Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This poem literally came to me in a rush of inspiration, and the irony of it is that as old-fashioned as the first few lines read, a rough version of them found their origin on twitter. Ah well, so much for the 21st century. She comes and goes as She pleases. Enjoy:

O Stranger, do you hear?
My mistress calls

and cries for black blood spilled on fields of snow

Is it yours, or mine? I care not, cares not She
only that the furrows fill, the rivers flow

and nothing left of seed save wisps of husk

Hey fucker, listen up!
Yeah, She's my shotgun
double-aught flash, both barrels to the face
your brains on the table
my blood on the page
and nothing on the floor but empty shells

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Best of the Decade: The Real Threat to the Novel

Dear Novelist

You're familiar with Warren Ellis, aren't you? The guy who wrote the novel Crooked Little Vein?
Well, he was slumming it for that gig. While we're all fumbling in the clay, cracking pots in the kiln and alternately creating functional tableware and grotesque, unlovely, and unwieldy monstrosities, Ellis and his contemporaries have taken what everyone presumptuously considered straw and are spinning it into a new golden age of fiction.

They're called comic books, fellas, the marriage of words and sequential art, and they're kicking our asses in the double aughts.

Age of Bronze, Black Hole, Blankets, the reissue of Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Marvel 1602, Criminal, The Walking Dead, Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of The Hunter, 365 Samurai and a few bowls of rice, and these are just a tiny sample of amazing American comics. There's a whole dynamic world out there.

Of course you can dismiss them if you like, if it makes you feel better. And I don't deny there are a lot of really great prose novels out there. But this is the fact as I see it: the comic form in its malleability is a superior storytelling medium, superior not just to the novel but also to television and movies. And while I also don't doubt that these three media will continue to exist and produce quality art within their limits, the comic form has only just begun to push the boundaries of what it's capable of, art and story catalyzing one another into a beautiful blue flame.

Maybe an MFA in graphic design would have been a better choice.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

HYMN NO. 33 1/3

When the King comes down to earth again
be a hunk of burnin’ love
shinin’ like a diamond on His big white throne
save the lamb and save the dove
When the King comes down to earth again
gonna be a righteous rule
and we’ll fear no evil nor the shadow of death
cause He’ll teach us all kung fu
And when He comes to earth again
He’ll set the poor man free
and there won’t be no more Devil-box
cause He’ll shoot out your TV
O the King will reign on earth again
you’ll know Him by His face
and we’ll all drive pimped out Cadillacs
to a land of lasting Grace

Monday, November 30, 2009

Buck Up, Little Soldier, It's a Tough Old World

There are a lot of people writing. A lot as in thousands, hundreds of thousands. In 2008, around 275,000 books were published by traditional means, and a few thousand more than that through print on demand and other venues. That's over half a million new books in one year. If you're a writer, especially one who's not traditionally published, that's sobering news. Basically, the market is glutted and there are probably not enough readers to sustain the industry as it now exists.

Is this a bad thing? Well, if you get paid to write then it might be, and if you're trying to get paid to write it almost certainly is. There are only so many seats at the table, and when there's more good writers (and I believe there are tons of good writers, contrary to the mostly self-serving, emotionally fragile, and territorial opinions I've heard recently) than there are deals to give, it all devolves into Who-Do-You-Know? And when the answer to Who-Do-You-Know? is nobody, the next logical question should be Why-Am-I-Doing-This?

It's an important question, because the odds are you're not going to make it as a writer the way you thought you were when you thought this gig was such a great idea. It's something we all have to deal with, but it can be liberating when you find the answer- your own personal answer. Because all great writing is created from a personal vision, and in the absence of money, prestige, and all the other trappings of the ever more distant and largely illusory publishing dream, your inner vision is all you have that's worth a damn anyway. Me, I wouldn't sell mine out for anything less than six figures.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bal des Ardents

Hairy handsome prince
He's doused in pitch
Watch him dance and scowl!
Hear him prance and howl!
He's a wolf you see
All the critics agree
And He's made of win
And of spin spin spin
But beware the flame-
One spark and. . .
On to the next big thing
Bark, dog!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's a New World, Baby- pop a cork, pour a glass, and relax

If I'm remembered at all as a writer, it's a surety and a certainty that I'll fall firmly, if I don't fall flat on my face, within the company of a not so rare new breed: The Twenty-first Century Author. Now, I'll admit there's not yet a lot to differentiate the Twenty-first Century Author from those who have come before, either in terms of what we write, or the manner we approach things, or in terms of the ghosts we fear and the goals we hope to accomplish. But amidst all the familiar pressure, the doom and gloom, the fear of the death of the printed word, and the apparent sinking of the publishing industry into the depths of the great pixel sea, I come bearing glad tidings to those of our kind.

You see, you and I, and anyone else fortunate enough to have begun our calling beyond the year Double-oh (or Dubyo- Now wouldn't that be an ill-omened nickname!), we are free. Capital F Free.

The Best writing of the Twentieth century? Not my problem. I don't have to play that game and neither do you. We're not burdened by Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Borges, Nabokov, Angela Carter, Tolkien, Dashiell Hammett, John Gardner, Raymond Carver, Kafka, Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Kerouac, W.S. Burroughs, Mervyn Peake, Flannery O'connor, Robert Graves, Marguerite Yourcenar, Virginia Woolf, Philip K. Dick, and so on, and so on, a hundred years worth. They've claimed their century, written all over it, marvelously and convincingly, but this one is ours. It's really a pretty sweet gig when you think about it like that.

But I'm not finished. It gets oh so much better. Not only is this a new century, if I needs must tell you, it's also a new millennium. Do you get where I'm coming from, you lucky, lucky writer you? Bye bye Dickens, Poe, Hawthorne, Conrad, Melville, Thomas Malory, Mark Twain, Chaucer, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Shelley, Bram Stoker, Voltaire, Dumas, Hugo, Robert Louis Stevenson, Swift, Kipling, Christopher Marlowe, etc. And a special goodbye to that greatest of all burdens on the modern writer's psyche: good William Shakespeare himself. I swear on my OED, it's enough to make a person weak in the knees.

But don't get me wrong, don't misunderstand what I'm saying, especially those of you who are unlucky in-betweeners. This isn't a dismissal of the past, not at all. We all live off those who came before us, and we build our mansions on their foundations. And they did the same, thank you Homer. This way of thinking is just a reorientation of the mind, an acknowledgment of the present and the future as a blank slate waiting to be filled. By you, by me, and by the new Best of the Millennium. It's a blessing and it's a challenge. And it's all ours. Better go have that drink now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Tragedy of Mowgli

I love Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and The Second Jungle Book as well, and though they both contain several fine independent tales (Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Undertakers, and The Miracle of Purun Bhagat come to mind) it's the Mowgli stories that justifiably make these two volumes famous. They're dangerous, magical, mythic, and beautifully written, and as a hero Mowgli puts Tarzan to shame (in more ways than one- Burrough's derivative work is disturbingly racist in parts).

There is also a current of death, loss, and conflicted loyalty that runs through them like a dark jungle river, a current I barely noticed as a child and, judging from Kipling's consummate skill as a writer, most likely wasn't meant to. As an adult, however, I found this hidden layer of nuance to be a thrilling find, a validation of the substance in my nostalgic revisiting of a childhood memory.

Then I read In the Rukh. This is a Mowgli story told through the eyes of a British Forestry Service officer, set in the years after Mowgli left the jungle. It is not part of the Jungle Books and indeed, it is nothing like the other stories. It is naturalistic, adult in its themes, and completely lacking the wonder of Mowgli's childhood adventures. It's damn depressing, and in fact, I would go so far as to say it very nearly undermines the stories that precede it. In the Rukh is, in this respect, postmodern, or it would be, if not for one thing: It was written first, before The Jungle Book.

So, Kipling's obviously not an early postmodernist. Nevertheless, he chose to include In the Rukh within All the Mowgli Stories and he never felt any need to rework it to make it fit more comfortably, which makes me suspect that he might not have been entirely displeased with the dissonance between it and its brothers. I certainly found it a rewarding kick in the teeth.

I'm not sure The Jungle Book and its sequel are in fashion anymore, aside from the insipid (yet undeniably catchy) Disney version of the stories, but I hope that the popularity of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (which was heavily influenced by Kipling's work) will spur a greater interest in these classics. I would encourage anyone, young or old, to seek them out, and afterward, to read the last, which is actually the first, Mowgli story.

Notes on In the Rukh

Monday, November 2, 2009

Crom!!! The Writer's Toybox 3

If you don't already get the gist of this, just follow the links:
The Writer's Toybox 2
The Writer's Toybox

I think I've said this before, but I love Playmobil. They're small, but not too small, sturdy, but easy to customize, and not so detailed that you can't use your imagination. Most important, my son loves them too, making them a way that I can share with him my love of fiction and history without sucking the fun out of his curious little brain. Kids are kids after all, and while everything is a learning experience, not everything has to be a lesson. So, with that in mind, I give you-

Conan the Barbarian

He's more or less after this image though honestly I customized him before I'd ever seen it. Robert E. Howard, Conan's creator, is one of those special writers, like Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft, whose legacy is not one of sustained technical skill (though The Frost Giant's Daughter is as good as any short story I've read) but rather of inspiring several generations of talented artists, filmmakers, and writers to build upon and pay homage to the mythos they created. In this way he is probably as important as any twentieth century writer, and may well be longer lasting in the public consciousness. Only time will tell, but this much is certainly true; Conan makes a heck of an addition to a three year old's (and his dad's) toybox.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Death Sees Your Fortune

Halloween is here, and in that spirit I thought I'd put out another piece from Carnival of Vulgarities, one that has its origins planted firmly in the holiday. You see, several years ago, I had a great idea to go out on Halloween as Death. All black, black cape, black faceless hood, Y'know, Death. It wasn't the most original costume on the surface but, in this case, it's what I did with it that made it special. Instead of a scythe I carried around a bag of skulls, thirty of them, the kind you put candy in. Inside each one was a piece of paper printed on one side with the image of a tarot card (Death, the thirteenth card) and written on the other with a message from the Grim Reaper himself. I took these fortune skulls out on the street on Halloween night and passed them out randomly to anyone that wanted one. I never stopped to watch anyone read them; it would have spoiled the effect and ruined the privacy of their moment. Death Sees Your Fortune is an assemblage of all of the messages that were in those skulls. Every one of them found someone, or someone found them. As you read them I hope you'll remember the holiday, that it's not just about the costumes, the candy, the parties, and the pranks; it's about the skull beneath the skin, the end before the beginning, and that one thing that we all do alone. Trick 'r Treat!


Manufactured 1933

by the Santa Monica Vending Machine Co.

of Detroit, Michigan

One fortune, two pennies

No Refunds

No Exceptions

13. You who read this, tonight I have passed you by. Did you feel
the cold wind on your spine? Do not think you
have escaped, do not think it. All come to me in time,
none get by.

13. Do not behave as if tomorrow is yours. Tomorrow you will be

13. I am the water that filled Shelley’s lungs. I am the gutter that
held Poe like a cradle. I am the little metal pellets of Hemingway’s
most desperate hour.

13. One man, when I came for him, sought to run away. When he
found he could not escape he said, “Take my brother instead. He is
old and sick and life gives him no joy.” “I will take him tomorrow,”
I replied. “Today is your day.”

13. From the moment you are born you belong to me.

13. How many books have I interrupted half done? How many
paintings sit incomplete? How many songs have I stilled in mid

13. A man offered up his wife to me that he might not die. “For she
is young and passionate and more beautiful than any who has yet
lived,” he said. “What you say is true,” I answered, “but I will take
her when she is old and tired and a wrinkled-up hag. It is the same
to me.”

13. My house is of bone. My kingdom a mountain of skulls.

13. I am a blessing to the sick, a curse to the healthy, and a terror
to those in fear of hell.

13. Drink up, drink up, from my poisoned cup.

13. Those who do not fear me still cannot deny me.

13. Many have gone before you. The rest will surely follow in your

13. There is no sleep for me. There is no escape for you.

13. Your future is this: For certain you will die.

13. Do not occupy yourself with banal concerns. In the end you
will rot like a discarded piece of fruit.

13. None are so important that they may refuse my invitation to

13. My voice is a rattle deep inside your own body.

13. If you see my face, your time is come.

13. Your ancestors knew me well, for I visited them often.

13. Once I came for a miserly old woman who cared for nothing
but collecting money. Though in the end she offered it all, she
could not buy even one more minute, and her fortune was left for
her heirs to plunder.

13. Your unfinished business is nothing to me.

13. There was a woman who pretended I didn’t exist. She did it so
well that she fooled herself in time. When I came for her at last she
asked, “Who are you?” “An old lost friend,” I said. “Good,” she
replied as we went away. “I am tired and lonely and a friend is
what I need.”

13. While you race against the clock, look over your shoulder and
see me catching up.

13. Know me by the company I keep: Crows and Jackals and
Vultures and Hyenas.

13. I hold the keys to the world beyond.

13. I am the edge that breaks the last thread, the final exhalation of
the spoken word, the cold ash of the spent fire.

13. Warfare is my bread and butter.

13. I often wonder, when my work is done, who will come for me?

13. Your fear does not profit me, nor cause me sadness.

13. There is always time to die.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Long and the Short of It

I don't believe in the long novel. It's a subjective opinion, I know, but it's the truth and there's no use denying it. At this point in my life as a writer, I don't have anything worth saying that can't be said to good effect in two hundred pages or less.

Of course, I don't really think about page count when I'm writing. When the needs of the story are fulfilled then the work is done. There's nothing I hate more than reading a great book and hitting a flat spot, usually fifty to a hundred pages long, that just kills the momentum of the novel. It happens so often that I don't even bother to slog through them anymore. I just pinch a cluster of pages (usually about fifty) between my thumb and forefinger and turn them in one go. Then I repeat as necessary.

This isn't to say that I'm incapable or unwilling to read a great big doorstop of a book. In fact, the last two books I read were 800+ and 1000+ pages , and I enjoyed every word of each of them. But these were exceptions for me, and I believe by and large that most writers think they have much more to say than they actually do, and their novels often suffer for it. I would love to hear others' opinions on this, so please feel free to post a comment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Short Appreciation of a Very Great Work

It's taken me twenty years to be ready for Mervyn Peake, and now that I've read his Gormenghast books (They are not a trilogy)- Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone- I feel as if I belong to some sort of secret conspiracy of magnificence. The end of Mervyn Peake's life was a tragedy of illness and under-appreciated genius, and it was only through the diligence of a few well-placed friends and admirers that his body of work has thrived rather than faded into obscurity.

According to Quentin Crisp, Peake once said of his work, "I believe in doing what I like. I set about selling it afterward." It is an attitude that appears to have cost him in his own too-short lifetime, but one that has rewarded readers immeasurably since his death. It is an attitude that I also hold dear, though if I could manifest even a thousandth of that man's talent and originality I would consider my job as a writer fulfilled. He was an accomplished artist, a poet, playwright, and a writer whose ability to paint with prose has had few equals in the English language. If you are a writer and you haven't read him, do it. It will make you better and it will humble you. As a reader, you must be patient. Traveling with Peake is a long journey in a vague direction with no particular destination, but the sights you will see and the company you'll keep will mark your psyche for the rest of your reading life.
http://mervynpeake.org - Peake's official site
An Excellence of Peake by Michael Moorcock

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Writer's Toybox 2

The Writer's Toybox (link)

Welcome to the second part of what I hope (and my wife surely dreads) will become an ongoing chronicle of my chief writerly vice, an addiction to toys. Some I've found, some I've modified, but all of the ones I pick for this blog will have some sort of basis in books, writing, and my relationship to the two.
Today I give you:

Sumo! Yes Sumo Smash, by the same people who created Strollin' Bowlin', that portable game with the wind up bowling ball with orange shoes. I found this on sale at a bookstore which will remain unnamed and snatched it up. It is exactly as fun as it looks, which is very. Adjust their arms, wind them up, and let them bash each other out of the dohyo (ring). Grunt.

Now, it's all well and good that this little bit o' neatness came from a bookstore, but what the heck does it have to do with me as a writer? The answer, dear reader, is research. In the course of reading in preparation for a sequel to Ghost of Iga (available here, here, and here) I came across two books: Grand Sumo by Lora Sharnoff and Sumo: From Rite to Sport by Patricia Cuyler. The second book, which traced the religious and historical roots of Sumo, was more useful than the first, which is solely about modern Sumo, but both were fascinating reads. I think they're both out of print, but they're easy enough to get online. As for Sumo Smash, it's wind up, it's portable, and it's Sumo. Win to the 3rd power.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Nob-ody gives a snowball in H-el Prize (for Literature)

This was going to be The Writer's Toybox 2,but I guess that can wait. After all, the fate of the literary world is at stake, right? The Nobel Prize for Literature, the big daddy of lit awards, given to an obscure German from Romania. Well, as a minuscule contributor to the world body of literature (by its loosest definition, it's true) I have something to say to my fellow writers and book connoisseurs: Get over it because no one cares.

Really. No one cares. The Nobel Prize is the biggest non-event in the perfect storm of irrelevance that gave birth to the literary award. Oprah has more relevance to the written word. Why? Because people actually read the books she picks. Why anyone should care about a tiny group of Swedish academics hovering over Alfred Nobel's blood money like a five-headed curmudgeonly dragon is a mystery to me. Most writer's write to be read, perhaps to be paid, but seldom if at all for a worthless accolade. So writers, keep writing, and readers, go out and pick up your favorite author, critics and awards be damned. Just enjoy a good read and forget this nonsense.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nevermore Forevermore: 1809-1849

In this, the bicentennial year of Edgar Allan Poe's birth, as we approach the 160th anniversary of his death, I am still amazed by the power of the man as a myth. There is enough historical evidence available to support a reasonable speculation on the facts of Poe's life and death, but the real fact is that the morbid power of his stories has had the almost supernatural effect of transforming his biography into the final, posthumous tale in his canon. I myself can think of no finer tribute for a writer. Here then is my contribution to the mythology of Poe's end, from my book, Carnival of Vulgarities:


Me and Pestis and Rattus on ending our travels
dropped down in the ditch where lay E. Allan Poe
While we stood there a moment assessing the poet
mesmerized at the bounties ill fortune can bring
Rattus’ eyes spied a shine that he fancied a ring

The writer reclined half in filth and in water
He acknowledged us not save to droop his dry lid
and breathed bubbles and rattles of pain and disorder
that when burst in the air loosed a piteous sound
Rattus, finding no ring, took to snuffling around

Pestis stirred from his perch in my gut and did wander
to the soul that now stewed in that vile urban brew
“It’s an honor, dear sir, one I’ll always remember.
Though you’ll pardon good Rattus, he’s helplessly nosy.”
Rattus bit of poor Poe, left a wound red and rosy

“Virginia!” Poe croaked, less a breath than a spasm
“Baltimore,” answered Pestis, to mock or to sooth
Yet the poet said nothing, not a word of rebuke
His left eye showed white in its half-lidded socket
and Rattus, still hopeful, nosed around in his pocket

“Look at him,” said Pestis, “they’ve run him to ground.
Picked him clean of his finery and clothed him in rags,
cast his soul to the spirits Regret and Despair,
till it’s fallen so far that it’s scarce fit to cull.”
Rattus dug in the pouch till it covered him full

Did the man not then shake and his face flush with anger?
Or was it a trick of the gaslight’s dim glow?
No words did he strain but his arm bent behind him
and he rolled on his back as to make himself cozy
Rattus hid in his coat like a corpse in the posies

“You despise us,” said Pestis. “Our nature offends,
knowing naught of compassion or mercy or love,
and you fancy us fleeting and grim apparitions.
But we’ll still be around when the sky groans and crashes
and Rattus will play in your bones and your ashes.

“For you wrong us, dear writer, to think that we come
as a torment to harry your vanishing soul.
We’re pilgrims, we three, not crusaders nor reavers.
Thus we’ve journeyed this far from the sands of the Pashas
to bask in the flame of a life burned to ashes.

“It is well you might ask, and as well I might tell you,
who we are to have traveled so hardy and long.
Though in truth we have died many times in our passing
we are Legion like Father, split after the Fall,
and the nature of one is the nature of all.”

Still the poet spoke not, only moaned incoherent
and wallowed in garbage beyond hope or pain
If he cared for the tidings of glory we brought him
it showed through the mask of his face not at all
Rattus poked out his head, said “I heard a foot’s fall.”

“By your leave,” Pestis bowed to the poet in reverence,
“we’ll depart you in peace and we’ll not meet again.
Though you die you will live in the rumors and stories—”
Here a cry cut him short as the body was found
Rattus sprang for a hole and we followed him down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Writer's Toybox

Writing, especially fiction writing, is a fairly aberrant pastime, and most writers need a coping mechanism to deal with the unnatural levels of solitude and introspection that decent writing often requires. In short, they need something to get themselves out of their own heads for a little while.

Every writer has a different way of doing this. The really legendary ones seem to turn to drinking, to drugging, or to chasing down a mid-life crisis in the guise of a string of women half their age. Me, I'm not the stuff of legend- I like to play with toys.

Previously, I've mentioned my, uh, son's (yes, that's it) Planet of the Apes Kubricks and the Monkey King Playmobils that I've customized. Believe me, I could go on and on about cool toys I have in the house, cool toys I've had, or cool toys I want (I'm on toy probation, in general. One in, one out is the house rule) but this isn't a toy blog, it's a writing blog, and in that vein, I won't mention my wonderful double barrel soft dart shotgun (oops). Instead, I present for your enjoyment, Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone (I've been reading Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and it's given me Moorcock on the brain. Heh.) It's a Playmobil custom, done after Brom's well known painting:

The best part is that my son can play with it, though I've decided not to teach him the part about black swords and their soul-stealing properties. Maybe when he's four.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I write nearly every day. Sometimes I write for fifteen minutes, sometimes for an hour. Sometimes it's just on this blog. But it's important to do it, because writing is a habit that must be cultivated like any other habit. The great thing about this particular vice is that instead of smoker's lung or a bad liver, you end up with a body of work that you can be proud of, perhaps even a legacy, if you're that ambitious.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Well, if anything's gonna break it . . .

This post falls squarely under "write it down before you forget it". My son and I met my wife (and his mother) for lunch yesterday, and as a surprise she brought along a tiny meteorite her boss had generously loaned to her for me to see. Cool. Yet another thing I've always wanted to hold in my hands. So we're sitting in the taqueria, and I'm holding this neat little hunk of space iron, and I drop it onto the concrete floor. "Ah crap!" I say, and I think to myself I hope I didn't break it. Yes, I actually thought to myself I hope I didn't break this little melted hunk of iron that has been hurtling through deep space before punching through our burning atmosphere and plummeting tens of thousands of feet to collide with the Earth. Yep.

Monday, August 31, 2009


There's a certain obvious freedom that comes with having a very small audience. Since I can never be sure that I'm writing for anyone but me, most of the time I simply write for me. I get a vision in my head, a line of dialogue, the workings of a theme, and I try to manifest it. It's something I enjoy, writing, something I find sacred in a strange irreverent way, and while I take my work seriously, I find it hard to think of myself (or most other writers for that matter) in a serious light. It's really a foolish bit of business, stringing words together into a sentence, sentences into paragraphs, hoping someone will read them. It can also be a pain in the ass, and I wonder if anyone would do it at all if the need to tell stories wasn't such a deep-seated human compulsion. I need to tell stories, and the stories in my head apparently need to get out. It seems like this should be categorized as a mental illness, but I've heard they actually give awards for it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taking it where I can get it

When my son was born, close to 2 1/2 years ago, I was a little over three quarters finished writing my first novel. Thank God for that, because if the entire endeavor had been like that last quarter I would probably be working on it even now.

It's true that most babies sleep a lot in the first months after birth, but they don't do it all at once, and if you don't sleep when they do at least some of the time then you are screwed. Add in a full time job and the minimal amount of hours needed to keep the house from turning into a roach infested superfund site and, well, if you're a writer then you're screwed. Sacrifices must be made, and for me it was sleep. I did a lot of writing during naptime, with my son asleep in my lap, and a lot of writing and revising in the car while he slept in his seat in the back. Thankfully, he was born in winter, so this could be done at a park with the windows rolled down (it is the desert, remember). It was an arduous process, but I stuck it out, and like any habit worth having that perseverance has stuck with me.

Still, that was two years ago, and I can forgive you for wondering what relevance this little anecdote has to my writing life in the present. Well, let me tell you, it doesn't get easier as children propel themselves like lemmings headfirst toward their first years of school. They sleep less, and if anything they demand more attention. Also, forget about Quiet and Solitude, they left for the childless neighbor's house. So what to do? Right now I'm writing this in a notebook (a real notebook, pen and paper) in my car while my son is asleep in his seat in the back. Correction: was asleep. Sigh.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Write What You Know = Basically, Nothing

How about writing what you don't know? That opens up the whole world to your fiction. Do a little research. Use your imagination. Learn something. Maybe even make a fool of yourself. God forbid you should make a fool of yourself, huh? Just remember: The Muse will forgive factual error, but She will never, ever, forgive creative bankruptcy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Even a Swine Deserves a Small Pearl

When I was younger, and in the bad habit of not finishing things, I used to worry that I'd run out of ideas. Now that I'm older I realize that what I'm going to run out of is time. It's a less terrifying but ultimately more depressing conclusion. But I have come neither to bury Caesar nor to praise him. I'm here, quite simply, to crow.

As a writer, I have certain personal ambitions. They're pretty modest, but they're the goals that keep me engaged, day in and day out, in a lonely calling that pays me in a sputtering stream of delayed gratification. Some I've achieved, which is truly a pleasure indescribable, but like I said, they're personal, and not likely to be of interest to anyone but me. Still, it's not really fair to bring a subject up and then say "Well, I can't really talk about it," so I'll tell you of one as yet unfulfilled ambition, the very one that's pertinent to this post.

If you didn't already know it, you will now be made aware that I am a history buff, and that ancient Rome is one of my obsessions (Medieval Europe, Feudal Japan, and lately, Elizabethan England, are the others) and for a long time I have wanted to write a novel set in the Empire during the second century. I'll get to it, given enough time, but there are several projects ahead of it, and one thing I've learned over the years is that I can only do one project at a time. The rest, no matter how compelling, simply have to get in line. Otherwise I end up with a bunch of half-realized, unfinished fragments. In other words, crap.

Nevertheless, just because an idea is in the back of the line, it doesn't mean it's been abandoned. I'm constantly on the lookout for relevant research material, which I store like a squirrel and often (gasp!) read for pleasure.

So. . .

The other day I'm in a certain bookstore and I find these fabulous books on Rome that are very inexpensive. Now forgive my saying so but books on Rome are a dime a dozen, I mean, the place is older than Jesus himself, so a lot has been written about it, but what really made these books special were the illustrations, full color recreations of Roman military life. It only took a cursory glance and those babies were mine, bought and paid for.

Well, I get these very inexpensive and beautiful books on the Roman army home and in my spare time I start to read through them. It seems they focus on the Dacian wars in the time of Trajan. Wow, that's the period I was planning on writing about in my novel. Cool. I read a little more and I realize that the title of these books are not simply The Legionary and The Cavalryman, but Tiberius Claudius Maximus The Legionary and Tiberius Claudius Maximus The Cavalryman. Dear reader, you will be forgiven for not knowing this, and I myself had forgotten it, but Tiberius Claudius Maximus was the cavalry officer who hunted down and captured the Dacian king, Decebalus, at the end of the war. He's no one, really, but his name is written in one of my notebooks as an important secondary character in my evolving narrative. Unwittingly, I had stumbled on a two part biography of an obscure Roman, who up to that point was nothing more than a name to me. My friends, I live for little moments like that. Oink, oink.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Swear to God I Would Do It

Before I start, let me just say that in general I really like Neil Gaiman as a writer. While his Sandman comics bored the crap out of me, I think he is a fantastic short story writer- Smoke and Mirrors is an amazing compilation and A Study in Emerald is a mind-blowingly good short story, utterly deserving of the Hugo it won. His young adult fiction is pretty good, too. Finally, on a personal level, I don't know the man at all.

Now that that's out of the way, I'll begin. The other night, my wife and I were drinking (her wine, and me this delicious organic pale ale that was so good I had another just before beginning this blog) and talking (and anyone who knows me will affirm I love to talk, more so when I've been drinking, but quite a bit regardless) and the thing we were talking about was the cult of personality, how in order to further their art (and eat), it's necessary for artists nowadays to commodify themselves, often to a degree that the artist becomes more important than the art. I mean, c'mon now, in what sane universe is an author's name five times bigger than the title of their book? As I slurred, quite seriously, to my wife "So and So, he's a great writer, but in the end tally he's just some schlub who sits in front of a typewriter and lays down sentences. It's the work that's important, not the writer. For all I know he could be a big jackass." (Note: I was not talking about Neil Gaiman, and I'm not just saying that to cover up that I was. Because I wasn't. Rest assured, Mr. Gaiman comes into play shortly.)

To this my wife replied something to the effect that I was full of it, and that If I had the chance to sit down for dinner or drinks with an author whose work I admired, I would jump at the chance."Maybe," I said,"but it's hard to think who it would be."

"Gene Wolfe?" she offered helpfully.
"Nope. The work is the man as far as I'm concerned."
"Harlan Ellison?"
"Nah. I'm sure he's interesting but, honestly, he terrifies me. Besides, once again, the man is the work, and the work is the man for me."

Here it comes.

"How about Neil Gaiman?"
"No. Actually, yeah. Yeah I would like to sit down with Neil Gaiman. Because, y'know what? I'd like to ask him why the hell he (or more likely his publisher, but it's N-e-i-l G-a-i-m-a-n, he's hardly powerless in these matters)keeps using that same damned author photo of him with the black leather jacket and the hipster hairstyle that has been on his books since the early nineties. I mean,Jesus (I pronounced it heysoos) Christ, the man is nearly fifty, and I know he's cut his hair. Use a new photo, willya? Or, better yet, none at all. And the jacket's got to go. Really, every photo? Really? I'm sure you're cool Mr. Gaiman (yes, you're over 45 and I don't know you so you're Mr. Gaiman)but you're in danger of becoming a Neil Gaiman Halloween costume. Change it. Please."

I actually went on for quite a bit longer than this, but I'll assume you're not imbibing any alcohol, and we'll all pretend I stopped there. My wife, God love her, actually listened to the entire rant. She was appreciative, but she doubted my resolve.

"You mean to say that if you got a chance to have drinks with Neil Gaiman, you'd hassle him about his author photo?"

"I swear to God I'd do it," I said, and I finished my beer in one contented swig.

Friday, July 31, 2009

It's Possible I May Have Carried It Too Far

I've been in a creative dry spell lately with my writing. A drought, really. Family matters sent me back east around a month ago and I still haven't gotten back on track. As soon as I returned, my son, who is two and a half, hit his terrible twos/terrible threes in full stride, and everything in the house that was made of concentration was instantly shattered.

I tend to take these things in stride. I'm not writing for a living, so it's no big deal to take a week or two off. In fact, I tend to return to my work with fresh eyes and renewed energy. On this particular break from writing I've spent a lot of time thinking about my current project and the tone I want from it. I've been reading a little, but mostly I've been spending time with my son, and I've become fascinated with his Playmobil toys. More specifically, I've been modifying them.

It started innocently enough, first with switching hair and beards to turn a set of Vikings into Gauls to fight against my son's Romans (Yes, Romans. Did I mention Playmobils are the most bitchin' toys ever?). Next I made the emperor Hadrian and a German bodyguard to accompany him, then an auxiliary cavalryman, a Hun, and a Celtic warrior queen, now defunct. It was hella fun, maybe too fun, because two weeks went by, then three, then four, and I wrote all of seven sentences.

It was Monkey who woke me up, Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy, and Tripitaka. Yep, I created all four of the main characters from The Journey to the West as Playmobil figures (Did I mention these are my son's toys?). Even as I exulted in how incredibly cool they are, a metaphorical rain fell on the inside of my head, and I realized I was channeling massive amounts of creativity into these toys. I mean, it's no simple thing to make the Monkey King and his entourage out of three inch plastic men. I did it though. Yay me. The drought is over, now it's time to write.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paying in Caesar's Coin

There's a hidden perk to self publishing, one that some authors probably don't dig, but that I find very satisfying: being paid in kind. I suppose your feelings about it depend on whether you're trying to pay your bills with your writing or not. That would be nice, but I generally consider my print run a success once I've sold enough books for it to pay for itself. Because let's face it: having to pay to be published just doesn't cut it.

But back to my point. I love trading a book that I've essentially (with the help of a printer, and a few very, very, kind and talented friends) made from the ground up for things other than cash. I've traded for other books, for self produced music discs, homemade art, delicious lunches, even knowledge (it's hard to find in good condition).

This last week brought me something different in that the trade I took for one of my books (Carnival of Vulgarities) was once cash. Seventeen centuries ago, give or take. Yep, an antique Roman coin from around the time of Constantine (I think the portrait is one of his sons, but while it's in good enough shape to be extremely cool, most of the writing is pretty worn down). It's the oldest thing I've ever held in my hands, beating the book in my earlier post by about twelve hundred years. How could I say no to a trade like that? In a very real way, experiences like this are much better than signing a deal with a publisher. Cash is fleeting, very fleeting, but it's this sort of sharing that makes the task of writing worth doing.

Do you think FSG would pay me in denarii?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Love You Damn Dirty Apes

I've found that when it comes to Planet of the Apes and everything therein related, there are two kinds of people. I'm the kind who dressed as a gorilla soldier for Halloween (at the age of 33) and who began writing an (as yet) unfinished biography of General Ursus, aping the style of Suetonius' Twelve Caesars. Planet of the Apes has pizzazz. It's got class. It's got sexy bikini cavewoman Linda Harrison. And it's got Charlton Heston being chased by angry gorillas with guns riding horses. Gorillas on Horses! With guns! So now you'll know where I'm coming from when I tell you about my dream and its outcome. Its glorious, glorious outcome.

About two weeks ago I was watching Beneath the Planet of the Apes, which is an incredibly entertaining movie in its own right, less clever in its satire (who can top Rod Serling?) than the original but relentlessly nihilistic and darkly funny. Needless to say I enjoyed the hell out of it.

That night I had a dream that I found a set of Planet of the Apes toys that were made for little kids, like my son's Galactic Heroes Star Wars toys, or those Superhero Squad guys, Captain America, Iron Man, etc, little two inch superdeformed bits of plastic simian joy. I am a 38 year old man, with all the responsibilities and stresses that entails, and I have to say that this was the purest, most golden dream I've had in a decade. "I'll take them all!" I said in my dream, and when I woke up I could still feel the smile that must have been plastered across my face for half the night. I don't usually remember my dreams and I talk about them even less, but this one stuck and I told my wife. As I did, the same goofy smile came back. Like I said, pure.

Now, I'm sure everyone has a good idea of where this story is going, but let me just say that by the end of the day I had completely forgotten this dream. It was one of those things that was so beautiful and childlike all you can do is accept it, enjoy it, and let it go. It's the natural thing, I think.

Anyway, a week later I'm in a comic shop (imagine that) and I'm standing at the counter waiting to pay. I look down into the glass case that houses various and sundry items.

"Oh my god!" is what I said next. Loudly.

General Ursus, on a horse. Four gorilla soldiers with guns and clubs. Astronaut Brent, in primitive human duds. Two mutant humans. And a cage wagon with another horse. Two inches tall. Kubricks. I'd never heard of them. These particular ones have been out of circulation for seven or eight years.

"I'll take them all!" I said. So f-ing pure.

Since then I've tracked down Dr. Zaius, Cornelius, Zira, her nephew Lucius, Julius the gorilla jailer, more gorillas, and of course, Chuck Heston himself, Taylor. I don't know if dreams come true, but I do know this: Gorillas on horses are something you never outgrow.

Monday, April 27, 2009

. . . the death of art

I've been reading quite a lot the past few weeks, no need to name what I've been reading, it's not the point. Much of it came to me highly recommended, either through reviews or through recommendations from friends and acquaintances. Some stuff I've really enjoyed, some of it was a letdown, and some I didn't care for, but all of it was well written from a technical standpoint. None of what I read, however, was perfect, in fact, most were deeply flawed in certain places. And far from bothering me, these flaws pleased me most of all. They told me that a flesh and blood human being was behind the things I was reading, that a story was being told by someone who was excited, maybe a little too excited, to tell it, and that it had a soul. In the end that's all writing is about. A person telling a story to other people. Not money, not literary reputation, not immortality- that's all just useless vanity. So, here's to perfection: May we all fall short.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Writing in the Dead of Night

So, I've been burning through Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal series and I'm driving myself crazy waiting for the last issue of 100 Bullets (I still can't decide if it was a mistake to read the five page preview that was online- holy shit), and I realize what it is about good noir that hits the vein for me. It's not the sex and violence, the booze, the grittiness, or the sharp (and vulgar) dialogue- I mean, it is, fuck yeah it is, but that's not the heart of it. It's not about the eternal fuck-up either.

It's about the moment and nothing else. Impulse and reaction. It's a hell of a way to live,and it usually leads to a bad end, but it's seductive too, because, really, there are no guarantees in life besides death. We try to voodoo it away with retirement accounts and insurance policies and vacation plans and a million other things, and that's all good, but the truth is smiling at us all in the mirror, just a few millimeters beneath the skin. Good noir rips the face right off, forces you to look at your own skull, then staples everything back into place. And it's all back where it was, but it never looks or feels quite right again.

Write. Time is short, my friends.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Die is Cast

Forgive my Julius Caesar reference, but I've found myself reading Rosemary Sutcliff these last few days, The Lantern Bearers, which is the third in a loosely connected series of novels about Roman Britain. Even though they all take place long after Caesar's murder, he was still the first Roman general to set foot in Britain, so the quote isn't a huge stretch. Anyway, Rosemary Sutcliff is fantastic; her novels are geared toward young adults but they're not childish, and anyone can enjoy them. She's pretty much my ideal for historical fiction at this point: accurate but streamlined and accessible to anyone.

So, the die is cast, and I'm crossing my own version of the Rubicon. I've decided to forgo the search for a publisher for Ghost of Iga and go it on my own. And I have to say that I feel good about the decision. As I've said before, I love doing my own thing, my way. The book's in the design and editing phase now and I look for it to be out before the year's end. It's a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Well, that's that. My reading's done and it went pretty well. Having never read any of the poems aloud, my biggest fear was that my delivery would be boring, but everyone seemed entertained. I read eight or nine poems, including one I had written a few days before that's not in the book. It was inspired by the spiffy Monkey King t shirt which I bought just for this reading.

There were about thirty or so people present, some I knew, some I didn't, but I have to say I was definitely out of my comfort zone, putting myself in front of a crowd. It really underscores the general isolation of the writing experience. I'm not sure which surprised me more, the audience's positive reaction to the reading, or the emotional connection I felt to each piece as I said each line aloud.

Of course, like any self respecting poet/writer (involuntary roll of the eyes)as soon as the reading was over I went out with my friends for drinks, where we talked about everything but writing (thank god). Then, like any self respecting post boomer, I spent the rest of the night playing video games. Marlowe would have done no different, and he might have lived longer if he had Tekken to play.

I'll leave you with the last poem I read, the one not in the book, though it fits the tone.

The Monkey King's Mechanical Children

When he was their age Old Monkey had a pair-

of cloud-treading shoes
a cuirass and a cap
with phoenix plumes
a compliant rod
and a bad attitude

There were three of them, three brothers-

They seared the sky with their plasma boots
and towered in their mecha suits
above the ruin of Buddha's garden
Reclined in peaceful meditation
at first he denied paternity

But beneath the gaze of their monstrous guns-

He stood at last
grabbed his staff
and winked and spat and said:

"It's true in those days I was frequently drunk,
so I might have known your mother after all."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My grocery list. . .

Not quite, but I thought I'd type up a list of things that I'm in the process of doing as a ***WRITER*** (pause for aplause). I hope it's more interesting than a grocery list.

1. Preparing for my poetry reading at Changing Hands this Friday. (my next post will be about that. yikes.)

2. Finishing the first draft of the sixth chapter of my second novel, tentatively titled Dogs of Edo.

3. Editing Ghost of Iga, the first novel.

4. Researching, which means reading, reading, reading.

5. Reading for fun to keep my mind flexible. I generally read a lot of comics and graphic novels when I'm in the midst of a project.

6. Thinking very,very hard about things.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Everyone loves a monkey. . .

Especially a kung fu monkey. As anyone who's known me for a while will confirm, I have a thing about monkeys, especially the Monkey King. Over the years I've acquired quite a bit of Monkey King stuff- I have a Japanese woodblock print, a huge ceramic statue from chinatown, various smaller statues, and the most obvious testament to my obsession, a tattoo of Monkey on my right forearm. Aside from being a constant source of entertainment for me (I'm not kidding. Every time I look at that tattoo I smile a little in my head) old Monkey is my literary totem, reminding me that fiction should be a little contrary, a little mischievous, and sometimes a little rough around the edges. Oh, and if you don't know who the Monkey King is, shame on you. Do a little digging and you'll be well rewarded.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This is too easy

It's true, writing in the twenty first century isn't all that difficult. I mean, look at me- I've powered up the computer, logged in to this site, and here I go tap tap tappety tap. Then I'll virtually press a virtual button and zap! Published. I've been told by some that this is a bad thing, because anyone with time on their hands, a computer and a website or a printer can assault our collective minds with whatever sort of junk that bubbles off the top of their head. The real danger, I've heard, is not that anyone will bother to read any of it, but that the Real Art will be impossible to find in the flood of mediocrity.

I don't buy it.

I think it's great that everyone that wants to can express themselves- post their words, pictures, music online, publish their own bound books, burn cds, all that. And I think that Real Art is often mediocre itself, as much a product of hive-mind branding and posturing and advertising dollars, as it is of real creativity. Most important though, I think that real art (whatever that may be) has the power to swim to the top of the flood or, failing that, to glisten so brightly in the depths that it won't easily be lost. After all, art is what you make it out to be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waste(d) Words

So, as I write this I'm at the library (remember those?) using this blog as a little warmup exercise before I pop open my paper notebook and start longhanding a bit more of my novel. I tend to bounce back and forth between electronic writing and the old fashioned pen and paper method, and I've heard that some die-hards use a word processor or even a typewriter. Not me. I think that's a lot like the stubborn nostalgia for eight track cassettes, a format that has none of the richness of vinyl and none of the convenience of digital. Or to go back to apples and put it bluntly, a typewriter is a pain in the ass and a waster of valuable paper.

Just the other day, my friend P.J. was showing me his ipod Touch which, among other things can download electronic books from the internet and act as an e-reader. As a person who loves books as a tactile pleasure (holding them, turning the page, blah blah smooch smooch)my initial reaction was "Cool P.J., but who really gives a sh--?"

But then my good friend slapped me in the side of the head and yelled, "Think Man! Think of the convenience when you travel. Think of the books you like but don't love. Think of the magazines you read once and throw away. Join the future, man!"

And you know, he has a point. And while I think books (bound, paper books) should never disappear, I am appalled by the waste generated by the publishing industry. I firmly believe that magazines have no business existing in the 21st century outside of an electronic format. And as a non traditionally published writer, I can't help but see a great deal of opportunity in this rapidly emerging technology. That said, I'm going to crawl back into my dank hole now, light a candle, and write in my notebook.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It was a masterpiece, I promise.

Well, here I am in the two double oh nine, and it may seem like I've taken a heck of a vacation, but it's only from this blog. I've been writing, I've self published a book of poetry, Carnival of Vulgarities, which I'll be reading part of at Changing Hands Bookstore in March, and I've been planning and executing the attack on my second novel, a sequel to my first(unpublished manuscript),Ghost of Iga. But as my late friend Geno was fond of saying, you don't need to worry about that. This blog is really about my latest gold star.

There are certain accessories that every writer needs in order to feel like a "real" writer. For some it's an MFA, for others it's publication, awards, or even cash up front. For a lucky few it's a pen, a copy machine, a ream of paper, and a good stapler. A nice desk. A library. A jacket with elbow patches. You get the point.

Me, I have my notebooks. I have my special pens. I have a complete OED in two volumes and a magnifier to go with it. I have a self published novella, the aforementioned book of poetry, and half a dozen chapbooks. And now I have my crowning glory: a lost manuscript.

Oh, it was real once. I worked on it for weeks, so I should know. I had one copy and now it's gone. Poof. And I didn't leave it on a bus. Didn't leave it on a train. Not a plane nor a cab. The dog didn't eat it and I didn't accidentally throw it away. This is the twenty first century, guys. I just didn't bother to back it up, save it on a disc, email it to myself, or even print it. Crash. Burn. Lesson learned. Back to work.