JD Adler is the publisher of the Florida Keys’ literary magazine, “Decimos — We Say.” The former journalist and author of the post-apocalyptic novel, “Legacy,” received the 2019 Anne McKee Literary Grant to support his upcoming poetry collection. The second annual Decimos Editors Choice Awards celebrating local submissions and presented this year by Mayor Johnston takes place Nov. 23 at Andy’s Cabana. Now, JD opens about his former work with The Blue Paper, the harsh economics of working as a journalist and what exactly his wild imagination thinks this writer is up to.
Kevin Assam: What on earth is a “Decimos”?
JD Adler: (Laughs) “Decimos — We Say” is the full title of the magazine. “Decimos” is Spanish for “we say.” The magazine is a quarterly literary magazine for the Florida Keys offering local authors of fiction and poetry a platform. It was named with the goal of including any and all languages from local authors. This obviously includes all the cultures that make up this community. More than two languages are spoken here, as you know, but the title can only be so long. We have had a few Spanish submissions published along the way. We would love to have more. “Decimos” is the only literary magazine of, for and by the artists of the Florida Keys.
KA: Does that mean that you were a multilingual loudmouth growing up as a child?
JD: No, I’ve always been an introvert in every language. I’m a writer. Like all artists, while I crave public approval, I prefer the company of my own thoughts to public interactions.
KA: How did you learn to read? What were the earliest materials you used?
JD: I learned to read from my parents. I could read at a third-grade level when I entered kindergarten. I remember “Dugan the Duck,” “Aesop’s Fables” and “Winnie the Pooh.” As I got older, Tolkien, Chalker, Asimov and Niven were some of my favorites. The various religions, myths and secular philosophies of the world also gripped my attention in my teens and twenties.
KA: What was your first written work that you felt comfortable enough to share publicly?
JD: That’s difficult. I am not sure I’ve ever felt comfortable sharing my work. The first work of fiction I felt confident enough to publish was “Legacy.” A work of post-apocalyptic, dystopian, adventure fiction. I have found living in Key West — interacting with other writers more — my confidence and comfort in my work has grown.
KA: Were you in the habit of keeping a diary or journaling?
JD: Yes, I have kept numerous journals over the years. Some record my thoughts. Most are collections of stories, poems and drawings — very bad drawings. I have always found working through ideas in a journal format useful to developing stories and other projects.
KA: Since your first published work, “Legacy,” surveyed a post-apocalyptic landscape, did you pay particular attention to documenting contentious moments in your history?
JD: In many ways, a work of fiction is, for the author, like a dream in that everything in it is a reflection of your own mind. The subtext of “Legacy” was blaming humanity’s problems on lack of forethought. So, did I incorporate personal life lessons of lack of forethought into the story? Absolutely. Will I tell you those personal stories? No.
KA: What worries you the most about strangers knowing those personal stories?
JD: Again, introvert.
KA: I’m going to press a bit. What worries you about strangers knowing personal points of development in your life?
JD: I was attempting humor when I said that. As an artist, I do prefer that the work speaks for itself. I don’t want the audience thinking about me while they read a passage. I want them immersed in the world I’ve created, based entirely on the setting, characters and plot points I have provided.
KA: Is humor the hardest emotive element to convey in text?
JD: Emotions in general are very difficult to convey because they are, by definition, abstract. Humor especially, because it is so subjective and body language plays such a big role. When I teach workshops, I always stress the importance of details in the narrative to insure your audience sees and feels what is in your head.
KA: What did you feel in that head of yours that compelled you to come to Key West?
JD: I was living in Philly during the recession. Work was scarce and temporary. The streets were filthy and crime ridden. Winters were bitter, summers were like a sauna, and everyone is always in a rush. So, I started looking for jobs around the country that were the opposite of those things. The first offer came from Key West, so off I went. The job no longer exists, but this place immediately became my home. That was six years ago.
KA: What was the job?
JD: I was a reporter, web designer and marketer for The Blue Paper for a few months. About a year later, I worked for The Citizen as a graphic designer and then copy editor. I also published a few freelance articles with The Citizen. I’ve worked for several restaurants, bars and hotels as well. Currently, Elegant Publications is my primary occupation and I have a side gig doing walking tours for Key West Promotions.
KA: The Blue Paper had quite the reputation. How would you describe it for those who are more recent migrants to the Keys?
JD: I enjoyed writing for The Blue Paper, as I did with all my journalism over the years. It is rewarding to see your work have ripple effects on the world around you. I would characterize The Blue Paper as investigative journalism, which is sorely needed in our society. It is a shame they have stopped publishing.
KA: What were some of the noteworthy stories you covered while there?
JD: At The Blue Paper, I covered a story about the FKAA and waste injection that got pretty heated as accusations flew around of fraud and such. That was fun to cover, especially because the community and the environment won in the end. Another exciting story involved a local girl getting arrested for trespassing in the VIP section of Sunset Pier. It turned out it was illegal for Sunset Pier to charge for concerts unless they are for a charity, as part of the deal they have to use public land. Charges were dropped against her. The ADA said it had nothing to do with our article, but you know I did that.
KA: Are writers and journalists severely underpaid in Key West?
JD: Yes. Though I can hardly complain as all contributions to “Decimos” are unpaid. I hope to change that over time with enough sponsorships and subscriptions.
KA: How does the business of “Decimos” work?
JD: The business model is for advertising to pay for publication and profits to come from sales and subscriptions. We are two years in now, which is a huge benchmark for a new business, and we are breaking even on the overhead. We have some interesting plans for the next year involving apps and expanded print distribution that I believe will make 2020 a big year for us.
KA: Why will you and the writers of “Decimos” soon be rubbing shoulders with Mayor Teri Johnston this season?
JD: Mayor Johnston is a huge supporter of the arts in Key West. When I told her we were holding our second annual DECA Awards benefit this year and invited her to present the award, she jumped at the opportunity. We are really thrilled to have her support.
KA: What are the DECA Awards?
JD: DECA is an acronym for Decimos Editors Choice Award. On the anniversary of our first issue, in November, we give an award to one of our authors and publish a collection of the nominees’ work. Selected by our editorial board of local literary luminaries, the honoree receives a trophy and a book deal with Elegant Publications. We want this award to become a nationally recognized symbol of quality in the arts. This year the DECAs will be held at Andy’s Cabana, there will be music by Eim Grace, and a silent art auction of the work of Christy Sunshine benefitting the Friends of the Key West Library.
KA: Is the art of dining out alone while reading or writing dead?
JD: Interesting question. If not dead, certainly dying. The ability to deliver everything you need to your home probably contributes to this cultural shift. Although, not everyone on their phone is on social media or games. Many people read digital versions of books like “Decimos” on Kindle. This has created a new culture of people sitting in groups in public, but reading or playing on their own.
KA: Where should I go to enjoy a nice dinner and be free from curious stares while I read here?
JD: The Cafe springs to mind. This might make an interesting restaurant review article, “Best Places to Read in Peace.”
KA: Where else?
JD: Maybe at the beach. I don’t know. I like reading at home on my back deck.
KA: How much does the cost of living in Monroe County keep prospective writers at bay?
JD: Like it is for everyone, the cost of housing is a burden in Key West. Writing is an industry for which pay has declined dramatically over the decades, making it particularly challenging. Working a job to cover bills takes time away from improving your craft so you can earn more, but bills have to be paid today. On the other hand, personal struggle gives life to art.
KA: What’s the solution?
JD: Every artist in history has faced this at some point. Be real poor and devote all your energy to your art or find other income and risk undermining your creation. In the end, each individual needs to decide their own priorities. It would be nice to have art patrons like back in the Middle Ages. Of course, they were filthy and died young, so, trade-offs I guess.
KA: Does that put Key West even further behind in its ability to cultivate future writers who can make a financially viable career out of this?
JD: I think it is the same for writers and artists all over. This country does not value the arts in the way it values sports and weapons. But if I wanted to make lots of money I would be a banker.
KA: Why not bank but write on the side? Do you have an aversion to French collars and cubicles?
JD: I have an aversion to monotonous full-time jobs and authority figures telling me what to do.
KA: What was a particularly monotonous piece of literature you recently read that did not match up with its critical reviews?
JD: Christopher Moore is one of my favorite modern authors. I could go on for days praising some of his works — “Lamb,” “Fool” — but his most recent work, “Noir,” was very difficult to get through. I actually never finished it because it moved so slowly and the characters never connected with me.
KA: We have one or two major literary events every year. How would you design the next great one?
JD: Obviously, I hope the DECAs will become the next great literary event of the Keys. Long term, I would like the event to be a weekend of literary arts performances, along with music, visual and culinary arts, with multiple grants being delivered to literary artists via the awards ceremonies. Literature is not just entertainment. It documents and comments on the culture from which it derives. The lessons we hold dear, the things we fear, and the hopes and dreams for our future, are what literature speaks to and reflects to future generations about our time. A people without culture are not a people at all. It is imperative we nurture and celebrate the arts in our communities. I look forward to the day when “Decimos” and the DECAs are known worldwide as not just a celebration of our culture, but a garden where future authors are grown.
KA: What are you going to jot down about this interview?
JD: Story idea. Journalist travels the country conducting interviews with local notables as cover for being a serial killer. He only targets interview subjects he finds boring or annoying in some way. It’s a tragic comedy.
KA: Wow. Should we really print that?
JD: Sure. Why not?
KA: You’re just a basket of literary sunshine, aren’t you?
JD: I prefer to think of myself as a tankard of story ale. But I guess basket of literary sunshine works. ¦