February 5th, 2007
Here's the part where I tell you who I am and why I'm here. But first, who I'm not: I am not the songwriting Joe Hill who fought for union rights in the Depression-era west before being executed by firing squad, after a court found him guilty of murder on circumstantial evidence. I have, however, read a good novel about him. I am also not the Joe Hill who wrote a book of poetry called Surviving. My own poetry has never been collected, for two good reasons: (a) there isn't much of it, and (b) what there is, isn't pretty. Let me prove it to you. Here's one I wrote about a year ago:
A Hunter Named Dick
There once was a hunter named Dick
Who squeezed off a shot with his prick.
He just missed the birds
As I'm sure that you've heard
Though the news dropped the story by six.
See what I mean? Good thing I mostly stick with prose, right?
Okay, on to who I am: I'm a writer of short stories, the occasional comic book, the infrequent unproduced screenplay, a new novel called Heart-Shaped Box, and now, for the next week, this blog. Heart-Shaped Box is a scary story about the internet... specifically, about a guy who buys a ghost online, and what happens to him after UPS delivers it. Lots more about it over on my website. Okay: blatantly self-promotional moment over and done.
Just now I'm contemplating a scary internet story of a very different kind — a young writer is faced with the challenge of composing a blog entry every day, and is forced to confront the fact that he has very little to write about. Maybe we should go back to poetry. Here's another one:
He has a divorce,
He has a plow on the front of his truck
a GMC, one in a
series of pick-ups he's owned:
trucks with rusted chains on the tires,
trucks with dirt-caked shovels
clanging thisaway and that in the bed,
trucks with deer rifles racked in the cab
and deer heaped in the back,
a stink on them like wet coats piled at a party.
When it snows he drives restlessly,
thinking of friends, and old people
he can plow out for their thanks later
He drove his ex-wife to work, and that was
how she settled on her name for him,
soon everyone's name for him.
He has a new girlfriend now,
but what he really likes is to
go to the high school without her
and watch his son wrestle,
or his daughter heave the
basketball twenty feet down court.
He likes to feel the bleachers
recklessly shimmying under him,
and to stamp his feet with everyone else.
He wrestled here,
passed the ball upcourt here,
feels the reverb of stamping feet in his blood.
He has scratch lottery tickets,
none of them winners,
in his glove compartment.
He has stiff canvas work gloves
in the glove compartment with them.
The tickets fall out whenever
he reaches for them.
He always puts the tickets back,
can't make himself throw them away
because you can do something with them,
mail them somewhere,
and you get a second chance to win.
Okay, so this daily blogging thing can be fun. Where else would I have the opportunity to regurgitate my old, unpublished poetry over innocent, unsuspecting bystanders? And admit it, that one was better than "A Hunter Named Dick." Although it does meander a bit. But if you can't meander in a poem, where can you meander? Oh yeah — in a blog.
Does the modern writer really need to keep a blog? I dunno. Like a lot of other things in writing, I think individual results will vary. There's no question the blog can be an enticing, entertaining form, which need not distract a writer from other (possibly better paying) work. I can think of at least two writers right off the top of my head who keep delightfully addictive blogs, and who also manage to produce a steady stream of vital fiction.
Clearly the form has a place in the modern literary firmament, and it's a great way for a writer to connect with readers who care about their work. Bu-u-u-ut... before you can have readers to care about your work, presumably there has to be some work to care about. I know of one writer who frequently makes the argument that these days, the conversation (the blog, the website, the message board) is more important than the content (ahem, fiction). But I still think the story comes first — until you have one that's interesting, or fun, or infuriating, or unexpected, or something, you don't have anything to talk about. Possibly some writers are better off focusing their efforts on the daily act of penning that short story, or novel — or even that poem — and keeping their blogging to only a few days out of the year... say maybe just five or so, for a great literary hub like Powells!
And along those lines, don't look now, but I think I feel another poem coming on:
Here I sit, my mind befogged.
Wanted to write a book, but only blogged.
Books mentioned in this post
Joe Hill is the author of Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel