Russ Eat Meat

This whole Talking About Wordsmiths thing is at a merciful end. Its intended purpose–to purge the final glistening dew drop from the leaf of my life (whatever that means)–has been fulfilled, as I find myself lacking the desire to post anything further. I’ll drop some pictures with brief captions tomorrow, in an effort to blast the final tidbits of favorable memory into the ether, and to honor those who meant more to my efforts than they might realize, but I think this will be it.

I can think of no better way to finish it.

I previously detailed the launch night of Anointed as one of my favorite nights. Though I must admit to the self-centered affixation to that’s night’s purpose, I can’t deny the book launch portion was but a reason why it was my favorite night. You see, Wordsmiths Books became the ring for a rather entertaining (and, admittedly, one-sided) tug of war. One that carried on like a fifty round bout, no ref in sight to stop the continual beatdown suffered by one of the contestants. Or better, it was like watching a train wreck, plane crash, and hundred-car pile-up, all rolled into one, unable to turn away, unwilling to ask why it must go on in perpetuity. It was mesmerizing.

Enter the ring, one Joe Davich. Undefeated. Unbeaten. Indestructable.

The Undisputed Featherweight Champion of the Verbal Smackdown

The Undisputed Featherweight Champion of the Verbal Smackdown.

His opponent, his defensive retorts weighing in at an unprecedented, and immeasurable, Zero G, Russ Marshalek.

Um...

Um…

Every war has an end. Every skirmish a victor. Every moment, a future defined. On February 22nd, 2009, the verbal spat that was Davich v. Marshalek came to a climactic conclusion, on the stage of Wordsmiths Books, before a captivated audience of 150. It will forever be known (by at least one local, who flings it with regularity every time he sees me) as the day the world paused in reflection, uttering the words “Russ Eat Meat” with nary a clue as to what they meant.

Setting the ground rules only encouraged the wine, and the whine.

Setting the ground rules only encouraged the wine, and the whine.

Content is unecessary. In fact, ask me to recount the round by round commentary, and I’ll stare at you blankly for a time, finally bringing myself to say only, “Joe won,” with a notable shiver. I don’t remember the punches. I only remember the result.

I can offer for certainty that Russ fought with great resolve, challenging his opponent with cited passages in defense of … well, no idea really. In defense of something.

The Defense

Joe responded, as only Joe can.

"Dear God, Mother Mary and Madonna" was uttered a few dozen times.

“Dear God, Mother Mary and Madonna” was uttered a few dozen times.

His counter left Russ reeling, coiling into a bottle like an infant to the teet.

At some point, you just have to forgo the glass.

At some point, you just have to forgo the glass.

Posters were brandished, slogans were uttered, Marisha Pessl was slandered, people laughed, people cried (out loud as part of laughter perhaps, but still), I was amused, the wine vanished. In the end, the champion stood, proud and victorious, stepping from the stage with a haughty grin, parting the crowd like Queen Elizabeth (for a more detailed description of anything Queen Elizabeth ever did, please see Sir Davich), off to celebrate his long-sought dominion over the defeated Wonderboy.

If not smug if you're Joe.

It’s not smug if you’re Joe. Neither is it ever misspelled.

It was a great night. A fitting end to a store that was about more than just selling books. It was a sitcom without cameras, a novel without a writer, an entertaining home without a pug. It took a great deal to organize (actually it just took a customer telling the two of them to put up their Hello Kitty purses and hash it out on stage, which was a glorious moment for all), a tremendous amount of wine, and a propoganda war unlike any ever seen, but it happened nonetheless.

Wordsmiths Books: Wage your verbal war on our stage. Please. We’re bored.

How to Count to Five in Eight Easy Numbers

A couple of things up front. First, my “every day with a blog about Wordsmiths” thing didn’t work. I blame the snow. And the logjam of work it piled up in the process. And my need to do actual writing that benefits my future. And side projects I don’t talk about that take up more of my personal time. And Bush. Secondly, I find my titles in the bottom of coffee cups, so don’t blame me if they fail to convert into meaning of any sort, or link to the post I ultimately write.

Nothing is my fault. I am the fault of nothing. The Nothing. Oh, that was a good movie. Like.

There aren’t many days left to February, which means I have only a few more opportunities to write about my wayward bookstore before it’s five-year-closing anniversary sweeps on by. So, some of what I might have written about (which perhaps might not have been that interesting anyway) gets canned like Armageddon Tuna. I don’t know what Armageddon Tuna is, so don’t ask, but I’m sure it makes sense somewhere to someone. Hopefully, they have a can opener. The rest of the process of opening and closing a bookstore is really just a matter of money anyway. Or, lack thereof. Having cited how the store got behind at the outset, I don’t think there’s much mystery left. Quite a lot less than, say, how I can write a heartfelt post about Wonderboy, and not hear a peep from him about it. That’s quite mysterious to me.

Take away the stress-laden nausea-inducing daily grind of owning Wordsmiths Books, and what I’m left to talk about are a few standout moments, and a few exceptional people. Maybe I’ll find the time to go one more post deep about the inner mechanics. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll drink more coffee and see if my dog’s empathetic beacon fries. Beacon fries? Bacon fries. Whoa. Want.

Bacon. The momentum killer.

Where was I?

Um.

Dunno. My brain just completely stopped.

Well, regardless, I know what I had planned on writing about, so let’s a get a move on.

In addition to the forthcoming Closing-Date anniversary, there’s a far more pleasant anniversary to celebrate. Five years ago tonight, Wordsmiths Books held its final event. There are a great many things about that night I will always remember, but saying farewell to my employees as they passed through the door a final time (I was to work the last week alone…it just seemed appropriate, and a bit necessary to be honest) was heart wrenching.  I knew I’d see most of them again, true, but it didn’t lessen the blow. They were my family. Another memory involves a debate on the stage, which is easily my favorite moment ever in the entire run of Wordsmiths, and the next post in line. So, stick that in your pocket for now. The event that night, however, marked something special for me. It marked the launch of Anointed.

Best pile of books ever.

Best pile of books ever.

For the first time, with more than 100 people in attendance–friends, family, and some devoted customers as well–I read published work of mine in public. It served as a nice transition into my post-bookstore life. Closing the doors while opening a new set. Despite what I knew was to come less than a week later, the building was filled with laughter, smiles, cheerful conversation, hope. I couldn’t have scripted a better end. I closed out the brief but notable tenure of the Wordsmiths stage, overextending my reading like an uncomfortable goodbye, signing books, offering the store banner for everyone to sign, and somehow being far too busy to eat some of the best cookies ever made (which were made by The Moss, who found herself in my life almost two years later, cookie recipe along with, so I win). If the best thing to come of opening Wordsmiths was that night, then all the stress was worth it. Granted, it wasn’t the best thing, but it surely hit the top (insert arbitrary number not to exceed five here).

Anointed isn’t the best thing I’ll ever write, but it’s entertaining, was well reviewed, and had strangers tweeting and writing about their enjoyment in it. Likewise, Wordsmiths Books isn’t the best thing I’ll ever do in my life, but it had an impact, was well received, and created a family full of generous memories I’ll treasure forever. Though I’m ready to let go of the pain, I’ll never let go of those memories, of my people, or of the smile I get every time I see the logo.

Wordsmiths Logo

The (Book)Life and Times of Wonderboy

There is told the tale of a young man who would one day be the hero of an entire bookstore. Head strong and full of hope, he toiled in the bowels of retail, suffering at the behest of a mighty overlord, packed with his clansmen on a yellow bus heading at breakneck speed toward finality. This young man fought for his survival, tying his fate to that of another, whose entrepreneurial plan for escape whet the young man’s burgeoning need to be free, to bring order to the chaotic world of books. Finding peace within his newly unshackled chains, this young man set forth on a path few would ever walk, eyes set upon the blazing trail of wonder before him. He came to know that path as a facet of self, an enigma of soul, and from the fire within was born a new identity. A masked avenger. A vigilante of Event Coordination. Those who knew him called him Wonderboy, and a legend was born.

Immediately his impact was felt. An empty stage hosted a cadre of poets, local authors and musicians. The People were pleased. Publicists took note. Wine was had. People got tipsy. A List was built. Mere months after donning the Mask of Almost-Justice-Like-Kind-of-Action, simple names evolved into Notable Artists. St. Vincent, Amy Sedaris, Ani DiFranco, Rob Sheffield, Dan Kennedy, Tracy Chevalier, James Rollins, R.A. Salvatore, Fonzworth Bentley, Katie Crouch, Frank Delaney, Stuart Woods, Final Fantasy, Christopher Moore, Virginia Willis, and Richard Blais, just to name a few. He gave birth to slam-dunk fan favorites, giving the eager public Open Mic Nights, Wizard Rock, the Black and Red Prom, Storytime for Grown-ups, and so much more.

What once was but a bookstore had become a haven of entertainment. Wonderboy done did good.

Pretty fancy stuff, huh?

I always thought so. I suppose, at this point, it’s all right to reveal the identity of the masked wunderkind known as Wonderboy. After all, he has some new Hipster Musician in Brooklyn identity thing going. Silent Rape Drummers, or something, for a while, getting tons of attention for his bizarre but entertaining re-soundtracking of Twin Peaks. Now he’s in a Place Both Wonderful and Strange, which perhaps brings him full circle, since Wordsmiths was always wonderful and strange. It was also a place. Kudos, fate. Well played.

Russ Marshalek was Wordsmiths Books number one hire, a vital cog to everything Wordsmiths would become. I would have been nothing without his help, and Decatur would have suffered a loss it never knew it needed to recover from had he not taken the job as my Events Coordinator. He took a hell of a lot of grief from me (and a certain other individual with a flair for the dramatic whose one-on-one debate on the Wordsmiths stage was perhaps the defining moment of the store and a blog topic to come), but he trudged on, doing what he did, making the store more than I could have dreamed. I owe him a lifetime of thanks. He owes me a burrito. Or something. There has to be some balance here. After all, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be so important to me had I not hired him in the first place.

Sure, Wordsmiths didn’t make it. But it wasn’t the fault of Wonderboy. What he did few could have. It’s vital people remember that. I know I will. Danke, mein Freund.

Wonderboy can rest easy knowing, once more, he has saved the day.

Wonderboy can rest easy knowing, once more, he has saved the day.

Forgetting the Wheel

Sometimes you forget how the car moves.  That’s when it helps to look at the wheel and remember that it spins.  Naturally, you then wonder how the wheel spins, and that’s when you look under the car and freak out.  I mean, there’s something keeping the wheels attached together, and then there’s all these little spinny things, and all of that goes somewhere up front, and that’s all attached to the mountainous nonsense under the hood, and, well, sometimes I get religion.  It must be a whole let better to just say, “Oh, hey the wheel spins,” and then let the rest fall into the hands of a suddenly all-knowing (and mechanically divine) God.

So, the present spins the future into the past, is something of what I’m getting at here, albeit in a disassociated car-to-God-analogy kind of way.

You are distracted from the bad analogy...

So, I was feeling nostalgic today, as I wrote a new bio for my publisher’s website, and I dug up an interview that the irreplaceable Russ Marshalek conducted, on behalf of the fantasmic book blog, Baby Got Books, when Anointed first came out. Here it is, in its grammatically correct entirety:

A completely non-biased and properly-punctuated interview with Zachary Steele, author-type person of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO

Baby Got Books: Describe in 5 words the plot of Anointed. In another 5 words, tell me why i should read it again. Then, in 5 more words, tell someone who hasn’t read it why I should read it again.

Zach Steele:Reluctant man becomes corporate Christ.
Because it’s freakin’ funny, man.
You won’t get it anyway.

BGB: Who all would you say you ripped off in writing Anointed? And by ripped off I mean in terms of both intellectual content and money.

ZS:I ripped off a lot from God, you know. He’s pretty much the author of the Bible, right? So, I have to include him. Aside from the that, it was pretty easy pickings with Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Kyle Watson (though you wouldn’t have heard of him) and some finely-detailed intellectual hotness from Marisha Pessl. As far as money, that’s pretty easy. I ripped off my publisher, but she won’t figure that out for a while, and likely all of my readers (once they’ve read it and realize what dreadful crap it is).

BGB: On a scale of 9 through 10, how awesome is Anointed?

ZS:All of my scales go to 11, so that’s pretty much where I’d put it. It completely redefines “awesome”. In fact, the use of “awesome” is now outdated and has been replaced by “Anointed”. As in, “Man, that sure was an Anointed movie, wasn’t it?” I would wager that, when I am old and fading away–or perhaps even dead already–people will still be discussing how Anointed completely altered the methodology of writing and saved the publishing industry. But I’m pretty modest about it all, actually. I’d rather not discuss it any further.

BGB: If you end up on Bill O’Reilly, and he’s all screaming in your face and cutting your microphone’s signal and stuff without listening to you at all, what will you have for dinner after?

ZS:After? How about during? I’ll be sidestepping his questions while waving a fork in the air and taking my time dining while he rants about stuff I surely won’t be listening to anyway. Steak au Poivre with Dijon Cream Sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, a nice Chardonnay, and a bowl of cheese to throw at him when he stops talking. No wait. I wouldn’t do that to cheese. Maybe I could get a soufflé or something instead. After, I might go for an Icee.

BGB: In terms of your writing style, what books would you say influenced your second novel? oh wait you haven’t written it yet.

ZS: Ha! Good one coming from the man who hasn’t even written his first book yet! Look out David Sedaris! This guy’s a riot!

BGB: You solicited quotes about the book, aka “blurbs”, from your Facebook friends. Are you just too lazy to actually hunt down famous people?

ZS:”Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” ~Winnie the Pooh~ There’s a famous quote for you. Happy?

BGB:Your press materials all begin with “Satan and the Antichrist walk into a bar”. Tell me a good joke about a pope and a rabbi. Or a pope and a rabbit.

ZS:The Pope (not ‘a’, you idiot) walks into a bookstore to look for a book about Catholicism, because he doesn’t understand any of his followers, but before he can make it to the section oddly marked “religion”, he is distracted by a sharp sound from the back of the store. When he goes to investigate, he finds a large cage with a fluffy, bouncy rabbit inside, and a sign atop the cage that reads, “Cadbury Rabbit, Bookstore Bunny”. The Pope smiles and leans to the cage and says to the rabbit, “Hello there, little rabbit. I am the Pope. How are you today?” To which, the rabbit bounds in a quick circle, stomps a foot in a loud thump, stares at the Pope, and says, “Nom, nom.” The end, joke over. A POPE AND A RABBIT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Do you get paid to come up with these questions or did you pawn it off on an 8-year old?

BGB: How freakin’ awesome is your publicist?

ZS:Question #7 may answer that better than I can. It’s very difficult to answer this question though, now that Anointed has completely redefined what is understood to be “awesome” and taken over its use entirely. I suppose I can say that my publicist is less than Anointed, more Anointed than “awesome” (in its former form), but not as Anointed as my book minus me. Hope that helps.