Road To Nowhere: The totally made up story of how publishing my poetry chapbook turned into a nightmare

Over the duration of my project, I’ve had a few opportunities to see my writing in print, both in small presses and on the national stage. Every chance to put my writing in front of new eyes offers a burst of excitement, as I’m sure any artist would admit. The real goal for a writer, though, is to put out a book with one’s own name on it, something that is yours and only yours.

For me, such an opportunity presented itself a few years ago when I was approached to publish a collection of poetry I entitled “The Road So Far.” That’s the cover over in the sidebar. If you click on the link, you’ll notice that it’s listed as out of print. I would like to do something about that, but the truth is I have no control over it. “Why?” you ask.

Let me tell you a fantastical story. It’s just a story. I made all of this up. Pure fiction.

About a month after my article in the Washington Post appeared, a woman – let’s call her Susan – contacted me via e-mail. She said she had read some of my writing and was interested in publishing a chapbook through her imprint named Soaring Bird Publishers. It was a flattering offer and I agreed to meet with her.

I write loads of poetry, posting frequently on this website, with a few poems even being published online and in print. But I’ve never considered myself a poet. It’s not where my true talent lies (that true talent: drinking without a hangover), and it’s not my passion. But the act of writing poetry can be very cathartic, a release of pent up creativity when I’m not in a place to sit and work on a novel or short story.

I had previously looked into self-publishing a chapbook just so I could have some writing out in the world, but I ultimately rejected the idea. It seemed like a lot of work for something I was only half-interested in doing, and I am pretty adamantly anti self-publishing. So when Susan offered to publish my poetry, I thought, “Why not?”

Meeting Susan and her boyfriend/husband/partner/haberdasher in a coffee shop in Seattle, I brought a selection of poems I felt were most worthy of inclusion in a chapbook. We sat for a bit, discussed her plans for the collection and she explained that she had worked in the offices of publishing companies for most of her career (not as an agent, though). Having retired from that work, she was interested in finding local artists to represent and publish.

No, it wasn’t Penguin or Harper Collins, and in fact, this would barely be a step above self-publishing. It was someone else wanting to put out my work, though, someone who was going to take the effort and produce a professional looking chapbook. Again, I thought, “Why not?”

The universe has a way of answering those “why not” questions.

My initial email communications with Susan were spaced a month apart in the beginning, our greetings leaping from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. In January of 2012, we had more regular correspondence and it felt like actual progress was being made. She said she had an “e-proof” of the book and would be forwarding it on to me for editing.

Then silence for nearly 2 months.

In the winter of 2012, I was unemployed and concerns about the chapbook fell on the back-burner. It was a rough couple months of financial insecurity, alleviated partially by a friend who offered me construction work. Around that time, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate contacted me. He had heard about my 10 Cities Project from friends at a party and wanted to do an interview with me. A bit of light in a dark Seattle off-season.

A couple weeks after that piece aired, Susan called me.

My frustration with the slow or non-existent responses was only compounded when she attempted to take credit for the NBC interview. This lie was the last straw: I told her I didn’t want to go forward with the chapbook anymore.

She insisted she had put in considerable time editing the book and promoting it (though she never indicated how) and assured me I would appreciate the final product. I said that if she sent me a physical copy of the book to proofread along with a contract, I would look it over and decide whether or not to sign off on it. She agreed.

Then more silence. Months went by without any communication from her, and the proof never arrived. In May, I noticed an Amazon listing for “The Road So Far,” despite the fact that I had never seen a proof nor signed a contract. I emailed her telling her to immediately take down the listing. No response.

In July, she emailed me that the proof was available for me to read. In the interim months, we had talked a couple times  on the phone and our conversations always followed the same pattern: I’d tell her I was done with this project, she would insist the book was nearly ready to go, and then  I would relent because I figured I was in this far, might as well see it through (I couldn’t give up my dream of having a physical collection of my poems).

When Susan finally sent me the proof, it was abysmal. Riddled with typos, some poems were spliced across 2 or 3 pages and other formatting errors abounded. It was a nightmare. Despite these obvious warning signs, I took the time to edit it and mailed it back with a signed contract. Dummy.

And then, you guessed it, more silence.

On August 8th, 2012, I sent her a brief email: “Have you received the proof and contract yet?”

June 25th of 2013 was the next time I heard from her, nearly 2 years since we first met. She wanted my address in New Orleans so she could send me my 10 free copies of the book (per the contract). I ignored her email. She sent it again a few days later. And again in July. She then contacted me on Facebook and I finally relented.

In an email that was far more civil than I felt, I told her that this process had been “confounding” and that I didn’t believe she had taken the work on with “serious commitment or in good faith.” I explained that I was upset that she had “published” the book on Amazon without letting me have the final say on the last edit, and I, again, wanted her to take the listing down. I gave her my address and asked her to send me what copies she had and then I expressed my wish to sever our relationship.

She didn’t respond by email, but a couple weeks later a package arrived with my 10 copies and a letter. In said letter, she told me quite bluntly that I had signed a contract so Soaring Bird maintained the right to sell the books. She also told me that she had never agreed to give me final edit. I suddenly understood the thematic relevance of a rising bird.

Ryan Adams Finger

I wrote her another email which read, in part:

I received my copies of the collection. I also read your letter, which exemplifies my issue with working with you. As I acknowledged in my previous email, I realize you have the right to sell the chapbooks. I have no legal recourse to stop you, and at this point I honestly don’t care. My issue is with you as a publisher, who despite being a single person and someone who has only published one or two other collections that I can see, still wants to behave as if you are a faceless entity big enough to steamroll over the artist. The whole point of working with a small publisher is getting the personal, genuine touch. You have provided none of that.”

If she insisted on selling the books per the contract, I concluded, then she was also obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract and pay me my share. Even as I was writing it, I knew that was a pipe dream.

Despite my misgivings, I told friends and family about the book and advertised it on this site. As far as I can tell, and despite Susan’s claims to the contrary, this was the only advertising of any kind my collection received. Many people bought copies and let me know that they had. A few months after the book went live, I contacted Susan again letting her know that I knew copies had sold and I expected payment sent to my Boston address.

That was almost a year ago. Do you think she responded? I’ll give you 2 guesses.

Two weeks ago, the last copy of “The Road So Far” sold, prompting my interest in retrieving publishing rights from Susan. I sent an email and received the usual cyber echo. I then sent a message to the Facebook page for Soaring Bird. To my surprise, I received a response. Its tone was, unsurprisingly, not conciliatory.

After indicating that my email had been received (yet never responded to), the message went on to say:

Regarding your accusations: should you engage in oral and/or verbal defamation, this company will file a libel and/or slander lawsuit against you. The words of your notification and your email are adversarial and threatening in tone. Please ensure you want to continue in this adversarial manner because it has been this company’s intent to support the publication of “The Road So Far” and to support your endeavors of your project 10 Cities / 10 Years.

Surely this is the tone of a company that “supports” my endeavors.

(Which reminds me, I want to reiterate that this story is clearly a fictional account and any resemblances to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Just a wacky story, haha!)

Meanwhile, I have no idea if the contract I signed is truly binding. I have no idea how much money I am owed as I don’t know how many copies were even published. I’m sure it’s not much, and that was never the point. I feel bad that people have bought these books thinking they were supporting me when I never saw a penny from those sales.

If you are one of those (hypothetical) people, know that the money was never the point. Just the fact that you bought a copy is all the support I could ask for. Neither this project nor the book have ever been about making money; publishing “The Road So Far” was about having some permanent physical artifact of my writing.

When I look back on this whole experience, I know I did pretty much everything wrong. But what’s to be done now? I resigned myself a long time ago to not seeing any money from this book. I just hope that someday I can gain the publication rights back in order to make more copies available (or to prevent some unscrupulous party from profiting off of my name). Regardless, it’s not about money, it’s about having a little bit of art out in the world.

To everyone who bought a book, or wanted to buy one: Thank you, sincerely. It means so much more than a couple of dollars and I am truly grateful.

As for Susan and anyone else at Soaring Bird, I’m just glad they aren’t real people. Thank goodness my real publisher would never be such dicks.


Where the Sidewalk Ends

9 Years

Campanile 2

June 1st, 2005

I turned 22 exactly 2 weeks earlier and then walked the Campanile at Kansas University a little more than a week before leaving. I spent my last few days in my hometown bidding adieu to friends both old and new and, with the help of my brother, I ditched my blue Ford Escort on the side of the highway (taking the license plate and any personal effects with me). Then I left.

On the first day of June, I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina with my college girlfriend. The relationship had been strained for some time, but we had agreed to live together during the summer and there weren’t a lot of options otherwise. So, for 3 months, we made the most of what would, ultimately, be an unsustainable endeavor.

A few days after she left Charlotte to return to her collegiate life, roughly 3 months into my year in Charlotte, I ended the relationship over the phone. Not the last break up I would have to initiate. Not even that year. Thus began, in earnest, 10 Cities/10 Years.

I can’t pinpoint when I first believed I would actually spend a decade of my life (the majority of my 20s) in pursuit of this silly undertaking, but I know it wasn’t that early on. I didn’t want to stay in Charlotte all my life, that I knew, and I was still rather hellbent on ending up in New York (even though I’d only ever been there twice), but the future was hazy. Some fervent demon whispering in my ear was convincing me that I had some larger ambition to pursue.

So persistent was this wild dream that, once my year in Charlotte had come to an end, I left behind a whirlwind romance to move to Philadelphia, even though I had no idea what lay ahead of me.

Almost A Decade

For 9 years, I have made my way from one U.S. city to the next, making friends, finding work, getting by. Getting old. When I started this project, not a single episode of How I Met Your Mother had aired and Neil Patrick Harris had yet to ascend to the role of everyone’s favorite gay man (sorry Anderson Cooper). Speaking of which, when I started this project, same-sex marriage was only legal in one state (Massachusetts). Now it’s legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

A lot can happen in almost a decade. The nation changes. The world changes. My life has changed, in large part because of the people I’ve come across along the way. I’ve made dozens and dozens of very close friends over these years, and each one has shaped my evolution as a person.

I’ve given up friends, too. Most of the people who have met me over the years have either known me exclusively as the guy doing some crazy project, or they’ve been the friends with whom I’ve experienced my various cities. For the former, when I left I was merely a person whose story they could recount to strangers, something cool worth a few minutes at the bar. For the latter, though, they had become integral parts of my story, and then because of the dictates of my project I left them behind, possibly never to meet again.

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and whatever else, it’s possible to remain linked to most everyone I’ve met, but that doesn’t mean that genuine relationships are easy to maintain. Friends have remained behind, gotten married, had children, accomplished artistic/business success, and I have been, quite frequently, only able to respond with a ‘like.’ And for 9 years, I’ve had to trust that that was enough. Even when it wasn’t.


No matter how far I depart from my Christian upbringing, I can’t escape the notion that we should all live with a grander purpose. Religion doesn’t hold the monopoly on meaning.

Perhaps ‘purpose’ is the wrong word. ‘Ambition’ is probably more descriptive. A ‘purpose’ suggests an end game, whereas ambition drives us forward without needing to know how everything will conclude. This project merely provides a vague direction and a hope that when I’m done with this decade of my life I’ll have gained something, even if it’s nothing but a unique collection of experiences.

And there has certainly been no shortage of experiences. I’ve documented a number  of them on this site over the years, but sometimes the most life-changing experiences are those that, in the moment, seem insignificant. Certainly, minor happenstances and random chance have played as big if not a bigger part in the direction of my life than the major events. I don’t know how this is all going to end.

When I look back from the vantage of 10 years, what will the story be?


Last Year

How long have you devoted to a single goal? Maybe 4 or 5 years for a college degree? Another 2 or 3 for a Masters, and then longer for a doctorate. Perhaps you’ve been working at a job for a number of years, working your way up the corporate ladder. Or maybe you’ve been playing in a band, touring and recording, all in the ultimate pursuit of signing to a major label and arriving on the national stage.

I’m entering the last year of my pursuit. With 9 years behind me and 1 ahead, I suppose I feel like anyone who’s given substantial years of their life for a dream. I feel like I’ve accomplished something of note, but I can’t say what if anything will come of it. So, really, it’s not all that dissimilar to graduating.

I guess that kind of makes this the beginning of my Senior Year. One last year to relish every new experience, one last year to acquire all the knowledge I will need for the next stage of my life. A final year to put all the pieces in place and hope the puzzle looks something like the picture on the box.

And who knows, maybe this will be the year I finally ask the head cheerleader to prom.


1 more to go. Wish me luck.


The Art in Settling


The year has started to settle.

I don’t mean 2014 (though, that, too). Rather, I’m referring to my year in Boston. I’m almost 5 months into it, just over 7 months until I make that auspicious final move to New York City, and the freshness of the new city has been supplanted by my familiarity with this temporary home. I know the landscape, I know the people, I have patterns and regular spots and memories of New Orleans are already fermenting into nostalgia.

There’s still so much that I haven’t done or seen in this city, so much that I’ll never get around to doing or seeing. There are the museums that I haven’t visited, and the bars in Southie that I’ve yet to venture into. I still want to go to a Celtics game, and a Red Sox game for that matter. I hope to take a day trip up to Maine and finally touch the one corner of the country I haven’t reached (not counting Alaska and Hawaii, which I’ll get to. Eventually). But I’d like to think I’ve made a pretty good go of it so far.

The 5 month mark in each year isn’t necessarily notable, though it was around this time in my year in San Francisco that I finally found a job after desperate, fruitless months of searching. It was also this time last year when I moved out of my first place in the St. Roch neighborhood of NOLA to a better apartment (and living situation) in Mid-City. Other than that, though, 5 months is just another arbitrary division of time, not quite halfway through, not even a clean divisor of a year.

And yet, 5 months does feel like an important junction in the year. The first couple months are full of exploration, which is then replaced by those frenzied, interminable weeks collective given the doublespeak designation, ‘The Holidays’. It’s only at the end of January that life begins to feel “normal.” It’s too early to start planning my move, but I’ve got enough time behind me that Boston doesn’t feel like a ‘new’ city, just my city. Generally, January and February are my least favorite months of the year, what with their bleak, gray weather and monotonous run of weeks with nothing to differentiate one day from another (Valentine’s Day doesn’t count; period). I wonder, though, if this settled feeling isn’t also a factor.

My entire life revolves around change, but right smack in the middle of my year is this period of stasis.

Of course, I could take a trip somewhere (well, another trip), but that would undermine the heart of this project. If I left my current city every time I got bored, I’d be missing out on real city habitation, the day-to-day that defines the way people actually live. If 10 Cities / 10 Years is a story about how people live in their cities (specifically, how they navigate their 20s in the city), I can’t very well hang around for the peaks and dip out during the troughs. Life can be spectacularly fun, but it also can be relentlessly dull, and while that might not sound like great fodder for art, the contrast provides depth to the story. All of our stories.

So, I’m settling in for the time being. February will feel like a slog, but then suddenly it’ll be springtime and NYC will be visible on the horizon (along with the existential crisis that will mark the end of this project). I’m here now, though, and on occasion it’s good to slow down. Idiot.

3 Months in Boston

December 1st marks the end of the first quarter of my year in Boston. This is the last year before I move to New York, the final year of the project and the green light at the end of the dock (and, yes, I get the ominous foreshadowing that reference entails).

The Green Light

Comparing years and cities is a futile exercise, requiring a jumbling of terms that simply do not have the same meaning across the board. City life in Boston is nothing like city life in New Orleans. Apples and Oranges, red socks and bead necklaces.

It’s not even relevant to compare my personal state of being from 1 year ago to that now, as so many factors come into play. In New Orleans, I was working a job I hated for a distasteful company, I had recently been thrust out of yet another ill-advised relationship and my only friend in the city was my roommate, a relationship that would disintegrate into open hostility within a few weeks. Mentally, I was not well.

Here in Boston, the situation is almost comically superior. I have an easy job I enjoy (most of the time), no relationship baggage weighing me down, and a living situation that is conducive to my penchant for enjoying either long, masturbatory conversations on various topics or just saying, ‘Fuck it,’ and getting wasted on a random Wednesday night. Nothing’s ever perfect (especially with a less than impressive reality agent), but after 9 years of this project, the ease by which I’ve settled into this year feels like something I’ve earned.

Which could make moving to New York City a little harder than I expected. As far as cities go, Boston isn’t quite big enough to hold my attention for too long. I will inevitably start feeling that familiar traveling-itch in half a year or so. But a guy could get comfortable in this situation. Drinking buddies, friends who can go out on a moment’s notice, enough financial stability to allow for those random excursions and a location within the city that makes exploring as simple as walking two blocks and getting on the train. I would have to be insane to blow up a situation like that.

I never made any claim to sanity.

The number of causalities this project has racked up could fill a Tarantino film. Romantic relationships, both good and bad, have drowned because of it, close friendships have withered from the distance, jobs with potential for advancement and permanent financial security have been recklessly abandoned, and established social dynamics have been capped at the knees. All for that damn green light.

Who is to say what will happen in the next 9 months? A lot can happen in that much time, even a baby (*a baby will not happen), but a year also has a way of flying by so fast that the boxes I never got around to unpacking are suddenly being taped back up and I’ll be waving goodbye, yet again.

I’m not there yet. I have a lot to look forward to in this year, including exploring more of Boston’s hidden gems and an upcoming cross-country road trip that I’ll discuss further in the upcoming month. But, perhaps what I’m anticipating most is the simple pleasures of a life flush with friends and opportunities. Ultimately, that has always been what 10 Cities was about. The crazy crackhead bosses and drunken debates with moral relativists add spice to my journey, but the building blocks of my decade on the road are the relationships that sustain me in a year, the friendships that pull me out of my head long enough to keep me going just a little bit longer.

If the next 9 months in Boston are anything like the last 3, it’s going to be difficult to say goodbye.

I can’t imagine a better problem to have.

Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge


My first week in Boston has come and gone, with 51 more weeks to fill in with the affectations and missteps of living. My ninth year is in full swing.

I’ve spent this first week traversing the city, partially as a means of finding work (which I likely already have; more on that another time), but mostly just to gain a sense of place within the boundaries of this historic, rumbling city. Boston feels gigantic compared to New Orleans despite the fact that, in square miles, Crescent City is roughly 3.5 times the land mass of Beantown. The size of a city is never about square millage, though. It’s about the people. Boston’s population is 3 times that of New Orleans, and that density gives this city its heft.

That’s a good thing in my book, by the way. The highest achievement of humanity is the teaming metropolis. Almost all of our greatest technology and much of our most inspired creativity has come not from the loner living in isolation, but from the collective might of diverse minds congregating in the wondrous humanist cathedrals.


A chief benefit of living in a geographically compact city that houses a large population (21st most populous in the US), is that one can walk for miles. While New Orleans has beautiful houses and historical neighborhoods, there are swaths of land that are either rundown or completely abandoned, and definitely not an ideal place for a solitary walk (especially at night). The same could be said of Nashville.

Alternatively, Seattle is the most walkable city I’ve lived in. With its population on par with Boston and square millage almost double the size, it never felt crowded but it also put all of its space to admirable use. My only experience of Boston’s density, so far, was packing into a stuffed subway car on Red Sox game day. I frequently had similar experiences in Chicago, living just one Red Line stop up from Wrigleyville. I suspect there will be days where getting back and forth from work will feel like being in the middle of a mosh pit.

That is the price of living in a melting pot, and a price I’m happy to pay.

There are many factors that contribute to a city’s walkability. Obvious ones include having properly maintained sidewalks and walking paths, well-lit areas for night walking and a general openness to pedestrians. Those are the basics, and Boston has them. Additionally, a city is walkable if each neighborhood has points of interest. Not every neighborhood has to have bars and restaurants or shopping, but if it’s going to lean suburban than it should at least have nice parks or interesting architecture, something attractive for the eye and mind.

I live in Allston, which is anything but suburban, as it is essentially the off-campus living hub for most of the many, many universities based in Boston and Cambridge. College campuses often have notoriety for being dangerous places, and there are certainly dangers (especially for women) to be found in the darkened corners. However, a campus is probably the safest place, statistically, that a person can find themselves, with their bevy of local security and streetlamps. Allston is grubbier and less manicured than a college campus, but it still has that ‘living in a bubble’ vibe that campuses radiate. This only increases the walkability.

Generally, I’ve never let warnings and risk of harm keep me from walking home drunk through a “bad” neighborhood, but I will admit that some cities have made for more carefree walking excursions. Does Boston have its perilous areas? For sure. But when I walk out of my apartment, I see an ocean of fresh-faced coeds and I feel like the dangerous one.

On top of that, Boston has some truly gorgeous sights. The Charles River at sunset is a work of beauty, as is the majestic skyline that testifies to mankind’s ingenuity. Whether walking at midday or well after dark, Boston has pleasures to behold for the wanderer.

Will Boston prove to have the walkability of Seattle? It’s too early to say, but so far I like its potential. When I go on walks, I’ll usually say I’m going to write because most of my best ideas have come out of setting off with music in my ears and an unexplored neighborhood before me and letting inspiration stir. Having a brand new city to explore excites me, not only for the pleasure of discovery, but because in that exploration lies the nutrients for my creativity.

I have a long/short year ahead of me, and plenty of miles to walk before I’m in New York. My first week was merely the amuse-bouche, but it has me anticipating the full meal.

Keep checking in throughout the year as I provide my thoughts on Boston, living in modern America and whatever other topics my peripatetic feet lead me to consider. And, of course, follow me on Twitter if that’s your thing.

Fenway Park Sunny Day

The Road Trip: Day 1 (Nashville)

I left New Orleans just a little before 11 o’clock this morning (later than my intended 10 o’clock departure, but right on time with my expectations).

Total driving time to Nashville was almost exactly 8 hours, though this was partially due to missing an exit and driving for about 15 minutes in the wrong direction. Oops. Oh well, all part of the road trip experience. If that is the worst mistake I make all week, it’ll be a damn smooth trip. Of course, that won’t be the worst mistake I make all week.

I’m spending 2 nights in Nashville. For tonight, my first, I drove around downtown where I used to work, then back into the neighborhood I used to live in (which is mostly unchanged) and then to the West End to get dinner and a beer. From there I met up with an old coworker for some drinks in Printer’s Alley. This wasn’t a usual hangout during my year, but apparently it has become a regular post-shift spot for many of my former cohorts.

Because I left New Orleans with the ever so slight hint of a hangover, I took it easy tonight and devoted my time to catching up. Another former coworker came in a little later and sat down next to us. For about half an hour, he talked to a friend in the seat next to him without acknowledging me. It wasn’t until that other friend left that he turned and, with some embarrassment, realized who I was. What can I say, I don’t have a memorable face.

Actually, I imagine he was practicing the long held server tradition of ignoring everyone else once you clock out. When you spend your whole shift pretending to care about absolute strangers, the last thing you want to do is exhaust more energy on even more strangers while unwinding with a drink.

Today, I’ll meet up with more of my old friends from Nashville. Some of them I’ve seen since I left, most I haven’t seen since my farewell party almost exactly 2 years ago.

And then the next day, I’ll travel to Charlotte. Between that, hopefully I’ll find a chance to post again. Of course, you can always keep up with my progress via Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing. Well, until I write again,