Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reflections On A Recent Fan Letter

If you want to be a successful (fiction) writer in this modern age, it is simply not enough to have a vibrant imagination and a talent with words. This is a truism. It has been repeated over and over, by the people who pay the bills (commercial publishers), by the people who serve the people who pay the bills (editors), and by the people who allegedly connect the writer to the people previously indicated (agents and Famous Friends of the Author). Even those people who pay their own bills will affirm that this is true, and any writer with an internet connection and a passing familiarity with this foolish business can clearly see it.

To this I say, So what?

In writing, there are greater truths (believe it or not) than those written in a publishing contract for a 5 to 50k copy print run, greater than Amazon sales rankings and long tail earnings, and much greater than the platform that many writers feel needlessly compelled to climb atop and do a silly market dance. I don't know what these truths are (Well, I know a few) but you do. So get them out of your head and into the world and share them, however you can. I swear, touching even one reader with the personal power of your hard work will make it all worthwhile.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I'm Sorry For Not Being Sorry

This blog was going to begin with my love of Robert Graves and segue into Siegfried Sassoon, whose The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston I'm currently reading. Then I was going to mention an article in the Surfer's Journal regarding Felipe Pomar and a tsunami (!) and an excellent editorial by Ed Lin in The Believer that eviscerates the practice of putting human bodies on display for commercial entertainment. I would still encourage you to follow the links because they're well worth checking out, but, to be quite honest, my heart just isn't into producing a long post for its own sake. And that's all right, because as a doggedly amateur writer I am under no obligation to perform for anyone but myself. So enjoy the links and I'll be back whenever I have something I think is worth reading. And speaking of something worth reading, here's a link to a post from Levi Montgomery's excellent blog: The Write Rants that encapsulates perfectly the way I've been feeling lately. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a(nother) novella I need to be working on.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

DIY Horrorshow: A Self-Pubbed Writer's Halloween Bestiary (abridged)

Let's start our scary tour with:

ISBNs- I have some. I've even used them on three of my books. Still, they're ugly, unwieldy, and mostly unnecessary at my level of publishing. If this were a horror movie, my ISBNs would be named Renfield, or Igor (It's pronounced eye-gor. And one other thing- They're ISBNs, not ISBN numbers. International Standard Book Number numbers? Automatic Teller Machine machines? They're acronyms for Christ's sake; you're not supposed to add redundancies to them. It makes them go crazy and eat flies.)

Barcodes- Hey, do you think that guy in the jackass costume- No, not Kanye. The other guy, the one who referred to Kindle books as "crematoria lit"- do you think that guy realizes that his book and nearly every other carries the most widely accepted fascist tattoo in the history of modern civilization? After all, we gotta move that product. Arbeit macht frei, and all that. Oh, c'mon, lighten up. What's a horror list without Nazis?

The Em Dash- Seriously? Em dash? Why can't I just use hyphens? Ctrl what? I don't see it. Where? OK, this is getting creepy. No, I'm telling you it's not there. Wait, who turned out the lights? Hello? Oh crap, it's behind me, isn't it?-

Word Count- Just like being buried alive, without the mercy of suffocation.

Agents and Editors: Known best by the bloody limbs (occasionally a head), severed with sharp knives, that they leave littered on the ground. As in any entertaining horror movie almost everyone runs towards them, even when they should know better.

Money- The lure, like sex, fame, and rockstar status, that leads us back to Camp Crystal Lake every time. Like survival, it is largely illusory.

The Devil- If you write, and you don't know him (I'm looking at you, Nicholas Sparks), there will come at least one time that you wish you did.

A Platform- That place where you dangle from the noose, for the amusement of:

The Audience- That's you. I mean, what's the point of this whole little Danse Macabre without you? I hate you all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why I Skipped September: A Short Photo Essay

This was the smallest day. 'Nuff said. Thanks to Nola Moosman for the photos. If they're lacking, it's entirely the fault of the rider, not the photographer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Writer's Toybox 4: Severian of the Guild, or, Yes I'm that big of a geek and, no, I won't make one for you

As often happens when my creativity is running particularly high, it tends to spill over into strange places. There's been a lot of spillage lately, so much that a Playmobil Severian is little more than an afterthought, which, if you've read The Book of the New Sun, you'll understand is a bald-faced compliment to myself- so sue me, this is my blog. If you haven't read it then you're missing out on one of the three must-read doorstops of fantastic fiction, the other two being The Lord of the Rings and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books. As far as I'm concerned they're all three essential reading, and I don't even like the majority of science fiction and fantasy (It's true, I'm a firm believer in Sturgeon's Law). That said, this is a book nerd toy of epic magnitude, and a perfect companion for my- I mean my son's- Playmobil Elric and Conan.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Message From The Anti-Vivisectionist Book Club

Would you like to know the best way to ruin the aesthetic integrity of a book? It's pretty easy. Just pick your favorite literary obsession- The Lord of the Rings, Finnegan's Wake, The Trial, The Iliad, The New Testament, hell, even the Twilight series- then find a fan group (online or off) and start picking away at the narrative until there's nothing left but bone, break the bone and suck the marrow. Don't spend too much time thinking about the fact that the story (which you claim to love) was alive when you started gnawing away at its flesh.

Now I'm not saying that there's nothing to be found beneath the painted surface of an author's work, and I'm not denying that many writers welcome, even crave, a closer reading of the pages they took so much effort to craft. But a writer also understands (or ought to understand) that the act of creating a story for others often involves ruining much of its beauty within themselves. I can't imagine that any author who truly loves the work they've given life to would wish to see it pulled to pieces upon the altar of fandom, that "deplorable cultus" as Tolkien so aptly put it, and I can't see why some readers can't be satisfied with the pulse and rhythm of a story's heart, that they have to dig it out and eat it, too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

It Must Be In The Genes

As a boy I never had much interest in my family history, partly (mostly) because my parents didn't express any interest in it, and partly because I just assumed there wasn't anything interesting to be found. But it turns out I was wrong.

It seems that my earliest knowable direct ancestor dates from the time of Henry VIII, from Suffolk, England, where he was a member of the minor gentry and where his house still stands. His grandson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, Marlowe, et al., and a citizen (if not a resident) of London, was one of 205 investors in the third voyage of the East India Company. My first direct ancestor in America came over in 1669 and founded a church that I think is still standing. To my knowledge, none of my family fought in the Revolution, but several of them took part in the Civil War and, according to an excruciatingly vague anecdote, one was poisoned by his slaves. Yikes. A mixed bag, to be sure, but hardly boring. It amazes me to think that I'm one of these people.

And I know without a doubt that they're a part of me. See, sometime before 1665 members of my family began using a Coat of Arms: two greyhounds, standing on their hind legs and fighting, in various forms. The thing is, the family had never been granted a Right to Arms and therefore they weren't entitled to use a Coat of Arms. They just decided they wanted one and made one up without permission. My people, cutting around and generally ignoring the gatekeepers. I'm thinking very seriously about using that family emblem as the publishing icon for my future books.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June is a Bust

. . . on the blog front. See you in July.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Woe Is Me, Woe Is You. Whoa, Now Wait Just a Cotton Pickin' Minute!

Y'know, it's been a long while since I've indulged myself in a good old-fashioned mean spirited rant on this blog, and no one to my mind deserves to feel the brunt of one more than Garrison Keillor, a man who might be considered our generation's Mark Twain, if Mark Twain was a plodding, unfunny huckster intent on shucking a brand of faux Americana homespun cornpone horse manure - a nostalgia that's been so leached of vitality it doesn't even have the decency to stink. Seriously folks, if this man is lamenting the fall of the old publishing paradigm and the rise of 18 million writers with 14 readers each, then I say give me a baker's dozen and a sledgehammer and stand clear. God only knows this tired old industry could use the change.

But I suspect that none of this is really about change, good or bad. It's about money, something Garrison Keillor, Inc. alludes to not once but twice in his mercifully short and almost certainly well-compensated pap piece for the Baltimore Sun. Money. After all, biscuits ain't free, not even those bland, largely indigestible rocks stamped out by a certain copyrighted Midwestern purgatory.

To that I say this: Don't worry, Garrison Keillor, Inc., you're not going to starve. Not, that is, unless you chew at the same agonizing pace that you monologue.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fools go, so do all, but fools keep going. . .

And so do I. I'm not sure why. I promised myself that when my new novella was finished (It is done, and I'm quite pleased with it) I would take the rest of the year off from any serious new writing. That's a funny turn of phrase, take the rest of the year off. Like this is my job, writing. If it was I would starve; not for a lack of quality, only a dearth of paying readers. Water everywhere. . . But writing is not my job. It's an exhausting passion. Half a year away from everything but this blog, my surf journal, and a few odd bits of verse doesn't sound too bad at all.

There's just one problem: I've already started a new project, a relatively ambitious one, if ambition and hubris can lay claim to being cousins. Worse than that, I'm enjoying the work. The research, the planning, the small, imperfect passages I've already committed to paper and to memory. All of it. Never, Dear Reader, never trust in the promise of a writer. That's true in so many ways, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Personal History of the World

I'm a writer. I write fiction. That is to say, I make stuff up and slap it onto a page. If it's good, and if I'm lucky, a few people will read it and some of them will come up to me, or call me, or drop me a line and say, "Hey, that stuff was pretty good. I like your style, kid." It happens sometimes.

It's nice to have an audience, wonderful really, but it isn't the main reason I write. See, I'm foolish enough to believe that I'm actually creating something besides "content". I call it my personal history of the world, an imaginative appendix to reality. Inside my head it's nothing but potential; a swirl of chaos, invention, and intent, but once it hits the page it's fixed. Solid. It exists, and the more people who read it the more imaginatively real it becomes.


It all sounds so serious, doesn't it? I suppose it could be, if this was someone else's show, but I'm the demiurge atop this particular sub-creation and in my world serious is trumped by strange. In my world, the Devil plays poker in a cheap motel room with a redneck prophet who just happens to have the bones of the baby Jesus in the trunk of his car. In my world, a dying Edgar Allan Poe is the focus of a bizarre pilgrimage, while in a distant time in faraway Japan, a heartless bandit is sheltered from his pursuers by a beautiful trio of foxes. It's a world of war, in which a young man is afflicted by the hideous ghost of his brother and troubled by the unhappy inheritance of a gentle heart. A world where the heroes of the Trojan War reenact their eternal drama with bullets and blood on dirty, crime-ridden streets.

My world is serious, it's silly, it's real and surreal. Sometimes it's poetic and many times it's vulgar. It's countless different things, but it's one world and it's mine. I'm its historian and I'm happy to share it with you. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Clockwork Betty

Here's a tiny piece of fiction I whipped up and sent to Matchbook Story. Homeboy didn't want it, so I figured I'd put it up here. I also received a pretty funny rejection via email (It was serious, but I thought it was funny). Unfortunately, I deleted it. This version is longer than the one I sent (300 characters apparently includes spaces) and is a re-imagining of a longer short story I wrote a few years ago. Hope you enjoy it.

Clockwork Betty

Two cops found her wandering naked in an old industrial park, no I.D., a serial number stamped in crematory ink on the small of her wrist: BETAy2k10. They covered her in a blanket and gave her a pen, hoping she could write, but ones and zeros were all they got, and her lids snapping up and down like shutters over her liquid crystal eyes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Writer, Be Stoked

This is what stoked me out as a writer- an oil
painting of the main character, Watanabe
Kenjiro, from my book Ghost of Iga. It was
painted by my friend Jason Cheeseman-
Meyer, and if you want to stoke him out,
you'll go to his website and check out his

If you're a surfer, then you know in your gut what being stoked is. You also know what an ephemeral experience it can be and how stubbornly it defies quantification. If you don't surf and you don't know, then I'll try and lay it on you: Stoke is an aggregate emotion consisting of a sense of mental connection and technical accomplishment, fused with unbridled joy and a certainty that what you've just done and what you may yet do are completely worthwhile, for the simple reason that you are doing it. There is no formula for stoke, unless it's You get what you give. If you don't meet it halfway, it'll ditch your ass in a hot second.

Believe me, I've surfed well in what some would call perfect conditions and had a miserable time. No stoke at all. And I've surfed knee-high slop with my friends and left the water beaming. I've also seen some really great surfers who sit in the lineup looking like they just drank the water out of a sewer pipe, and who nail every wave they want and never once smile. Of course, the reverse of all this is true as well. You get what you give.

So what does this have to do with writing? Everything. As writers, we all have a set of ideal conditions and a list of goals in our mind- money, fame, a sweet publishing deal, critical recognition, wide readership, whatever. Maybe they happen, maybe they don't. The few I listed are long shots for most writers- That's just how it is. However it turns out though, you should constantly seek a reason to be stoked. Otherwise, you should probably be doing something else.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Writer's Reverie, or Why I Won't Quit My Day Job

I don't really remember when it happened- It was quite some time ago- but there came a point in my writing life when I quit asking Why am I doing this? and started asking myself How am I going to keep doing this? The answer turned out to be Any damned way I can.

First off, let me just say that I hate manuscripts. They look like crap, they feel like crap, and the words trapped inside their barren pages hate them as much as I do. A story in manuscript form is like a bird in a chicken-wire cage: You should kill it and eat it or else set it free. I released mine into chapbooks and gave them to my friends.

Back then, fifteen years or so, it was just me, a sturdy little tank of a laptop computer, an inkjet printer and a bootlegged copy of Wordperfect. A ream of printer paper, a ream of cardstock, and a big-ass stapler. I was in love.

Things are different now.

For one thing, I'm a better writer than I was back then. Quite good actually, thank you very much. I haven't done a chapbook in a while either, though I've kept copies of most of the old ones, and I still have that big-ass stapler. Nowadays I have the internet. I upload files to create print on demand paperbacks. I create paperless PDF's that I've been giving away for free. I keep this blog and I find my way onto twitter and facebook when I can.

But the biggest difference? Back when I was making those chapbooks I used to think that it would be great to be picked up by a "real" commercial publisher. Now, I know that what I really wanted was to be able to play with their toys and dig in their sandbox. I've come to realize that I'm just not terribly interested in writing as a business. I'm not a merchant, I'm not a brand, and I'm not a commodity. And I'm still too in love with my own vision to have it any other way.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Light Always Changes by Levi Montgomery- a Review

Anyone who's read Levi Montgomery's blog, The Write Rants, knows that he has strong opinions about doing things his own way, writing wise. He talks the talk, and talks it well, but does he deliver the goods? My answer is yes, yes indeed. Now, I don't completely understand why Levi doesn't like to label his work Young Adult fiction- I suspect he just doesn't like labels in general- but that doesn't change the fact that Light Always Changes is a fine young adult novel, one refreshingly free of teenage superkids and Beverly Hills High School antics. Light Always Changes is the story of a girl, Lydia, who is scarred not by the acid burn that crosses her face, but by a distorted concept of beauty and its fluid and subjective significance in human relationships. In the years since her accident, Lydia has transformed herself into a stereotype, and the circumstances that push her suddenly and sometimes painfully into becoming a whole human being are what give this novel it's heart and soul. Levi Montgomery has a feel for what makes young people tick, and while I as an adult didn't always agree with the moral choices his characters made, I never once found them false or contrived. This book is Doggerel approved, for quality of writing, independent spirit, and most important, solid entertainment value.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Heart of the Amateur

You can learn a lot about a society and its attitudes from the origins of certain words. Take villain, for example. In its original French and Latin it meant simply 'feudal serf' or 'farm hand'. Hmmm. . . working class=contemptible class, what a thoroughly barbaric analogy. It's nice to see we've moved past such prejudice in the 21st Century. Of course, it's always better to be rich, and being rich and famous is better still.

That will probably never happen if you're an amateur. Amateurs, by the modern definition, don't get paid for what they do. They haven't monetized (such an elegant word) their skill set, haven't declared themselves open for business (profess, the root of professional). Some, admittedly, can't get paid for what they do because it's nothing anyone would pay for, though the market has proven time and again that people will buy most anything given the right prodding, but there are others, and plenty of them, who don't even give money a thought. Painters. Photographers. Surfers (the only pastime I know where the majority of amateurs look on professionalism with a healthy dose of contempt). Basketball and Baseball players. Writers. They just do what they do, underneath, around, and through the gaps in the corporate structure supporting their professional counterparts, and if the whole damn thing came crashing to the ground they might sigh, might even be a little bit sad to see it go, but the painters would paint, photographers would look to capture fleeting moments of light, waves would be ridden, ballcourts and fields would still host fierce local rivalries, and writers would still struggle in futility to lay their strange visions onto the page. And why? The answer lies in the root of the word amateur: from the Latin amator, lover, from amare, to love. And if it is really true that the desire of money is the root of all evil, then the root of love can only be called the spark of the divine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Year's Miscellany

Most years, at their end, seem to carry in their outline a theme, or at least a loosely discernible shape, but maybe that's just a narrative gloss we drape over top of our dwindling days to convince ourselves that we haven't wasted our time. Who knows? Last year most definitely had a theme for many people, myself included: Uncertainty. Of course, Uncertainty is just another way to say Reality, and it's probably not been a bad thing for us to become reacquainted with the fact that there are no guarantees from minute to minute, let alone day to day, month to month, or year to year. Still, it gets old when you're being bludgeoned with the same message five days a week and twice on weekends. As for 2010, it's too early to call a trend, and the only reason to try would be in the hope of proactively coaxing the year into a personally beneficial orbit. Nothing wrong with that, but since I believe very strongly in the jinx, I'm not gonna do it here in public. Instead, I'm going to do what human beings have generally done when other humans are around to listen (or read), in times of peace and plenty, in times of war and famine, whenever the big, important issues have become tiresome, or glaringly self-evident, or just plain overwhelming and unappealing:

I'm going to engage in small talk. Here goes.

About four days ago, I finished the first draft of a novella I've been working on, a work that I mentioned in this post, and in finishing it I discovered a new use for Print On Demand technology- creating manuscripts. I have two on the way, printed and bound, for the same cost or less than going to a copy shop or using my own printer. On top of that, the manuscript is now stored on the printer's server, where I can access it at any time. For people like me who like to play at being real writers (insert big sh*t eating grin) this abundance of inexpensive technology is the bee's meow. Art for its own sake has really come into its own, and I for one couldn't be happier.

Now, on to what I've been reading. Following my friend Kyle Hague's recommendations, I've recently finished three graphic novels, Garth Ennis' War Stories, volumes 1 and 2, and The Filth, by Grant Morrison. Up until now I've never really liked Garth Ennis. It seemed to me that any time he saw a chance to go over the top, he would indulge his worst impulses and go way over the top, and that always turned me off. But it turns out that what everyone says about him is true: He's the best writer of war fiction in comics today. War Stories is unbelievably good, as good as nearly anything you'll find on the page, be it prose or comic. Nothing in these stories rings false or contrived or over the top. They are masterful, and I have a newfound respect for Mr. Ennis.

As for The Filth, I'm really not sure what to say. It's going to take me at least two more readings before I decide whether I need to punch Kyle in the face or kiss him hard on the mouth. It's probable I should do both, but the order of operations (Punch, kiss, or kiss, punch?) eludes me. He's right about this though; the story Grant Morrison lays down in the pages of The Filth is untranslatable into any other medium. Absolutely. Untranslatable. Whether it works or not (my gut says it does but my brain says give me two more reads to be sure) it is without a doubt one of the most ambitious comics I've ever read.

So, here's a question. What's more satisfying than teenage vampire romance? Why, young wizards coming of age in an English boarding school, of course. But what's better than that? Really. Honestly. I'll tell you what's better- Forty-two junior high schoolers on an island killing the crap out of each other, that's what. Battle Royale, baby, six hundred pages (yes, six hundred!) of mayhem and carnage by writer Koushun Takami, that against all odds manages to have and to keep a heart and a soul. Battle Royale isn't really a teen book, it's more like a teen book's older angry brother, but I know a few YA lit fans who are thirty years old going on thirteen that could use the shock back into adulthood. This is a unique book and well worth the read.

I'll leave you now with what I'm reading at the moment. It may surprise, knowing how rabid a fan of Planet of the Apes I am, that I have never read the actual novel by Pierre Boulle. In another fifty pages or so, that gap will be bridged. The edition I have is a British one, published by Penguin and translated from the French several years before the movie was made. The English title is Monkey Planet, an illustration of just how flexible translation can be. I'm enjoying it quite a bit. It's lighter in some ways than the movie, but there are also many more touchpoints between the two than I expected. Below is a cover of the book, but not the edition I have, unfortunately.

And with that, I bid you good day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kickin' It Old School

Well, it's a new year, and by popular consensus a new decade, and my family and I have appropriately turned over a new leaf. We've ditched the desert and returned to the promised land. For me that means one very, very, important thing.

Surf's up.

Does that sound trite? Well, if it does then there's nothing I can say that will change your mind, and I wouldn't want to waste my time trying. For me, however, riding waves is one of the three legs of a well balanced life, and my stool has been wobbling for several years now. I'm eagerly anticipating the regular cycle of check the beach, grab the gear, suit up and paddle out.

What's that? You want to know what this has to do with writing? Maybe the zen of the wave frees the mind, or the fresh air and nature releases the inner creative spirit? Bulls**t, I say. I actually wrote less when I was in the water all the time. But I did do one thing religiously: I kept a surf journal.

A surf journal. A record of every wave session, good, bad, and ugly. The animals I encountered (an angry mating seal springs to mind). The memorable waves. The frustrations and the joy, and the time I almost drowned. I ended it just before I moved to the desert, and now that I'm back I've started a new one. It would make a great blog- I write these things for public consumption- but there's only one way you can read it, and that's by picking it up, opening the leather cover, and thumbing through it, page by page.

Some things just can't be done any other way.