I’m sure many of you are familiar with Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer, a guidebook of strategies and advice for surviving as a writer in the hypermedia explosion that is life in the age of the internet. Booklife is not a ‘how-to’ guide or a book on writing craft, and this is a good thing. I think this book is essential reading for anyone attempting to nurture a writing career in the early twenty-first century. You’ll learn from this book. You’ll be inspired and motivated.
I’ve read Booklife multiple times. Each time I discover some piece of inspiration that I somehow missed (or failed to fully process) before. About a year ago, I was rereading the appendix of Booklife. Appendix F is a short essay called “Evil Monkey’s Guide to Creative Writing.” Toward the bottom of the second page, I was struck so hard by a single line in the essay that I dropped my snifter of brandy. The dog began lapping up the brandy, cutting his tongue on the broken glass, but I was paralyzed. Struck dumb.
I realized where I’d gone wrong in my booklife.
This is the line that affected me so: “No one has ever written truly immortal poetry about how good their dog looks in knitted garments.”
Of course, Evil Monkey shot straight to the root of my problem. I had written books about flying sharks, pickles and pancakes falling in love, children imprisoned in concentration camps, and Cthulhu’s quest for the perfect hamburger, but secretly, in private, I had filled numerous spiral-bound notebooks with poetry about how good my dog looks in knitted garments. These ‘dog poems’ comprised the majority of my output, but none of them had been published. Eraserhead Press did not want my dog poetry. Neither did Tin House, Melville House, Glimmer Train, Caketrain, or the countless other publications and presses where I had submitted my dog poems.
And so, guided by the sage advice of Evil Monkey, I reexamined my booklife.
I tossed my dog poems in the garbage can, put on my best cardigan sweater, and threw myself into a creative furor. For many months I burned, until one day I looked up from the typewriter, only to realize that my masterpiece was finished. I called it Truly Immortal Poetry About My Cat in Knitted Sweaters.
My thought process had gone something like this:
Cats are more literary than dogs.
dog cat simply does not look good in knitted garments. If poetry is about spilling/revealing/stabbing the eternal truths of the universe, then it was my duty as a poet to write about how ugly my dog cat looked sometimes.
Specificity is key. I chose sweaters to replace garments, but I could have just as easily chosen socks, scarves, or booties. Admittedly, my gut instinct said booties, but I feared the establishment might not take me seriously enough. Everyone likes sweaters.
Of course, writing my masterpiece wasn’t all that easy. During those months, I endured many dark nights of the soul. I overcame the anxiety of influence. I battled inner demons and police offers, who insisted that a ‘blurb request’ violated the restraining order Harold Bloom had placed on me. Let’s put all that aside for now. This is a happy time, for I can finally announce the impending release of my masterpiece!
Look at the glowing praise TRULY IMMORTAL POETRY ABOUT MY CAT IN KNITTED SWEATERS has received! The stunning cover, created by design virtuoso Matthew Revert, is sure to send copies flying off bookstore (and digital) shelves.
For this, my masterpiece and what is certain to be the poetry event of next year, I only have Jeff VanderMeer and Evil Monkey to thank. And maybe my
Look for Truly Immortal Poetry About My Cat in Knitted Sweaters in stores early next year.
For now, be sure to pick up a copy of Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer. Maybe you too can write truly immortal poetry like me.