Anthony N. White - writer

My Little Black Notebook

In 2005 I became obsessed with what Jack Kerouac called “New American Pops” or non-syllabled haiku. Just like haiku, the American version that Kerouac played with is just a tiny snapshot of words that can quickly evoke a powerful emotion.

I knew I wanted to be a novelist but the amount of work it was going to take seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t think it could even start. So this was my solution. If you can write a story in just a few words that evokes powerful emotion then it should be easier when you have seventy-five thousand to do it.

At the time I was living in Watertown, New York and taking classes at SUNY Empire. That summer I worked at a restaurant near the library so I would leave for work early and spend some time in the library researching different Japanese Haiku Poets. I figured in order to break the rules you have to know them so I went back to the originators of the art and studied as much as I possibly could.

There in the basement of the Watertown Library I came across my favorite haiku. It was instantly my favorite and without a doubt had an immediate impact on me. I read it over and over again, sitting on the floor in between rows of books. I had gotten used to writing down the ones I liked the most in this little black notebook I carried with me and this one was no different. I scribbled it down and for months went back and read it over and over again.

About a year later I moved to Rochester, New York and stashed all my old writing in a box. I thought that someday it would be fun to go through it, maybe take note of how far my writing has come, or rehash old ideas that never made it passed the scribble stage. Sometime later, after my third or fourth move in Rochester, I decided to look through that box. There were so many memories in it, but not the little black notebook filled with haiku. I was disappointed but I figured that I just didn’t look hard enough, that it was probably stuck in the binder of another notebook.

Years went by. I could remember parts of my favorite haiku and occasionally I would google lines related to it. I couldn’t remember the author, but just new when translated it had the word “lichened” in it. I knew it was something about rain, a grave, and sadness. That was all that would come back to me. Google didn’t have the answer and whenever given the opportunity to look through books of Japanese Haiku I would, but I never found it. That little black notebook contained the answer and it had somehow vanished.

Year later still, I thought of that poem. Only this time there was a death in the family and we would be going to the same cemetery that my grandmother is buried. I needed that haiku. I dug the box out of the basement and went through it very carefully, examining each book and paging through them all. I took other boxes apart and looked through them. Nothing. The book was missing. I stood there in amazement and disbelief. How did I have all of my term papers from college, labeled and stored in hanging folders, but missing a notebook I spent months writing haiku in? “What a wasted summer,” I thought to myself.

Yesterday, I found it. I’ve been thinking about this book for about twelve years and I wasn’t looking for it at all and I found it. It dropped out of a newspaper article I was saving. I must have jammed the New York Times over it and it got caught up in there somehow. What’s more interesting is that the section of the Times I was saving was an obituary that Paul Westerberg wrote for Alex Chilton. Not only do I love both of those song writers, the day Alex Chilton died was the same day I started my punk band in Rochester, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, or PBH. I saved that article for so many dear reasons it’s actually comical to find that it had been housing that notebook all these years. Chilton died in 2010.

Today I’m going to carry that notebook around all day. I just want to hold it. I genuinely missed it. Maybe in a different post I’ll share some of the haiku that I had started writing because of my studies. But for now, here’s the one that haunted me for almost fifteen years:

Winter rain deepens                                                                           

Lichened letters

On the grave…

And my old sadness

-Roka

Nothing Rhymes with Orange: A Poem

Nothing Rhymes with Orange

 

The Corn Hill streets are

Orange with leaves as

Orange sirens whizz by, the sound of

O R A N G E

Ringing in my ears, cigarette smoke rolls from the

Dark porch next door, an

Orange ember barking in October’s northern

Orange wind. Nothing rhymes with

Orange in the fall.

 

But it’s all around anyhow.

I’m a Writer and I Suck

I have to be honest, being a writer sucks.

There’s so much that I like about it. But there’s one part that I hate and unfortunately it’s the most important part of this job. Before I get to the part that I hate I need to remind myself of all the things I really like about it because again, being honest here, there’s days that I want to chuck my laptop out my window and quit over this one really important thing.

Here’s what my process looks like in order. I’ll follow that with the thing that I hate the most because sometimes that thing comes before and sometimes it comes after the following:

Research

I actually love the research part. I’ve written articles about sports, tech gadgets, bit coin, therapy and digestion. I’ve written poetry, short stories, novels, plays, and essays and every single thing I’ve ever written usually takes at least some research. It might not even be while you’re preparing to write or while your writing it, but some sort of digging has led me to be inspired to write a short story or a poem. Trying to write a short story about a man who fires a Desert Eagle? Head to the firing range with an ex-cop and learn something! That’s the best part of being a writer. I don’t have to actually choose a profession, I get to try them all on for a bit.

Trying to write a short story about a man who fires a Desert Eagle? Head to the firing range…

Planning and Development

Remember in high school when you learned to make an outline for your essay? Yup. That’s all this is. Every paragraph has about 4 or 5 sentences, the topic sentence starts it off and then a few supporting sentences. The last sentence may segue into the next paragraph. But tone and theme must be chosen and then each paragraph needs to fit into that mold. The prose and syntax is where the creativity can shine through. That was a segue sentence.

Creativity

This is absolutely hands down the best part of writing! You just write. Sounds simple and it is. A runner might say that they hit their high and don’t remember the last ten miles. This can be this part of the writing process where your head is down, the fingers are moving, and the brain is on a roll. To me this part can kind of be like watching a movie. I can see the events unfold and I’ll be damned if my fingers can’t move fast enough. I don’t stop for misspelled words or other common mistakes. This is machine gun typing and it’s total madness and it’s friggin’ awesome.

First Edit

Kind of boring but you need to fix all that machine gun typing. Capitalization, correct punctuation, misspellings, goofy errors and other easy to spot mistakes are taken care of here. This usually gets done the next day after a machine gun session when I feel a bit more calm and collected. It’s a completely necessary piece of the puzzle.

Second Edit

Here’s where it gets tricky. This is the body language of the written word. Tone can cover up the theme and sometimes the theme gets lost inside the tone. This goes for the whole piece and also for each and every sentence. “Can this sentence be rearranged”? “Can this sentence be said in a different way”? These questions get asked about every single utterance on the page. In a short piece, an off sentence can really derail a reader and authenticity can be quickly sidelined with a few badly written sentences. (See what I did there? Badly should be replaced with poorly!) As a writer all you have is your words so make ‘em goodly.

Third Edit

This is where I read the piece out loud and if I can’t smoothly read a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter without fumbling over my own mouth then something needs to change. It’s all about flow, baby. Make it flow. Make it beautiful. Make it unique. Make it make it because if you can’t sit there and read it and be entertained and feel the prose come alive then the editor won’t either and that means the reader won’t. Fix the spots that seem awkward.

Fourth Edit

Writing ain’t got nothing to do with writing and everything to do with rewriting and editing. I know I missed something and chances are I missed several things. Read back through very carefully.

Final Read Through

I have a very close friend and editor and this is where I would send it to her but not every article goes through her so sometimes this part is left up to me. For larger pieces she would read through here, put down her comments and I would go back to the first edit stage with what she wrote, sometimes having to wade through the creative stage again. But for smaller pieces I take one last read through and send it. If the editor of the magazine, website, etc. has any edits that need my approval it will come back to me, but nine times out of ten those edits are made without my approval (who the hell am I?) and the piece goes to publication.

Now we can get to the part that I freakin’ detest.

Like I said at the beginning this can sometimes come before the research stage or sometimes it comes after the Final Read Through stage. But it doesn’t matter where it rears its ugly head, I hate it no matter what. But it is more important than all the other stages combined if you want to get published. If you are only writing for you and you never want to share it then this stage will not matter to you and you no longer have to read my drivel.

The Query

You must query. A query is a question that you ask. That’s it. And it’s either “hey do you want me to write this thing so you can publish it”? or it’s “I wrote this thing, do you want to publish it”? Sounds simple enough but there’s a real art to it. I’m not very good at it and it’s by far my biggest downfall as a writer. But here’s why I hate it so much. Everything I believe in and want to write, feel passionate about, love, hate, ideas that I have, damn near everything that can evolve or devolve from writing comes down to a query. They’re about one page long and sometimes include a bio.

So all in all, you have a few sentences to prove to a total stranger, or an editor that you’ve worked with several times but actually never met in person, that whatever the hell you are going to write or have already written is worthy of getting paid for and for publishing. A lot of editors own the company you’re querying, or this is the editor’s dream and brain child and they want to know how you fit into their master plan, their complicated equation, their literary take-over. It’s depressing to think about and because of this my queries stink and I struggle for publication.

The best and most dramatic example is the current novel I’m shopping around. It took me six years to write it and it all comes down to a one pager to a stranger. It happened with a stage play I was shopping around too.

I ended up getting invited to a meeting filled with producers. I gave my one pager away to all of them. No one bit. Two and a half years of developing a stage play and I got fifteen minutes in a room full of producers who ultimately told me to take a hike. Then I had to read how they were reviving Guys and Dolls or some adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird because they knew audiences would come to that. No one is going out of their way to see some play they’ve never heard of by a guy they don’t know.

No one is going out of their way to see some play they’ve never heard of by a guy they don’t know.

It’s gut wrenching and keeps me awake at night. It’s probably the reason writers have the stigma of being drunk and staying up late, smoking by a dim light and eerily staring out the window to  an empty street.

That’s not me. I don’t smoke.

Anyway, I trudge on, trying to get through one cruddy query at a time, trying to make a little money and hoping to catch that break that everyone keeps talking about. I started freelancing around 2007. So it’s only been twelve years. I’m not sure how long you have to wait for your break, but I think I can go another twelve years, another few novels, a few more plays, a thousand more articles, hundreds of poems, and countless mind numbing, gut wrenching queries.

Anthony N. White Blog

Cattle Crossing

I wait. Then I wait some more. The I twiddle my thumbs, play on my phone, and do some more waiting. I’m standing at a cattle crossing and hoping that I actually see some cattle cross. Why does it take so long? Why would they put up a sign that says cattle will be crossing if in fact they do not continuously cross?

Truth is, I’m not at a cattle crossing. I am however at a crossing of sorts.

I have said over and over again that finding a literary agent or a publisher that will take a writer not under contract to publish a novel is much like sitting in front of a cattle crossing sign and hoping to hell you see some cattle. The signs are there for you to know where to find the agents, where to find the publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts from writers without agents. They are not hard to find, but once you get there it’s a whole other story.

No doubt that who you know is much more important that what you know. Pop star Cardi B owns 5 cars but has no idea how to drive. She also can’t rap. But that doesn’t matter because she’s connected. Paris Hilton wrote a book that sold well called “Confessions of an Heiress”. She received $100,000 advance on that book, her first. That’s an unheard of amount. But she’s connected and they knew it would sell due to being famous.

Those are extreme examples but they set the tone for the truth. I’m sitting here querying agents and publishers when I should be out there trying to make real connections with real people. I’m good at it really, but Rochester, New York is not a budding literary scene with agents just waiting at every corner. So now what?

Drink until I pass out!

No. That’s not helpful. Just keep writing, keep querying, and keep the dream alive. It’s pretty easy to get depressed when your sitting here alone at night hacking away at the keyboard and thinking “why the hell should anyone in the world care what you write”?

Before you know it you’re giving up and bowing out, convinced that your words are no better than anyone else’s, determined that your ideas and stories will remain embedded in a heap of convoluted rubbish instead of being neatly stacked on a shelf.

It’s a boring metaphor but the sun rises. Every day. Even if it’s buried beneath so many clouds you can barely see it. Even if it’s brick outside and it doesn’t seem to do any good, it’s still came up. Every day. Every damn day.

 

A Sample Chapter from “Minimal Reaction”

I have been working on this novel for 5 years. It’s almost done and as I put the finishing touches on it and get ready to send it to my editor and then to the market, I can honestly say I’m going to miss these characters. I love them dearly and will remember them fondly like college friends I have not seen in years. This portion is unedited so excuse any blatant errors.

Part 4 Chapter 2 from “Minimal Reaction

I am admittedly not as close to my parents as other children, but the callousness displayed at the bottom of the dumpster was like nothing I had ever seen or heard of in my life. The house was completely empty of all the monetary valuable items and all that remained in the dumpster were the memories. I imagined the two sisters conspiring to have everything of value taken and stored somewhere to be later sold, or maybe it was already sold, liquidated through antique dealers, boxed up and ready for auction. The large pieces of furniture only staying to be sold with the house, which I quickly looked up and realized was already on the market. I have never felt so ashamed to be part of a larger family. I wanted to die right then and there.

The dumpster was filled about half way with photo albums, family video tapes, some personal items, old books, old newspapers, notes written in my grandparent’s handwriting. Anything personal had been carelessly tossed into the dumpster, anything of no value to anyone but a family member had been chucked, to make way for more money, to make way for purchasing new things with no ties to the past. Their guilt must have been so unconscionable, that it burned their hearts. The easiest thing to do was to declare it junk and throw it the trash. I was sick and getting sicker by the minute, but at least I had found what I had come for. There was a sigh of relief in that, they left everything my mother wanted in this dumpster, primed for pick up and taken to the local landfill, dreams, memories, and love buried with the rest of the rubbish from the entire area. The mental sickness my aunts displayed by throwing this stuff away I wasn’t ready for. This was to be my burden. My mother and Cassidy would never know because I would never tell them. I knew the truth and it literally hurt me. I needed to pack up as much as I could as soon as I could and get out of here. I started to become nervous, but my curiosity was overwhelming me.

I couldn’t help it. I had to look through some of the photos. In the first book I opened I found black and white photos of kids. Some I recognized as my mother and aunts, others could have been neighborhood children or distant cousins. There was a series of them in party hats, balloons abound the living room that was just on the other side of the dumpster in front of me, but decades earlier, children played happily while adults looked on proud. Camera’s flashed and everyone would want to come by after the film was developed to relive the day, now over a month ago. Pictures of the birthday transitioned into pictures of kids in hastily slapped together Halloween costumes, someone literally in a sheet with eye holes cut out. I laughed to myself.  What a far cry from the realistic costumes we put on today. Evidence that time changes everything.

Time did change everything. Some of the smiling beautiful faces in these pictures were the same ones that have warped into money hungry devils. I looked at the peace and sanctity that was clearly present in my Aunt Sarah’s eyes, not at all like the ones that I saw earlier. These were seraphic, uncomplicated eyes that had innocence and purity and were free of judgement and hate. These were eyes that were simple, and loving, and wonderful. The adult world makes you jaded, money and consumer obsessed, if you’re not careful, capitalism because your way of life and you forget how to love things are aren’t covered in prices and money. The eyes I saw earlier were sad lost eyes that had no control over their own jealousy, greed, and obsession for materialism. She knew it was wrong but could not help it. My aunts were fiends for money and possessions like Stupid Mikey was for crystal meth. At least Stupid Mickey never hurt anyone he loved.

I started 3 piles. One that was clearly junk like old food boxes or dish towels with holes in them, the other was stuff that I had to get back to my mother like photo albums, video tapes, reel tapes, and knick-knacks, the third pile was mine, which so far had a hat that was my grandfather’s that said “Be A Happy Farmer” on it. It had his sweat marks on it and grease and oil on the brim. It was perfect. I tried to sort quickly and had it in the back of my head that I shouldn’t be there any longer than I had to. I was sitting on a box that had some tools in it, and I didn’t think my father would want anything. Certain items like an old jacket I sat thinking about too long. I had to make the choices quick, and going through these things so haphazardly was starting to bother me. My mind was wandering something wicked and I thought about gaining a little chemical help. I jumped up and tossed my legs over the top of the dumpster. Right before I hoisted myself out, I noticed a little brown leather bound notebook where I was sitting. I eased myself back in and grabbed it with the intentions of using it as a table to break up my next line. I lept back out and went to the car, opened the passenger side door, placed the book in my lap, and grabbed my stash. I emptied a little cocaine and half a Xanax onto the book, and broke up the pill and with the side of my license and then mixed the two together. I went back to my wallet and grabbed a bill, rolled it up, and bent my face down towards the line of powder I just made. I snorted it clean and I immediately felt the effects numb my brain. I picked my head up to see a small dark circle only an inch away from my eye and simultaneously heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked.