Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

MAKING MYSELF THINK

Biggest idiot in the public eye. He’s no longer in the public eye what with the prison sentence and the potential buggering and all, but Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is my choice. Had it all and blew it with his wanna-be-a-gangsta antics, embarrassing a city and anyone who looks like him in the process.

Funniest thing you’ve heard in a long time. Air America, the only radio network for us godless commie liberals, has the Stephanie Miler show in the morning, which is 1 part shtick and 3 parts funny. The guy that does all the voices did a skit where Sara Palin was hunting grizzly bears from her chopper and wound up shooting Boo-Boo, prompting Yogi to go on a righteous killing spree.

Most ridiculous belief system.
It’s a habit of mine to study crazy dogmas out there but most of you won’t know what I’m taking about so I will keep my choice mainstream and simple: Suffice it to say Mormons will always be safely in the number two spot so long as Scientology is around.

Biggest culprit in the dumbing down of America. Rather than a single person, I blame a thing: Reality TV.

One group of people you can’t help but be prejudice against. Blue collar (redneck) conservatives. I really can't help it. There is no group of people more damaging to the national good and I can't respect their choice.

Worst. Job. Ever. Imagine yourself on a bus full of environmental weirdoes heading into a blue collar town that thinks it’s not a blue collar town, trapped there for 8 hours walking door-to-door with a well-meaning Canuck trying to solicit donations for clean water and you might come close to knowing my pain.

One book, excluding the Bible, you can reread several times. NOT THE BIBLE! Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions.” I be readin’ dat all da time ‘cause it be teachin’ me shit like how to be literateness…

Your secret, unrealized dream. This is my first time revealing this, but to act in the filmed versions of some of my novels. You can laugh now.

Current workplace crush, yes or no? Yeah, every five feet. Every six inches during lunch. They can't help themselves! I'm a walkin' tri-pod of manly goodness...and possibly one of only five straight males out of a hundred who looks like he bathes on a regular basis.

Whatcha currently reading? Any good? Just started a collection of Truman Capote’s essays. His imagery and ability to capture moments like snapshots suspended in time is incredible. He is truly an underrated master craftsman, which is superior to being a master baiter in the fishing industry.

Ever been sexually harassed at work? it is possible to be harrassed when you encourage the behavior?

Ever sexually harassed anyone at work? Never. it usually happened to me first.

The nature of God in seven words or less. Schiphrenic. Whimsical. Insane. Sadistic. Megalomaniac. Oprah.

Ever experimented with drugs? Nope. I saw the prize winners around me who got high and wanted nothing to do with them.

Alone or coupled off, which is preferable? Can't I have both?

The one movie you can relate to most. Donnie Darko. See it then ask me why.

One medication you can’t live without. Excedrin. The miracle pill. Without it, I would skid home in my own vomit thanks to chronic migraines. Still, I'd save a lot on gas, wouldn't I?

Your favorite article of clothing you currently own. This is a trick question...I don't own any clothes.

Most annoying song.
"Walking on Sunshine" which sends me into a blind rage. Anything by Maroon Five runs a close second.

Least favorite holiday and why. Easter. Holds no meaning for me and I still remember the dry, itchy suits and hot churches thanks to all the people being there who didn’t normally go to church.

Anyone interested in using this list on your own blogs feel free. We're all one community helping and caring for each other until my book comes out and I start forgetting all you sone of bitches ;)

Monday, December 8, 2008

THE DEBATABLE NECESSITY OF SEQUELS

As a writer who likes to think he has some measure of artistic integrity, I am constantly at war with the concept of the sequel, not to mention the trilogy.

My issue with sequels and series novels in general is the exploitation of an idea. In many cases, writers are milking something that would have been brilliant in a single novel for all it’s worth. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone needs to make money and if it can be done while writing, that is the dream most of us will never realize.

However, when someone stretches a premise only because they want to capitalize on its success, they run the risk of diminishing whatever merits the original possessed. In addition, writers that do this tend to be one of two-trick ponies with very little else in their literary arsenal. Thus we wind up with the multi-epic, especially in the Fantasy field, that never seems to end or satisfy. It’s like tantric fiction.

None of my comments are meant to indicate I am opposed to writing sequels, however, because I have and probably will again. The difference is I don’t make the decision to write a sequel lightly. In fact, in most cases I write my novels with the intent of making them a single volume, but sometimes the concept simply outgrows the constraints of the format.

I have what I have termed an “urban dark fantasy epic” whose first novel is already written. I think it’s my best work, and many agree. But I really wanted it to be a single volume work. Unfortunately, it grew and grew to the point where, if I had stuck in all in one book, it would’ve been easily comparable to Stephen King’s “The Stand” in size!

So, I mentioned to my publisher that it would need to be broken up into two volumes. Ignoring the dollar signs in her eyes, I forlornly told her how I felt like I’d failed in my initial idea. Her response was to say, “Do you think you could make it a trilogy?”


I grabbed a hanky and wiped the drool from her mouth, although I think I skidded in some as I walked away, contemplating.

She told me to sit down in front of the computer and think about it. If I came up with anything, I was to let her know but if I didn’t, I had to scrub the toilets and bathe her neighbor’s cat. With the pressure on, I…okay, I’m lying. But something odd happened: a sequel idea came to mind that did not in any way compromise the vision! In fact, it fleshed it out perfectly.

I sat down and wrote out a basic synopsis in about ten minutes and showed it to her. She loved it and so did the other writers and artists in the room. I felt validated by that. In the months since, I have truly fallen in love with the idea.

Trilogies aren’t a big deal to me, though. It’s those obscenely lengthy series I have a problem with. Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series comes to mind. If not for untimely demise, Jordan would most likely still be writing those books.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are ideas that require multiple installments. Every follow-up or sequel isn’t akin to the Hollywood approach of placing the same characters into different locales and calling it a continuation. Years ago, long before I had any inkling what I was doing, I came up with an epic of Star Wars proportions that would require a minimum of five books to tell the whole story. I wrote the first one in the back of Sociology classes when I was supposed to be paying attention. It is a huge novel filled with ideas and characters and complex motivations and spaceships and love and politics and…well, you get the idea.

My theory is that most writers of the non-literary elitist variety have at least one multi-epic in their headS doing rapid orbits. That’s not the point of this piece.

Simply put, those who write sequels and series merely for financial gAin have no artistic integrity and should be writing commercials for television. In my view, they contribute negatively to the world of writing and in no way distinguish themselves as good storytellers.

I am no fan of the Harry Potter books. I’ve never read them and I don’t find the concept even slightly interesting. But I must give JK Rowlings credit for one thing if nothing else. She designed an epic tale that required six books to tell it. Perhaps it’s not as complex and creative as Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, but Potter novels were justified in their length.

Writing about a character in a series is also a different matter. If, for instance, Robert B Parker wants to write for years about his Boston private eye Spenser, he is following a noble literary tradition. The crusading detective is a character unto himself and is more a plot device for mystery and intrigue than an ongoing story arc.

My forthcoming novel, “Dreamers at Infinity’s Core,” started off as a single volume novel as well. Once I’d finished it, I truly believed it was over. What more was there to be said about those characters or the concept? However, one early morning as I was headed out to work, I realized the story wasn’t over yet. It is now a trilogy, possibly increasingly inaccurately named, but I hope not.

My problem is I love the characters too much to let them go. They’re my children and I refuse to let them grow up. I don’t have much family left and have very little to do with them at this point in my life, so my writing has become family in many ways.

I suspect that may be true for a lot of writers, even those surrounded by family. We’re a lonely bunch by breed and definition and our characters transport us to somewhere more interesting and less difficult to understand.

Life is the series we try to capture. Some of us do it only for money, some do it for love of the craft. All of us should be mindful of the fact that there just might be somebody out there reading out work whose life is much worse and whose only refuge is his or her favorite novel.

That is also our family, and we have a responsibility to them to remain honest to who and what we are. Anything else is simply a TV commercial~

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

GETTING TO KNOW ME, GETTING TO KNOW ALLLLLL ABOUT MEEEEE

Well, okay maybe not. But the following questionnaire is a good time waster until I post my next masterstroke and it does give you a glimpse into the mind of the writer...not this writer but someone...

Five names you go by
1. Chris
2. Nads
3. Muffin
4. Boy-Chris
5. Scribe

Three things you are wearing right now
1. Nothing
2. Much.
(Excited? My dogs are)

Two things you want very badly at the moment

1. More money for bill paying
2. To see my book out before X-mas

Three people who will probably fill this out

I'd like to think all who come before me will follow suit for I am the path and the fork in the road, the armchair philospher who just dumped his load.

Two things you did last night

1. Read a Christopher Moore novel
2. Stared at this
http://www.com-publishing.com/christopherNadeau.shtml for about an hour and wished I'd taken the photo after I got rid of my mustache...oh, well.

Two things you ate today
1. Cereal
2. The inside of my cheek. Hurt like hell but it reminded me I'm alive...like trying to sit through an episode of "Grey's Anatomy."

Two people you last talked to on the phone

1. My absentee friend Al
2. My mortgage guy


Two things you are going to do tomorrow
1. Work.
2. Clean.
(I might even clean while working but they have people for that)


Two longest car rides
1. A trip to Traverse City, MI. for a college journalism competition with a crazy driver (in those days) a know-it-all stoner who liked hassling wanna-be punk rock kids, and a whiney, annoying newbie in the backseat who wouldn't stop complaining about every-damn-thing.
2. The drive back from the Olive Garden where I knew I would be professing my love to a woman who didn't feel the same way.


Two of your favourite beverages
1. Coffee
2. Arizona Ice tea with Ginseng and Honey...orgasm in a glass bottle.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A CHANGE OF PACE

My first Meme:

1. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names): Melanie Allan

. NASCAR NAME: (first name of your mother’s dad, father’s dad): Cna't answer, don't know my dad's dad's name, he died before I was born and was a son of a bitch to boot.

3. STAR WARS NAME: (the first 2 letters of your last name, first 4 letters of your first name): Nachri

4. DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal): Blue Dog

5. SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you live): Alain Southfield (well, that sucks)

6. SUPERHERO NAME: (2nd favorite color, favorite alcoholic drink, optionally add “THE” to the beginning): green corona

7. FLY NAME: (first 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name): naer

8. GANGSTA NAME: (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite cookie): french vanilla chocolate chip

9. ROCK STAR NAME: (current pet’s name, current street name): Gizmo 8 1/2

10. PORN NAME: (1st pet, street you grew up on):Toke Mansfield

Monday, November 17, 2008

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR DIANE CAREY:

(I interviewed well-known author Diane Carey for the upcoming convention being thrown by my publisher & her partner- see link for more info)

Diane Carey is the author of 46 novels, including 8 Top-Ten/Eleven New York Times Bestsellers, including a Hardcover Top 15 Bestseller, several Waldenbooks and B Dalton Bestsellers, a Peanut Press Award Winner, and also of copious articles, editorials, training manuals, and is co-developer of a Wetlands Case Study for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Best known for her Star Trek novels, Carey has also written several romances, the Civil War novels "Distant Drums" and "Rise Defiant," two ALIEN novels from Dark Horse Publishing, and the novelization of the movie "S.W.A.T." Carey is currently writing a full-length movie screenplay for Collective Development, Inc., to be directed by Anthony Hornus ("An Ordinary Killer). Most of her writing is done in collaboration with her husband, Greg Brodeur.

Greg Brodeur is co-author of Diane Carey's 46 novels and 4 Star Trek novels with author Dave Galanter. As his wife Diane explains, "He is the plot engine." Skilled in science, philosophy, and history, Brodeur does considerable research and plot development. Formerly an instructor if mathematics at Baker College in both Flint and Owosso, Brodeur is now a senior programmer for Jackson National Life in Okemos, Michigan. The couple has three children and have renovated a large historic home in Mid-Michigan.

Diane Carey was gracious enough to grant an interview for X-Cape Con 2:

X: How do you feel about writing licensed material as opposed to your own creations?

Diane: Every writer prefers working with his or her own characters and settings, but I discovered early that writing “in a box” is its own special challenge, and that I like challenges. Star Trek was not my first licensed property; I wrote a novelization of a two-part TV miniseries called HAREM. For my (or I should say “our,” to include my co-author/husband Greg Brodeur) first Star Trek novels were written from the point of view of a hot-headed, somewhat fumbling young officer who had been promoted too fast, on top of being a girl, which adds its own problems to life aboard a ship (trust me, I know). I insisted upon having a fresh perspective of Kirk and Spock. The goal of the book was not to usurp the classic characters, but to examine them from another person’s point of view. The books were wildly successful and Dreadnought! became the first Star Trek New York Times Bestseller. Pocket immediately asked me for the second book, Battlestations!
I enjoy whatever project I am working on at the moment, for the duration. Of course I like some better than others, but liking my work or being particularly inspired is just a bonus, not a requisite of getting the job done within a deadline and marketing plan. Publishers can’t wait around while a writer muses for inspiration. Some of the books and articles I’m most proud of were among the least enjoyable, because we had to work harder and be more skillful in order to develop them. A professional of any stripe—architect, doctor, builder, manufacturer, teacher, programmer, researcher or ditch digger—will do the same.

X: What’s it like working with John Ordover, the former editor of Pocket Books’ Star Trek division? Does he still contact you when he wants to launch new series?

Diane: John Ordover is a brilliant marketer. We met at a convention and have enjoyed a wonderful friendship since then. Working together was gratifying because we shared the same vision of Star Trek. Together we launched several cross-over series and filled gaps in the Star Trek legend with such books as Ship of the Line. John called to ask us to develop a book about Captain Bateson; my response was, “Captain who??” I had never seen the episode of Next Generation where Kelsey Grammer appeared in a cameo. I said what I always say, “Sure, I guess.” John also asked that the use the book to launch the Enterprise-E, so we folded it into the story.
John no longer works for Pocket Books, but we are still in contact often, and remain close friends.

X: Have you had any involvement in the Star trek films or with the TV shows?

Diane: Very little. We visited the set a couple of times, and of course all our work had to pass the test of the Licensing department at Paramount . The current movie director and writers have given me the honor of being one of the five “inspirations” for the upcoming movie; they used my book Best Destiny as a template for the attitude of the new movie. See the article in the October 24, 08 issue #1017 of Entertainment Weekly.

X: Is there any particular generation you prefer writing?

Diane: Since I have a rep as “the Kirk Expert,” it’s no secret that examining the characters and situations presented in the original series were and remain my favorites. I enjoyed pushing Kirk around—every sailor’s dream.

X: Speaking of which, is it true you work on tall sailing ships as a cook? Is this to get ideas for writing or because of a love of cooking while trying to maintain your balance, or both?

Diane:? Sailing came before publication. I started as a deckhand aboard the Pilot Schooner William H. Albury in the Bahamas, moved from there to the Gazela of Philadelphia, then to the Baltic Trader Schooner Alexandria, aboard which I was eventually promoted to watch officer after performing well during an emergency (or two). Since then I’ve served as watch leader, training officer, deckhand, cook aboard several ships, and lecturer about ships and life aboard. I’ve developed several handbooks and training manuals. I hate cooking. Cooking aboard a ship is horrific. We do what we have to do. The ideas for writing just naturally come aboard ships, in all situations from doldrums to danger, and I’ve experienced plenty. Balance? Who are we kidding!

X: You’re also a wedding & event coordinator who uses a Renaissance theme as well as being a bagpiper. I don’t really have a question because that’s fascinating enough but can you expound on that at all? (Hey, I had a question after all!)

Diane: I’ve been a piper since the age of 16. I started my wedding business in 1999 almost as an accident. An acquaintance wanted to try it, so we became partners, except she never did anything. Renaissance, Celtic, Medieval, Tropical events are popular and I go with the market. I also happen to be a professional historian.

X: Oddly enough, although your weddings are based on the Renaissance, your historical novels have dealt with the Civil War. What is it about that period in history that fascinates you?

Diane: Every period in history fascinates me. Why the Civil War is interesting especially to Americans is certainly no mystery. Writers, if they’re doing their jobs, naturally gravitate to period of organic conflict. The trick is to examine the period yet again, but do it from a completely new perspective.
Diane Carey can be seen talking and being humble about her accomplishments at X-Cape 2. this weekend.

Friday, November 14, 2008

THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING A WRITER IN THE U.S.

I hate writing some days.

We’ve all heard the sentiment that one must suffer in order to create “art.” In all fairness to that particular doctrine, a lot of people suffer and never learn how to harness it into something creative. It’s not enough to merely suffer. One must also gain perspective. That is the quintessential “Dark Side” moment where we either learn from the master or rot away in a decaying frame of unfulfilled ambition and desire.

I went through the “What if I’m a fraud?” stage a few years ago and emerged virtually unscarred so it’s not that. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always secretly suspected it’s the one and only thing I can potentially do well.

I won’t take you on a tour of my Hall of Shame, but rest assured it has many, many exhibits. My writing isn’t on display there but some of my early stuff would qualify.

As I wrote a few months ago, I was at one point discouraged to the point of giving up. But I wonder if I ever would have been able to do that. Despite a nearly two-year bout of writer’s block, I still sat down from time to time and tried to summon an interesting story or line of dialogue.

Writing for me has always been the true love/other lover of my sub-conscious mind. It makes demands on my time and energy that most well adjusted human beings would not and, like a bad lover, it often leaves me feeling anxious and unsatisfied. But it’s even more than that.

That portion of my “struggle” seems to be over. I got bags of perspective, I tellz ya.
BAGS!

So what’s the deal? Why can’t it ever be simple with me? Most writers I know throw hissy fits when they can’t write anything they consider worthwhile. I’ve seen them go into a funk that would cause most people to shut down and withdraw from reality. But writers are always partially withdrawn from reality, so for us this is just a process or a means to and end.

But I suppose what I’ve always hated most is being surrounded by people who don’t get it. Constant criticism, dismissal or just plain insults are some of the tiny-minded responses to the writer’s mentality. Polite society loves to pretend it’s impressed with the skills but condemns you when it becomes obvious there is more to your talent than simple words on a page.

Stephen King once stated in his incredible “On Writing” that a true writer couldn’t be concerned with what polite society thinks. I don’t think I’m in any danger of that, as anyone who knows me or has read me can attest.

Ultimately, the writer, the poet, the painter is alone in a universe he or she is desperately trying to redefine or reveal. Sarah Palin’s beloved Joe Six-Packs, not to mention Biff the Stockbroker and Muffy the Soccer Mom, see no value in that, especially in the U.S. We are on our own. If we hit upon a popular formula or sell out and work in advertising, we might be considered relevant by the masses. Otherwise, we are marginalized, social pariahs. This isn’t Europe; very few people revere writers here. That type of environment can make for even better writing but it sure as hell doesn’t make for a happier life~

Thursday, November 6, 2008

RIP MICHAEL CRICHTON

I was by no means a fan of his writing. I found it stilted and flat. His stories were often meandering apologist tripe seemingly accusing science for all of man's ills. His characters were usually over-developed and uninteresting, something I hadn't thought possible until I struggled through one of his novels. On top of it all, he was a gimmicky writer and a traitor to his science fiction roots.

But, dammit! He got people to read. And for that and that alone, he earned my respect.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Crichton. You've earned your place in history.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/books/06crichton.html?em

Thursday, October 30, 2008

2 ITEMS FROM THE WRITER'S DESK:

I was recently talked into signing up at www.facebook.com. I’d resisted doing this for some time now due to an incorrect presumption that it was a site for, well…dorks. In all actuality, Facebook is possibly the greatest networking tool I’ve seen online.

Within 24 hours I had located a fellow writer and one of my mentors not to mention a former co-worker and an acquaintance from middle school.

Interestingly enough, no one from high school shows up online. It is as if they never existed. Perhaps it’s the high school I attended, a so-called private school populated with public school rejects who sold each other weapons in the parking lot and pulled guns on teachers because they didn’t like their grades. Although most of that happened during my tenth grade year, its resonating effect was felt ever after. My point is, most of the people I knew then would hardly be interested in technology today that didn’t involve pirating DVD’s and making windows rattle with high decibels,

Fortunately, I’m not one of those people for whom all sense of self is associated with my high school years. If the great Al Bundy taught me nothing else, he taught me to move on while not moving on at all.

Still, it’s nice to locate people you liked before and get them to buy your book out of a sense of obligation.
***
For the past few days I have been dreading the eventual deadline date for submission to a certain dark-themed magazine. But my dread did noting to halt that day’s advance and here I am faced with sitting on, as Kelly Bundy would say, the horns of an enema. That’s dilemma for the rest of us.

I have been working on a new collection of short-short stories to be collected into a single volume. I wont share the working title with you yet, but when I mentioned it at my writers’ workshop, it received exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

Two of these stories I believe are sufficiently dark for this magazine’s requirements, but as to which one would be the better choice I cannot say. Without giving away too much, one concerns a man who blames his mother’s doctor for her death and the extremes to which he’ll go to get revenge, and the other centers around a coffee shop and the ideological battle being waged between a neo-con and a leftist that turns decidedly ugly.

Both stories inspired me to write them and both came disturbingly easy (always a catch-22 for any writer). One is written in a more standard format and the other is more experimental. I have more faith in the dead mom story, but I think the ending needs work. The coffee shop story just needs a tweak or two. It is also shorter by a good seven pages, although somehow the word counts are nearly the same.

My only other choice would be simultaneous submissions. The last time I did that was in the days of my failed ontest submission strategy. The only drawback is the possibility of not being able to send the second story elsewhere until it has been rejected. So I need to decide by Halloween what I’m going to do.

I’ll let you know what I decide because you care so much that if I don’t all your working parts will harden, your muscles will atrophy and your skin will get really, really dry and itchy~

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A LIST JUST BECAUSE

I was recently praised on my “other” blog for my ability to create lists out of seemingly nowhere. I found that amusing not because this particular reader was in awe but because the lists are things I generally create when I have nothing else to write about.

They’ve always come easy to me. In fact, I enjoy writing them most of the time. The irony of codifying and categorizing human behavior is enjoyable to me because I don’t believe it can be done in any significant way. However, this blog is different. Since it isn’t based on random acts of chaos, any lists presented here need to have some literary merit to them.

I am always challenging myself although I don’t always accept. This time I did and the list is presented below:

- Not everyone has a story to tell and not everyone has the talent to tell it.
- Stop thinking every book would make a good movie.
- You are not a writer because you took a creative writing course.
- Criticism is an occupational hazard; if you can’t handle it, you have no business writing.
- The book is not always better than the movie. Repeat: The book is not always better than the movie.
- Never rely exclusively on self-editing.
- It is okay to write what you don’t know as long as you have researched it well enough to sound like someone who knows.
- Those short stories & novels on your hard drive or in your closet are not going to publish themselves no matter how hard you pray.
- Using your writing talent to take cheap shots at people you know is reprehensible & should only be done by me.
- If you go through life thinking all your ideas are original and afraid that others will “steal them,” you are and always will be an amateur.


If you enjoyed these, I can pull more from the dark confines of mine arse. They came so easily that I am reasonably certain I can summon more should the need arise. In the meantime, discuss, dissect, dismember~

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: "SNUFF"



Chuck Palahniuk has been one of my favorite writers for nearly a decade now. His books are an event for me. When they are released, I usually run to the bookstore to purchase a copy, most times in hardcover.

Through no fault of his own, I often feel a tad ripped off when I buy a Palahniuk novel in hardcover. After all, they’re not the thickest books on the shelves, generally clocking in at fewer than 300 pages with a few exceptions. In this crappy economy, I have sometimes had to wait until the trade paperback is released a year later. However, thanks to my hard work at my employer, I recently won hundreds of dollars in gift certificates. I didn’t even know he had a book out until I visited a Borders Books and Music and Coffee and Knick-knacks and Chocolates and Movies and Beyond.

I was excited, I ran home and grabbed my gift card and went back and got it! Ok, maybe it didn’t quite happen that way. Truthfully, it was at least a week before I went and got it because I was in the middle of another book at the time.

Palahniuk’s previous novel, “Rant,” was a masterpiece, firmly establishing him in the pantheon of literary greats. The book before that, “Haunted,” was equally great.

His latest, “Snuff,” is another in a series of sleight of hand tales invooving emotionally damaged characters in unusual situations. In this case, the situation is a gang-bang porno production.
Centering on four people in the midst of what will be the gang-bang event of all time, 600 guys and one woman, Pahlaniuk ping-pongs from character to character, devoting a chapter to each one individually. true to more recent Pahlaniuk offerings, each chapter is narrated by whatever character is being spotlighted so they may tell their story of emotional dysfunction.
Pahalaniuk's world is one built on falsehoods where people pretend to be OK on the surface and are utterly fucked up underneath. Within this world, the struggle for meaning and to determine what it is that makes us human are recurring elements.
For those unfamilair with snuff films, they are quite literally films during which sexual abuse of someone, usually female, is killed on screen. Some insist these films are an urban legend, while others say they are all too real. The fading porn star in "Snuff" plans to die through having sex with so many people, hopefully by a blod clot to the brain, and leave all her money to her illegitemate child whom she abandoned years ago.
The true mystery at the heart of "Snuff" is the idenitity of that kid. Sadly, the tiny cast of characters makes it rather easy to figure out.
"Snuff" is not Pahlaniuk's best work, but that's not really a negative. Anyone whose career is as ground-breaking as his has earned the right to submit a less than spectacular story from time to time. On a purely technical level, Pahlaniuk handles his characters with expert ease and deft craftsmanship. By the middle of the novel, we no longer need the chapter designations telling us who is who. It becomes obvious from the speech pattern being used.
The twist ending is effective and a great shell game trick. We spend so much time focusing on what we think is the mystery that we miss the one that was there all along.
A quick and enjoyable read with an unbelievable amount of research done into the porno industry. Not to mention, Pahlaniuk gives us more new expressions for masturbators than anyone could have ever hoped for!
For example: Pud-pullers, ham-whammers, jerk jockeys, jizz-juicers, bone-beaters & my personal favorite, sock-soakers.
For that reason alone, this is the book of the year!
A-

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

IDEAS ARE WELCOME

Unlike my other blogs, this one is designed to deal with a specific topic: Writing. It takes an entire editorial staff to churn out the magazine Writer's Digest, and they've been recycling articles for a decade or more.

So, in the interest of not descending into repetetiveness so early on, I would love some ideas. What would you like to read about? What haven't I done yet? Share, hold hands, leave money...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

Acotor/Comedian/Author/Philosopher/Tiny Voice of Common Sense in the Distance Bill Maher on reality TV from his book, "New Rules":

"Stop being shocked when reality TV contestants turn out to be wife beaters, drug addicts, shoplifters, and porn stars. They're letting us marry them to strangers and make them eat eel shit. They don't have the gene for shame - that's why they're on reality shows."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ON "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW"

Anyone who has ever taken a writing class has most likely received the same exact sage advise from the instructor: “Write what you know.”

This is typical advice given to new writing students who are struggling with finding their voices. The school of thought seems to believe that only through writing about what we have experienced is there any authenticity in the work. I disagree. I wrote what I knew for years only to find that it created a situation where I was mocked mercilessly and nearly gave up writing altogether.

Depending on our life experiences, what we know may not make for very good drama. What I knew was a whole lot of TV and books and I wrote what I enjoyed. Since I had not yet honed my ability to take moments and other things from life around me and integrate them into a completely unrelated story, what I drew from tended to be rather hackneyed in nature, if not always in execution.

Vampire hunter stories, tales of waking up in strange and unfamiliar environs, melodramatic science fiction stories about post-Apocalyptic Earth, and the list goes on. My best work during those creative writing class days tended to involve quirky characters and their dialogue. For instance, I wrote one that could have been a one act play involving three very different guys who find themselves in a Third World prison cell together. Another involved two lovable losers and their plot to kill George Bush senior with a hand grenade. This wasn’t anything I knew, it was simply based on observation of people society labels as “losers.”

“Write what you know” can be good advice for people who are already established in life with careers and families and some traveling under their belts. Tell attorney-cum-author John Grisham to write what he knows and he inundates us with legal thrillers, each more preposterous than the last until he creates a cottage industry. Tell a guy who works as a security guard to write what he knows and he may come back with a story about a security guard working the midnight shift in a warehouse that will know you on your ass. But tell a kid barely out of his teens to write what he knows and you will get back exactly what you requested.

Some instructors will tell you a certain amount of hackwork and amateurishness is not only expected but also encouraged in beginning writers. After all, how can one guide a fledgling writer into becoming the next literary savior if there is no foundation of failure?

To be honest, I’m not sure college instructors are supposed to serve that function. College professors tend to place so much emphasis on the mechanics of writing that they churn out writers with the same approach and sensibility time after time. The world of literature, that pristine and rarely read field of writing that is the only one most of them take seriously, has become saturated with writers trying to be the next JD Salinger or Ernie Hemmingway.

I see the college level creative writing instructor the same way I see the training department at my employer. Their function is to provide us with all the necessary tools and information to succeed and the rest is up to us. They aren’t there to tell us what to write or how to write or even what we should write. Sadly, most in academia have an inflated sense of their role in the formation of new writers. In that regard, they remind me of film critics who think their jobs are essential to the industry they criticize.

If I ever ran a writing workshop for beginning writers, I would assign them a task similar to one that was assigned to me in a journalism class. I would tell them to go home that night and start thinking about the people they knew, the places they frequent and the thoughts they have. I would instruct them to pay special attention to things that seemed to latch onto their minds for longer than a few seconds. I would tell them to imagine that thing or that person in a different situation from the one they were used to it being. Now, write me five pages about it and tell me the consequences or benefits of the different setting into the narrative of the story.

Instead of “Write what you know,” I would urge them to “Draw from what you know.” Make what you know the basis for what you write, not the whole thing. Yes, it’s great that you’re an attorney and have had some interesting cases, but how about placing that attorney in a whole different situation where his critical thinking skills become more important than his acumen in the court room?

Draw from what you know. Anything else is dishonest. Much like someone who directs TV commercials, you may dabble in the art but you won’t be creating any~

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

IN REMEMBRANCE...

Last night my fellow writers and I drank lots of wine in remembrance of the husband of the woman that started it all for us. He died one year ago this past September and his passing symbolized the severing of our final connection to Annabelle and all she brought to our lives.

Annabelle McIlnay was an accomplished writer and editor who also taught creative writing at the college level. I first met her in a continuing education class I took as a lark to try and overcome writer’s block. Not only was I the only male in the class (tee-hee) but I was also the only one out of nearly thirty people to attend Annabelle’s workshop once the class was over.

Annabelle was a cool old chick. She sported a butterfly tattoo on her cheek and had about a thousand different pairs of reading glasses. Despite the name, she was an East Coast Jew who strongly preferred life in the Midwest. I tried not to hold that last part against her, as I would kill to live on the East Coast.

Her husband Tom was one of the original computer engineers who worked on the first computer in the 1950’s. He was from out west. Destiny or really bad writing on God’s part brought them both to Michigan where they met, fell in love and married sometime in the Eighties, if my information is correct.

Annabelle was my mentor. She guided me in a way no other writing instructor ever had. She was stern and full of praise all at once, refusing to allow me to do anything less than my best. She also had an uncanny ability to intuit what I was going for when even I wasn’t entirely sure. She saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there and she pushed me to find it on my own. Annabelle’s main bone of contention with me was that I tended to not complete novels that she felt were really good.

She would not live to see me complete the one she thought was my best and most commercially viable work. I finished it anyway.

When Annabelle died, Tom decided to let us keep coming to his house for our workshop meetings, now run by my publisher. I still remember how good and relatively healthy he looked at his wife’s funeral, and how emaciated and wasted away he looked in his final days. Tom was a smoker with emphysema and the loss of Annabelle seemed to keep him from caring about his health, In fact, it seemed like he wanted to hasten his departure from this mortal coil so he could be with her again.

When I think of Tom, I think of the night he walked outside to join us as we met on the gazebo with an old-fashioned tape recorder. He wanted to share something with us and we respectfully stopped the meeting to pay attention to him. What resulted was the most emotional and hauntingly beautiful song I’d ever heard as Tom sang to his departed wife and told her he’d see her again some day. The guitar work of he and his son was mesmerizing and bare bones, lending just the right melodious backup to his lamentations.

It was too dark for me to see everybody’s face, but if anyone didn’t cry, I’d be surprised. From that moment on, Tom’s health deteriorated rapidly. He was on oxygen all the time and still continued to smoke. Ironically, Tom and I grew very fond of each other during that time. We never really talked when Annabelle was alive but I found out he’d always had a genuine affection for me because she did.

I also think of how I tried to convince Tom his cat was sexually attracted to me (insert your own feline reference here). Tom offered to give us a moment alone. I knew there was a reason I liked him.

My publisher also happens to be a respiratory therapist and she made sure Tom was in the hospital in which she worked. Annabelle had asked her to watch over Tom once she was gone and she did, until the very last moment.

We met a few more times at the house after that. Naturally, it wasn’t the same. Without Tom, the spirit of “Anatoms,” their incorporated name, was officially gone from the house. The only thing that remained was that disturbingly intelligent cat Annabelle had adopted as her own, a behavior she exhibited all her life. Tom’s relatives allowed us to continue meeting for a while longer whiles we debated and discussed a new location for the workshop. Now that we were all working toward actual publication, halting the momentum could have proved dangerous.

Unlike when Annabelle died three years prior, there was no hemming or hawing about us continuing this thing. It had achieved a life separate from her now. After much discussion, it was decided that my house was the most centrally located.

The workshop has been meeting at my house ever since, usually every other Tuesday. Last night, my publisher walked in with more food than most Third World countries have and wine. Another member had already brought wine. A toast was uttered to me for my perceived graciousness in allowing them to meet at mi casa. Never mind the fact that it keeps me from having to drive somewhere.


The only other male member of the group, Bob Maier, author of Chicken Wings for the Beer Drinker's Soul, started a round of "For he's a jolly good fellow." Sufficiently uncomfortable, I poured myself more wine.

It's funny how a group of seemingly disparate personalities with differing backgrounds can be brought together for a common passion and become like unto an extended family. It's rare that someone who chooses to embark on the normally lonely road of creative expression becomes so readily surrounded by, for the most part, like-minded people. I am not immune to the awe-inspiring odds against such a thing occuring or, for that matter, continuing after the deaths of the two responsible for the situation.

It is perhaps testament to Annabelle's enduring vision that we continue to meet and write. Having our worke published is yet another step in the evolutionary process that first began with a little continuing ed class that purported to teach one how to write for publication in four short weeks.

They are missed.

They are remembered~

Friday, September 26, 2008

In Brief: KNOW THY AUDIENCE

Apparently my previous post was a tad alienating. Forgive me. That will probably happen sometimes. I tried to make it relatable in some way so that it would entertain those reading it as much as it entertained me when I experienced it. Perhaps I should open the floor and see what you might like to read...

Suggestions are welcome and, depending on who they come from, sexay!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

HUMILIATION II: Returning the Favor!

Three years after my professional de-pantsing at the hands of my peers, I returned to the writing workshop that nearly ended my aspirations a changed man. The past few years saw a significant shift in my writing style as I finally found my “voice,” that elusive aspect of any decent writer’s stylistic approach.

Without a voice, we fail to distinguish ourselves and wind up throwing empty sentences onto blank paper, baffled over why our soul-less work isn’t being hailed as the NEXT BIG THING.

I took the one essential criticism to heart and drew from my own experiences. I still wrote science fiction and dark fantasy, but the former would soon be abandoned in favor of a literary approach to a more flexible genre. I now inserted more of myself into my work.

The workshop was different this time around. Last time there had been nineteen of us not including special guests. This year there were only eight. Only one of this year’s crop of would-be writers was someone I knew and he was the one who had insulted me most.

When I first arrived that year he and I somehow hit it off and he offered to give me rides when I needed them since I didn’t rent a car. I spent the first few days hanging out with the strangest guy I’d ever met in my life. That’s possibly still true today. I will refer to him here as “Frank.”

Frank was gangly and sickly looking. His head seemed over-large and his mouth appeared to grow sideways, giving him the appearance of a permanent grin. His hair seemed splattered onto his head as if with a fresh coat of paint and the less said about the bizarre shape of his uncannily skinny body the better. To gaze upon Frank was to be deeply disturbed. To find out he was a child psychologist was to be frightened, and to read his short stories was to descend into the type of madness reserved for characters in vintage horror stories involving mad scientists.

And this was the guy who criticized me harshest. He even compared my writing at the time to schlockmeister Harold Robbins, drawing disgusted and astonished looks from the others in the room. I eventually found a much more normal guy to hang with during the duration of that trip.

As I said, Frank was there for the second go-round too. Times had changed. The Internet was in its infancy. I was far more confident in my abilities and myself. I felt like a contemporary of the others in the room and, even better, I wasn’t the youngest attendee this time!

Being such a tiny group, we bonded rather quickly. At least, six of us did. Frank still stayed to himself and maintained his status as weirdest MF in the universe. His stories were just as bizarre and unsettling as they had been three years ago.

Did I mention this was guy who had criticized me most harshly? Ok, just checking.

As the five of us, four males and one female grew closer, as united in common cause. Frank’s stories were so offensively oblique and self-referential that being forced to read them was like serving time in a Gulag during the height of the Cold War.

We bonded over those stories, the five of us. The sheer pain of trying to decipher this crazy universe Frank had created, replete with odd references to parallel universes, adult characters with childish ways of expressing themselves. And in the tradition of insane writers the world over, he wrote these psychotic tales in a manner that implied it should make as much sense to us as it did to him.

For the first time, I sat with a group of people at a roundtable and struggled through someone’s writing. We each took turns pointing out oddities and other things that made the stories not work and incomprehensible, at times in tears with laughter over the absurdity of it all. The irony of having become one of those who’d ridiculed me three years ago. There was a difference, however. I’d never showed anything except support for the others that year and had never diminished a person’s style with an unfavorable comparison.

The five of us sitting at that table were literally and literarily being subjected to a horrific and disturbing experience; the only way to deal with it was through laughter.

Each of us had to submit three stories apiece to be critiqued and then rewrite one of them. My story was generally well regarded but it, like the previous one, was a first draft in need of revision. Frank’s story was too inside, too isolating to be rewritten. During the second and final week of the workshop, we finally let him know how much suffering he’d inflicted.

We each took turns critiquing. I said his stories seemed like a peek into the mind of an insane person and although this was a science fiction workshop, I never for one moment believed the protagonist wasn’t hallucinating. I also said no one seemed to relate to each other in normal human ways yet everyone seemed to have insight into what was going on. In short, his stories were like a Beware of Dog sign, meant for looking but going no further.

From there, my buddy who I shall call Herschel piggybacked off my commentary with examples of dialogue. He said it was obvious Frank was a child psychologist because all his characters spoke like kids. Hearing Herschel read that dialogue in a Leave it to Beaver type voice still makes me crack up when I think about it. But the best was yet to come.

Our female member, who I’ll refer to as Evelyn, took a slightly different approach. She was an attractive, intelligent and very sarcastic woman; just the sort that would intimidate the H_ out of a guy like Frank. And the best part was she retained sweetness when she verbally castrated him.

She looked at him, smiled sweetly, and said, “Frank, I’m sorry but I just don’t get your stories. When I read them, I feel like I’ve walked into one of those bizarre European art films where there’s a clown and confetti and people are laughing for no reason and the camera just keeps spinning and spinning and…would you stop laughing?”

“Sorry,” I said. “That image…it’s…” I buried my face in my hands, as did Herschel.

The professor in charge didn’t defend Frank any more than he had defended me. Although, he did provide a detailed accounting of Frank’s “concept,” as they had been working together to make it workable for years. That much time invested implied to me even then that it was never going to work but I said nothing.

Before the conclusion of the workshop, there was a party. Frank did not attend it. In fact, Frank left sheepishly that day, his defeat a palpable force. I felt bad but at the same time vindicated. As that kid on “The Simpsons” once said, “That’s why God invented hazing.” This isn’t Romper Room where we all make each other feel good, this is a creative field and those who alienate their readership need to re-think their approaches.

Frank wasn’t the only one we “lost” that summer. Another member decided he was no writer and gave it up as well; content, he said, to be a fan. He was right. He was not a writer.

For my part, I received mostly positive feedback on my work that summer and even won the coveted “Best Rewrite” award. I was also praised for having shown the most improvement in three short years the professor had ever seen.

I have yet to see more than one of those nineteen people from the first workshop in print. Maybe I should take a look at their first drafts~

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rejection is easy, what about OVERCOMING HUMILIATION?

It was an intensive writing workshop specializing in science fiction and I’d paid over a thousand dollars to be there. I was in my early twenties, completely out of my element, and I’d dropped quite a bit of money to endure utter and complete humiliation.

Nineteen aspiring writers, all in different stages of their creative development, took turns slamming my short story until I thought I was going to simply keel over and die to avoid further embarrassment.

My gaze tracked along the Socratic circle of writers, taking special note of the more smug among them, each laughing and adding their witty quips to the running commentary on my story. Strangely, the well-respected and oft-published professor in charge of this workshop didn’t say a word; I felt as if he were the guard after hours at a junkyard allowing the pitbulls free reign to devour an intruder. Looking to him for help, I realized how alone I was in this strange state.

The story was my homage to an Outer Limits/Twilight Zone type concept updated to include cosmic conspiracy theory and its effects on humanity in present day. It was overly ambitious and beyond my abilities at the time. Apparently, that was a good reason to make fun of me, which all of my so-called “colleagues“ took to with great relish. I’d already been feeling out-classed and overwhelmed by the talents of the mostly older people around me, now I reached a conclusion that filled me with a great sadness: I was no writer. I was a fraud, an upstart who thought he had a talent he did not. When this workshop ended, I would be returning to Michigan to hang up my pens and paper. I would never write again.

If only I didn’t still have a week to go.

I retired to my room that night and tried to come up with a way to exchange my airplane ticket for an earlier departure. It was over. I’d tried and failed and been humiliated by people who should have known better and it was over.

But then, a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion. In the parlance of our times, I decided I wasn’t going out like no punk. That story had been written three years previously and in no way reflected the newer work I’d done. We were charged with doing one rewrite out of three submitted stories and as I told all who would listen, mine was chosen for me.

That night or possibly the night after, the editor from a large publishing house who was one of the humiliators threw a party. At that part he announced that he felt everyone in that year’s workshop was a writer.

“Even me?” I said in a tone dripping with resentment.

He looked at me and smiled affectionately. “Even you, Chris. You just need to live and suffer a little more.”

I was blown away by that. He was right, of course. I was still a kid and was drawing from what I'd seen and read instead of from direct experience. I took that epiphany with me to the computer lab and used it to rewrite my short story from an entirely different perspective. The night of the party some of the other writers apologized to me for their comments, especially when they realized what I'd brought was a first draft. My understanding was we were to bring works in progress, not work we felt confident in submitting to publishers.


"Wow. That was pretty good for a first draft," one of them said. "My first drafts are usually incomprehensible."

Asshole, I thought. Some people would say the same of your second, fifth and tenth drafts.

When I brought in my rewritten version, it was completely different. Where once the story had involved an idealistic reporter's search for the real story of mankind's creation, his wife dragged along for the ride and his ultimate betrayer, the streamlines version merely hinted at the conspiracy. Instead of hitting the reader over the head with ancient aliens and secret cave bases in the desert, this one concerned a Deep throat type informing our hero of the real deal and being met with total skepticism. It isn't until the final pages that the reporter sees something by accident that convinces him of his source's veracity.

Most of them hailed it as an incredible rewrite and much better than the first. One guy, the golden boy of the professor's eye, still greeted it with disdain. But for the first time I noticed something in his eyes: jealousy. The bastard was jealous! He was supposed to be the edgey one.

From that point on, my writing took a whole new direction as I slowly found the voice that had been trying to make itself known for so long. I returned to that workshop three years later and was told by the professor that I had shown the most improvement in a short time he'd ever seen in his life.

Good thing he didn't save me~

Saturday, September 13, 2008

QUOTE OF THE MONTH:

There are heroes, and there are the rest of us. There comes a time when you just let go of the ghost of the better person you might have been."
-John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

THE MOST IMPORTANT WRITERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY - A work in progress

A reader recently asked me on my “Thoughts on Vonnegut” post which writers I would place in my list of the top writers of the Twentieth Century. It was a good question and, this may surprise you, not one I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating.

The question and ensuing debate sparked off an interesting discussion and who am I to ignore a reader’s request, especially when it provides me with an idea for a blog post? The reader in question mentioned a top five but I don’t feel confident providing a list of anything less than ten important writers.

So, if you will indulge me, here is my list of the most important writers of the previous century and what made them so damn important:

(In no particular order because I am too lazy to rank them)

KURT VONNEGUT- My reasons are listed in the previous post, but to briefly recap: He is my literary savior, the son of mankind who came at just the right moment to show me the true path to writeouesness.

HARLAN ELLISON- Definitely not known for his pleasing bedside manner, Mr. Ellison is one of the greatest living writers and he knows it. His cockiness works for him, though. In many ways he is the prototype for the angry, self-loving pop star except he deserves it. With an electric prose and an unfettered imagination, Ellison is constantly reinventing science fiction’s tired conventions and taking lesser writers to task. Gene Roddenberry still hasn’t been able to rest in his grave.

RAY BRADBURY- Whenever I’m asked the name of my favorite writer, Bradbury’s name always comes up. Simply put, he is the master of all things speculative. Prior to Vonnegut, Bradbury’s technique and approach showed me how to allow my imagination to have free reign over my inhibitions. Nobody can match his love of life and ability to see into the most mundane of things a universe of infinite possibilities. Cool speaking voice, too.

CLIVE BARKER- Even as early as the mid-Eighties, Stephen King was so successful that it seemed as if no one would ever come along to challenge his throne as horrormeister. Barker not only challenged it, he surpassed it in significant ways, a fact readily acknowledged by King himself. Barker’s stark, raw approach to horror was not simply a reworking of classic themes. Barker created new concepts of horror that were so disturbing and vivid they were incomparable to anything else on the market. Not only is he conceptually brilliant, but his actual writing style is alive and evolving, combining old English sensibility with New World immediacy.

ROBERT ANTON WILSON- As Yoda once said, “There is another.” Just when I thought Vonnegut was the only anarchist worth reading, some kid at a job I had years ago mentioned “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. He was seventeen and couldn’t stop raving about the book. Later I found out he only read a few pages of it and abandoned it in favor of some other trend that made him feel hip and intelligent. I stuck with the book, however, and was amazed at its scope and depth. I have since read other works by Wilson, both fiction and non, and have continually been impressed with this brilliant scientist turned editor turned underground writer.

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS- Naked Lunch, anyone? No? But I shaved! Fine, whatever. I guess we’ll just discuss the best gay writer of his generation. Burroughs was not only gay, he was also a junkie. From these two marginalized lifestyles emerged some truly powerful writing. Burroughs was a master at observing everyday life and capturing moments like a snapshot, a gift only one other writer I have read possessed. His prose went from free form to painfully constricted depending on the era, but always there was a disconnection from humanity that compelled me to keep reading.

ERNEST HEMMINGWAY- I’m not a fan of Hemmingway’s. I find much of his writing overly macho and painfully self-indulgent. His themes are often pretentious to the point of nausea, but the man gave us one undeniable gift: Minimalism. Before him, nobody had ever so effectively used less to say more. Without Hemmingway, we might not have had the cryptic stylings of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. And we certainly wouldn’t have had the novels of JD Salinger and even, possibly, Kurt Vonnegut.

DON DELILLO- Whenever a writer forays into surrealism as a method for portraying the alienation of modern existence, they are inevitably compared to Delillo. Practically unknown outside the field, Delillo swings back and forth between urban disconnection and primal scream therapy while never losing sight of his rich, complex characters. What Cormac McCarthy is often wrongly praised for, Delillo delivers with the regularity of an assembly line machine with a soul. “Libra” and White Noise” alone are enough for bragging rights but he doesn’t stop. That’s a good thing, by the way.

OCTAVIA BUTLER- Science fiction was once a field dominated by men, until we found out many of those men were women with abbreviated names. Once that secret was out, the next hurdle was writers of color, especially women. Octavia Butler proved black women could not only write science fiction, but write it beautifully. Her poetic narratives underlie some truly tragic and painful subject matter and never once was she preachy. A sad day when she left this mortal coil.


STEPHEN KING- The literary establishment loves to dismiss him. College instructors love to just plain diss him for his enormous output. Conservatives reader love to classify him as a demented weirdo in league with Satan or just plain amoral. Those of us who have actually sat and read King's work with an open mind see right through those false perceptions. King is a genius with incredible storytelling gifts. His dialogue leaps off the page, his ideas are brilliant and his narrative is unmatched in its ability to draw the reader in to the most seemingly uninteresting thing as if it is utterly fascinating. A huge influence on my work.

I would love to make someone's list some day....

Monday, September 8, 2008

THOUGHTS ON VONNEGUT...

I was first introduced to Kurt Vonnegut in a Literature class. I’d just recently taken a creative writing class and was feeling all read out when I stumbled into yet another room designed to make me interpret fiction as I saw fit…within reason, of course. I certainly couldn’t have turned Moby Dick into a homo-erotic metaphor for a man’s self-loathing regarding his own sexual identity.

OK, I probably could have, but we didn’t read Moby Dick that semester. Our instructor, an attractive woman who seemed to take quite a fancy to a certain young, aspiring writer with the chest span of a Greek god, and she was more concerned with teaching us contemporary lit. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what the class was called; Hard to remember between all the years and magic marker fumes that have occurred since.

This was a summer class so we had to read and discuss seven novels in as many weeks. Among them were “The Ballad of the Sad CafĂ©,” “Being There,” Seize the Day,” and Vonnegut’s “Slaughter-house-Five.”

Having spent two semesters in intensive creative writing classes filled with loads of interpretive fiction discussions, I tended to shine above the others in the room when it came to the more esoteric novels. Soon people wanted to join my discussion groups, assuming I would have the “answers,” as if there were any. Of all the novels we read, Vonnegut’s had the greatest impact and is to blame for everything I have done since.

Until then, I’d never actually thought of anarchy as a literary tool of self-expression. My early and mostly sad attempts at writing short stories were often abysmal descents into meandering, clichĂ©’-riddled trick endings and great reveals. It was as if P.T. Barnum and Rod Serling made love and miraculously gave birth to…M. Knight Shaymalan? Hmmm. More on that in a later post, methinks.

For those unfamiliar with “Slaughter-House Five” (And shame on you) the novel is a loosely connected series of stories involving a man who finds himself “unstuck in time.” Employing a fascinating blend of wartime commentary and quantum physics theory, Vonnegut has his protagonist jump back and forth through his own lifetime to pivotal and mundane moments and not once does he save the world like Sam Becket from Quantum Leap. The novel itself is Vonnegut’s way of dealing with the horror of what he witnessed as a POW during the World War II allied bombing of Dresden.

My imagination was a time bomb now triggered to explode in all directions at once. Sadly, I was the only person in a class of nearly thirty who understood the book. In fact, my classmates were in awe as I provided my overview of Vonnegut’s masterpiece, some of them making that face that, as they got older, would become the look of the clueless yet somehow superior idiot with the SUV and secure home-life. I harbor no delusions that this made me a brilliant student in a sea of inferior intellects, unlike my instructor who I really think had a thing for me. I just think the average person is either incapable of or hasn’t been trained to think outside of their comfort zones.

I never had a problem with that, but I don’t think I was very good at it until Vonnegut’s sparse and direct prose showed me what I needed to be doing. It wasn’t an easy or short process by any means. I’d already spent a few years copying my favorite writers who, as I grew to mimic their styles well, stopped being my favorite writers. One must stumble before indulging in ballroom dancing, of course, and so I find it necessary that I imitated mediocre talents on my way to establishing a voice of my own.

Once the class ended and I was free to choose what I read, I ran to my local bookstore and started going through Vonnegut’s rather sizable collection. My instructor and I had discussed my newfound favorite writer so I had a good idea of which books to read first; namely, nothing she recommended. I didn’t want the academic picks, I wanted my own. During the class I’d actually purchased and read “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” and loved it. Vonnegut’s ability to discuss taboo subjects such as going to the bathroom and masturbating in such cold, dispassionate sentences freed up my on writing inhibitions.

Over the years I would purchase a Vonnegut book as if it was an event, waiting months and sometimes even a year before purchasing another. I spaced it out so it took me over a decade to read his novels and short stories. Along the way I learned about the man as well.

That, I believe, is the mark of a great writer as opposed to an author who just cranks out populist books that make good movies of the week. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, but is the former that will be remembered in the final moments before the sun goes forever dark.

Vonnegut broke so many literary rules with his writing he wound up creating new ones to be broken. One of those rules he broke involved not injecting oneself directly into the novel. He did just that time and time again, once even inserting his actual self into “Breakfast of Champions, the main inspiration for my novel. Writing is and should be a form of therapy, and that particular book dealt with Vonnegut’s own sense of his mortality and getting older. It is one of those rare novels I can re-read at any time.

One of the rules Vonnegut indirectly created says that if you, as a writer, decide to inject yourself into the proceedings, make sure you keep yourself at a distance and don’t actually become the story. I have now broken that rule. Any good work of creative fiction is built on some measure of self-indulgence. Any great work of fiction is admittedly so.

Without Vonnegut I might never have learned that important and lasting lesson. I might still be taking myself much too seriously and imitating forgettable writers. I might never have been able to look inside myself and see the ugliness and the beauty and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to tap into them in equal measure. What Vonnegut taught me without having ever met me was to, as objectively as possible, observe the human condition without losing the human connection. Not enough writers have learned this lesson and the world of fiction suffers because of it.

With Vonnegut’s passing, the world of letters was dealt a massive blow. He was the last of a generation of groundbreaking and innovative writers. Recently I found a copy of his final book, “A Man Without a Country” at a Borders Outlet store in hardcover for $3.99. I’d read it when it came out but have been reading pieces of it over the past week as if savoring this final running commentary by my favorite writer. The book contains two ironies:

Vonnegut came out of his semi-retirement because of what he perceived as a horrible direction being embarked upon by the Unites States.
His final book was the best glimpse into the mind of Vonnegut ever printed.


Vonnegut died the way he lived: Cynical, disillusioned, agnostic, and funny as hell. When my time comes, I hope I can say I created a body of work a tenth as brilliant and influential~


Suggested Reading List:

Slaughterhouse-Five
Breakfast of Champions
The Sirens of Titan
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Timequake
A Man Without a Country
Cat’s Cradle
Mother, Night

Deadeye Dick

Let me know when you've read those so I can submit a new list. You have one week!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

AS PROMISED, AN EXCERPT FROM "DREAMERS AT INFINITY'S CORE."

(Disclaimer- this version may or may not be exactly the same in the final verison of the novel)

Ned wakes up and is surprised to find that he’s not tied up this time. In fact, he seems to have full range of movement. Somehow that fails to bring him comfort, however, especially when he realizes where he is.

That realization fills him with a disconcerting certainty that this is intended as the end of his road.

“Sick sons of bitches,” he mutters.

He walks deeper into the pervasive darkness, carefully avoiding debris as he locates the old desk. Oddly, obscenely, much of the work he’d left on it that Friday has managed to survive the melee of the following week. To his right, a gigantic hole in the side of the building shows him the beautiful, star-filled sky outside. It almost seems like a tease.

But the sky can wait until he finds Ernie.

I’m no help. For this moment, I am no more than a reader my only consolation is the presence of the man in the gray trench coat.

Ned stumbles over a pile of rubble as his eyes try to adjust to the darkness. He refuses to allow the waiting barrage of questions in his mind into the forefront of his consciousness. His whole life has been spent asking questions with no answers. The fact that he hasn’t gone stark raving mad is a testament to his incredible willpower.

It is this very willpower that carries him through the dark room, around the various holes in the floor, and to the exit.

The hallway is just as dark as what remains of the Complete Maintenance office. He calls out for Ernie, fully aware that he’s probably being heard by the two freaks that brought them here before.

I turn to the man in the gray trench coat to ask him if he can find Ernie and, without a word, he vanishes from my sight. I’m glad he’s here to help me. I need to stay with Ned. If Faceless shows up, I’m the only one who can do anything substantial against him.

Ned heads instinctively toward the elevators. They don’t work anymore, of course, but there’s no other way off the third floor. The other side of the building, where the emergency staircase was, took the brunt of the explosion since that that’s where the boiler was located.
Two escape strategies occur to him:

1. Pry the elevator doors open and shimmy down the cable a la Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard movie, or
2. Take his chances with the ready-to-collapse-any-minute staircase.

As I mentioned earlier, Ned weighs less than me, so for him option number two sounds more appealing and possible. He turns away from the elevator doors and heads toward the staircase. He makes it to within two paces of his destinations when, amazingly, the elevator doors start opening.

Ned doesn’t need an explosion of purple neon in the sky to tell him who it is.

Neither do I, which is why I “stand guard.”

Sure enough, Faceless emerges from the supposedly non-working elevator. He pauses as if frozen. It’s impossible to tell what’s on this thing’s mind-if it even has one-but I get the feeling it senses me in the vicinity.

Ned musters up some bravado. “You again, huh?”

Faceless turns toward the sound of his voice.

“I guess we might as well settle this man-to-mannequin,” Ned says.

He places himself in a defense posture, or at least my idea of what one looks like. Faceless tenses, fists clenches at his sides. I notice the look on Ned’s face and catch onto his plan. Maybe I can help him out.

Tensing my spectral muscles, I prepare for what comes next.

“What are you waiting for?” Ned taunts. “There’s a hole down there with my name on it!”

Ned makes a move toward the staircase. Faceless springs into action with me right on his ass.

Ned side-steps the creature’s advance and, for an instant, it looks as though Faceless might
actually maintain his balance. Then I plow into the back of him and he goes flying onto the staircase.

Ned doesn’t hesitate to kick at one of the loosened bolts, each blow reinforcing the rage and hatred in his eyes. The staircase whines its final resistance to the repeated kicks as the entire thing starts breaking free of the pole and wall to which it is attached. Faceless grabs onto the edge of the floor mere inches from Ned’s feet. One more second and he might pull himself back up.

But Ned doesn’t give him that chance. He kicks his hardest one final time and the staircase breaks loose with a screeching, grinding explosion of sound.

But I hear another sound, too. One I don’t think Ned can hear. It is a high-pitched, non-stop noise that I’m pretty sure is the Faceless Man screaming.

I lean over and watch as the staircase crashes to the floor and tips over so that the top most part falls right into the hole in the lobby. Faceless goes in first, quickly followed by the rest of the staircase as gravity forces it into the hole. When the dust clears, I can see that it has become entirely covered.

Ned lets out a victory howl that scares the shit out of me.

“Didn’t think ol’ Neddy had it in him did you?” he yells.

He doesn’t notice the weakened floor beneath his feet. When it gives out, my hand passes right though him. I watch, helpless, as Ned falls toward the third floor lobby...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

JUST WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS...

Another novelist. Of course, it needs another alternative rock band or rapper even less, and for every one of me there must be a hundred of them. So to hell with those who think there are too many writers. Besides, if all else fails with novels, I hear government pamphlets are rather lucrative.

In case you're wondering, I do indeed have a novel coming out. It is called "Dreamers at Infinity's Core" and it not self-published. Not that there's anything wrong with self-publishing, at least on the surface. Still, there is a certain stigma associated with it; most notably the idea that the authors of these books weren't "good enough" to get published by an actual publisher. This is often true, of course, but not always. Many of these writers are similar to the surprisingly good community theater actor you saw last year: Excellent and skilled, but unable to find their audience.

Yes, even in the case of courting publishers, there must be an audience. Editors are readers too and they demand even more from written material they have to read in order to receive their paychecks than the average consumer who pays for them. If that sounds arrogant as hell, it is, but it is also not without its validity.

I have been fortunate enough to hook up with a small publisher formed by a writing workshop with an eye toward providing exposure to writers who no longer have to struggle with blindly submitting work to the Big Boys & Girls in hopes of getting noticed and treated fairly, if that comes to pass.

Hopefully in the months and (shudder) years to come, this blog will become home to an established writer with more than one book behind him. My publisher has already guaranteed me six books and an opportunity to dabble in other forms of writing (more on that later) so it's a good bet you won't be kickin' me outta bed for a while yet.

So, welcome and thank you for surrendering to infinity. You won't be sorry.


(Coming up next- an excerpt from the novel whorishly mentioned above)