of, “how can we best market our wares in a cost-effective fashion.” It was probably always that way, and I’m just romanticizing a very specific niche.

Thinking big, what is your publishing map, what do you perceive as the path that will be followed? Do you see movies and television eventually?

JASON:  Well, I can only speak by way of conjecture, but I think Aberrant Literature will eventually become a sort of multi-media conglomerate, albeit one that embraces art and resists trends. As such, we’ll operate at a loss until the day of my untimely and sure-to-be-gruesome death (insert investment opportunity plug here), when someone much smarter and more capable than I will take the company into the black within three years. But yes, I do see us one day making films; maybe when the house is paid off, so T-minus 22 years and counting. I do think we’ll make some short films along the way and release them digitally, maybe write some screenplays that get optioned or *gasp* even produced. Is Nic Cage available? He seems to do a lot of direct-to-DVD stuff these days, and I think he’d dig our irreverent, assured personality. I’ll hit up Ashton, one of our writers; he has a very Hollywood Blockbuster approach to storytelling. If anyone wants to throw in funds and make this thing happen, I’ll hook you up with back-end points.

I do think you’ll see us operating heavily within the audiobook space. The aforementioned Ashton Macaulay, who wrote Whiteout, the first book we ever published as a legitimate entity, has written a novella set in the universe of Whiteout, and the audio telling of that story is weeks away from being finished and will be released before the end of the year. We were super fortunate to hook up with this Australian cat (not a literal feline, used in the Sammy Davis Jr. sense of the word) named James Croft, and he has produced and narrated a full-on audio drama. It’s fantastic, with actors (James does most of the acting as well; he’s a triple threat!), sound effects, background music, sound design, editing…I’d put the production up against any other I’ve come across so far, and if he doesn’t get a ton of attention as a result of his hard work, it will only demonstrate that the universe is indeed harsh and unfair. Ashton wrote a helluva story, James acted the crap out of it, and everyone will be richer for having experienced the drama. Not to oversell it or anything.

Are your published authors a group with similar levels of success, similar interests and talents so far untapped, or, do you not look at those Aberrant has published as similar outside of, having been published?

JASON: Oh yeah, we’re all cut from the same cloth and in more or less the same position: people with day jobs and dreams of writing for a living. While none of us are close to that mark yet, we remain steadfast in our dedication not just to our work, but to the craft itself in terms of producing work and not just talking about it. There are currently four authors including myself that either have or will release the first novels of our careers with Aberrant Literature. I like to think of us like an indie record label or film production company; we may not have a ton of resources or recognizable names, but we more than make up for that with hutzpah, grit, and a general reverence for and commitment to the art of writing and storytelling. The four authors are Ashton Macaulay, M.T. Roberts, Daniel Kurland, and myself, Jason Peters. Of the four of us, the only one with a published novel is Ashton, but all four of us are featured in our published anthology Aberrant Tales. Each one of us has talent and a unique voice, and will all be releasing novels through Aberrant Literature in 2020. I hope the response is favorable; I’m really excited to see what everyone thinks.

Who is John Galt?

JASON:  I don’t know, you’ll have to ask a libertarian.

A joke, to whit:
Q: How can you tell if someone’s a libertarian?
A: They never stop telling you.
or the slightly ruder version
A: They won’t shut up about it.

Damn.  Now we'll need to set up the security cameras for those Libertarians.

If successful as a publisher, how would you change publishing in general, and what things about literature would you like to evolve into something better and new?

JASON:  It’s quite hard to make money right now. We’ve done this to ourselves with the glut of self-published novels, and as with so many industries of late, it’s been something of a race to the bottom, with many pricing their books well below market value just to entice readers. It’s now gotten to the point where authors will legitimately receive a one-star rating for priding their book above $2.99. Imagine! That’s the price of a medium Red Bull – the large is another dollar or so – and people are complaining about selling a piece of work that took literal months-to-years to create for over $3. So it would be nice if some sort of equalizer came along, or a new distribution platform that allowed newer writers and publishing entities to turn a profit, however small. We pretty much killed the music industry at the turn of the century with Napster, so we’ll have to see who among us are still out there writing books once the money’s gone, which at this rate should be about Thursday.

As far as literature as a whole is concerned, I just hope that the reading audience broadens. Right now, literature in terms of sales has been reduced to YA fantasy novels and little else. You’ll always have your Stephen King’s and James Patterson’s that will get people’s attention, but even Patterson has been slapping his names on other people’s YA fantasy novels for at least a decade by now. Science fiction seems pretty much dead in the water; it would be fantastic to see the genre get some love and renewed interest. There is a lot of good indie horror out there if you look around, but it can sometimes be hard to distinguish from the werewolf erotica it sits next to on a digital shelf. At the end of the day, I just hope readers continue to be interested and invested in books. If not, I’m sure they’ll at least have strong opinions on the next Netflix Original.

Tell me about Preconscious , how long did it take to complete, how do you know when a novel is complete, and what is your general feeling about it?

JASON:  Preconscious was a difficult birth, as all of my stories are. I’m definitely not one of those prolific writers that can just churn gold out of a mill on a regular basis, to mix up metaphors. Ashton is that type of writer, but I suppose I’m still ultimately working on finding my voice, and the confidence of writing that accompanies that. I think I may have found it over the course of this book, though, so I’m looking forward to seeing if the next one goes a little smoother.

I actually started Preconscious probably about 4 years ago, but I stopped after getting through about ¾ of what is now the complete novel. It was originally planned to be about 30-35% larger, but I didn’t want for the book to be too bloated given that it’s my first. There’s a now common perception that you want your first book to be between 60k to 90k total word length, as you want to make it easy for potential readers to invest their time in your work, and I find that to be sound advice. I doubt that anyone is going to invest their time or money in your giant 225K opus without knowing who you are unless it has strong reviews and word-of-mouth, and those tend to be far and few between outside of the traditional publishing circuit.

I believe a novel is like any other work of art; it’s done when it tells you it’s done. In this case, I foresaw Preconscious as having more adventures and scenarios for the protagonist to undergo, but the arc of both the plot and character was constructed in such a way that I didn’t have to sacrifice any of the integral structural elements to satisfy the shorter word length. So after I trimmed some of those aspects of the story away, I ended up at about 73K words, though that will undoubtedly lessen before release and after final edits.

Is there a sequel in the works or in your mind for Preconscious and should there be do you see more books in a series to follow?

JASON:  No, I have a commercially unfortunate disposition, in that I don’t foresee myself as the type of author to ever do a series. I can’t speak for other authors, but by the time I finish a book, I’ve spent so much time in that world that the thought of spending any more anytime soon fills me with a sort of mild dread. This is also reflective of my personality, though; I rarely read the same genre twice in a row, though I will sometimes get on little kicks. Recently, I read two science fiction books back-to-back, but now I’m reading a horror novel. To me, art and entertainment is like a sushi dinner; you want a little bit of this and a little bit of that to keep the experience fresh and exciting. Can you imagine going out for sushi with someone who just ordered five plates of spicy tuna roll? “That’s not how you do this!” you’d scream in your head, you would. Normal, interesting people get five different plates of sushi. That’s how art should be. And no, I make no apologies for assuming five orders of sushi is normal for the average human being.

To illustrate, the first long-form work I ever completed was my first and only screenplay Obsidian. It’s a weird genre shake-and-bake of horror, crime thriller, comedy, and drama. From there I did a short story that was a kind of sci-fi adventure mash-up, like a Star Wars meats Game of Thrones type of deal. From there, I did a short story that was a dark fantasy adventure, and then Preconscious is a sort of surreal, modern-day fantasy adventure, so I think that my career is a series of creative stepping stones, and I’m on two or three of them at any given time as I progress one at a time toward the next story.

Was that a confusing metaphor? It feels like a confusing metaphor.

I've been told young people don't read any more.  I think that is wrong, they just don't read the same things and they don't use books and information in the same fashion as the previous generations. How do you see the future reader, will that reader be reading for pleasure, or for specific purpose.  How do you make inroads to that audience?

JASON:  Y’know, I’m very interested to see what the adult reading community looks like in twenty years (and no, I don’t mean ‘adult reading’ but rather adults who read). What I see right now is that kids are the *only* one’s reading. I see very few adults reading in 2019. Now, of course, ‘very few’ is still a great number of people, but most people are shocked to know how many sales copies it takes to make The New York Times Bestseller list. Do you know how what that number is? Take a moment and think about it…

Twenty thousand. The answer is 20K. That’s an insanely low amount. Can you imagine if Kanye or Drake only sold 20,000 copies of their latest album? If only 20,000 people went to see the latest Avengers? That’s a low, low ceiling, my friend. And of greater interest is that if you look at the numbers, YA fiction is far and away the most profitable and generates the highest revenue. So either A) adults are getting dumber and can no longer read a full-on novel, which is plausible but just sounds rude to suggest, or B) kids be readin’, to use the common tongue. And if kids be readin’, you’d have to think that when these kids grow up, they be adults who readin’.

But life has a way of overworking us to the point where reading is looked upon as a chore, and I find that very unfortunate. Certainly, there are times where the thought of reading a novel is a bit much, say if I’ve had a stretch of busy days and I just want to plop on the couch and turn off my brain, but for the most part, I enjoy the immersion of reading. It can be easy for the mind to wander while watching television or zoning out to a song, but reading demands your full and complete attention, and so in that manner, it is among the more arresting mediums, along with video games.

I have arrived at the conclusion that I could in no way possibly know what the future of reading and publishing will look like. I do know that we’ve gotten to the point that many people believe that all art should be made free, which if that was the case in the past, we wouldn’t have most of our favorite music, movies, and yes, novels. Like it or not, art drives commerce and vice-versa, or at least it should. It’s healthy to have a lot of people and a lot of money flood a particular industry, so until that happens again, if it ever does, we can continue to experience a dearth of original material, then continue to bitch about how no one makes anything good anymore.

All I and we can do is write original stories that come from our hearts and our minds and our collective imagination, and hope that there are others out there that respond to the material. For one reason or another, myself and everyone involved with Aberrant has that innate burning desire to tell stories. It’s just that if we’re ever able to figure out how to be profitable along the way, we can tell a lot more. Here’s hoping, eh?

Wikipedia and file sharing sites are said by many that these sites have given the young the feeling that everything on the net is free. How do you, as a publisher, prepare for such an outlook?

JASON:  Damn, I should’ve read ahead. I feel like I answered a lot of this in the previous question. Yes, it’s undoubtedly true that most young people assume this to be true. I think the answer is that unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about for the moment, other than to really speak to the message of compensating artists for their time and energy.

Case in point, I was speaking with one of our authors recently about how it was brought to my attention that a self-published author recently received a one-star review on Amazon for a book that the customer didn’t even purchase; it was because she had the “gall” to charge $4.99 for her e-book. Five dollars and this guy’s getting upset! What is society coming to when you won’t bat an eye at an $8 plus tip beer, but $5 for an entire book that you’ll be able to enjoy for no less than ten hours is so outrageous as to warrant a negative review?

Now, undoubtedly, part of this is on us as representatives of the writing community. The fact is that yes, there are some people self-publishing books that absolutely have no business doing so. It makes the rest of us look bad. Additionally, people have participated in dramatic fashion in accelerating the race to the bottom with regard to pricing, so in large part, this is a mess of our own making, but I’m optimistic for the future, and I hope that we stand as a positive entity in publishing and literature when all is said and done.

Who do you write for, if you say yourself, who do you write to be read by others for?  Is there an audience for any well written work?  How do you know this?

JASON:  I definitely write for other people. Whether or not they enjoy what I write is debatable, but I certainly don’t write for myself. Writing is an atrocious, laborious, anxiety-ridden death march; certainly no sane person would ever put themselves through such a process. I’ve heard tale of authors that enjoy the process – I secretly think Ashton may be one of those people, but don’t let him know that I know, you know? – But writing is always a long, painful birth for me and my stories.

Now with that being said, I would never allow someone else to dictate the creative decisions of my story. I mean, unless a movie studio was paying me to write a specific vision or something like that, but that’s just a flight of fancy right now. So it’s fair to say that I write for other people, but I can’t imagine ever letting someone else dictate the content of what I write. I think you just have to tell your stories that you feel compelled to tell, and hope that people respond positively. Even bad ideas sound amazing in your head; it’s not until you release them out into the world that you can really tell if they’re any good or not.

If you are a prose writer or poet, comic book writer, screen play writer or political essayist, is there a common thread outside of type or hand writing that links each of them?  Is the desire to write a key to all forms of writing?

JASON:  Yes and no. I feel that the distinction between writing really can be split up between fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Now there are certainly common threads among writers; we all have to craft sentences to communicate ideas to our respective audiences, and indeed we will often borrow from one another’s disciplines and incorporate elements of one into another, but at the end of the day, I would argue that the approach of, say, you as a poet is markedly different from my approach to a 3-act narrative, and both of our approaches will differ from the political essayist.

I’ll admit to not being much a poet, but it seems to me that poetry is less about traditional narrative principles and more about the evocation of emotions through an artistic phrasing of language. When we undergo a project, we utilize 3-act structure to plot the story elements, and then weave in subplots and character development around that structure. I don’t believe that either poetry or political/non-fiction writing really has to worry about matters of character arc and satisfactory climaxes and backstory resolutions. But I’m willing to be proven wrong if challenged.

However, the one commonality through the disciplines is that all of us are attempting to connect with our authors and communicate a message or series of messages, consciously or otherwise, through words and phrases that we group together. That’s pretty wonderful.

I have a 20 year old son who thinks I have some dark ideas. I am not suggesting you do or will, but, is there a desire inside that you have to limit by virtue of who reads your work?  I found that my mom in her Alzheimer's was not happy with my tone, content or ideas.  But the only change I've made since her passing is saying the word fuck.  I tried to avoid it, in case she read my work.  I realize it is artificial but, do you place similar artificial limits in your work? Subconsciously even?

JASON:  Not really. I think Preconscious goes into some pretty dark places in certain ways, and my mom is always one of the first to read my work. My daughter is fourteen and only getting older, but I don’t have to worry about her because despite her being a vociferous reader, she never wants to read anything I write or publish. Dads are so uncool, aren’t we? My mom was very understanding early on regarding my content containing some more adult elements. But I mean, I’m 35 and my kids only a handful of years away from being a legal adult, so I think she probably understands that I’m not her little guy anymore, though of course I’ll always be here little guy in that maternal way. She’s great and I love her very much.

Sometimes I worry about audiences reacting negatively to some of the more controversial elements of the book, but then again, I wouldn’t know how to please people if I tried. I suppose that makes it easier to just do my thing in the first place.

You just won the lottery, and you didn't even have to play to win. You can't count all the dollars you received.  What do you do, as a writer, different now, than prior to having all that money?

JASON:  Nothing different, just a whole lot more of what I’m currently doing. I have a wife and a kid and a house in Los Angeles, which dictates that I make money to support all three. If I won the lottery, I would pay off the house and quit my 9-5 gig in sales, and just pour all of my time and energy into my work, as well as that of my authors. In addition to my own writing, I personally edit every manuscript that we publish for both story and grammar, and that takes a lot of time. Plus we’d have money for legitimate PR and marketing campaigns, which as of now is only an ethereal concept for us.

I’d also restore my front and back lawns, which have a distinctly white-trashy vibe at the moment.

One last question, what has been the most profitable, deep, interesting advice you've received as a writer?

JASON:  Very matter-of-factly, I have never received advice from anyone about anything in my life, let alone some transcendent, philosophical advice on writing. For one reason or another, I’m not the type of person that others take under their wing. I think I’ve got a lot of that “I would never be a part of any club that would have someone like me as a member” energy. There’s obviously something about me, right? I hear a lot of writers and authors talk about a high school teacher or magazine editor that took a specific interest in them and their work, and pushed them to pursue their talents. I certainly never had anyone or anything like that, and I’m at the point now where I realize that’s just not in the cards for me.

However, this has had a strong impact on my motivation to drive this entity forward. I know to my core that if I don’t make this happen for myself and the people I associate with, it’s not going to happen. In many ways, we’re sort of the forgotten authors of the world, stubbornly refusing to cease our efforts despite having no business doing so. I’ve learned to embrace our status as misfits and outsiders and wear it as a badge of honor. We’re just random people with a love for story, and whether anyone reads us or not has no bearing on the manner in which we will approach our work. We’re here to tell our stories the way we want to tell them, and by starting this entity on my own and partnering up with some really wonderful authors and human beings, no one will ever be in a position to tell us we can’t.

Publisher: Aberrant Literature 
Editor in Chief: Jason Peters
Twitter: Jason
Twitter: Aberrant

Monday, October 7, 2019

Quick hits from the KYMERA PRESS offerings of Mary Shelley Presents

By Alex Ness

As I've even recently stated, Mary Shelley is one of my favorite authors, especially for horror.  She is used as a sort of host of a story telling event, and is welcome here.  But I am glad in any event to have been able to read this three volumes of MARY SHELLEY PRESENTS.

“That night I dreamed of The Creature, pieced together from corpses, revived … and unloved. His tragedy has granted me immortality. Other women writers of my time have not been as lucky. Famous once, their ghostly stories now gather dust.”- Mary Shelley

Imagine if you will that one of the most renown female horror fiction writers of our time rose from the grave to lift up her contemporary female voices that would have otherwise been forgotten. It’s happening for real and the stories are here to haunt your dreams courtesy of Kymera Press as Mary Shelley Presents.  All the stories are adapted by award winning, NY Times Bestselling Author Nancy Holder (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  The original text of each short story is included in the back of each book, after the comic adaptation.

Issue 1 features Elizabeth Gaskell’s, The Old Nurse’s Story.  This story came to be after Charles Dickens’ asked Ms. Gaskell to write a story  for the 1852 Christmas special issue of Household Words magazine. It is a terrifying tale of evil and remorse.
This was an amazing story, filled with nuance and a feel like it was woven from the era it depicts.  The art is perfectly done, the colors made this look amazing.  The writing carried with it tones and notes of a hand that knows how to tell a story.  The organ playing, the ghosts haunting, the visceral feeling of fear and pain made this a particularly good read.

Issue 2  Edith Nesbit’s, Man-Size in Marble.  A young pair of newlyweds settling down into a small cottage in a quiet village are looking forward to a pleasant, pastoral life. The husband dismisses a superstitious maid’s tale. First published in the December 1887 issue of the Home Chimes magazine. The story was later collected in Nesbit’s 1893 anthology Grim Tales. 

This work was fooking creepy.  We, as well as the husband are made to dismiss the maid who tells the tall creepy tale, only to our own peril.   This is one scary ass book.  It revels in a certain lush detail, scaring for the shadows as well as the easily seen... The writing was perfectly done, letting the reader see it and hear it as much as telling it via straight forward action.  The art, as with issue 1, is superbly done.

Issue 3 Adaptating of Margaret Strickland’s The Case of Sir Alistir Moeran. Captain Maurice Kilvert returns from India to find his beloved Ethene is engaged to Sir Alister Moeran. First published in the July 1913 issue of the The Novel Magazine magazine. The story was later collected in the anthology Uncanny Tales first published in 1916.

In the day of the writing of the original work, it was commonplace to write about Africa or India, in the colonial empire of the United Kingdom as being a source of darkness, and mystery.  This tale tells that sort of tale with a great bit more quality than you might normally find, and it exceeded the source material it came from.  Having said that, the story is one where the reader feels a question burning, and a desire to escape it rather than figure it out.  We get to do both.  Fantastic art again, the writing was far better than most works adapting prose or poetry to comic book form.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

An interview asking questions about genre, creativity, music and growth with Musician Aaron Kerr

By Alex Ness


I am a simple man really, I like things most people like.  I love the arts, music moves me, poetry fills me with life, literature helps inform me and spiritually set me afire.  And, I've interviewed hundreds of people in the creative world.  I love doing so, but I learn by doing so.  I met Aaron Kerr at a local retailer and we spoke about reviews and arts and I was of the mind that I had to interview him. I am a simple uneducated man regarding music.  But the concept of discussing the power of an art form, was very intriguing to me, and Aaron Kerr, a fine talent rewarded my time and effort.  This turned out beyond my wildest expectations and I am grateful for his time.

Hi, Aaron.  Welcome to my website Poplitiko.  Tell me if you would where you are from, are you married, kids, cats?  If you aren't a Minnesotan by birth, how did you get to living in Minnesota?

I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska and went to college in New Orleans, Louisiana. My high school girlfriend (now wife) and I stayed together all through college (she went to school in Iowa). She had some family in Minnesota so we took a few trips up to the Twin Cities to check it out. She works in the medical profession (lab specialist) and there were lots of jobs for her. I found some music work here as well, mostly teaching. We really like living in the Como Park neighborhood of St. Paul. We have four kids, two now off to college. We also have five cats (since you asked).

And since I bring up Minnesota, is it a place where musicians and other talents can thrive?  Or is it a hard place to work in the field you create in? Why do you think that?

I think it is hard everywhere right now. I was the last generation to see musicians able to make a real living playing music where they lived. Although not musicians themselves, my parents had amazing taste in music and took me out to see some great performances in Omaha. They knew many of the jazz players and even hired them for house parties. I was also trained by members of the Omaha Symphony and went to the classical shows. So I got to see professional players making a living playing music.

Things have really deteriorated in terms of making a living playing music. It was difficult, but still possible to make a living 20 years ago when I had just moved to Minnesota. Now, even the best players are struggling. I personally know professional in-demand players who are at or below the poverty level here in the Twin Cities. They are staying just below the poverty level to get state health care, or else they couldn't pay rent. This is pretty awful, especially when you look at their performance history, which is even richer and more varied than mine.

Do I think it is better elsewhere? Possibly. The cost of living has to be pretty low to make it work. New Orleans seems to still be a place you can perform in and live comfortably. There also needs to be an audience for what you do, and this may be the crux of the problem. Technology is really pervasive, and it has kept people from leaving the house. Venues can't depend on people coming out anymore, so they are cutting back on paying musicians.

On a positive note, I do think Minnesotans "get" art. I am, at least, not trying to justify anything I do. Mostly, I think people just accept what you do and are open-minded. We have some great institutions and organizations that support the arts financially and this has created a good environment. But we have a long way to go. We need both public and private institutions to support artist-run events at good venues that feature local artists.

We live in an era of education where music and the arts in general are less available than, say, 20 years ago and certainly 30 years ago to students wishing to pursue as beginners the arts. Is it really a good idea to create magnet schools that focus on the arts instead of offering beginning classes to everyone?  I had early piano lessons, I also could have been in band from an early time and I am not a musician.  But, had I been interested I think I could have flowered in classes.  My son wasn't able to take band until a much later age than I was, and I wonder, who could first start in music when they go to High School?

A while ago I got hired to be a resident composer at a middle school in Saint Paul through the SPCO's Connect program. The first day I told the students they would all be composing a piece of music for their spring concert. There was an immediate "No way! We can't do that! We could never write a piece of music!". I coached them over a three month period. Their pieces ended up being incredibly complex and beautiful, which was amazing considering they hadn't written a note in their life. It made me sad to think how much richer their musical experience could have been if they had composition training earlier on.

If you taught students to only read the written word from first to eighth grade and never taught them to write, then asked them to write a sentence, would you be surprised if they freaked out? This is basically what we are doing with the arts - giving elementary school students minimal exposure to the arts and then seeing them not pursue it at all. More and more orchestra and band programs are shrinking in high schools because the students aren't getting any exposure until middle school, which is often too late.

Another problem is that people think that the arts just magically happen without training, so this justifies cutting programs. Really? I can tell you that without intense study of music theory, orchestration, and counterpoint, I would not be able to do what I do as a composer. I have easily spent the 10,000 hours of practice that it takes to master an instrument. Despite this, I still get people acting like what I do is some kind of magic trick. It's not a trick, it's called practice and study. Would you say the same thing about Michael Phelps winning 23 gold medals? Did he just show up at the Olympics and start swimming without any practice?

Magnet schools provide a focus to students to help educate them better and should not be a substitute for a lack of resources at other schools. I think there may be some value to having magnet schools at the high school level, but only because there are students who have already found their calling. The real cause of lack of musical education in schools is the undervaluing if the arts. You are a complete fool if you think we don't need the arts, but somehow everyone is ok with cutting arts funding and education.

After I came in contact with you I became very interested in your creative path.  You are obviously talented in music, how did you discover your talent?  Upon discovering you had a talent, did you pursue an education in music, or was your greater education playing various instruments?

I'd like to say there was some magical experience that I had where I was listening to music and immediately knew that was what I wanted to pursue, but the reality is kind of mundane. I was in fourth grade at the music teacher came into our classroom. He announced that the school was starting a string program and wanted a show of hands for who was interested. He went down the aisle and right there assigned everyone an instrument. He had me stand up so he could tell how tall I was and then said I was going to play cello. I didn't even know what a cello was.

I learned guitar and piano as well, but it was bass guitar that got me into playing other styles of music. My first experience playing bass was with a rock band in middle school, but it was my experience playing jazz that really solidified my lifelong interest in music. My brother, a sax player, spent a year in Germany on an exchange program and found some great jazz players there who trained him in on all the standards. He came back and wanted to put a jazz group together. We played Miles Davis' "All Blues", which had a written bass part that I played. Then my brother explained to me that I could play the notes in the chord in any order and didn't have to follow the written notes. This was my first experience improvising and it blew my mind. I felt this tremendous sense of power that I had never experienced before and it was very liberating. This one experience led to everything I do today; composing, performing, improvising,and arranging.

I knew I wanted to pursue music above anything else and basically took advantage of any opportunity that came along. I was in multiple groups from then on out and composed music daily. I knew I wanted to study music in college and focused on composition and theory while I was there. After college I spent a lot of time trying to master what I could do as a composer and performer and finally got there when I released an album in 2008 called Dissonant Creatures. The music on that album, and subsequent releases in the making, is the culmination of my best work as a musician and the greatest contribution I can make to the world.

I would say to any composer out there that I did one thing right: taking advantage of any opportunity that presented itself. I would also say I would not have gotten where I am at as a composer if I did not study music formally. So, for me anyway, I think it is both education and personal experience that got me where I needed to be as a musician.

How easy or difficult is it to actually see a album through to appearing on shelves of a retailer?  Is it a craft that you think is fairly rewarded for the labor you contribute?  Or, as an art, is the reward more intrinsic and impossible to measure regarding financial reward?

It depends on the album. I've done albums that were pretty easy to put together and ended up paying themselves off. I've also done albums that took a very long time that are never getting paid off. These days it is pretty rare for an album to actually pay you back for the time you put into it. It used to be that you went on tour to promote your album. Now, you make an album to support your tour.

This is largely thanks to the internet, which has made it really hard for artists to see any financial gain from recordings. There was a time when you could only get an artist's recorded work at stores and at shows, and that was by actually paying for the music. Now it is available on any device for free. What this has meant for artists is that you have to do A LOT of work because you can't fall back on anything selling itself. It is beyond maddening for us artists to have to do this along with everything else we have to do.

There is definitely an intrinsic reward to making albums, because we wouldn't do it if there wasn't. An album is basically a large artistic statement, not unlike writing a novel. I think most songwriters or composers I know are always working towards making an album, because it is the ultimate expression of their art. Saying to songwriters "Why don't you just write songs and not albums?" is like saying to Beethoven, "Why don't you just write music for solo piano and not symphonies?" It takes both for us to be happy.

What is your preferred genre of music, if you have one?  Do you find yourself becoming more focused upon one as you grow in your music, or, do you find every genre interesting and find more to do than one general area?

I love instrumental composition in all its forms. Lately I've been thinking about working with hip-hop artists because I think that would be an interesting combination with what I do. I have some classical pieces I am finishing up as well. So I guess I'm all over the place. I spent the past ten years really perfecting what I do compositionally, so now I feel like I can branch out, which is a good feeling. I would say not every musician is like that, but for me it was important to get that figured out.

I don't think you will find very many musicians who will say they only listen to one type of music, and if you did I bet their own music wouldn't be very good. Music is a maleable structure, not a genre. Musicians are always listening to what other musicians are doing and finding ways to absorb it. In the early 20th century, jazz musicians borrowed from modernist composers, and vice versa. Duke Ellington has polytonality in his music that sounds like Stravinsky. When Stravinsky heard jazz, he put that in his pieces as well.

If you can, describe how your creative process works.  Do you get an idea, or hear a sound, or have dreams that you translate into music? How do any of these inspire you to make music?  Or, do you have a partner with words to songs and you create the music to accompany them?

I like parameters. I like it when people say: "I want the piece to be this long for this many instruments using this text". I'm very much an architect in that way. Once I know that, I get my manuscript paper ready and sit down at the piano. I mess around for fifteen minutes. If nothing is working, then I go clean the house. Usually it takes about a half hour and something "lands on my head" and I go write it down. Then I work on that one small idea for as long as it takes. Usually it takes me about two weeks to write eight measures, then about two days to finish the piece. My music is minimalist so I pull most of the material I need from those first measures.

Songwriting is its own thing. I refuse to call myself a songwriter, even though I have written a few songs that have been published. It requires a subtle mix of poetry, structure, and vibe that is incredibly hard to do well. If anyone out there wants to be a songwriter, I would say this: spend a long time writing the perfect song. Make it work on all levels. Make sure it has the perfect structure. Make sure the words all move seamlessly together without being boring. Make it personal and unique and unlike anything else that has been written before. Make sure it is memorable. Then, when you have done that, write 20 more songs better than the one you just wrote. Then, and only then, can you call yourself a songwriter.

Who do you listen to in music?  Do you find your CD Spotify or vinyl collection reflect in whole what you like?  Or, do you have so many favorites or enjoyed music genres it is impossible to collect?

I don't listen to streamed music because, truth be told, I'm really bad at technology. I borrowed my kid's I-pod for a vacation my wife and I went on - I was looking forward to relaxing to some albums at the resort we were at. I couldn't figure out how to use the damn thing and just gave up. I also don't have a smart phone, which I think is pretty necessary for streaming music.

What I like to do is check out cds at the library. I use both the St. Paul Public Library and Ramsey County. They have a great reference system so I can look up artists I want to hear. I think cds are a really good medium and I don't understand why people think they aren't valid anymore. To me, they are the perfect cross between vinyl and downloading: all the album art and liner notes in a digital package. I also borrow LPs where I work, which is really convenient. I have a space in my basement to listen to records and it is a nice part of my day.

I'm really not too picky when I listen to music. I just want it to be good, and I don't care what genre it is. I'm not a collector either - I get rid of anything I haven't listened to in a year. To me, listening to music is an adventure, from the time you find the album until you get rid of it. I have a small notebook that I keep names of artists and albums in. When I'm at the record store or the library, I take note of what I need and look for it.

Here's a little secret for anyone reading this: The St. Paul Public Library has new vinyl you can check out. Let me repeat: New Vinyl. You can check out. For free.  Ok, now you know.

Are there artists, mentioned above or not, who have inspired you to create better music?  Or, what, exactly, inspires you to create better music?  Are you moved easily?

I would separate composition from performing here. Performing, yes absolutely. Watching Venus de Mars is always a humbling experience. There is a level of intensity that few artists are able to achive like Venus. I've also been really blown away by Dave King, who has completely internalized his technique and made it so deliberately part of his style. One national group that I've opened for that is undeniably excellent is Slim Cessna's Auto Club. Go see these guys while you can - it is an incredible experience.

Composition for me is such a structural thing that I'm not really looking for inspiration. That's not to say I don't have my favorite composers, which I do. Mingus once said that his bass playing came from practice and his composing came from God. That's kind of how I feel - whatever inspiration I get almost always comes from inside me. I'm never saying to myself "this part should sound like so-and-so". I guess I think that's like cheating. If you want to hear so-and-so, go listen to them because they probably do it a lot better than I would! I want to give the world the purest form of music that I can compose.

Does society appreciate the arts in general sufficiently, or are they, in general, missing out?  How so?

Society is often missing out, unfortunately. Some of my best shows are for children because they have no distractions. Most kids don't have cell phones (until recently, anyway), so they just sit and watch you play. Adults can't watch something for more than two minutes without getting bored. You could be doing back-flips for them, and they would still find their Facebook feed more important. I actually like hecklers in the audience because it shows that someone is paying attention to what you are doing.

Engagement is so important for the arts. Everything now needs to be some kind of spectacle for people to be interested. We have to constantly keep educating the audience to keep them engaged so they know there is beauty even in the simplest of things. Maybe everyone needs to watch more Fred Rogers, who taught us patience and how to be aware of what is immediately around us and to ask questions about the world.

Do you have any kickstarter projects ongoing and if you've been involved in them in the past what has your experience with that venue been? Is it easy for creators and investors to cooperate to make projects happen?

I've never done a kickstarter and, based on what I've seen, I don't want to do one. The level of stress I witnessed my musician friends get to from a kickstarter project was enough to keep me away. Everyday life is stressful enough - I don't need a massive deadline hanging over my head.

"Is it easy for creators and investors to cooperate . . .?" Yes, it's called BUY THE ARTIST'S ALBUM. Gee, what a simple concept: someone makes something and people who are interested buy it. Instead of having an artist spend a ton of time setting up a huge multi-tier selling platform and marketing the hell out of it, why don't people just pony up the money they were going to spend anyway?

I'm not saying that kickstarter hasn't helped anyone - it has. I'm just upset that the burden of art awareness has once again been put upon artists via having to spoon-feed their audience. The word I would use to describe how art should be is "sustainable", and we should be asking ourselves how sustainable kickstarter actually is. Is worrying about financial deadlines sustainable? Is having our lives consumed with social media marketing sustainable? Is waiting for the next big grant sustainable? I guess if I had nothing else to do, or was very interested in crowd sourcing itself, then kickstarter might be sustainable. Most artists don't have that luxury.

How would any reader of this or some attending a show you've worked acquire work you've done?

Glad you asked! Two sites I'll send you to: Aaron Kerr and 
Emperor Penguin Records

They are linked via EPR's bandcamp page, so you can click on any one of my albums and it will send you there. EPR is my exclusive label, but I am on around 40 other albums world-wide (someday I'll post that list, but not this year).  Also, I post all my public shows on my website, so go there if you want to check out a live show. I always have cds and vinyl for sale at shows - plus you can get them signed.

What work amongst your library of projects completed is your favorite and why?

There are several, but I'll focus in on one. It happens to be my latest project and, I think, will be of interest to you as it has a literary focus.  About ten years ago my friend, bandmate, and label owner Tyson Allison contacted me about a project he wanted to start. He was living in Milwaukee and wanted to send me stories that I would score music to. He didn't want me to know the source of the stories, so he paraphrased and hand-wrote everything out. These stories were amazing and weird and intriguing. I got the stories in the mail, read them, and immediately sketched out a several-cello-part composition which I made a quick demo of and sent back. This went on for several years. Finally, with the last submission, he let me in on who the author was: the one and only David Foster Wallace.

I was familiar with Wallace's writing but had only read a couple books. Subsequently, I've read a ton more and have been amply rewarded. This guy is simply off the charts in both depth and meaning. Following the last submission, we then had to go into the studio more formally and record everything again, this time with Tyson adding more parts. The end result is what I would call my most creative project from start to finish. It is also a dive into more avant-garde composing, which I had experimented with but never really did anything with until now. I think this came out of it being a more esoteric project where I was both composing for myself and trying to create a sonic description of literary works.

The title of the album is: To Combat Loneliness: Compositions Based on the Works of David Foster Wallace, by Tyson Allison and Aaron Kerr. We also made the huge leap to put it out on 180 gram clear vinyl. We are hoping to head down to the Wallace archives in Austin, Texas next year to officially hand a copy off to them. A portion of the sales of each album will go to the archives as well.

Moving on to more esoteric and specific questions about art and creativity...

As a writer and poet I have realized that not every has the same result when they try to write.  In some cases people can't recognize grammar or how to spell easy terms, and they can't place words in a working sentence.  But, we all have the same alphabet and language to use.  Mozart created perfection in the system he worked with.  William Carlos Williams made poetry sing utilizing less not more.  Antoine de Saint Exupéry said  "Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher." "It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove." Mentioning this all to preface the question, we all have access to the full mastery of language, whatever language we use, so why are some better able to create?  Are we required to have a form of  genius to create genius, or do we create from a idiot savant sort of mindset?

No, I don't think there is some kind of mental recess to access creativity that everyone has. I think it is simply part of your being, and you are either inclined towards that or not. We all have the basic skills to do a lot of things, but that doesn't mean we can all do those things equally well. I can't make heads or tails of cars or computers (or most technology, for that matter), but some people really excel and that. I think creativity is similar - the will to create is just part of who you are and your abilities are guided by that.

That is not to say that creativity doesn't manifest itself in different ways with different people. Everyone is, in some way, creative. You might not be William Carlos Williams, but you might be really good at haiku. I just spent a year working with my cello students on new compositions and, as a final project, we went into the recording studio to lay down their music. One student wrote an amazing anthemic piece that could have been an opening score for a Ken Burns film. One wrote a dark, brooding, dissonant elegy. One wrote a short, weird, vaudevillian shuffle. They were all different, but equally creative.

I think, too often, we are very divided on the subject of creativity. Only people who are "artistic" get to learn about the arts. This is not only limiting, it is also not healthy for the artistic vitality of our communities. Exposure to and knowledge of the arts is as important to the arts as are the arts themselves. Right now, we are kind of stuck in a technology focus that excludes the idea that arts are part of everyday life. I have to wonder if scientists were having the same problem as artists 100 years ago when science wasn't as important as it is now.

Why do you think that intellectual people reject genres of books (fantasy and horror are often brutally considered as throw away material, when I think Stephen King would be held in far higher regard if he wrote novels in purely literary genres) or music (country and metal get little critical love but have enormous audiences) out of hand, without fair consideration?  Are there genres or formats that encourage mediocrity or is that an intellectual concept that refuses modification?

People enjoy comfort and will gravitate toward things that are familiar to them because it makes them comfortable. Because genres already have an established style, people are attracted to that because they know what they are getting. A metal band draws a crowd because they are playing a style of music that people are familiar with. Superhero movies do well because people know the superhero universe. Fantasy fiction is popular because of an already established world of fantasy.

So what's wrong with that? My concern is that we are losing sight of what creativity actually is. Creativity is the mix of diverse materials to make something new. Genres themselves are the result of this combination of elements. Heavy metal, for example, is the combination of heavier, darker blues-rock with flashier pop song sensibilities. Fantasy is the combination of mythology with medieval history and the paranormal. We have to allow this combination of elements to freely evolve in order to keep creativity alive.

But while genres themselves are the product of creativity, to some extent they also limit creativity from happening. People need to be mentally challenged in order for creativity to thrive, but that is tough to do when our culture pushes out only the dominant, most relevant genres to the exclusion of everything else. The popularity of fan fiction is a good example of this. Why create something new when you can use an already existing world and characters?

Having said all of that, I am reluctant to dismiss genres entirely. For one, I think you need to accept that genres have always been around and will continue to always be around, so some level of acceptance is necessary. Secondly, I do feel that genres have to the ability to be a foundation / platform for creativity to happen. Many an artist has used a genre as a launching pad for amazing things. Third, I think we need to both acknowledge and appreciate the artistic genius that went into the creation of specific genres. Our world has been immensely enriched by great artists who started the genres of writing, music, and media that we now take for granted: Tolkien, Roddenberry, Lee, Lovecraft, Osborn, Cash, Rowling . . .

I have an extremely diverse love for music and literature, for numerous genres, and mostly diverse lists of creative talents.  But of my top 50 talents in literature there are precious few women.  Do music or literature or any other art field of creation have a greater ability to reach people depending on the world view or set of life experiences or gender of the creator?  (I've done blind challenges where I have someone find paragraphs or snippets of music and they assess which is my favorite of the offerings and the male creative is almost always the winner.

Are we genetically predisposed to like certain types of art? Possibly. I did a quick survey of my CD collection. Sure enough - 90 percent male.

So a couple of theories might be at work here. One, art is influenced by the world in which it exists, so that art is also going to be reflective of that world. Because we are inherently attracted to what we are familiar with, then it stands to reason that we will be attracted to the art coming from a particular worldview. So art made by men will generally be appreciated by men, and vice versa for women.

A second theory is that we have lived for some time in a very male dominated society, at least in most areas of the world. So our larger world view, regardless of the gender of the audience, is going to be reflective of that. In the study of classical music there is a huge disparity of male to female composers, favoring the male probably 20 to 1. Interestingly, the 20th century offered an increasing number of female composers of note. It is interesting also in that it coincided with the suffrage movement in both Europe and America. Based on this observation, one has to wonder if gender equality is a bigger factor in art appreciation than we think it is.

What trend in modern culture do you see as positive for the ability of creative people to create?  And which is the most detrimental to the work of creatives, and what does the future portent for the creators who endeavor in creative fields outside of the comforts of popular reward?

I see incredible art everywhere, so this is a positive. People now just kind of know that art has no limitations, so they aren't holding back. What is frustrating is seeing all of these artists really struggling with how to support what they do. I feel their pain - you are depressed not being able to do the thing you were put on this earth to do but you would be equally depressed giving it up.

We need a balance. Everyone who creates art needs a vehicle for that art, at least in a small way. The musician needs a venue, the writer needs a publication, the painter needs a gallery. These artists need a small amount of support for what they do, and, in exchange, our communities become culturally richer.

There is only one way forward - and that is to build up institutions that support the arts and make that a priority for all communities. "Popular reward" is another way of saying only a small number of people can reap the benefits of culture. We need a culture that supports art without limitation.

If you had no sales and lost your audience in the locale you perform in, would you still choose to create?  Are sales a fair way to assess the quality of your work?  Would it not be true to suggest that popularity of a work reflects the quality therein?  Is there a truth in creating art for the sake of art?

The only person who liked Vincent Van Gogh was his brother. Bach was unheard of outside of Germany. The list goes on and on. What people don't understand is that there is a very particular set of circumstances that need to be in place for something to be considered popular on a wider scale. Lack of these circumstances does not negate vision, talent, or skill.

That being said, I do think an audience is needed for what we do - art doesn't exist in a vacuum. So if I did truly feel my art was completely inaccessible, then I would consider stopping. Of course, there are alternatives. I could always lend my skills as a cellist or arranger to someone who has found a way to have an audience.

The problem is having to assess if what is happening is truly because your art lacks merit, or because you simply don't have the ability to reach the right audience. At one time, we had a system of arts management at places like record labels, TV networks, movie companies and publishers. As much as that was a blockade, it was also a way for artists to have their work vetted by people who understood what it took to reach an audience. We, as artists, aren't thinking about what it takes to reach an audience. We are looking at the world and reflecting on it, regardless of who we think is watching. This deficit of a management system is yet another lack of support, which creates more difficulty for artists.

In the end, you just need to find a way to be happy. I've had some acknowledgement that what I do is worthwhile and I have a small amount of loyal support. So, what the hell, I'll keep doing it.

A great creative talent who is now dead answered some questions I had asked and I found that his wisdom was to make the path free from certain fears for me.  He said 'Some creators have low self esteem but they still have talent to impress and to grow continuously. If they allow fear to dominate themselves whatever they create might fail due to that fear.  Some creative artists have less talent but have such high esteem in themselves and their own work that when they release their work it has obvious limitations but people feed off the positive belief in themselves.  Never stop writing or creating, because whatever your talent level, you only improve with time, and you will someday create well enough to far outstrip your self esteem.

Continuous growth by doing will help overcome limitations of talent and your driving force of self esteem and ego.'  That is, Just do it isn't just a shoe company slogan, we must improve from simple practice of the art.  Do you agree or disagree with the assessment?

Yep - it's called potential. I try to find the potential in people and push them in that direction. If I come across a writer who's work I like, then I let them know exactly what I like about their writing and tell them to write more. If I have a student who excels at performing, then I get them out there performing as much as possible. The key, I think, is to find the thing you are really good at and letting that open the door to bigger and better things. All it takes is that one great review or acknowledgement and you are on your way.

For me, "doing things" is exactly what it is about. I am truly of the Midwestern work ethic; I can't sit still. I have to not only be doing things, but I have to be doing things that are somehow productive and meaningful. That includes the jobs I work, the time I spend creating music, the time I spend with my family, and the time I spend volunteering for various causes. There really isn't any room for low self esteem with all of that.

I know that all sounds cavalier, but really it's just a kind of therapy for me. We all have our ways of dealing with life, and this is my way. I am an eternal optimist - it is simply part of who I am, and I can feel depression and hopelessness sink in when I am not actively working towards something. I guess I also feel that if I can turn my hopelessness around by helping other people, or by making the world a better place with art, then that makes me happy as well.

There is the theory in physics and metaphysics of many monkeys typing at typewriters randomly someday composing Shakespeare or the like. But  despite huge numbers of monkeys and constant effort, those typing will not stumble upon the higher quality of work. This is a false sort of argument for the creative yes?  We don't have random attempts at work, we have a germ of an idea and whatever our level of talent even the worst of us will create something markedly better than a billion typing chimps, every time, no matter how many times the scenario repeats?

I always thought that was such a weird theory. Who cares? My wife is reading a book right now about how time is actually fluid and we can just as easily know what things will be like in the future as the past. Like, what the hell? I just want to know if I'm going to get the bathroom remodeled before winter hits.

But, to answer your question, no, art isn't random. Where the initial idea comes from is hard to define, but there is actual real work that goes into how that idea is fleshed out. Also, the fleshing out, and probably the idea itself, are reflective of the world around us and we work to make the complete project exist in the world. So there are a lot of variables going on, which makes it hard for me to subscribe to the idea that this is all random.

Furthermore, there is a real back-and-forth with the audience when a project is released. The way your audience responds to your work will determine what you do with it. Also, creative works influence other creative works, and audience response to other authors will influence you. Just more variables to consider.

How do you get kids interested in the creative walk?  And in this day of selfies and temporary culture, is it even possible to do so?

Here's the best parenting advice I ever got: encourage, encourage, encourage . . . never force. Make those kids go to book readings, art galleries, and live performances. Give them every opportunity to engage in creative activities: band and orchestra at school, private instruction, writing class. Give them art materials and have them try out any instrument they want. Fill your home with shelves and shelves of every type of literature.

Here's what is going to happen: most of it they won't do. In fact, plan on them not doing any of it, but keep trying. You need to be extremely patient and be totally ok if they reject it, but keep trying.

Even if they turn 18 and never get into writing, play an instrument, or get into dance, painting, or photography, you can know you gave them an excellent arts education. They will, at least, know that the arts are important enough to be exposed to, and they will (eventually) look back and appreciate your effort.

If you get that kid who gets into something, it is the most rewarding experience ever. As a parent or mentor, life is full of extreme highs and terrible lows, and I guarantee this will be an extreme high. I've seen it with my own kids, and it is pretty amazing.

With anything negative in this world, there is always a backlash, and I can finally see that now. There is a new generation of kids who are being identified as "Generation Z". This is the generation that has grown up with the internet, and has had the opportunity to see all the good and evil that exists with it. My own children are part of this generation, so I am seeing this generation first hand.

This is the generation that is the rejecting the world of "temporary culture". They are looking around at the world and standing up and saying no, we aren't going to live that way. I see them rejecting selfies and rejecting shallowness. I see them recognizing the beauty of creativity and all that goes into it. I see them having meaningful lives that support the arts. They are doing this because they understand that things cannot continue the way they are going. This generation gives me hope and I am thankful for it.