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.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


It's late and I liked this wonderful little picture from The Onion.

And yet now I can't help but think about a 20,000-word monster that's been lurking in the deep, dark recesses of my laptop and could likely be expanded into a full-length novel

Describing stories in terms of words always makes me feel like I'm talking about going fishing. Gary Larson once wrote a Far Side comic where old cartoonists were bragging about how they had characters with ears and noses and so forth "this big!" Wonder if there's room for writers in there.?

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Novel Idea

Don't remember how I stumbled across it, but recently my attention was directed towards this New York Times article on why novel writers might take their creations out the backyard, chain them to trees and shoot them. Figuratively of course.

Well, maybe literally in one or two cases. I'd love to hear about those. Anyone?

I tell everyone I know that I've only been writing for a year plus now. I started on flash fiction, moved on to short stories when I felt I had a decent grip on pacing, and moved on and up until now just about everything I write seems to check in around the 10k word mark. I have yet to write a novel, but there are plenty of ideas swirling around beneath my gradually thinning hair. In fact, a few months ago I decided to give novel writing an honest shot.

Two chapters in, going by the glorious chapter-a-month model, I think I'm ready to call it quits. It's not every day that you sit down to write a story and bang out the whole thing in one go. Most days you have a few tinkly crystal moments where you just know what happens next, and if you're lucky it's enough that you can build something off of that without knowing exactly where it's going to take you. This thing? Bloody hell, I have no clue. I have never sat down to work on this thing and ever had even a moment where it's felt like there was a string for me to tug on. That's bad. And it's not like you're supposed to enjoy every moment of your writing life. There are going to be times where you have to trudge on with a project. But this one feels like it's just taking up time and without anything interesting happening.

My protagonist is about the only thing I have a clue about. I like him. Harvey Protagonasto (not the name I've gone with, obviously) is suicidal but immortal. Kind of like Wolverine without the claws, adamantine, muttonchops, fighting ability, attitude or confidence. So I'm left with a suicidal alcoholic masochist. That's really not enough to build several hundred pages on. His evil half-brother makes me want to vomit though. I mean, fuck, evil brother? Hasn't that been done to death? I'm throwing in characters because Harvey needs people to interact with. They're just kind of there without a lot of history or without a history that actually makes sense. There needs to be some kind of sense with character that they are people who would interact in real life, and I don't get that vibe from Harvey, the waitress he knows, his crippled black friend or his evil half brother. (damn it. I even picture him with a mustache.) They just sound like lists of traits.

I like the character and might revisit him some day when I'm older and wiser. For now, it's just not going to work. I'll stick with my stories about mind control crabs and wars between food groups thank you very much.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hey, who put this amazing manuscript on my desk?

So I'm working on a story I submitted to Vagabondage Press. My project editor has sent the thing back with a few corrections, some notes, etc. I'm reading through it and thinking to myself "Wow, I really like what they did here. This phrase here really put some life into this scene. Huh, hey, that's a clever description."

And then it dawns on me that all of said editor's changes were either in red text or highlighted. I was being wowed by my own work. Apparently I'm an arrogant bastard.

It also turns out that my grasp of commas and semicolons is horrific, which I already figured but have been completely incapable of fixing over the past couple of years. Screw you punctuation!