Sunday, 1 March 2015

HOW NOT TO TAKE A COMPLIMENT

I have never been very good at taking compliments. I never know how you're supposed to react when somebody says something nice about you. I guess you just smile and say thank you, or even return the compliment? It just always feel so awkward and fake. I think the root of the problem comes from not actually believing whatever nice thing is being said. A combination of low self-esteem and not trusting anyone, I suppose. Although I don't have low self-esteem, not really. It's just... I know how to deal with insults. That's easy. Fight fire with fire. But when somebody offers me genuine praise I get all sweaty and uncomfortable and I just want to hide. JUST TELL ME I'M A FUCKING DICK ALREADY! 

I think the trust thing is a big part of the problem. I find it hard to believe that people say or do nice things without wanting something in return. Whenever my boss says something nice to me I'm thinking "Okay, whose shift do you want me to cover?". Whenever somebody says something nice about my zine, part of me is thinking "You're just saying this so that I publish your work in the next issue". Even when my own girlfriend says something nice to me/about me a little part of me is thinking "You just want me to make you a cup of tea". How fucked up is that?!?

I recently sent the latest issue of my literary zine off to be reviewed by a website called Sabotage Reviews and whilst I had hoped they would enjoy it and perhaps say some nice things about it, I was completely overwhelmed by the review. One line in particular stood out from the rest and I had to read it several times for it to sink in:
"it becomes clearer with each issue that there is a keen critical mind at work in the editorial process"
A keen critical mind? Me? Really? Suddenly I went from making a zine for fun, picking and choosing from the submission I like and rejecting the ones I don't to having a "keen critical mind". I am currently putting the next issue together. The submission deadline closed today so I am in the midst of reading through the plethora of subs that I received and because of that one line I now feel all this pressure on me. Pressure to be this keen critical mind. Pressure to make issue #5 even better than #4. Pressure flex my "selection muscles" as the reviewer put it. PRESSUREPRESSUREPRESSURE.

Maybe I am just thinking about this too much. Maybe the pressure is a good thing and maybe I'll fucking smash it out of the park and issue #5 will be awesome and none of this will matter. Maybe that guy who reviewed it is just hoping that if he submits in the future (he's a poet, too) that I will be more inclined to accept his offerings. Maybe I just need to learn how to take a compliment and stop being a fucking dick about the whole thing. Maybe.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

THE WORLD FORGETTING, BY THE WORLD FORGOT

My girlfriend and I do not celebrate Valentine's Day. I say that like we've been together forever. This will be our second. Tonight we are going to get take away and watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I don't know of a more perfect way to spend an evening.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

I READ ZINES [#7]


With Regard To Nostalgia

This is the second literary zine from editor and contributor John Morrison. Nine short stories from nine different writers all on the theme of nostalgia. The pieces are all varied in style and content, my favourites were a piece by John himself about finding an old unreturned rental video and the memories and feelings that are attached to it. I also loved Tom Dobson's piece 'Her Smile'. PAPER AND INK #4 contributors Alice Ash and Terence Corless also feature.

Necromonicon #31

Another terrific issue of honest, unpretentious horror movie reviews. It seems that zine author Neil and I have very similar taste in horror movies so I always get a lot of good recommendations out of this zine. I find it funny though that one of my favourite (professional) film critics Mark Kermode, who loves horror, has the polar opposite taste to Neil. The Babadook was one of Kermode's favourite films of last year (Neil hated it) and Possession (1981) is one of Kermode's all time favourites (Neil really really hated it). Putting those two in a room together would yield interesting debates, I'm sure (or possibly a fist fight).

Milk and Honey #1

Curator of this zine, Celia Wickham, describes it as "a creative project and platform that supports and encourages art making and creativity amongst young women.". This inaugural issue is comprised of photography, poetry, short stories, musings and interviews from a collection of young, talented female creatives. My favourite was a powerful piece called '10 reflections' by Sophie Slater. One of the things I have noticed about running a lit zine is that roughly 75% of all submissions are from men, so if projects like this help to inspire women to pursue their creative urges then that can only be a good thing.  

Wonderlust Literary Zine #1

Another lit zine. Oh, I do love a lit zine! I don't know if this one is intentionally all female or if editor (and PAPER AND INK #3 & #4 contributor) Sonya Cheney just encountered the opposite problem that I have and only received subs from women, I don't know. Frankly it is neither here nor there because this zine is fantastic. A really entertaining, enjoyable read. My favourite pieces were the poems by Jessie Lynn McMains, especially the poem 'Bar Fights About Poetry'. I am definitely going to be seeking out more of her work. It was also nice to see more poems from PAPER AND INK #2 contributor Temple Murray.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

WHY I FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH SCREENWRITING

If you have been reading this blog since the beginning, or like, for a while, you will no doubt be aware that I was once a plucky, young university student. Okay, I don't think I was ever 'plucky' but I was certainly once young and certainly once a student. At uni I studied the craft of screenwriting and I have a piece of paper somewhere (I think) that says that I am somewhere between average and above average at it.

If you don't know what screenwriting is, it's kind of like screenprinting... It's not, but somebody once asked me if it was. Also, one time, I was in a bar and this chick asked me what I was studying, so I told her, but because it was loud she misheard me. She thought I'd said 'street fighting'. To this day I still chuckle to myself that a) she thought that you could do a degree in street fighting and b) she thought that I looked like the type of dude that would do a degree in street fighting. Silly girl. I'm a lover, not a fighter. A noble wordsmith. A man of fine literature... Alright, alright, I'm a fucking pussy.

Anyway, I digress. So, I studied screenwriting. I was passionate about movies from a young age and enjoyed writing stories and inventing ideas for sequels to my favourite films when I was a kid. When I was about sixteen I really wanted to write a screenplay but I had no idea how, and no idea what a film script even looked like, so I started writing a novel instead. It was fucking terrible and I probably only wrote about 2,000 words before I gave up. Then after I left school and began studying graphic design at college I decided to give screenwriting another crack (this time I did some research and found out what a script looked like). I then started writing screenplays which were basically an amalgamation of all my favourite movies and TV shows but with a thinly veiled version of myself as the lead character. They were fucking terrible. 

I realised that I would never get very far by writing shit rip-offs of Dawson's Creek and rom-coms that weren't funny, so I fucked writing off for a while. Life experience is what I needed. After all, how could I write a rom-com if I had never been in love? Lunacy! To cut a long story short, I eventually went to uni and got a degree and now I am going to be twenty eight in two months and I don't write screenplays any more. I haven't written jack shit as far as screenplays are concerned in about two years.

I think the thing that really put me off screenwriting is the fact that you can write, and write, and write until you are blue in the face but you will never have a finished article. At best all you have is a really fantastic blueprint for a movie. I never wanted to make movies, or be a director, or be involved in that side of things -- I just wanted to write stories. I could craft an absolutely wonderful screenplay and at worst it would sit in a drawer or on a hard rive for the rest of ever and at best someone could buy the rights to it and then some director could piss all over it and fuck around with it and balls it right up. Maybe that is just me being cynical and in actual fact said director could share my artistic vision and create the exact movie that I saw in my head. Maybe. But even making it to the point where I would get to find that out feels futile. The only way people make a living in screenwriting is if they take hack jobs re-writing other people's shit, or if they write for a soap opera, or if they're Aaron fucking Sorkin. Balls to it. Luckily I was never in screenwriting for the money.

I have always dabbled in writing poetry, mainly when drunk and ranting about ex-girlfriends, but I have posted the odd poem on this blog, too. I love poetry and I love writing poetry but I am not a natural. It is only something I can do successfully and authentically in moments of inspiration. I can't sit down and force it out because if I do, it comes out shit. I don't know, maybe that is the trick. Maybe you have to force out all the shit to get to the good stuff?!?

In the past six months or so I have also taken to writing short stories. It is taking me a while to "unlearn" everything I learnt about screenwriting, or rather, learning not to apply the same rules to writing prose. It is difficult, but it is exciting and it gets my blood pumping the way screenwriting once did. I think screenwriting will always be there, I will always watch and admire movies, but I'm going to give this whole prose thing a red hot crack. My plan is to write as many short stories as I can this year and then next year maybe start work on a novel. I think the best way to learn is by doing. So far people seem to be responding well to my writing, which is encouraging. Aside from the work I have published myself in my own literary zine (one poem and one short story) I have also been lucky enough to have one short story and one poem published elsewhere (in Hand Job #6 and PUSH #14 respectively). It is a brilliant feeling seeing your name and your words in print. Holding it in your hand. A physical, finished item. Priceless. 
 

Monday, 26 January 2015

LIT FIEND INTERVIEW [#5]

 

My first interview of the year and it's a big one! I was fortunate enough to get a submission for issue #4 of my lit zine PAPER AND INK from one of my all time favourite writers. To say I was over the moon would be an understatement and I probably would have published the piece without even reading it, but of course, it is a great story from a great writer. He very kindly granted me some of his time to answer these questions...

First of all, congratulations on your novel The Suicide being included in Foyles Best Fiction of 2014 list. It's alongside some great novels. It must be nice to get that recognition and be in such esteemed company?

It was completely unexpected, especially since the novel met with rejection on this side of the pond. It just goes to show that the Brits have great taste in literature. As for the so-called esteemed company, I don’t know what to say.

Your story “The Rainbow Connection” that features in the current issue of PAPER AND INK is about taking solace in the little things when the big things in life may not be panning out so well; whether that be a beautiful rainbow, a good song or even coconut ice cream. Is that the secret to getting through life -- making the most of the little things?

You know, it really is. I often tell people who ask me for advice about the writing life to make sure they have something else in their lives, because the business end of writing will kill you. The writing itself is why you’re there. But it’s the rejection and whims of the commercial end of it that wear you down. You have to find some kind of audience, and the system is rigged to make it tough to find one.

You have a large fan base in the UK and Europe. Why do you think your work resonates with people on this side of the pond seemingly more so than in your own neck of the woods?

There are probably a few factors. One is that, I think, Europeans like reading about an American experience that deviates from preconceptions. Another is that I must have something of a European sensibility. So many of my major influences as an artist are European. And I do think that Europeans have a much stronger reading habit, and that might account for something as well. It’s part of a long tradition, American writers who are ignored in their own country but find a home in Europe.

Your Zajack quartet of novels often draw comparison with the work of Charles Bukowski. Do you take that as a compliment, is it a hindrance, or is the connection irrelevant?

I regard it as a misplaced compliment since I never set out to imitate Bukowski. But the Zajack novels are in a certain tradition of autobiographical and semi-autobiographical fiction, and as such, comparisons with certain writers are inevitable. Otherwise the comparison is irrelevant.


I love the concise simplicity of your prose. No nonsense. Say as much as you can using as few words as possible. Did that style come naturally to you, or is it something that you have consciously developed over time?

Actually it took some doing. A lot of doing. In the beginning, I thought that great writers were by necessity prolix and convoluted and I wince now when I look at some of my very early overblown attempts. As the years went by I found myself stripping the prose to the bone more and more. I had models in this: Georges Simenon, mostly. And that’s strange, because I read him in translation.

Which writers were your biggest inspiration to pick up a pen and paper yourself when you were growing up?

Well, the first writer who really made me think that it was possible that I could be a writer was Henry Miller. He came from something of a similar background and, like me, had no encouragement. I saw a great possibility in the Simenon roman durs or hard novels – they were something I thought I might be able to emulate, at least. There were many other inspirations as well. Hamsun. Paul Bowles. Isaac Singer. Dostoyevsky. Celine. Going way back, Dickens. Balzac. I always thought Ross Macdonald was a great genre writer. And many more I’m neglecting to mention.

Who are your favourite writers at the moment?

Well, most of them are dead. I like the French writer Emmanuel Carrere. I was a great fan of Patricia Highsmith back in the seventies and eighties, before the current generation -- very successful novelists who are becoming associated with her and have nothing in common with her complexities as a writer -- discovered her. I’ve enjoyed some of the Houllebecq I’ve read. I’d probably enjoy more French writers, but the language is too much work for me. Ah – I like Ryu Murakami, the Japanese novelist. There are some really good writers, like Sam Millar, who I haven’t read enough of. Jason Starr. Dan Fante is a good friend who I read. I liked Tony O’Neill’s Sick City. But I’ve just had a run of five or six novels I couldn’t get through and abandoned at various stages, not being one of those readers who feels obliged to finish everything I start. I won’t mention any names.

I have always thought that your work would lend itself well to film adaptation. I could easily picture The Suicide or No Strings on the big screen. Would you be open to movie adaptations of your work?

Absolutely, yes. Readers often mention that to me. And I’m not a stickler about faithfulness to the original material. A filmmaker has to take liberties, you would expect that. Anyway, there has been some interest in the past, a couple of options taken on my earlier novels, but so far nothing’s come of it. In one case a director shot nearly half of one of my original screenplays and abandoned the project when he couldn’t come up with funds to finish it. Very discouraging, since it starred an actress who has since gone on to a solid film career.

In an ideal world, if you could pick, which director would you want for the job? Or would you fancy trying your hand at directing yourself?

I’m fond of saying – having worked in the film world – that it takes a million bucks to put in a plug on a movie set. To do it half decently, it’s a very complicated undertaking, and every time I think of trying to do something myself, I think better of it and go straight back to the typewriter. Regarding your other question, there have been so many great directors. Too bad Minghella died. He did an incredible job with The Talented Mister Ripley, in some ways improving on the original material, which was great in itself. Polanski in his heyday would be fantastic. Bergman, of course. No one’s ever done a better job of making a film than Nicholas Roeg on Don’t Look Now. I’d take any of them, of course. And I know I’m neglecting to mention scores of great filmmakers.

What is your favourite movie of all time?

Mind if I give you ten or fifteen since I can’t stop at just one? Welles’ truncated The Magnificent Ambersons. Chinatown. Repulsion. The Servant. Séance On A Wet Afternoon. Angel Heart. Fanny And Alexander. The Talented Mister Ripley. Purple Noon was a good one too. Last Tango In Paris. Burn. The Last Emperor. One Deadly Summer. Betty Blue (director’s cut). The Vanishing (the original Dutch version). Bitter Moon. Damn, I’m short on American titles, aren’t I? Anyway, there are lots more, but I’ll stop there.

If you could get drunk with any three famous people, dead or alive, who would they be?

I know I should say Picasso and Einstein and Shakespeare. But I’d take my chances getting drunk with the young Raquel Welch. Jayne Mansfield, she of the genius IQ. The young Bardot. I’m not stupid. To hell with the guys. 
 

What is your stance on e-readers? Is the demise of the printed word inevitable or is there still hope for those of us that prefer our words on paper, printed in ink?

It’s my observation that you cannot stop the march of technology. Eventually the e-readers will win out and the traditional form will be a specialty item. But maybe I’m wrong.

What is next for Mark SaFranko? Are there any more Zajack novels in the pipeline?

I’m always working on something. Two more Zajacks are finished but not yet published, and I’ve started another. But I’m also working on a few other novels. One is about a lesbian violin prodigy that takes place over her long lifetime – not something people would expect from me. But I’ve written around thirty books, so the vast majority of my work remains unpublished. Oh, and there’s another studio album coming out, a collaboration between myself and an Irish songwriter by the name of David Noone. I wrote the music and produced the album and he did most of the lyrics. It was an interesting project for me in that I was freed from worrying about words for a change. 

Thank you for giving up your time to answer these questions, Mark. It is very much appreciated.

Mark's novel The Suicide is available through Honest Publishing and his Zajack novels are available through Murder Slim Press. His story "The Rainbow Connection" features in Issue #4 of PAPER AND INK LITERARY ZINE which is available here and here.