Sunday, January 11, 2015

Beyond Je Suis Charlie

It's been difficult watching the horrific terrorist attacks unfold in Paris this past week. The offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo are in the 11th arrondissement, just a few streets away from rue Rampon and Place de la Republique, which is the central setting of the Venus Trilogy of novels. The 11th is "my" neighborhood in Paris since I first checked into what is now the Le General Hotel on rue Rampon nearly 20 years ago. There has also been an eerie similarity between some of this week's events and what takes place in Leaving Paris. It's made me rethink some of the scenes I've written, the dialogue from certain characters, the way the political atmosphere in Paris sets the mood for this final book.  I'm also a journalist, so the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff strikes close to home. Like many, I have asked why young men (and an increasing number of women) have turned to such violence? Here are a few thoughts.

In Paris, one trip to the banlieue outside the city and you will see the economic desperation, the class divide, the "us and them" writ large. With no job or education prospects, the so-called "wealth gap" has become a canyon. Terrorist groups promise more than virgins and wealth in martyrdom: there is fellowship for the alienated, a perverse call to right injustice, and because of the Internet, video games and portrayals in mass media, it looks cool. There's a reason all the ISIS videos look like slick video games and Hollywood film trailers. You don't have to travel to a training camp in Syria – although many are – but can become radicalized in your bedroom when what's outside appears hopeless. The hopeless are easily indoctrinated into radicalized religious sects who promise power, respect and glory.

We also cannot continue to believe the old conservative canard "They hate us because we're free." America and Europe have been undermining nations, killing untold numbers of civilians, occupying, weaponizing and dehumanizing on a global scale for centuries. That also leads to radicalization, whether we like to admit it or not.

When terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, America's response was to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has gotten us nowhere. Bombing civilizations to dust is a temporary fix (or no fix at all in Iraq's case) and only leads to more hopelessness, a sense of injustice, a call to radicalize. After every terror attack, there is a rush by conservative talking heads to paint all Muslims as would-be terrorists. There is an almost willful disregard of the differences in culture and psychology that also lead to terrorism.

The global solidarity with France this week has been amazing to watch, especially today's march and rally in Paris where a million people turned out. All religions and beliefs marched in unity – Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists. Once the rallies end and the #JuSuisCharlie hashtag fades from Twitter, there must be a turn to action and, hopefully, a hard look at the root causes that makes young men and women take up guns and detonate bombs. We must continue to condemn terrorism and its causes, reject fear and the twisting of religion and politics at the expense of humanity.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: Looking back at a better year

2013 was truly a sucky year. An "annus horribilis" as Queen Liz would say. While my writing career was flying high with the publication and accolades for Render, my personal life was a mess. I lost my father and grandmother in a span of seven months, there was work upheaval as the magazine I edit was sold, which scuppered my planned month-long sabbatical in London. I was happy to see the calendar roll over to 2014, sensing it would be a much better year. And it most certainly was.

Of course, the highlight of this year was traveling to London to see Kate Bush perform in her Before the Dawn residency. Having been a fan for 30 years, I never thought I would get to see her live, but in September my dream came true. I also had the chance to see many of my friends, visit Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage at Dungeness, see the Virginia Woolf exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, read from Render at the Polari series at Southbank Centre and write the last chapter of my novel, Leaving Paris.

Speaking of Leaving Paris, it's complete now and the editing process is underway. I spent most of the year trying to keep the third novel in The Venus Trilogy on track after veering wildly from my outline. That experimentation yielded some interesting scenes and ideas, many of which wound up staying in the book, but also required extensive rewriting. Still, I'm slightly ahead of schedule and after I complete my edit, I'll turn the book over to my longtime personal editor Kathy Dean in mid-January. An early 2016 release date is planned from Sibling Rivalry Press, so stay tuned as we prepare to promote the entire trilogy.

As for poetry, the biggest thrill was having Render chosen for the American Library Association's 2014 Over the Rainbow List. It was quite an honor and I shared the award with some other fantastic poets and writers. I also had poetry published in Animal and Flycatcher, and the editors kindly thought my work was worthy of Pushcart Prize nominations. My poetry also appeared in some fantastic anthologies including Drawn To Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books and Electronic Corpse: Poems from a Digital Salon. I also had the pleasure of editing and writing the forward for On Occasion: Four Poets, One Year by Karen Head, Blake Leland, JC Reilly and Bob Wood.

Other highlights of the year: the eBook version of my Slow To Burn chapbook was issued; I somehow managed to attain 5,000 Twitter followers; I attended the Rainbow Book Fair in New York City; and my spoken word album, HalfLife Crisis, became available on Spotify.

2015 will be all about completing Leaving Paris and gearing up for its publication in 2016, as well as a reissue of my first poetry collection, Better To Travel, in the autumn. I'm headed back to New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris in the new year and excited to see where else my writing will unexpectedly take me.

A few other favorites: The film Only Lovers Left Alive starring my spirit animal, Tilda Swinton; the ongoing love of London Grammar's album If You Wait, and Donna Tartt's brilliant novel, The Goldfinch.

Happy New Year and may this be an "annus mirabilis" for us all.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Get "Kiss Shot" eBook for free!

As a Christmas present to all of you who have stuck with Modern Confessional, my eBook of short stories, Kiss Shot, is available for free download until Dec. 29 at Amazon and

All four stories are set in the fictional town of Cottonwood, Georgia and are a taste of a much bigger project to come. In "How Fanny Got Her House," a devoted maid recalls the hijinks surrounding her employer's death from a brain tumor, while a teenage boy comes to terms with his sexuality during an unexpected game of pool in the title story, "Kiss Shot." A woman escaping an abusive relationship arrives in New Orleans during a rain storm and wanders into the famed "Clover Grill" on Bourbon Street, and "I Got A Name" follows the trials and tribulations of an overweight woman looking for love at a community theater company.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas!

My annual posting of the greatest Christmas song ever – 
Fairytale of New York by The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas out of bounds

For the first time ever (yes, ever) I am spending Christmas elsewhere. I'll be with my mother at Harrah's Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina watching her gamble away my inheritance at the slot machines. Yep, mom is a slot queen. I really could care less about gambling, but I am looking forward to the nice hotel suite and some good food.

To be honest, last Christmas was a disaster. Lots of arguing, a few tears, hurt feelings. With my dad and grandmother dying eight months apart, 2013 was a challenge to say the least. I vowed last Christmas that a change of scenery would be required, so off to the mountains we go.

When I return, I'll begin editing Leaving Paris, which I had printed up yesterday. The manuscript is 313 pages and it's always shocking when the copy shop hands it back in a weighty cardboard box. The manuscript represents two years of work – some of it quite difficult with all those false starts and wandering away from the outline – but I'm loving it now. I hope you will, too.

As a Christmas present to all of you who have stuck with Modern Confessional, my ebook of short stories, Kiss Shot, will be available for free download from Christmas Day until Dec. 29 at Amazon. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A mid-December update

Back-to-back-to-back editions of the magazine have kept me hopping for weeks now, punctuated by weekends spent on Leaving Paris. The finish line is in sight, sorta. I'll wrap up the January edition of Atlanta INtown this week and will have an extended break before having to start work on February. That should allow me to meet my deadline of having a complete first draft of the novel before the end of the year – before Christmas as a matter-of-fact.

After I finish this post, I have a couple of small scenes to rewrite and then it will be – at last – time to print a hardcopy and begin the read-through and redline edit before serious corrections and rewrites begin. Then it's on to Kathy Dean, who has edited all of my manuscripts before they go to the press for another edit. My self-imposed deadline for getting Leaving Paris to Sibling Rivalry Press has been May, but I think it will happen before the end of winter. Just after the holidays, I'm meeting with a book publicist to discuss marketing for Leaving Paris and the trilogy as a whole. The next couple of years are going to be very exciting, and I'm ready to visit new cities, share my fiction and meet readers. 

Also in the new year, a trip to London and Paris, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the visit that inspired The Venus Trilogy of novels. I'm saving my pennies to afford a night or two in the Bel-Air Hotel (now called Le General) on rue Rampon. While Leaving Paris will be complete by then, I hope to write something there for the novel – maybe the acknowledgements. 

I'll also be working on the reissue of my first poetry collection, Better To Travel, with Poetry Atlanta Press. More details on that soon.

Below is a Spotify playlist of the music that has inspired me while I've been writing Leaving Paris. It's an hour-long eclectic mix – from Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald to Bjork and Kate Bush – that will helps set the mood for the novel.

Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

Welcome to Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional, the website for poet, novelist, playwright and journalist Collin Kelley.