Thursday, November 3, 2011

Has it Really Been a Month?

If blogs were children, I'd be in prison for neglect.

My wife and I are looking for houses, and I wish I had something insightful to say about the process but all I've learned as that I really like old houses and that I don't want a house that doesn't have a basement. And if it does have a basement, it better have a high enough ceiling that I'm not smacking my head into it all the time.

But on the subject of old houses, there's just something I love about all of the little odd incongruities that were either built into the house or that have cropped up over the years as new owners have moved in and out and decided that they didn't need the attic, or didn't need two closets and tore one down for more space in the bedroom. Or decided that, hey, this big empty space in the bedroom would make a pretty nice closet. I have so many damn shoes, Herb! You know that!

The houses we've seen that've been around for about a century or so seem to have grown organically just as much as they've been built. There are dressers and drawers and cabinets built into the walls, and old wood with dozens or hundreds of little nicks in the finish, and little doors here and there that may or may not lead into John Malkovich. We saw a house recently that had a small door (presumably to an attic, possibly to an actor) set twelve feet up into the wall of the master bedroom.

In addition, we looked at one built around 1880-ish that had an all new interior... except for the basement, which had a dirt floor, a fieldstone foundation (just lots of big rocks mortared together) and was propped up by literal tree trunks.

It's kind of a shame that I love old houses, because I'm sure I don't want the problems that go with owning one.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Naked Came the Manatee

I just finished the book in the post title, primarily to get it back to the library as its a week overdue. "NCtM" got itself lost in my luggage during a short vacation to northern Mass and southern New Hampshire, and I was content to let it sit there a while.

The title caught my eye, and the plot is an odd thing involving the head of Fidel Castro and a manatee by the name of Booger, but while I like the idea of a collaboration like this, it just didn't work. The opening is a bit slow, and each of the book's thirteen authors felt the need not to only continue the story as it was, but to add a new element in each chapter. The result is chaotic, especially because none of the writers seemed to trust one another enough to just continue along with introduced plot threads, but instead threw out or trampled on previously introduced material.

The net effect is that what should be a shared story soup comes off as more of a pot luck with little coordination. Three people showed up with napkins, another three with potato chips, and it's up to Debby's modest tuna noodle cassarole to save the day... only there's only enough for six people.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Screw It

I'm ditching "Sinner" and using the rest of September to write something about dwarves. Dwarves are awesome. They drink, they fight, they mine for gold and construct awesome underground cities and construct awesome beards. That and I have an itch to write something pure fantasy. I feel like I'm still watering my writing down to fit some kind of norm, and that ain't right.

Fuck you, Norm!

I Got Nothin'

So I brought Daryl to Cleveland and he's blown up a Mustang at the 50-yard line at Browns Stadium. On the plus side, I know what he wants, I just have no idea how to get him that thing, or what he could possibly do to achieve it.

It's frustrating because in a way it makes sense. I have a character who is stuck and has no idea what to do next, but that doesn't make for a compelling story. So the question is, if you're in Cleveland and you're the last person on Earth, and you want to find someone to go have a drink with, where do you start looking? Probably the bars. But, nah, that's too easy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

You're in Albuquerque...

... and you just finished dropping the last of the bodies in the landfill. You get back to town and the entire places is yours. Just you. Nobody else. What do you do?

It's funny how stories evolve. I'm revisiting a short story I began a while ago--tentatively titled "Sinner"-- and it used to be that I knew the answer to the question above. This story had an ending, but on re-reading it, it just didn't fit. Long story short: "Sinner" is about a guy, Daryl, who wishes the world would leave him alone. It does. Daryl's the only person on Earth for probably several-hundred years (not that he's bothered to count) and he's going pretty mad. When he begins seeing people, Daryl realizes he has a problem.

How the story originally went was that, after murdering the same (illusory?) man over and over again,  he realizes he needs to put back everything he ever broke or moved to get the world back. It's a Herculean task, setting the world right, but it goes by in a few paragraphs. And then, boom, he has his life back.

Way too easy.

So now I've scrapped that ending and I'm trying to find something else for him to do. Feels like he shouldn't have his epiphany so quickly, but I'm not certain where that would come in. I think he's halfway to realizing that he wants people back, but I'm not sure what pushes him the extra step.

Well, at the end of this month I'm going back to my first major edit of "Up in Hell". I've got 21 days to think about it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Swear it Isn't Me

Novelist Has Whole Shitty World Plotted Out

GLOUCESTER, MA—As he neared completion this week on his latest novel, By The Water's Edge, author Edward Milligan marveled aloud to reporters how he was able to flesh out, in meticulous detail, every single corner of his book's vast and stunningly shitty world.
According to Milligan, he spent seven months conducting in-depth historical research in order to conjure, as if out of thin air, the fictional and entirely bullshit universe of Connor's Cove, Massachusetts, including its utterly uninspired lighthouse, the predictably dark underbelly lurking beneath its quaint exterior, and its painfully trite main thoroughfare known as Chance Street.
 Makes me wonder if other regions of America inspire the sort of cliches the article is sounding off on. I'm thinking of the whole "quaint small town" thing. I'll bet the south does. But as a pointlessly patriotic yankee, I'll bet we do it better.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Feet, Shoes, Walkin'

But before all that, I'm happy to announce that my dark fantasy/fairy tale story, "Those Who Came Before" will be published in 2012 by the good folks at Kaleidotrope. Hooray!

I bought new shoes today. The old ones? I could put my hand through the bottom of the left. Air flow is not typically a quality you want in a shoe. It keeps happening though. My wife has had the same pair of sneakers for ten years. Me? Even though I no longer walk 3-4 miles per day, I still somehow go through shoes about every six months.

I enjoy walking, and travel in general. It's kind of a shame that it makes for boring reading. I recently finished George "Railroad" Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series and it seems to me that by the fourth book he's been glad to include lengthy scenes of people going places rather than letting them get there and finding something for them to do. I get it: it's partly an adventure series and so some travel out into the wild and wooly wocales of Westeros is to be expected, but it still feels like this is more of an excuse  to drag out a cash cow a little longer.

Not that I can blame him. If at any point in my life I have a wildly successful series that somehow comes to star Sean Bean on HBO, I might be tempted to have my characters wear out their shoes. I just think back on the efforts of Robert Jordan. Never got past book six of "Wheel of Time", and thought of going back to read all of those just to be able to finish the series kind of makes me cringe.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Coming Through

I'm sure I'll change my mind some time on Sunday, but part of me is giddy at the prospect of really horrifically bad weather. I love walking in the rain and I love hearing thunder and lightning and sheets of water spraying at 75-degree angles.

Maybe it's related to my anxiety. When the clouds go black and seem to bubble, and the thunder booms and the lightning flashes and everyone is running for cover, I actually feel relieved. There's a moment when everyone is in a panic, and it feels like we're all equal at that point.

New England is more familiar with blizzards than hurricanes, but of the few we've had (or were supposed to have) I remember Gloria best. We were living in a set of housing projects in Manchester, CT, a place by the name of Squire Village. Mom made us stay in narrow hall just in front of the bathroom on the first floor. She read. I don't recall how my sister and I passed the time, just that when we were finally allowed out the sky was this deep gray, and it was somehow like being on the bottom of the ocean. The only casualties nearby were a pair of enormous trees a street over, which we played on until we were shooed away by concerned adults.

Maybe that's it then. I think my memories of storms generally end pleasantly. Or maybe it's the Scandinavian-ness calling out to me, saying "Hey, hail Thor, right?"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Man, Look At This Place!

It needs a new roof, a better background, content and regular updates. You know how much that's going to run? Neither do I.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Employment: Very unlikely - Not likely - Likely - Somewhat likely - Very likely

Well, here I am, about to interview for a tech writing position tomorrow.

It's been a while since I've been a regular part of the work force. I had a temp job last year that only lasted a week and a half. Prior to that there was a summer job I had to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to get to, to walk 2.5 miles to spend the entire day building up pallets of dog food and other items to be shipped to pet stores. After all that was done I'd walk the same span back in the midday heat. All for $9 an hour. That only lasted about three months though, and I'm still alive.

And in the meantime I've either been in school or writing for free or as near to free as possible that the amounts make no difference. And I've sent out resumes to libraries and newspapers and companies that publish maps and phone books and books and literature and pamphlets all to no real gain. And the black-dust warehouses I'd worked in prior don't want a thirty-year old with a BA in English, for fear that I'd jump ship when a better job came along.

It's all kind of frustrating.

I can deal with being turned down for a job, I think the worst part of it is not knowing how to traverse the application circus. Parts of the process seem to have gotten so convoluted that I'd be amazed if they still served the purpose they intended. For instance, who in their right mind, when confronted by a sequence of five empty bubbles, is going to fill in the one indicating that they're "somewhat likely to steal"?

Or to put it another way, a person applying for a job with significant social interaction is "very unlikely" to put down that they are "very likely" going to be afraid of any sort of socialization. In fact, nobody is going to bubble in anything that damages their chances at employment. Such tests only serve to make it "very likely" that you'll be lying to your employer from day one; they actively encourage dishonesty and serve to make that another aspect of the employee/employer relationship. That's not to mention the inherently baffling notion that you "likely" know what you'll do in a given situation, without context.

I found my last job through Careerbuilder. I'm not sure if it was always this way, but it seems like half the listings there now are for MLM schemes and work that promises to pay you big bucks to work at home, like some apparently now rich housewife is doing.

But the worst of it is how muddled and arbitrary the language of these listings have gotten. I clicked the first result I saw on the Careerbuilder home page and was rewarded with the following text.


Job Summary


Working with the Learning Services Manager to deliver select presales services and manage implementations of company offerings with corporate clients. The LSPM role requires strong project management and customer facing skills, a professional services mindset, passion for the leadership and management development space, and sureness with technology enabled and learning solutions. Will participate in the presales process to position the company’s leadership development capabilities. Will project manage client implementations and serve as an internal project lead for a variety of projects.

What to make of this? What is "strong" project management? What are "customer facing skills"? Presumably this just means knowing how to talk to people, keep them happy and keep them coming back to your service, company or what have you. But it's made indistinct by a haze of professional speech.I can't even figure out what exactly it is I'd be doing here, and that seems bad for finding potential candidates. Maybe I've never helped "position the company's leadership development capabilities," but I've helped "allocate the company's management training potential." Is that the same thing? Damned if I know.

Clarity is key. It probably sounds less glorious or impressive to just point me to my desk and tell me to fill out that form that gets us more paper clips, but that's all I really need to know to do my job.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Consider the Cantaloupe

Do you like cantaloupe? I do, though only if it's a bit soft. And I don't always eat down to the rind. Sometimes the bit near the rind is too hard. And it has to be cut thin?

What's that? You like the rind? Go what myself? And you'd rather have hard, crisp cantaloupe? Well I never!

I bet you and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, too. And I'll tell you that I'm largely indifferent to gun control and for the death penalty (with a big healthy asterisk next to it). So now you know all you need to know about me, and if you're a Democrat we likely have nothing to say to one another, right? But hang on, I'm also pro-choice and all for marriage equality and disgusted by the Tea Party lunatics. Where does that leave us? Now if you're a Republican you know all there is to know about me, right?

The internet seems to be pushing this sort of behavior. Twenty years ago if you thought of dressing up in a panda costume and spanking your neighbor, you kept it to yourself. Maybe the urge went away eventually, or maybe you just kept it locked up and never acted on it. With the advent of easy communication and anonymity, you can panda yourself up and spank until your palms are sore. Or discuss it at least. It must be great to find so many like-minded friends, even if none are in your area.

But, now the people in your local, physical community are less important, aren't they? Previously you had to compromise: you'd only put on the panda suit when the wife was out of town on weekends, and never in front of anyone. And you'd never in a million years talk to anyone about it. Now you don't need to compromise.

If you enjoy deep sea fishing, well, fuck the trout fishermen quit frankly. You can find other marlin enthusiasts. If you like the Portland Sea Dogs you can tell the rest of the country to go to hell if they don't because now you have a place to talk about them. And if mustard is your thing there's no problem tucking yourself away from those who'd rather have ketchup.

There are forums out there dedicated to just about anything, and it makes me think that we're losing our ability to compromise and that extreme behaviors are being brought into sharper contrast.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Now Playing

My novelette, Jam Don't Shake is now up at Vagabondage Press!

This is the longest story I've written to date. I know "length of story" isn't typically high on most authors' lists as an accomplishment, but it means something here. It takes time to figure out a story and make it coherent and consistent from end to end. I'd like to think that this represents an achievement. Flash  and short fiction are good, and I love them, but it's nice knowing that you have a handle on longer narratives. Hope this bodes well for the novel I'm working on.

As to "Jam Don't Shake," it's basically a little horror, a little sci-fi, and a fair share of sex drugs and violence. Or to put it another way.


They seem so innocent: jars of jellies and jams. But the inhabitants of the town of Goodman know better.
An additive in Auntie Goodtimes Jams and Jellies turns good people into rioting murderers when their supply is cut off, the factory burned to the ground, and the National Guard closing in.
Doug is trying to survive in this post-Goodtimes world, sating his addiction with a carefully dosed tablespoon a day of jelly. And, when supplies get low, Doug, like others, finds that cravings can be quelled with the blood of fellow addicts.
Is it really murder when it’s a matter of survival?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Cheesy Story on Escape Pod

After a long, long wait, my story "Wheels of Blue Stilton" is finally up on Escape Pod! "Wheels" took second place in their flash fiction contest last year and is joined in this podcast by the other finalists: "London Iron" by William R. Halliar, and "Light and Lies" by Gideon Fostick.

Had a great time with the contest last year. There's some buzz on the Escape Artists' Podcast forums about putting together another one, and I'll definitely be looking into competing if and when it happens.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Three Down, Two to Go

I've subbed Twain Wreck, Keep the Doctor Away, and Stronger than Sunlight. Still working on Salmon. Decided it wasn't fair to cut out a 5th story and so I've replaced Welsh Rabbit with a story by the name of Crusade, which is more or less in the same boat as Salmon regarding what kind of work has to be done.

The paragraph above resembles gibberish.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Show So Far

1: Stronger than Sunlight - Flash Fiction - Fantasy

Finished and still looking for a market.

2: Welsh Rabbit - Short Fiction - Strange

Discarded. Would need to start this recipe from scratch

3: Twain Wreck - Short Fiction - Magical Realism

Submitted to Space Squid. We shall see.

4: Salmon - Short Fiction - Magical Realism

A work in progress. Managed to trim down about 200-300 words but it still might prove unsalvageable. Might make a move to an en medea res type of beginning. Could work.

5: Keep the Doctor Away - Flash Fiction - Strange

Finished and still looking for a market. 


Alright, so not where I wanted to be at the end of the day, but it's progress. Will devote time to the rest tomorrow.

Finding a decent market to sub to is not hard, now that I think about it. It's just time consuming.

Need to Quit Being so Lazy

There must be at least five stories or more on my laptop that are more or less passable and could be good with a decent edit. My goal by the end of the day is to have an extra five submissions out there. I'll be posting the list here as I go.

Edit: Alright, found five I'd like to work on today. Finished editing #1 earlier. Now begins the rush to get these all prettied up and out the door.

1: Stronger than Sunlight - Flash Fiction - Fantasy

Finished editing and can now proceed looking for a landing spot.

2: Welsh Rabbit - Short Fiction - Strange

Came to the conclusion that this one would need to be totally rewritten. I'm not looking to write something entirely from scratch right now, but I feel better for having given it a second look.

3: Twainspotting - Short Fiction - Magical Realism

Edited and tweaked. I feel better about this now than I did when I opened up the file. Name has now been changed to Twain Wreck. It's a take on Mark Twain's Five Boons of Life, which I found bitter, predictable and preachy.

4: Salmon - Short Fiction - Magical Realism

Work continues, but this may fall the way of Welsh Rabbit. I remember now posting a drabbled version of this on The Drabblecast Forums just to see what it would look like greatly reduced. Needs some serious editing.

5: Keep the Doctor Away - Flash Fiction - Strange

Hardly touched a thing. More of a vignette than a complete story, and might be a hard sell. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thoughts of a First Time Novel Writer

I'm nearing completion of my first ever novel, "Up in Hell", and it's interesting how different it is from anything else I've written. Not thematically or even stylistically, just by sheer volume.

What had originally been intended as a short story about a sock puppet wandering around in hell is now sitting at about 72,000 words, looks to grow even larger by the end, and has broken some of my notions about how I should be writing. For instance, it's been drilled into me that you finish your story and only then go back and edit it. I've broken this little tenant four times now, and each time it's allowed me to proceed at a point where I'd previously gotten stuck.

I'm not even sure how you could get away with not editing a larger work like this, just to make sure you're staying consistent with your plot and your characters. And I fined each time that I go back the characters grow a little. My little sock puppet now has more personality than "scared shitless".

Well, not that a sock puppet should be shitful to begin with.

So now my sock puppet is anxious but willing to put herself in harms way to do the right thing. The marionette is an unwilling (and possibly useless) messiah. And the sandwich does not have a heart of gold.

Yes, there is a sandwich character.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everything is Wrong

One of the best compliments I ever received went roughly as follows: "There's so much wrong here that a reader can't even begin to pick up the pieces."

No, it was not intended as criticism. To make a short story even shorter, the tale that sparked that comment involved a man without a head, a hobo decapitation, two neighbors and a ruffled flowerbed. The critic went on to explain that he meant that there was nothing in the situation the story described that allowed for an easy way to make things right.

And I love that, because I love chaos. There are any of a million stories where some problems arises and some person shows up to take care of it. They can be interesting. But what I really love is a story where nothing can be saved. Total chaos. Too many things wrong to even think of trying to right them. This is the kind of thing I mean.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

While We're on the Topic of Beer

And because this is ostensibly a blog that deals with things like literature, now seems as good a time as any to mention English poet John Skelton.
Kind of reminds me of Prince.

Skelton was a poet in the late 15th to early 16th century, and tends to get overlooked. His poetry is not terribly complex, tending to be straightforward and musical. This is why I like him. With lullay, lullay, like a child is as good an example as you'll find. It's set in verse and could just as easily be a song. The word "lullay," which repeats, is basically another form of "la la la."

 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beer is Good... and Stuff

This blog was mostly started as an effort to consolidate my flailing (no, not "failing" or even "fledgeling") literally career into one spot. As such, I need to keep reminding myself that this blog is min; it doesn't belong to a writer who happens to share the same name and needs to behave. If anything it's probably pretty dull because I've been cutting the rest of myself off to try and push one aspect.

So I'm here to talk about something I like.

"No nose? How does it smell?" "It Sphinx!"
Beer is often thought of as the drink of choice for  big dumb guys, which isn't necessarily wrong but doesn't tell the whole story. This is a beverage with a history. Hell, the ancient Egyptians were pretty heavy beer drinkers, and look at some of the things they made.

Obviously not all beers are created equal. I'm not here to praise the likes of Coors or Bud Light, though I'll admit to drinking the latter on those occasions when I just want something cold and bland as an accompaniment to a snack, or if it's all a friend has on hand at a BBQ. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nothing Much

Took the day off today to work on some other stories and get them out there. Tomorrow, I go to Connecticut. Saturday I have a few beers and watch Ong Bak 3.

Wait, is that IMDB rating right? D'oh! Well, guess we'll see.

Chugging Along

Latest edits of my novelette are now back in the hands of my project editor at Vagabondage Press.

My novel, "Up in Hell" (working title) is sitting pretty at about 59,000 words. Never dreamed I'd be able to put together a story this long and still keep interested. Damnit, I deserve a beer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stephen King's "The Simpsons Movie"

My mother-in-law lent us her copy of "Under the Dome" several weeks ago and I've only just now gotten around to picking it up. Haven't read much into it so I don't have any comments to make. Except, how exactly is this different from the plot to The Simpsons' Movie?

I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't picked up an actual book in a few months, mostly reading online fiction or listening to podcasts. There's something I love about having a real, tangible object in my hands, and I feel like I've betrayed that a bit. Things like The Dunesteef and Drabblecast (linked elsewhere on the page) are great and all, but I find I tend to fidget if I have to sit still and listen to something without any other interaction. Reading a book is a genuinely physical activity: you have to hold the book in a certain way to keep it from falling shut; mark your page; move your eyes; move your head on your neck (for larger volumes). All minute actions, sure, but I feel more engaged by them.

Well, hope this one is entertaining. I liked "Cell," but then, I like anything zombie-related.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Clowns of Paris

Every so often when writing microfiction, I find a story that just will not let itself be trimmed down to drablle (100-word) length."Clowns of Paris" is one of them. I'm not sure what the title is supposed to mean.

Blogger decided to eat this story for some reason. Here it is again.


 Clowns of Paris

The mime had farted.
            
 Everyone heard it. A little girl in A saffron-colored dress let go of her blue balloon, watching it waft away into the sky. Her mother’s mouth twisted in disgust. All around, children and adults alike shook their heads in proper revulsion.
           
“Sorry!” the mime exclaimed.
           
 He clamped his hands over his mouth. At this final sin the crowd’s outrage simply could not be contained. They picked him up and carried him bodily to the lion’s den in the zoo, dumping him roughly to the dirt there.
            
 As his last defiant act, he swore privately that he would make no sound while the lion devoured him. But the beast burped noisily when the act was done, and the unappeasable crowd just shook their heads and threw their arms up to heaven in irritation, though some shook their fists at hell, where the mime very well may have gone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Aftermath


 This post gets a little cuss heavy in spots. Read on at your own risk.

I was set to thinking about the following poem the other day

"When the summer fields are mown,
When the birds are fledged and flown,
And the dry leaves strew the path;
With the falling of the snow,
With the cawing of the crow,
Once again the fields we mow
And gather in the aftermath.
 

Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
Is this harvesting of ours;
Not the upland clover bloom;
But the rowen mixed with weeds,
Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,
Where the poppy drops its seeds
In the silence and the gloom"



That's Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's "Aftermath."

I first encountered this poem in college a few years back and did not appreciate it. Now? I don't know what changed my mind, and I won't pretend it's a favorite, but something burr of it has apparently stuck with me since the last time I saw it. I'm not going to cut it to pieces in an attempt to figure out why, but I do have a kernel of an idea.

I'm one of those jerks who loves end rhyme. Love it. I hate poetry that doesn't have it. Most poetry these days doesn't have it. Guess what? I hate most poetry these days.

Before you begin passionately defending the choice not to rhyme, let me point out the word "most" in the previous paragraph. Stephen Crane is one of my favorite poets with stuff as simple as this ditty, the title of which is the first line.

"I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
 Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
"It is futile," I said,
"You can never-"

"You lie," he cried,
And ran on.

To complete the tangent, this one sticks out to me because I love stories of people zealously pursuing impossible goals. More satisfying to me to see just how big a dent an individual can put in the impossible than to see someone succeed at anything in particular. Call me the tragic/romantic type I guess.

It's one of a handful of non-rhyming poems I can remember. This is not solely bitching about quality, which is subjective, it's a problem inherent in a population with horrifically bad attention spans. And if you're like me, a weak memory to boot.

End rhyme is as much a mnemonic device as it is a stylistic choice. Maybe even moreso. How many of you read anything by Shel Silverstein when you were growing up?

"This bridge will only take you halfway there
To those mysterious lands you long to see:
Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs
And moonlit woods where unicorns run free.
So come and walk awhile with me and share
The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I've known.
But this bridge will only take you halfway there--
The last few steps you'll have to take alone." 

It's not just random chance that so much children's poetry rhymes. We're operating under the assumption that it will help a small child to pay attention and to remember. Why should we assume that an adult would be any different? The treating of end rhyme as some kind of piddling or immature device is incredibly stupid. It reeks of the bullshit notion of "You're an adult now, you don't need it." As if actively paying attention were some kind of chore we need to take care of to enjoy poetry, or we don't deserve it.

"You're an adult now, be responsible and get your taxes done early."
Hardly anybody does.

"You're an adult now, you should eat your vegetables."
People don't. (Jay Leno doesn't)

"You should vacuum today."
Eh, nobody will notice if I let it wait till next Thursday.

"No, you really should vacuum today."
Hey, fuck you.

There is no other form of entertainment so pretentious that it would assume that it is fine as it is, that if you don't enjoy it, you have the problem. It doesn't need to alter itself to piddling things like "what people like." Can you imagine if television was like this? How about movies? I'd love to a version of, say, The Expendables where the audience is expected to sit still for a half hour and learn about the local government and politics of Small South American Island Land. As if the enjoyment we're supposed to derive from our entertainment (in any form) were a privilege? Fuck that.

And I know it's not as if poets around the turn of the century said to each other, "Man, people need to work for their goddamn poetry." They turned from rhyme for the same reason Ginsburg turned to drugs; a want/need to experiment with the art they were producing. Only now it's the standard. It pisses me off that we’ve nearly eliminated what was not only a nifty device in the poet’s toolbox, but also a  felt the need to turn our noses up at it. What might have been initially done as something to expand the bounds of poetry is now being used to restrict it, which is a damn shame.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kinda Thrilling...

...to have a new laptop. I got it this weekend and now must consider a career as a spy to utilize the face recognition and fingerprint identification security features.

Even if I choose to remain a writer, it's nice to not be able to make toast in the time Word takes to load.

What is Hell?

Still banging out about 1,000 to 2,000 words per day on my latest story. I've been thinking about what exactly Hell should be. For starters, it should be capitalized.

Put "Hell" into a Google image search and you're likely to come back with something like this.
Lots and lots of fire.
Is this really the best we can do?

I'm not going to be that smug jackass who pretends he's read anything by Sartre. The only thing I have to offer is that one famous quote from No Exit (had to look that up, I admit) "Hell is other people." It's a start. It's sensible. Probably all you need to make a very good Hell is to let a bunch of people loose and let them do what they would. But "other people" doesn't take it as far as it can go.

Hell is variety. An unending lake of fire is dull and is the kind of thing you're going to get used to after a while. Part of what makes pain really awful is the anticipation before your nerves start screaming. What use is pain without an end? There has to be a variety. When the imp comes to kick you in the balls next Tuesday, he'd be smart to jam his pitchfork into your knee and yank it like a lever. Not expecting that, were you?

And he's only going to visit you every so often at irregular intervals. There needs to be contrast between pain and not-pain. Because the second thing that makes a good Hell is thought. Imagine constantly anticipating that pinch. When will it happen next? Torture is bad enough. I'm not going to say that the constant expectation of it is worse, but it's absolutely a part of the mixture.

Lake of fire? No, today you're in the frigid swamps full of nasty poisonous things. Some of you will come back without eyes. Some of you didn't have eyes to begin with, because inequality is part of it. When the demons come and remove the feet of every tenth person, you'll understand why after carrying that person ten steps, or after leaving them where they are. Only one needs to suffer to make ten miserable.

On that note, this story is turning out a lot darker than when I'd originally conceived it. That's not a complaint, just an observation.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How Not to be Seen

On the heels of yesterday's rant, I just wanted to drop by with this thing here which was brought to my attention by the good folks at The Nautilus Engine. Only read if you want to learn the five steps to being totally boring and unremarkable.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Break it Down

Image captured from this here video. Possibly offensive to you.
Gonna cuss with impunity here. Deal with it or go home.

I've mentioned here before that I'm working on a story that, basically, can be summed up as "puppets in hell."

It's grown by 6,000 words in just the last two days because I am loving the hell out of it.

I've got dozens and dozens of story ideas, but god damn, half of them I don't even want to bother with. This story? I wish I was writing it right now. Not because it's going to be something amazing. Not because it'll propel me to fame and fortune, but because I'm enjoying it.

I think it took this for me to realize that I'm just not cut out for the serious literary world. I'm no writer. I'm a weird guy who happens to write. Taking everything deadly serious has thus far lead to more than a few stories withering on the vine. Listening to Randall Coots' "Toaster of the Gods" on the Drabblecast was a wake up call. People can and do listen to really weird fiction. You'll get pushed by plenty of people to write serious stuff, but why? I don't want to hear another tale of "Guy X meets girl Y in war torn Z during the Battle of AA" There's already enough fiction out there that reads like non-fiction that doing so contributes as much to the world as does one jack-off doing the wave in a crowded stadium.

Is creating fiction that mirrors the world around us really the best we can do? Jesus Fucking Christ. I guaran-goddamn-tee you that for every novel about a poor Korean girl growing up in rural Wisconsin, there really is a poor Korean girl growing up in rural Wisconsin, or someone close enough that you could just as easily have your novel by asking the adult version of her to write down what it was like to grow up there.

Boring. You want stories about gang members growing up in the projects? Look to the fucking news. You want a story about an alcoholic who survives a tremendous car crash and turns his life around? News. Again. Story about a Vietnam veteran who comes back home to protesters hurling balloons full of piss? Shit, ask your uncle.

I want things I can't find here. I want to hear about that bug from space that glows in the dark. I want to read a story where a sock puppet is kidnapped... in HELL. I want to listen to a story about a toaster that thinks its God. I think we can do better than just regurgitating the world around us.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Badass Scars

Something I'm sick of seeing in any story is a character with a wicked badass scar, which is typically on their face. If the character is meant to be a rugged, roguish hero, it'll be on a cheek so that it's noticaeble enough to make them rugged but not enough to impede on their good looks. If the character is a villain, expect it to be longer, possibly the entire length of the face. Probably it'll cover one eye and there's about a 50/50 chance that that eye is some weird color.

Okay, not a badass. Evil though.
I guess that's the best position to show right away that your character is seriously bad news--it doesn't serve much of a purpose to have your ragged, war-torn character that way if clothing is obstructing the view--but, damn, haven't we had enough already. I guess it's fine for comics, such as Dr. McNinja: when you have a limited amount of text and 90% of info has to come through visuals, you have to make the maximum amount of impact in the shortest amount of space. I hate reading about it in literature though. Given that space constraints are far less in a good novel, you don't need to apply these things like badges.

It's funny how quickly you can identify the traits of a scarred character. The eye thing means they're an awesome fighter (because characters like this can typically survive and kick ass even without full use of their senses). If it's across the chest they likely survived some mortal wound that should have killed them, and likely have a survivor story. Burn scars across 50% or more of the body? Villain. Something to do with mentally linking severe burns to hell, and hell to evil, I'm guessing. On a hand, or say, a forehead, said scar is likely going to be shaped like a thing and will probably be part of a prophecy or just act as positive identification for the character. Harry Potter is probably the best recent example of this. Also the most hilarious because, frankly, his makes him seem like a complete puss. "Ow! My tiny lightning bolt-shaped scar hurts!" Jesus, man up.

 Sometimes this is awesome.
You're not going to find a lone scar across anyone's arm or leg unless it fit's that requirement. More likely is that if a character is going to be wounded on a limb, it's probably missing and has been replaced by something more awesome. If it's a fantasy setting, expect a hook, or a sword. Possibly a chainsaw if you're going more into steampunk territory. The closer you get to more modern day the more likely you're going to see a gun.

I think that should I ever choose to add a defining wound to a character's past, I'm going to make it something that hasn't been done before. Maybe a missing nose. No, better yet, just one nostril completely gone. Never seen that before.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dunesteef

Wow, what a lazy title on my part.

Anyway, I've been listening to the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine lately. It's great but I find the post-story segments are starting to drive me nuts. I don't want to stop listening to them but I hate just sitting around and doing nothing while listening to people talk. On the plus side I've stopped curiously clicking links o the site during those times, which is good because my browser opens up those sites in the same window and tab, meaning I lose my place. Meaning, yeah I'm not going back.

Big Anklevich has a muppety voice.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quick...

...name me someplace a demon might find string or twine in the vast wastes of hell. I'm avoiding writing my current story until I can think of a reasonable spot for it.

I typically get about the same amount of writing done every day: anywhere from 2-4 hours. But my attention span waxes and wanes. On good days, those hours will be consecutive, and the prose will have a nice flow to it. On bad days? It'll be in 15-20 minute spurts and will feel choppy and sort of clumsy when I go back and read whatever it was I was working on.

The computer is the best and worst possible writing tool. With internet access I can quickly research a topic for a story. On the other hand, it also leads to a lot of meaningless tooling around. I'm actually in the market for a new writing laptop because my current one is getting very old. It was not top-of-the-line when I got it. In fact, it was a clearance model. Six years ago. As if it wasn't slow enough, putting Norton antivirus on it pretty much slowed it to a crawl. An 11-year old copy of MS word should not take more than a split second to open. It often takes this poor old man about ten. That's just word. More intensive programs are a nightmare. A few friends and acquaintances have really plain-looking blogs I can't access from this thing because everything will freeze up.

And yet it almost seems like a blessing in disguise. Would I do even less if I had a computer that was up to date? Or would I get less frustrated at having to restart it (and thereby spend more time with it) because something it can't cope with is hogging a ton of resources? Guess I'm about to find it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Technology! Innovation and Industry!

I sent my latest story to an online mag known as The Nautilus Engine, and I was surprised to find that it was not going onto their website, but their Facebook feed linked above. I'm torn on this one. On the off chance the NE people are reading, I'm still grateful for the opportunity to show some of my work, and I like the market well enough.

On the one hand, it's interesting to see how the world around us moves forward and change with trends and how old things can be changed with new technology. The age of print is withering and giving rise to things like online publications and e-readers and so forth. There's no denying that and there's no helping it. Aside from two college publications (and another story that will be coming out next year) every last story I've written has been, or will be, published online.

But is Facebook is the right medium for fiction? On the one hand, Facebook is an enormously powerful social media site right now and offers a lot of opportunity for exposure. One the other hand it worries me to see something I've written slowly slinking its way down the page. There's a real sense of impermanence to it. Whereas something on a website somewhere seems a little more solid, having a url that feels like a private space.

I think there's just a bit of paranoia in the sense that, on Facebook, posts get older and older and slowly sink to the bottom of the page. It feels like they're becoming less and less relevant. This is true of any work, of course, but the visual reminders are less subtle. It'll be interesting to see how a market like this turns out.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I Got Nothing

Just submitted a short story to The Nautilus Engine, who formerly published a story of mine by the name of "Moon Dog". Still debating on whether or not it was a smart move to send in a second story with an unemployed guy who has a strange animal companion. Either this is the kind of thing they'd expect, or it's too much. Then again, "Moon Dog" was put out in 2009. I'm probably safe.

I've had a little trouble with this story. The title, specifically. It's gone through three changes and I'm still not 100% satisfied with it. It's hard coming up with a decent name for a really odd story. Too odd and it turns people off: you don't want a story by the name of "Monkeycheesepants" for instance, because even hardened weirdos will cringe at that. Then again, something simple like "Andy Goes to The Store" is so dull and dry that nobody will get the message that you're writing for an odd audience. An oddience, if you will.

Well, that brings the number of subs I have out at the moment to seven. I've been trying to keep it steady at ten. Gonna have to go get to work.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"I see," said the saw. And he picked up his hammer from daycare.

I write a lot of stories where inanimate objects are animate and anthropomorphisized. The animation isn't the big deal either: I don't go out of my way to provide an origin story as to why the sliced of jellied toast suddenly wants to go boar hunting, or why his friend, the alcoholic belt sander with marital issues, wants to come with him. These things just are.

Confusing? I hope not. I don't find any of this nonsense any more confusing than human behavior already is. Before you ask why the jellied toast is in tears after he loses his gun and has to stab the charging boar to death with his other friend, Larry the neurotic bread knife, let me ask you why a human being might.

We are some seriously, frighteningly inconsistent critters. It's easy enough to find examples to suggest the depth and breadth of behavior we're capable of as a race. I'm not even talking the Gandhi/Hitler comparison. I'm talking about within individuals. I guarantee you that there are serial killers who truly love their families and men who beat their wives who actually do love them. Hell, speaking of Gandhi, how many out there are aware of the fact that he was pro-apartheid?

Maybe I want to put a little mental distance between myself and these creatures are capable of atrocity and tenderness in the same sentence? That's all I can think of. Yes, yes; I am one. Fine. But there sometimes seems like there's no inherent logic in human behavior. It feels easier to me to say that a belt sander shoots and skins a head of lettuce and wears the carcass as a vest. There is not society of belt sanders and, as such, I can determine what they're capable of and what they're going to do. Nobody can realistically call you out on something like that. We all have our own opinions on what human being will or will not do in a given situation (though I'd argue we never really know), but damned if we know what our power tools and breakfasts are thinking.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Irish Day

Saint Patrick's Day is no longer the day we celebrate the man who supposedly drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. It hasn't been for a long time now, which I think is for the best. I can get behind being stereotypically Irish for a day. It's a good excuse to have a pint of Guinness. I'd be baking soda bread now if it wasn't for a cold I have that's sapping my will to do anything meaningful in the kitchen.

I used to be entirely pro-Saint Patrick's Day, but as a lover of old myths and folk tales, it's hard not to feel a little tinge of bitterness today. I read a book some years ago that claimed that Saint Patrick actively stamped out a good deal of the old Celtic legends. I wish I could find more outside of this book (which was "Hero Tales of Ireland" by one Jeremiah Curtin) but given the saint's attempt to spread Christianity and undermine Druidism in Ireland, it doesn't seem unlikely that an active effort to radically alter or eliminate said tales was part of his gig there.

Well, I have my pint. And I'll probably tell myself I'll get a shamrock shake at some point today and never get around to it, just like every Saint Patrick's Day I can remember for the past ten years.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wait, That Cant be Right

 Alternate title: "In a Sunken Short Story Folder, Great Fiction Lies Dreaming."

I recently dragged two stories from the various crevices of my laptop they'd managed to get themselves wedged in. One I began writing in fall of 2009. Feels weird to think it's that old, and it;s funny how so much time away from a story can change it for you. I hadn't taken a look since early 2010. Probably January of that year. Somehow I'd deceived myself into thinking that the piece was about 20,000 words. Turns out it's only about 12. Thousand.

I think I would have remembered if it'd been only twelve.

(Note to self: write twelve-word short story.)

So while I'd initially thought I might be able to expand it into a novel, I'm thinking a lot less ambitiously now. A novella isn't likely out of the realm of possibility. I guess we'll have to see.

A few months ago I got an email from a creative writing professor I've kept up with since my salad days (literally. The lines for the caf salad bar were generally a lot shorter and easier to get through.) in the leafy pastures of UMass Boston. She was looking into a story I wrote for a course/workshop in 2009, wondering if I'd be willing to edit it and shop it out to a local lit mag. Man, that story. I remember being so nervous that I was shaking when it was read aloud. But the feedback afterward was amazing. Hoo boy. One classmate ended his comments with "Fuck and shit, Nick. Fuck and shit." Apparently it made an impression.

I think even at the time I realized that it was a sort of proto-story. That is, for any merits it might have had, it had as many defects. It was still something a novice made. Think of that karaoke roundup you went to where you and your friends were all slamming back margaritas, and everyone on stage sucked, and then that one guy who's not ugly but doesn't approach attractive comes on and wows everyone and at the end of the night you've bought him a drink because wow! And when he goes back to his table, people nearby are telling him he should get a record deal. But you know in your heart of hearts that it's not like he's as good as [CURRENT POPULAR MUSICIAN], he's a talented amateur. Side by side with [CURRENT POPULAR MUSICIAN]? guy in the karaoke bar would be completely dismissed.

I don't want to say the story was good because that's not for me to judge and is entirely subjective. It was polished, I guess. A little more detailed than the wood it was being whittled from. I read through it yesterday and today it makes me think of a hinge. I didn't write a better story than that all through my college career, there are little bits of it that sparkle, and yet overall it feels really crude by comparison to the things I'm writing now. The last and best of the early stuff, but wooden and simple by what came after.

In short, I picked up that story thinking I could edit it and get it into shape to send off to the big leagues. Now I'm thinking a complete rewrite is in order. It'll be interesting to see a how [REMAKE OF OLD STORY] compares to creative fiction written in college.