Stuff & Nonsense 070: License to Ill
On the "new world order," Poe Dameron, The Black Ghost, and more
First off, how are you?
That’s the big question I ask everyone I interact with these days. I ask myself a lot, too. It’s hard. But you’re doing great - the best you can. I hope you and yours are as safe and healthy as possible.
As for me - I’m okay? We’re doing the best we can, too, and we have a lot to be grateful for. That’s the long and short of it.
I’ll be quick in terms of updates, because I want to get to the heart of why I’m sending a newsletter now. So, here we go:
I’m writing a Star Wars novel! This is exciting and was announced a while back, but I hadn’t mentioned it here yet. The novel, Poe Dameron: Free Fall, is available for preorder now. I’ll be able to talk more about it as we get closer to its August 4 release date.
The complete first season of The Black Ghost, the noir/vigilante comic I co-created with Monica Gallagher, George Kambadais, Ellie Wright, Taylor Esposito, and Greg Lockard, is available now via ComiXology Originals. It’s gotten some nice reviews at Boing Boing, Newsarama, Comics Bookcase, and more.
I spoke to one of my heroes, Books & Books owner Mitch Kaplan, via his fantastic podcast. This was recorded right before my event with Steph Post in Miami, back when we did that sort of thing. Anyway, it was an honor to chat with Mitch, who’s meant so much to the Miami and global literary community.
You’ll notice that the decor has changed a bit here. I’ve moved the newsletter from TinyLetter to MailChimp to, finally, Substack. I’ll spare you the boring reasons why, but take comfort in knowing this is where it’ll be for the foreseeable future.
So, the why. Here it is.
My dear friend, Heather Harper Ellet, is not only a fantastic crime writer - she’s a therapist. I’ve been after her to contribute something for this newsletter for a while, and when the pandemic happened she reached out and asked if I’d be open to her writing about anxiety in the time of COVID-19 - to which I said “YES.”
I won’t belabor this further. Heather’s the best, this is great, and I hope it provides you some comfort during this difficult time.
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
During the pandemic, I’ve been re-reading Slaughterhouse Five. It’s gory and violent and delves into the depths of human suffering. It’s also funny as hell and beautiful as all get out. And it’s a perfect example of narrative therapy—a form of therapy that helps us “reauthor” our own life stories by understanding the power we have in our own narrative.
Most everyone I know feels powerless right now. And the facts are indisputable. How can we reauthor a collective trauma experience? It feels naive when our loved ones are dying or we’ve lost our jobs or our kids are numbed out on screens or when our leaders seem unfit to lead or…or…or.
But reauthoring doesn’t mean positive thinking or denying the trauma. Reauthoring means allowing for a complex narrative, something authors and thoughtful readers value above all. Vonnegut reauthored the firebombing of Dresden through the lens of Billy Pilgrim. He was powerless as a soldier, digging through charred bodies and surviving nightmarish humiliations. As an author, he commented on humanity through the lens of aliens and time travel. He meditated on a songbird’s “poo-tee-weet” in a tangle of decaying corpses. And he drew a picture of boobs. He wrote a bitingly violent book about war. And somehow found power in humor and humanity.
When I see clients now, I ask them to come unstuck in time, as Billy Pilgrim did. I ask them to move around their current narrative and see it from the future, the past, from a third person point of view. When you come out of this, who do you want to be? What power—no matter how small—do you have in this exact moment? Like the power of compassion to call your 80-year-old neighbor. Or the power of kindness to adopt a shelter dog. Like the power of candor and commiseration exercised my dear author friend Joe Clifford who tweeted the pandemic’s most apropos tweet: “This fucking sucks.”
But let’s be honest, in the midst of chaos, these small powers often aren’t satisfying, and that’s okay too. (Vonnegut took twenty years to write about the firebombing at Dresden.) Complex narratives take time. A good author knows when to back off, take a break. There’s power there too.
Today, as I pray for a dear friend who rollercoasters with fever, as I check in on an alcoholic client fighting not to drink in isolation, I don’t feel incredibly powerful. Still, as a therapist, a novelist, and thinking mammal, I find power in the idea that reauthoring is even possible. Our collective pain won’t last forever. Beauty and horror can co-exist. And no matter how awful it gets, we do have the power to shape our narrative—even if we can’t control the plot points.
Some links before I go:
I interviewed comic book writer/artist Howard Chaykin about his career and the crime novels that inspired it. This is the first in a new spotlight series, Graphic Content, that I’ll be doing at CrimeReads.
George Gene Gustines’s Overlooked obituary on pioneering erotic comic book writer, Kate Worley.
#FloridaMan squared: Craig Pittman’s thoughtful look at Elmore Leonard’s classic Florida crime novels.
David Harper on the rise of digital comics publisher, Webtoon.
In case you missed Emily Nussbaum’s powerhouse Fiona Apple profile, here you go.
A new Sarah Weinman feature is always worth a link.
Ed Brubaker and Marcos Martin are launching a new comic - Friday.
I’m teaching another SPLASH PAGE class at LitReactor. Have a comic book idea you want to turn into a pitch you might be able to sell? This one’s for you.
I’m auctioning off a bunch of cool stuff along with a jaw-dropping group of talent to benefit the Book Industry Charitable Foundation - which helps support comic shops and independent bookstores. Follow #Creators4Comics to see what else is being offered.
Last, but certainly not least - I hosted a “virtual” Noir at the Bar Queens event to benefit our dear Kew Gardens indie bookstore, Kew & Willow. You can see video of the event - which featured a star-studded lineup of crime writers reading from their work, here.
That’s all for now. Be safe, be healthy, and be kind - to others and to yourself.