Category Archives: career
While I have not yet blogged in 2013 and only sparingly over the past month, I have been incredibly busy and productive. I have a novel to edit and rewrite, remember? Also, I spent six days trying to figure out how to get through The Shadow Temple in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Honestly, can anyone else say they have worked with as much diligence as I have?
More often than not, when we set goals for ourselves, we end up disappointing. Like, when I thought I would blog every day in 2013 but waited until the fourth day of the year to even log in to my WordPress account. Or that time I said, “I’m going to have this novel published by the end of 2011… I meant, 2012… I mean…. Ah.”
The truth is, I never get anything done when I mean to. I am a master procrastinator, wielding my deadly weapons of sleep, boredom, and Netflix. On the plus side, I have seen every film listed under the sub-heading “Goofy Stoner Comedy.” Whether or not there is an accolade for this, I’m not exactly sure.
Which brings me back to the idea of accomplishment. What makes us so lazy we never accomplish anything, especially the things we really want to do? I would pin that on fear, fear that we won’t succeed like we want to. It’s pretty easy being a famous-future-author when you’ve published diddly-squat. You just have to sit back and think what you’ll tell Ellen DeGeneres when she interviews you, how you would totally blow off Oprah (Just kidding, Oprah, please love me).
I am clinging to the idea of being finished, trying to scrape together the will and time to write, to edit. But some days, I would rather stick my head underneath a lawn mower. Some days, editing feels like actual work. Despite my lack of completion, I have made great bounds of progress with “In Lickskillet” as well as with a new project I wish I pursue post In-Lickskillet-publication.
Just keep your head up, your pen at the ready, and write, I can say to myself. Just write and write and write and write, and maybe eventually, it’ll all come together.
J.K. Rowling never attended a school for wizards and witches, or at least that is the common theory. Surely, if wizards did exist, might they be outraged that a simple Muggle speaks for their struggles, their experience? What is an experience, or rather “the experience” of any certain group? Maybe Rowling need not fear backlash from wand-wielding cloak-wearers, but what about writers who write outside of their experience?
Not every crime writer started out as a detective or cop or anything more than a college graduate. Beyond the need for clearly explaining the real world aspects of jobs writers may not have, they may approach a lifestyle they have never approached. Generally, when I pick up a book by Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, I can expect their depictions of growing up black and female in America to be accurate. Of course, those experiences do not encompass everyone’s experience, but they make a good representative example.
But what about when I write about being a black female in America? Could my words be taken just as solidly as theirs? After all, it would merely be a representative experience, right? The problem arises that I don’t know what it’s like to be black or female, and although I could research “what it’s like” and read endless books, I may never really know. That’s okay: I’ll write about it anyways.
Because no one can put their feet in everyone’s shoes. We can do only what we can, right? If I only wrote about bookish middle-class white males from Aiken, South Carolina, I might as well write a memoir. All that Write What You Know tripe, it rings true to a certain extent, but it can seriously mangle creativity. And if you never attempt to replace your eyes with the eyes of another, you’ll never learn their perspective.
I thought about this dilemma while outlining a new story about gay homeless teens in New York. I’m not gay, and I’m not homeless. I’ve never even been to New York, but I still think I can write the story. Of course I’ll do research, just like I did research when Is tarted my newest novel about boxing. I did not know anything about boxing culture or rules or even dress, but I learned. You read and read and talk to people who know what it’s like to be whoever you’re writing. Often, I base my stories off of real-life events or ideas or groups, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of them.
Surely, Thomas Harris never ate a single human being before penning Silence of the Lambs.
When I began In Lickskillet, one of the characters seemed to be half-black, half-white. There was no reason for it, but that’s how he looked in my mind, and I didn’t shy away from addressing his perspective. Maybe I was wrong, and maybe I assumed many egregious things, but I tried.
There is no gay experience or black experience, only the stereotypical ideas about such experiences. Either there is only one experience (the human experience) that we can all understand, or there are infinite experiences (meaning none of us will ever fully understand one another). My job as a writer is to try to understand, even though I know I can’t.
What do you think? Should authors tackle difficult subjects they’ve never encountered firsthand or act more like journalists?
This is a video of a performance in Charleston at the East Bay Meeting House. Hopefully, you’ll like these poems “Ode to W.W.” and “A Southern Voice,” and soon, I can upload more videos of my performances. I perform nearly weekly at this venue and others. Keep a look out for further videos.
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
When life begins to roar, deafening who you are, it helps to seek solitude, retreat into yourself. Remind yourself beauty exists all around you– there are reasons for the things you do, reasons bigger than you. Poems clang around in your head like men with pinball hammers, ice picks, and dynamite trying to break out.
I am happy to report I have been writing regularly, though disjointedly to fit my schedules into schedules– school has recently swollen to consume much of my time. Between trying to write fiction and trying to complete school work and trying to have a semblance of a social life, I haven’t written many blog posts. I will try to remedy that this weekend, as I have been working on a multi-part post which may interest many of you.
In the meantime, I am producing fiction I might actually get paid for, which I’ll attempt to publish. While editing “In Lickskillet,” I have also written two short stories– one is not done yet. I have, however, for both a supreme confidence that you will either find them enlightening or comical or both. When (yes, I mean WHEN, not IF) I publish these somewhere, Word Salad will be the first place I post up links and information. All of this, of course, is quite exciting. I’ll report more after my Fall Break begins.
Today, I’m getting things done. I mean, done in the sense Larry the Cable Guy would do them.
10:30, and an end to my work looms in the near future. Of course, I have still have two classes to labor through, but I’ve already completed the homework for both, and then what?
I have been editing “In Lickskillet” recently, and I have been reading a lot of novels (and comic books) recently. I have been tearing through text books and calculating mathematical things on my calculator. There is nothing more freeing and sigh-worthy than the rush of completing projects, from finishing what needs to be finished, doing what needs to be done.
The human mind aspires to a perfection it may never reach, but in reaching, we achieve so much. What I’m interested in is the burning. The burning of the mind, as if we’ve stored fat up there and we’re replacing it with tireless muscle. There are those that survive to flick fluff from their ears and cram in knowledge, and I’m obsessed with the flames, the burning of progress that spins its wheels into the future.
Everything we do becomes a mystery we’re solving, not just the stars and the galaxies and the inner-lives of the janitors that scrub our toilets, but everything. From calculus limits to ominously long German verbs to the mechanisms of political campaigns. Whether we’re consuming knowledge of the Kreb’s cycle or the mechanical workings of a motorcycle, we’re burning. We’re lighting scrolls on fire in our own minds, collecting the smoke at the top of our skulls and exhaling it into the world.
I suppose what I mean to say is, the beauty and joy of life is in the striving, the struggle, the progress. Once we’ve finished growing the flowers in our tiny dirt plot, we can admire how they bloom so colorful, but until then we must relish the dirt beneath our nails, the sweat on our lips as we shovel and till and plant.
So, apart from homework and studying, I’ve been editing this novel I have a lot of faith in. Not just faith, but belief– passionate conviction. Right now, I’m still snipping the rotten buds, pricking my fingers on all the thorns I accidentally cultivated, spilling blood onto pages to bring something strange and colorful to life.
And hopefully soon, while I wash the dirt from my raw hands, you can view the blooms that may come.
I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.
Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.
While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)
At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.
By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.
Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.
“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”
“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”
Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.
Back to fifth grade…
Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.
But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.
Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.
This morning, I would finish my novel. The night before, I had written the penultimate chapter to what would be what I considered my best work. The climax finished, I needed only wrap up the story in a few hundred words. I went to bed early, anticipating waking early for work the next morning. When I woke too early, I lay in bed thinking exactly how the story would end. Not that it would end, because no story truly ever ends, but where would I stop following these wonderful people, recording them through the lens of fiction?
This morning, I thought. It would have to be this morning. College looms, and maybe if I don’t finish soon, I may never finish, never decide on a conclusion. Even if it isn’t any good, even if I have to change it, at least something will be written. I will feel that much closer to being finished.
And maybe finishing In Lickskillet makes me feel finished with high school. Even though I graduated back in June, I’ve still been navigating the social maze of high school within the walls of fiction. Sure, my time at school gave a lot of good source material and inspiration for the novel, but I think I’m ready to finally leave that stage of my life.
But ain’t that the truth? Everything ends.
Every novel has an ending, just like every part of your life does. In my opinion, it doesn’t really flow that smoothly– there are definite
times when you might think a chapter number would be suitable. Like right now, before I leave for college, I’m ending a chapter, a huge chapter. All about high school and the city of Aiken and the immense impact it has had on me. Most of the characters will bow off stage, maybe not be seen but for cameos. All the history I’ve learned here, I’ll have to learn new history elsewhere. I am cutting off ties, leaving both jobs, and moving onto to bigger things.
Next Friday, I move into a college dorm, and then a new chapter will begin. Maybe I’ll find some new photography studio to work at or a new hip magazine to write for. Maybe not.
New things will come. For example, I’ll start my time in the International Scholars Program at the College of Charleston, which is brand new and is sure to be a wild, enlightening time.
This blog was recently freshly pressed, so maybe there is new life in that. Just because some readers from Aiken might stop reading, I may gain more readers, other readers, both from Charleston and all around the world.
But this morning, I had the satisfying feeling of typing THE END to a novel I feel may be my first major published work. Everything ends, and right now, what’s ending is maybe that part of my career when I’m still working to be a success, still doing little things that might one day add up to big things.
The next chapter?
Well, Hell, who knows what might happen?
I arrived Sunday afternoon for a college orientation which would begin Monday morning, and we were supposed to explore the city that day since there were no official plans or schedules. Those would come the following day. Already upon arrival, I planned to talk about the experience but never had the time or energy to write anything down until now. The streets here burn your feet, tripping you up with uneven stones so that you stumble as you walk. Not that you’re looking at your feet with the historic architecture of King Street looming above you, the high-end fashion store windows volcano-erupting with colors, and the people– oh the people on bikes, in high heels, in capris, in bowties, in jogging wear, in Maseratis, on unicycles.
This is my first few days here as someone not a tourist– instead, a future resident not so much trying to cram in sightseeing landmarks but trying to digest what it would be like to live in this city. It’s only strangeness that pervades everything: a wonderful, spell-binding strangeness, though, that delights, that enchants. You’re left often wondering what impression you’re getting. Whether everyone here rich, poor, or in college. Whether this indeed is some mystical city with the highest ever beard-to-face ratio.
The beauty. Naturally that’s what first shocks you like a defibrillator to the groin. The historic, amazing houses with their perfectly trimmed bushes, immaculate designs of ivy upon the brick walls, every architectural nicety present like a ten-block tour history of buildings everywhere.
Sunday, I arrived and began to walk through the streets lugging my rolling suitcase. Driving here I expected to be a problem but never was; navigating these winding, crossing streets became perilous, like following Ariana’s string through Minos’ labyrinth with the Minotaur at your heels. I found the dorm eventually, being the first to settle in, make up my bed, and put away my bags. Then I set out alone to wander the streets till dusk.
When you come on vacation to Charleston, you feel restricted by a schedule to visit places you’ve always seen: the market, the battery, the waterfront pier, the marina, the college, whatever. I saw all these things but without the requisite urgency of travelling in a group. Alone, you have the leisure to simply sit for an hour, even two by the seaside reading. Or to when eating, not simply eat but enjoy the quiet atmosphere. Perhaps the calmness only comes from vacationing without my family which always prove as hectic as if Chevy Chase were involved. By myself, I am freed from antics and misadventures, meeting only a sort of calm beauty everywhere I went.
Because I arrived four hours earlier than I expected to, I did not feel bad for “wasting time.” I simply walked up and down the streets, along the water, and elsewhere. I even had a delicious falafel for lunch while watching the Portugal-Holland game in the 2012 Euro Cup. At some point, I realized I had an article due fairly soon for Verge. I had already done the interviews, so I sat down at a Starbucks to begin writing. I only finished writing and editing it today and will be e-mailing it very soon, as soon as I can find wifi to send that and post this.
In Charleston, a Starbucks Cafe is not a rarity, but instead like a Zubat in a Pokemon cave, they pop up every few feet. The abundance of cookie crumble frappes and cherry-whipped lattes floating in the hands of flip-flopped business men on fixie bikes astounds me.
As I sat plugging away at a first draft which constituted long quotes and awkward transitions, I watched some interesting things around me. If nothing else in a new city, watch how people interact. There is the homeless guy high out of his mind on the corner screaming nonsense at tourist, the gay barista flirting with every man who walks up to the counter, the goateed English professor furiously grading a grammar test while, in the fashion of Disney villains, twirling his moustache thoughtfully.
Then I saw from the window a girl I went to high school with. I ran down the street after her, slowing down as I reached her since running after anyone screams “I’m desperate for company.” Not that I didn’t enjoy being down here alone, only that I hadn’t much talked to another soul all day except to say, “Yes, I would like the falafel please.”
For a while, we perused shops together, then met with her roommate to eat dinner at this very fine sushi place for very cheap. Around ten, we returned to the dorms where we met even more students who came down for orientation.
I know college will not always be like this, constantly introducing yourself, but it’s not a terrible way to live. You meet a hundred people in a day but only ever have the same conversation.
What’s your major?
What do you want to do?
Where are you from?
Was it a long drive/flight?
Then dazzle them with fun stories of your uncle’s Polish wedding and a summer in Germany.
Tell the same stories again and again and again and again until even you’re bored with them. Then start talking about your job or about writing or about anything. For example, “I’m totally famous online.”
On the next day, this cycle of meeting new people commenced, meeting the guys I stayed with at orientation, meeting the tired, passionless orientation interns, meeting professors, meeting more homeless people.
It’s a very nice thing of course to plot your career path, your intrepid course through college, what adventures the next four years will bring. I admit that is as important as not trying to inhale underwater. But what is more, what really signifies why moving somewhere new, meeting new people matters, are the stories.
You can dress up like pirates, talk to Financial Aid advisors, dream of studying abroad, but it’s all for naught if there aren’t any stories to tell. So that’s what life gives: stories. Each person has one of triumph, loss, or love, and these things, like atoms, build the world in which we live. Even if you’re only recounting what major you’ll take, how hot or cold your dorm shower is, whether your room has a microwave or not, everything can be boiled down to plot, characters, submerged themes.
Charleston is a city of stories, brimming with stories unlike almost anywhere else in South Carolina. Aiken too offers its own unique stories, but even its rich history pales compared to Charleston. Not just ghost stories and tales about “The War of Northern Aggression,” though. Stories reside with people too, even professors if you consider them people—and some people don’t, I believe. Regardless, that’s what Charleston offers, a multitude of stories that can be observed, told, and told again and again and again until only the teller is bored with them.
But me? Never.
Tuesday was Aiken’s Curiosity Shop’s second ever open mic, and it was an astounding success! Not only did spectators pack out the tables at the Dicken’s Cafe, but I had to stand in the back with a horde of others. People stood, sat, and hung from rafters. They watched from below the stage and up above on the stairwell. About a dozen performers delivered stunning, explosive, fun, magnificent songs, poems, stories, and jokes to this very responsive crowd.
We had the great pleasure of welcoming an Italian exchange group from Orvieto. They too performed songs both in Italian and English.
I performed “Knockout”, “American”, and a new poem called “Ode to Awkwardness.” Click any of these links to see performances of them. The last one is only half the poem, but soon, I’ll make something really special for this blog. I’ve been playing with the idea of doing a music-video-type thing for a poem; this comic, short poem would be a great first endeavor. Hopefully, I will work on that soon.
Here are some further pics of the open mic performers (including myself) that I purloined (legally) from the Curiosity Shop’s Facebook page.
I return from a week-long blogging hiatus with much news and intriguing insight. What you may have gleaned from the title is that I am writing a novel. More accurately, I have written a novel and am working hard on a second draft. Now, this is news only because it’s an entirely new project. For almost two years, I rewrote, revised, and queried for my last project about which I’m still passionate.
You may remember the tab “The Savagery of Sebastian Martinelli,” but I’m afraid its imminent publication might have to wait. After a lot of consideration, I have put that project on the back burner because I do not feel it accurately portrays my current views and style. Though I still think the story is one worth sharing, perhaps I am not the best person to tell it. When I first conceived to write it, in fact, it was out of a strange defiance, an immaturity, and a stab at writing something “sensational and shocking.”
But shock and awe don’t really carry story a long way, which is why I have decided to put the manuscript metaphorically into the drawer and begin anew. Fortunately, I made this decision months ago so I am well on my way to completing a new project. Last summer, I spent some time sketching out some ideas for a new book, something drastically different from what I’d been writing. By December, I had written a draft though many pieces of that draft haven’t made it into the rewriting.
In March, I decided to begin again with this story which at the moment is tentatively titled “In Lickskillet.” Read about the plot, characters, and ideas in the new tab above!
The book follows the lives of six teenagers during a modern day hate crime trial. Two of the main characters’ fathers clash in the courtroom while the teens struggle with identity, high school, and the repercussions of a murder.
I admit that when I wrote the first draft I was very set in the “shock and awe” mindset: a library exploded in the first chapter. though I still think that this was a really cool idea, it did not mesh well with the original plot, the hate crime trial where a member of the Ku Klux Klan is tried for murder. What drew me back to this project were the characters, who I realized could become richer with a rewrite. I also feel strongly about the messages and themes conveyed. Most importantly, though, I feel like it’s a good story to tell.
For that new project, I should hope to finish by the end of summer, then begin querying. I have been working every single day, making prodigious progress.
If you like to follow my progress in writing and editing and publishing, I encourage you to not just subscribe to this blog via e-mail, but also follow me on Twitter. I began tweeting only three weeks ago, and I must say it’s addictive: https://twitter.com/#!/TheSavagePen.
Also, if you do not already, find me on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Derek-Berry/141228932625382
I will keep Word Salad updated with news on this new project (new to you, but not really to me). Check out and comment on the book page. I feel very strongly about publishing and selling this book; I have faith in the story I’m telling.