Zihuatanejo

On March 1st, 2007, five years ago tomorrow, I published Entrekin, a self-titled debut collection of short stories, essays, and poetry. If you’ve ever been interested but put off picking up a copy, now’s the time to do so, as it’s your very final chance. I said that once, back when I pulled it from Lulu, but then Kindle made it more viable. And now, Kindle’s made a lot of other things more viable, too, which is why I’m pulling it from there, as well, finally. As of a few hours from now, Entrekin will no longer exist.

The stories and words, however, will. In new form.

When I first collected the work that became the collection, I felt I could stand behind it, and I had a strategy in mind. Way back then, I’d just begun to become burnt out by trying to maintain a popular MySpace blog rather than trying to become a better writer. I remember the moment I realized I was a better writer than I was letting myself be, and I realized it was time to finally give myself permission.

It was time to give myself permission to try, and to fail. It was time to stop aspiring and try to actually do better. For a long time up to that point, I’d maintained that blog because I’d hoped it might get my writing the sort of attention that attracts publishing contracts and book tours and promotional campaigns; it was time to stop hoping and get to writing. Like Andy Dufresne said, comes a time in a man’s life, Red, where he’s gotta either get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, and I don’t think I’m overstating my case here when I say that Entrekin was my start at a tunnel through the wall. At least, I don’t feel like I am.

For me, getting my work, my stories and words, out there . . . it’s been my salvation. Giving up trying to operate in a system I wasn’t meant to be part of and never felt quite right inside . . . it’s been freeing.

It didn’t start that way. Maybe because Entrekin was realizing the wall could crumble.

Back then, I never knew what was on the other side of the wall. I was never guaranteed that tucking my head behind my poster of Rita Hayworth was going to get me anywhere–there was every moment the possibility that I’d find myself digging through the wall behind the warden.

Or worse.

All I knew back then was I had to try. And so I bundled together my stories like Andy Dufresne bundled together his clothing, and I started through.

*

I never knew where I was going, tunneling through the darkness. I never knew how Entrekin might do, who might find it and read it. All I really knew was that it was the option I had and I wanted to do with it the best I could.

Back then, the best I could wasn’t much. Lulu was my tiny rock hammer. That big ole’ wall–that was really inattention and obscurity.

Even back then, when I considered a short story like “For Cynthia,” I wanted to offer it to readers on its own. I wanted people to be able to purchase just that one story, and read it however they wanted. Back then, the only way to do so was to create a PDF, which was chunky and awkward–and what were people to read it on besides?

The answer came just a few months after I put my collection and those stories up for sale. Apple’s iPhone. A week after Steve Jobs said people didn’t read books anymore, a reader put Entrekin on her iPhone. So far as I am aware, it was the first, but being first doesn’t matter; what matters is the possibility.

Unfortunately, Apple never fulfilled that possibility for books and stories the way it did for music and television shows. Apple never made it possible to offer a single short story for sale, as iTunes had always made it possible to offer single songs or single episodes of television shows. For a long time, best I could was PDFs through Lulu, which people could buy and then email to themselves and then maybe read on their iPhones or Blackberrys or whatever.

Jobs introduced the first iPhone in January 2007, and it came out that June.

Five months later, Amazon introduced the Kindle.

When Amazon introduced the Kindle, it didn’t have the same polish as when Apple introduced the iPhone; the former was very much a beta sort of device it took a few generations for Amazon to perfect. That perfection, however, came with the third generation, what is now known as (and sold as) the Kindle Keyboard. The fourth generation is even better, but that third generation was as perfect (and imperfect) as the original iPhone; there were a few ways the design could be improved and a few bugs to work out, but just holding it, you knew it changed things. It wasn’t something for industry professionals or a niche audience–it was something anyone could pick up and use and–most importantly–fall in love with in a very visceral sort of way. It was the sort of device that pretty much guaranteed that all its competition would pretty much remain just that–its competition. There would be challengers and myriad devices that would set themselves apart from that original, and they might be better or more widely adopted or come with more use, but they would not be the original, and every review would start with the fact that they weren’t the original. Every review would allude, whether directly or indirectly, to the original.

Again, maybe I’m overstating. I’m a Kindle reader. Caveat et cetera.

For a reader, Kindle is as revolutionary a device, as changing a device, as the iPod was all those years ago. It’s missing the iconography, the dancing silhouettes and the famous white earbuds, the evolving-until-it-disappears-altogether scroll wheel, but what it has that counts is it gets out of the way of whoever wants to use it. It disappears for readers as the iPod disappeared for listeners. All it wants is for you to read.

With it, I have at least that much in common.

Most importantly, I’ve realized, Amazon makes it possible for me to do what I wanted exactly as I wanted to do it back then. Back then, it wasn’t possible.

Now, it is.

*

I wager that, in the darkness of his cell, during the nights he was chipping away at his wall, Andy Dufresne doubted himself and his tunnel. I can picture him there, scratching that metal nub against the crumbly plaster-rock. Some days I think I know how he feels.

When I started this post, I wrote that I was on the other side of that wall. “My how bright the sunshine is.”

But then, one of the most important things I’ve realized as I’ve picked through the plaster and spread it around the yard is that there is no other side, and that Zihuatanejo is as much about a place in the sun as it is hope in one’s heart. The wonderful thing is simple: some days I feel like I’m scratching through the plaster, and some days I feel like I’m slogging my meager bundle through 500 yards of filth one cares not to imagine, and some days I feel like I’ve burst out the drainpipe and torn off my old clothes and turned up my smile to be cleansed by the rain.

But the good thing, the fine thing, is that on no days do I feel stuck. I think maybe I need a new rock hammer, and a new poster, but I hear there’s a way to come by such things lately.

I know somewhere there’s a beach, drenched with sunshine with the surf crashing against the coast. Some days that image is so clear I think I remember it rather than dreamed of it. Maybe I’ve been there before. Maybe I’ve always wanted to go. Maybe I’m making my way there.

I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.