Saturday, December 29, 2012

Resurfacing

I make popcorn for a living. Microwave popcorn.

That's not even true, I put bags of microwave popcorn into boxes for a living.

But I can't really complain. What I do, unglamorous as it is, pays for a roof over our heads, puts food on our table, keeps the lights and the heat on,  fills the gas tank - it's a living. And it's a hell of a lot better than hustling for freelance work or making minimum wage as a sandwich artist.

And I'm sure there are many many writers who make a decent to good living doing freelance work but it just isn't for me. There's just something soul-sucking about writing boring, repetitive, SEO-keyword-laced copy for car dealership websites and scuba equipment shops. I know there's more rewarding work further down the line for those writers who stick with it - but honestly I just couldn't hack it.

So I got a job, a real job, 40+ hours a week - yes, I am officially an adult.

But where does that leave me as a writer?

Lately? Stuck ankle deep in the mud.

However, I am, if not happier, more content than I have been in a long, long time in my life. I am living independently, paying off debt, eating healthier, exercising, and basically getting my life in order. I'm learning to operate a motor vehicle and in the spring, I'll be getting married.

Did I mention that I'm an adult now? It's a strange concept.

So, back to being a writer. It's been on hold, more or less. Here and there, I'll get a few words written, but for the most part, The Block is in full effect - back with a vengeance. I'm trying my best to integrate writing back into my daily schedule. I have a plan, I have a novel's worth of ideas floating around in my head, haunting me as I roam around during the work day, helpless to transfer any of into concrete form. And of course, the moment I get myself to sit in front of a computer screen or have a pen in hand, my mind becomes as white and pure as the driven snow.

Which leads to the real question:

Can Diego begin anew the task of re-demolishing the re-enforced writer's block that's been re-built? Stayed tuned to find out...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Value of a Word

Words ain't worth much.

At least that's how it seems. Just about anyone can string words together into a sentence and most folks don't like to sully up their day with too much reading anyhow, so why should words cost anything at all?

But everywhere you look - be it in print, online, on advertisements, storefronts - the written word can be found. And there's a good chance that somebody, somewhere, at one point or another, wrote those words.

But is that worth?

Not much by the sound of business owners who need written work - advertisements  product descriptions, employee handbooks, reviews, mission statements, blog articles - and think so little of the worker holding the pen that it is all they can do to disdainfully throw a few pennies at the diligent wordsmith.

If my opening foray into the wild, seemingly unregulated world of freelance writing has taught me anything, it's that people truly don't give a crap that you know how to string a sentence together without sounding like a drunken six-year-old.

"If you are a good writer, this should be EXTREMELY easy for you" says the client seeking a 50-page manual on forklift operation for a the extraordinary price $50 USD. 

Easy? Yes, if you want the work to sound uninformed and be without any form of grammar check or time spent on proper diction. Good writers produce good writing when given TIME - and time is indeed money. Time spent not only writing but also spent researching, and less compensation offered for that time, the less time is spent on a particular piece. Because yes, strangely enough, writers also need to eat.

Let's do a little math, shall we?

Let's say an average page is about six hundred words, no, five hundred words - to make things easy. Okay, now let's say someone wants fifty pages of five hundred words each. Sure, 50 X 500 = 25,000 words. Alright, that's a decent-sized project. Even if I'm a good writer and the work is relatively easy, it's still going to take a good amount of time. At 25,000 words, your $50 compensation works out to exactly $0.002 a word or two-tenths of a penny...

But, words are easy right? Why should they be worth more than that?

Some more math (bear with me).

Even if I was a reasonably fast writer (which I'm not) and could come up with about 1,000 words of perfect copy each and every hour, at the rate of $0.002 a word, I'm still only making $2.00 an hour.

What kind of sweatshop bullshit is that?

Quality pay = quality work

The above is an extreme example. Most clients offering work are more reasonable than this fellow, but not much more so. It's one thing to offer work up at (a fairly standard) rate of one to two pennies a word (far better than being paid in fractions) but it's quite another to then lay down a list of extremely unreasonable and contradicting instructions and expect hours of research poured into a 500 word article that will ultimately net the writer a whooping seven dollars - if it's accepted.

Though the basic act of slapping down words is relative easy and requires no heavy lifting, there is something of an art to making that mass of words first readable, then comprehensible, then interesting. Not to mention all the work that must go into actually making sure the words say something relevant to the real world and aren't a delicately-spun web of fabricated nonsense (which, by the way, is actually my specialty).

And all of that takes TIME.

In other words, the less you pay me for my time, the less time you get back, the less value you get for the words you paid for.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Flightplan

Time is moving fast. It's something I've been noticing over the past few years, the older I get, the shorter the week feels, the month, the year. When I was a kid, a summer break lasted for years and the school year took centuries to get through.

Now?

It seems every other day a new calendar month is hanging on the wall, Monday to Sunday bleed into one another, and suddenly I'm drifting towards the deep end of my 20s, of my youth. And now, at this particular point in time, it seems as if time is flying by at supersonic speeds.

Photo by Michelle L
In the next few months, a few major changes in my life will take place. I will be working full-time for myself as freelance writer, I will move to a new state to live with my fiancée, and will have (hopefully) released my very first published work out into the cruel, cold world.

In short, I will become a self-sufficient, professional writer, an adult, not a student or a kid or a part-timer working retail - a real-life adult.

But this blog isn't about my life, it's not one of "those" blogs, it is, primarily, a blog about words, about the process of putting them together to form sentences and stories and the frustrations that occur when that action is stalled or interrupted. And so you might have noticed something big up above:

I'm writing a book! And I intend to finish it.

Within a few months I will be releasing a collection of short, inter-related horror stories centered around a small town in Northwest Indiana - a truly terrifying place all on its own without any added supernatural urgings. So far, I have finished first-draft work on 7 of the 13 stories planned and have outlines/ideas in place for the remaining six.

More news as it develops, but those of you following here will be the first to know.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Charlene

A flash written for the +Flash Fiction Project based on the below image. This has also become an excerpt of a large piece and is based on an older story of mine. 540 words.




by aThunders


Her eyes open to greet me, good eyes, eyes I want to see when I wake. My big tough puppy, my little wolfie, still cowering in the hall, same spot all night, when she sees me coming her bent-down tail starts to wag. Ears folded, tongue hanging loose, Charlene belly crawls, paws gripping into the floor, up t the bedroom threshold but not further – she won’t come in, not anymore.

“Come Char.” I say as I walk past, out the room – I don’t like it anymore than she does, don’t care how sunny the walls are, I know they’re still there, still watching, waiting for the dark to hide them again.

Mom is awake, coffee pot gurgling, frying pan sizzling – her usual sausage, peppers, and eggs – and she grunts at my entrance. Charlene is my shadow, just beside my legs as I move through the cramped ‘L’ of the kitchen, elbows bumping, wet nose painting streaks down the back of my legs.

“Sleep good?” Mom asks out of habit.

“Just okay.”

I lie, she doesn’t need to know, doesn’t care to know. What would I tell her? Ramble on about the tiny demons that invade my room, cackle in the night, and threaten to suck out my soul, tell her all that while she nervously – obsessively – fingers the rosary hanging from her neck? No, that just earns me a trip to see Father Rodas, in the back office, breath smelling like mint and his office like dirt and dying flowers. We keep quiet and out of her way.  At the breakfast table, Charlene gets a piece of toast crust for her silence.

Dread school but dread going back to that room for clothes more. Got to be quick in and out, give mom no reason to pause, no reason to ask questions. Charlene knows better than to keep following me once I reach the short hall, only once place for me to go and she ain’t going. Without a noise she’s back in her place, head on the floor with a sad stare looking upward and hopeful that I make it back out alive.

Charlene always seems to know when something bad will happen, she’s been that way since she was a puppy. Always knew when we were taking her to the vet or going on long trips away from – back when there were still family vacations, dad singing in Polish all the way to Chicago – or she’d know whenever a bad storm was coming before the sky even started turning black. 

Get an outfit for today, anything, I’m beyond caring about looking cute or looking at all coordinated. Just clothes to cover and I’m out, head down, wanting to see that tail wag again for me like I was gone for three years. Almost out and I see something strange on the floor, dark stains on the wood, droplets going all across from the bed to the far wall.

I look closer, bend down, and see that their not just random drops of something but footprints, tiny prints like three-toed lizards or maybe birds – prints dark colored, almost a brown but red too. Charlene whines from the hall. Blood, has to be, blood ruining mom’s wood – her first concern – but whose?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Northwest Side Night


This is a flash piece done for Nina Pelletier's Prompt-and-Share. The prompt in question was to describe your hometown setting in short fictional piece - my town is a big town, and I focused, here, on my favorite slice of it.


Outside, the night is suffocating, air heavy with heat though the sun’s been down for hours. The street is awash with motion: cars flashing by to make the next light, young couples moving from the bar on the corner to the pizza pallor across the street, gangs of high school kids hovering in the convenience store parking lot down the street.  A few steps from the yellow light of the store, a kid on a BMX bike rides up, knees hitting handlebars, and in soft Spanish asks us if we want to buy any weed. Luis laughs and says no, his shoulders tense as we watch the boy ride away.

“Alright, you had your walk, got your pop, let’s go home.”

Luis looks left to right, out at the pockets of orange street lights and more closely at the gaps of dark between them. He hadn’t been very comfortable out at night ever since the incident a few months ago – the “smelly grocery cart guy” he called the man, the one who sang incomprehensible songs to himself, the one Luis claimed tried to mug him then kill him, swinging around a half-broken baseball bat at one in the morning.

“Luis, calm down, for real.”

There were other reasons for his anxiety, though. He’d learned long ago, with painful lessons, to act a certain way on certain streets, to play the part of a man with machismo if he wanted to make it through certain neighborhoods alive.

But this isn’t one of them, least I don’t think so, and it’s a beautiful night, the cool breeze from the lake cutting through the humid stillness. It reminds me of nights running around the block after dark, chasing each other with sparklers and playing tag through the alleys. We walk past the white-glowing liquor store and the Mexican restaurant with the smell of slow-cooked carnitas riding on the breeze, we walk dance studio and Luis can’t help but stop and watch the late-night dancers in their black tights and thin sweaters moving and stretching behind the glass front, until at last we have to round the corner to go back home.

“Know where I’d like us to live if we had money?” Luis asks, same question he always asks.

“Boystown.” Half the time that’s the right answer, but not tonight.

“No, I mean, for real, like if we got real rich somehow, like lotto rich.”

Anywhere but here, where we both grew up, street names we knew better than we knew our presidents, corner shop owners like family – I knew he just wanted to put it all behind him.

“Up high, way up high, that’s where I want to live.” He says, his eyes up past the trees shading the side street from lamp light, up to the purple sky. “Up on the lakefront, in one of those fancy condos, way above the city and everyone else, where I can look out on the city and see how small our little life was.”

Bushes and weeds grew in dark clumps across the black iron fences and stone steps now.  Away from the big street it was quiet enough to even hear a few crickets making their noise. Luis is calmer, smiling even at me while I drink the last of my orange pop, belching “like a gross boy”, as he would say, when I finish.

“We’ll get there someday.” I say to him, arm around his bony shoulders while we feel our way past the gate into our building. Someday sure, but hopefully no time soon. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lost

Okay, I will admit up front that I have not done my 5000 words for this week. I do have an excuse though.

You see, I've been lost - lost for quite some time actually.



It's not like I got lost on purpose. In fact, for the longest time, I was sure of where I was going. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Sun-Polished Dome

Today's story is brought to you by the good folks over at The Narratorium, a growing digital literary journal.

The Sun-Polished Dome is a story about two siblings on the run from a blood-thirsty terror, finding solace in an old tale about a long lost god...

Artwork by David Grigg


And for those of you keeping track, I actually forgot to do my first update on the weekly word count.  While it wasn't quite the 5,000 count I was shooting for, I was able to finish up the above story which came in at just under 2,500 words.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TMI

Ever read a short story and realize about five paragraphs in that nothing has actually happened yet? Ever find that after a few pages you are still in the midst of the most painstakingly dull description of a room and all its contents, of the MC's morning routine (because every story should start when the character wakes up...), and her every thought while she eats a hearty and well-described breakfast?

You are not alone. Everyday, countless readers fall prey to these dreary passages, often written by overzealous writers eager to display their exceptional descriptive skills and world-building abilities. Thankfully, there is hope.

"...and next to the large, imposing screwdriver was yet another, smaller in stature yet similar in look, sitting underneath the most precariously hanging pair of red-handled pliers, which themselves were next to..."

Similar to the debilitating disease known as "mirror lists", filling the opening scene of a story, especially a shorter piece, with Too Much Information is one of the surest ways to kill the action on arrival. Plot, setting, history (back story), and character are all  very lovely things to have in your story (and every good story should have at least some of these elements) but simply having these things and then regurgitating all that raw information back at the reader does not a story make.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vote or Die

No, not really - just hold on and let me explain. For those of you who read my last post - the flash fiction piece "Repay" - you may have noted that it was part of a larger project, known as a "blogfest" 'round these parts, and this one in particular was a sort of contest.

Well, the top six finalist were chosen earlier today and...I was chosen as one of them!


Now, I am not asking for blind support. No, that is not in my best interest at all. What I am asking, however, is for you, dear reader, to visit the blog of Cherie Reich and *read* all of the wonderful finalist linked there and then vote for your favorite.

I won't say that mine is the best (hell, I didn't even vote for me) so I want you all to go, read some new stories by bloggers you may not have been aware of before, and vote for your favorite.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Repay

This is my entry for Cherie Reich's 2nd Annual Flash Fiction Blogfest. Word count: 289. Enjoy!



Lightning flashed, and with it the face inside the hallway disappeared. Val strained her eyes from her cemented position on the tile floor, limbs tense, hardly flinching as the monstrous round of thunder cracked a second later, igniting half the car alarms down the street. There was nothing though, those eyes, the faint outline of a woman staring back at her from the black, all of her gone with that quick instance of luminescence.

 Her mouth had been moving, no words but wordless lip-shapes, and though she couldn't hear, Val seemed to know what the woman had been saying. "Repay the gift", she saw the words in her head, "repay the gift", familiar, as was the face floating without a body just beyond the dim porch light shining in through the window. Rain pattered, light for a few drops before suddenly becoming a heavy release of water, the smacking sound loud enough to dampen every other noise in the house - the drip of the faucet, the hum of the ceiling fan, Val's own rasping breath.

She felt a presence behind her, cold blow of her shoulder, icy. Too terrified to turn, let alone move her eyes, Val felt a touch move down her shoulder, against her arm, past her elbow, and lightning flashed. She saw in that moment the mutilated arm, woman's hand, fingers painted gory where painted finger nails should have been. And it guided her hand to the nearby kitchen drawer, knife drawer, so gently, delicate and loving.

"Repay" the woman whispered unseen, below the distant rumbles, numbing cold on Val's ear. And lightning flashed. Val was alone, shivering, hand scarcely able to hold onto the slick plastic grip of the sharpened chef's blade it held. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

County Line Crash: Part Three

Here it is, the third and final part of the story. Please read parts One and Two first if you haven't already. Enjoy.



It watched her from just beyond the reach of the car lights. For how long, the deputy couldn’t say. Her arms, her legs, lay loose, seemingly detached, and unable to be moved in any position or direction along with her head. Her only option was to stare into the trees and their casted shadows, lines of intersecting black, which hid the wounded creature from view – though she caught flickers of shiny hard-skin and twitching appendages jutting briefly from the cross-stitch forest pattern.
               
Remaining wide awake despite the grievous injury on her neck, dripping thick blood onto the road near her face, Doris took to counting the seconds gone past in her head, using the rhythm of the running engine while she waited for pain and for death – though neither came. The poison in her veins, she soon realized, was meant only to hold her immobile while the giant insect took its time devouring her as it did that emptied buck.
               
Deputy Moors then began to wonder if and when the centipede would strike again, wondering why it lurked so tentatively as if it were afraid. Her gun lay useless some feet away from her ungrasping hand, tossed away in the struggle. Were it in her hand, her finger still clenched around the trigger, it would lie just as futily. So as the seconds ticked on, the deputy couldn’t help but begin to think that it was actually that little cold-then-hot metal thing which caused such an unwelcome hurt that scared the insect away.
               
If she could have laughed she would have. Stupid bug brain, too dumb to understand what hit it, too smart to disregard safety for a meal. She could hear it, skittering around in the crackling ground cover, click-click-click. Moving like a wave of fluid, the curve of its body rose and fell now close to the roadside, giving Doris a sense of its full length. Panicked heat then emanated from her mind when she spied the hundred-plus legs inside the foliage gaps, remember the sickening feel of them against her own body, groping and holding. Count the seconds, just keep counting, one thousand seven hundred fifty-three and counting, though who could be sure anymore.
               
At roughly one thousand eight hundred ninety-seven, the marsh turned red and blue, big circles of alternating color painting the scenery, exposing the hideous hidden monster in brief intervals. From above her head tires rolled up close and car doors opened then slammed, boots ran on pavement and hushed voices spoke in heavy, short tones.
               
“Shit, shit, shit.”
               
“Son of a bitch.”
               
“Didn’t I tell you? Knew I heard shots.”
               
“Looks like she got it on the neck, shit, goddamn that’s a lot of blood.”
               
“Don’t think you should move her, could be paralyzed.”
               
“You know how long it’s gonna take for an ambulance to get out here? Middle of fucking nowhere at three in the goddamn morning? She’ll bleed right out by then.”
               
“Calling it in anyway, meet halfway maybe.”
               
“Alright, alright, help me get her in the back.”          

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pain for the Flushed

This is for the lost ideas.
For the thoughts so brilliant in our heads,
Dead on the page, lumpy,
Poke with a stick to see if it moves 
But just lifeless.


A love letter to beautiful lines of prose
Stuck ugly in the wrong story,
In the wrong paragraph, wrong sentence.
So garish is it standing awkward,
All dressed up to the wrong party.


Ceremony for the dearly departed,
Ripped tearfully from existence,
Flushed from the bowl
To spiral fast and faraway through
Vanished avenues.

And to every thought and plan too ambitious to stand upright, every schemer not skilled yet enough to push life into vision, every dreamer too stuck scared straight to put a foot onto firm land - this is for them.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

County Line Crash: Part Two

Continued from Part One. Thank you for your support and feedback, as always.

“The man was straight up O-V-W-I, deputy.” Said Officer Robins, the smooth-faced state policeman, - call me Jeremy, he said - to the deputy, his face flashing multi-colored, the narrow road now crowded with massive towing vehicles tearing at the immobile truck and trailer, police car backseat holding the intoxicated and silently raving driver. 

“I figured as much,” Deputy Moors replied, deflated curls of graying auburn hair sticking matted against her forehead, “he’s a bit on the belligerent side if you haven’t noticed.”
                 
“Oh, most definitely noted,” the young officer smiled, mouth of large white teeth. The deputy smiled back, feeling her face flush – fine looking black boy, she thought, if only I were fifteen…no, ten years younger I would – as his partner, older and broad-shouldered man, came up the road from back where their squad car sat once the drunken trucker was secured.
                 
“Man, you see the back of that cab?” the older officer, Sergeant Gomez was his name, asked, coming up to put a hard-landing hand on Robins’ shoulder. “Musta been like fifty bottles rollin’ ‘round back there.” Out stuck that same large hand, rough and dry, to the deputy, “Thanks deputy, think we got things ‘bout covered here now.”

She took that hand, hard grip and a thin smile from the man looking squinted in her direction. That was the signal, the sign, for ‘get gone’, it was now time for the big boys to work so run along girl, run along and go on keeping them back roads safe. And the two turned, and in that moment the deputy heard another noise carried in on the wind, another animal maybe, but something out of place for certain, far away and quiet. The two officers had hardly flinched though, ignoring it if they even heard a thing, laughing quietly among themselves, shrinking silhouettes walking away.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Laminar Flow: A Review

This is a review of "Laminar Flow", Book 1 in "The Book of Drachma" series, by author Timothy H. Cook.

From the back cover: What does being a doctor really feel like? What is it like to get called out in the middle of the night to care for a desperately ill patient, to be the one everyone depends on? Bob Gilsen knows only too well. And what does a fifteenth century physician, who gets called out in the middle of the night in winter, possibly have to offer his patient? This is the beginning of "The Book of Drachma", a novel of medicine, murder, fantasy, and self-discovery, set in two times and places.





Recommended

I will preface this review by saying that my opinion of this novel is not without bias, as the author is a good friend of mine and I have been following the creation and publication of this series for more than a year now. That being said, this is work that I would categorize as being in a class of its own, as I have yet to read another or hear of a medical-fantasy written with such conviction in regards to the world of medicine while also presenting a deep and well-crafted world of characters and mythologies.

Doctor Robert Gilsen is a man stretched to his limit, doing what he loves on a day to day basis but perhaps doing too much of it, as he hardly has time for much else in his life aside from attending to his patients. Meanwhile, in another place, an ocean away and hundreds of years in the past, a plague is besieging a small island of Britain, one that strikes seemingly without reason and without cure.

Roughly the first half of Laminar Flow deals with the juxtaposition between these two times, modern and middle age, between two doctors with incredibly different sets of circumstance and practices yet a common strength: a strong, undeniable desire to heal. We, the readers, are given hints as to the link between these two worlds that seem so disconnected as each chapter unravels, the storylines slowly bleeding into one another. A turning point is reached (as I said roughly at the halfway mark) and it is here that, in my opinion, the true meat of "The Book of Drachma" epic begins.

Until that point, we are in character development mode, receiving an in-depth look into the life and struggles of Doctor Bob and learning the ins and outs of fifteenth century Shepperton. What's most striking in these early chapters is the attention to medical accuracy in terms of language and terms used, fast-moving jargon implemented by the characters that at times can perhaps be overwhelming to the layman. However, this does not deter from the drama. If anything, the author's real-life experience as a doctor for several decades adds to the credibility of the in-story action, providing solid ground on what would otherwise be muddled scenes of vague reference and ill-informed descriptions by a lay fiction writer.

This is the strength and perhaps a shortcoming. For while I said that the medical terminology does not take away from the story flow, I feel that some readers may be put out by these scenes. Really though, shortcoming is too harsh a word, for it's not the text's fault that many of today's readers prefer the easily digestible over a work that requires a little attention and concentration to be enjoyed.

Sadly, I must point out that the book contains a number of typos that should have been cleaned up during the editing process. Personally, these were not enough to draw me out of the fiction, but understandably, for some readers, this might be a deal breaker. I am not, however, reviewing the editing job done by the publisher, but the work of the author.

So I will say, without giving away too much of the plot, that though this may not be the book for everyone, it presents a great read for those looking for the unconventional adventure tale, for heroes that rely on wits and knowledge over swordsmanship or pure strength, for fantasy that doesn't place the strangeness of its setting over the realism of its characters, this is most definitely the book for you. Even now as I type this, I realize that there are so many varied plot lines forming, evolving, and intertwining thoughout this novel that it would be impossible to properly summarize the myriad of events and unfoldings that take place between the two covers.

Laminar Flow can be purchased as a paperback directly from Tate Publishing, or through Amazon.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

County Line Crash: Part One


Dark, too damn dark to drive – Deputy Doris Moors flipped on the squad car’s brights but the black road just seemed to swell around the whitened points of light, strangling them for trying to grow. Never used to trouble her, patrolling the roads at night, the absence of any sort of illumination save her own gave the deputy peace, made her feel like she was a vessel of safety in a wild world, protected by her cocoon of gasoline humming and powerful cutting headlights. That was before her sight started going down the toilet – what she’d mutter nearly every time the sergeant put her on the graveyard beat to herself, alone in the car, hardly able to see much more than the spot of road twenty feet in front of her bumper.
                 
Still, Deputy Moors knew exactly where she was, knew the roads by their sound and their shape, name and number of any she could recite just by listening to the sound of tire on tar or gravel or dirt as it may be. She knew where this road would be crossing the river, where the train tracks were, and even without the smell, she knew she was driving right along the old Van Hoosen dairy farm from catching the outlines of the wooden fence beyond the ditch out of her eye corner. It wasn’t the road she was worried about seeing so much as the things on it, that got on It – flashing bits of paired glowings watching steady from the tall grasses and half-grown fields.
                 
Lack of a moon only made the situation worse with heavy rolling clouds turned sky and ground indistinguishable from one another. All it would take would be a deer to come bounding now stupid and skittish out of the tree cover to bring about a crash. Deputy Moors had seen enough of it to know what one well placed buck, hell even a young doe, could do to a smaller vehicle with a panicked, inexperienced driver commanding it. No, she wasn’t inexperienced – almost twenty six years patrolling, and more than that operating a motor vehicle, the deputy wasn’t without skill – but her reactions weren’t what they once were. Gripping the wheel with hands aching just slightly – pain pills weren’t soothing as they once did – she glared into the dark, trying as she might to clear away the fogginess.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mirror Lists

We've all done it, all of guilty at one point or another, of that most glaring and unavoidable crime of having our characters mirror gaze.

The "dirty-public-restroom selfie"


It usually goes something like this:


Amanda strolled through the hall with a hop in her step, turning the corner and catching sight of herself in the mirror: her long strawberry blonde hair falling down across her thin shoulders, light freckles sprinkled across her pale face and framing her fiery honey eyes.

This is a moment in the prose borne only to familiarize the reader with how the character looks; a chance to list out his or her physical traits in a quick and compact fashion so as to get on with the great business of storytelling.

And mirrors offer up such temptation, for many of us see them everyday in our lives, when we prepare ourselves for work and school and going out, whenever we go to the bathroom, whenever we are feeling unsure of our appearance. It's easy enough to simply have our characters nonchalantly stroll by a conveniently-placed mirror, take a quick momentary glance, and commentate on how she or he looks (as many of us do) at that moment. Because, what reader would care about our characters if they couldn't know exactly what they looked like?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Waking Time: Part Three

Here at last the story reaches its conclusion. As always your comments and critiques are welcome. If you haven't already read Part One of Part Two, I strongly recommend doing so, as this part will not make much sense otherwise.



Above me the ceiling is cracking, I can see where the seams meet and where they break and a bright light is shining through. This is the end. I stand and I feel no pain, the blood is dried. Everything is a second too slow, every movement delayed and out of sync, the legs and arms belong to the body and not me and I can only tell them where to move. 

It is day now and the sun is coming up slowly over the rows of roofs. Still there is no movement in the house, no sound – another siren outside, distant though, lonely. This must be a dream. Otherwise, why would no one come to help me? Even my mother would, if she heard me, even if she is afraid, she would still come to help if she heard me fall to the floor, bang my head, like she did that day I crashed my bike into the tree across the street and bent the rim – she hugged and told me it would be alright, as long as I was not hurt she was not mad or sad.
                 
I move and go through the door, I have no fear of the outside today. I want to see it. I move through the hallway and see all the walls and the ceilings and the floors coming apart, see the burning sunshine burst through, feel the air of the outside. The world disintegrates wherever I step, whatever I look to.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Research

To be honest, I don't particularly like to do research.

And by research, I mean the traditional idea of scouring over primary sources and stuffy texts in search of information. I don't like it because, well, at times it can be downright boring. And sometimes it can even seem unnecessary in relation to the realm of fiction. I mean, the idea is that we (creative writers) are the architects of worlds borne from our own deep wells of pure, distilled imagination...

That's all well and good of course. Imagination is key to our endeavors but, how far can it really get us?

Not very, as I see it.

Even the most immensely alien universes and unseemly far-reaching scenarios invented by the mind must have, somewhere, at its root, a basis in real-world experience or past-learned knowledge.  That is, a person who spent their entire life in barren room without access to literature or any type of media exposing the outside world would, I believe, have a very bland view of the universe (or at most a severely limited one). Maybe I'm wrong about this (as I have not done any specific research on the subject!!) but I do believe that the mind, especially the creative mind, needs to be fed information in one form or another in order to be used to its full potential.

Not only that, but when writing about a certain subject - let's say sword-forging - we owe it to our audience to write about the forging of swords with integrity and some knowledge, even if that knowledge was gained only just prior to the act of writing. It's really not the sort of thing that should be pulled, ham-fisted, from the depths of our behinds.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Waking Time: Part Two

Here is part two of (what has now become) a three-part story. Read part one first if you haven't yet had the chance. Enjoy!


“Nathaniel, may I call you Nathaniel?” asks the doctor, dressed in a dark suit and tie, smelling of something heavy and fragrant.
                 
“Yes, that’s my name.”

“Nathaniel, my name is Doctor William Song.”
                 
Another neurologist, or some sleepy time medicine man, another one here to tell me what it is that’s wrong with me, with my brain. He’s talking in a toneless stream of words I can hear but don’t listen to. Hypocretin, REM, neurotransmitters, reflex inhibition, the same words over and over every time and I sit staring blindly at the wall just beyond the man’s head.
                 
“I hope you don’t mind, but I was observing your sleep before you woke up. Your mother said it would be alright.” The doctor smiles at me with crinkled eyes behind glasses. “She’s very worried you know; she's a very nice lady. I told her not to worry though. We’re going to find a way to control this, you and me.”
                 
Control; I wonder if he’ll make this place go away, or if that’s even possible. I don’t ask, I remember how well that went over when I asked the last one. My mother will bring in another to tell me I’m depressed, another to tell me that I have so much to live for, another to ask me if my father ever touched me at night while I lay in bed.  And then yet another will come that wants me to explain what happens when I close my eyes, to divulge and expose my island and to hear me name you, to hear me describe your face and your form and your hair and your voice, to have me strip you naked until you are left fleshless. So I only nod now, the sooner he stops talking the sooner I can return. I’m needed there, not only by you but by everyone.
                 
Doctor Song will write down words on a paper, pills to take, stimulants, things that make me stay here for too long, for days and for nights and for days. I won’t take them, only pretend when my mother watches from the half-opened door, swallow and hack up into the toilet later with a finger down my throat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

For Love of Words or Paper

Anyone who knows anything about me as a writer, as an artist, knows that I am passionate about my creative output. And those same people may know that I can get a bit irate and downright ranty when it comes to the subject of artists creating with one hand while holding the other out in expectation of (supposedly well-deserved) monetary award. So I apologize to anyone who has heard from me these same gripes but I felt I needed to make one more definitive statement on the issue.

More and more, I am seeing writers who have taken up writing as a means of generating income and who view the craft as an easy and lucrative way to make ends meet and then some. Essentially, the story goes: writing was something they always enjoyed (as a hobby) throughout life, but now times are getting tough, jobs are scarce, and so they turn to the craft of the pen to scare up a few bucks with the help of the (swiftly expanding) world of self-epublishing.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with writers making money or getting paid for their work. Ideally, I too would like very much to one day be able to make a living off of what I love to do. And I take no issue either with those would write so-called "trashy" novels for quick and easy consumption. There is a place for these works as much as there is for dense volumes of literary fiction.

What irks me truly is this emphasis on making money. In my social media streams, I see more and more posts regarding ways that writers can hope to strike the most lucrative deals with literary agents or how to best sell to a specific audience. I am seeing a group of writers who seem to place the act of word-crafting into the backseat behind business strategies and self-marketing. It's now said that the modern writer must be invested in these affairs though if they are to get anywhere, if they are to become something, if they want to strike the next big movie deal.

It's been said that the days of Hemingway, of sitting locked in a room with only pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) as company, of carefully constructing an opus are long over. This act of painstaking creation (especially if one does not tweet about it) is no longer acceptable in this new digital age. We, as writers, must be quick, must be voracious, must be social and vocal with our reader base, must pump out "literature" that the public wants and do it often if we wish to stay relevant. And by relevant, they of course mean, get paid.

But, do we deserve to be paid? Or, is it our duty, as writers, to put the work first into producing truly great work that others will want to pay us for? I honestly find something immoral, artistically, in the act of seeking out what potential readers might want in their literature and then bending one's work to suit this want rather than creating something so unique and wonderful that readers will have no choice but to love it for what it is, regardless of their expectations or preconceived desires. And this journey, this long path to growing ourselves, to perfecting the craft, is one that should always be propelled by love of the word, love of story-telling, love of creating beauty through language, but never out of want (or worse, need) of eventually being compensated for services rendered.

Truly, I would be happy going my entire life without ever being paid to write a word as long as I were not reduced to shaping, conforming, rushing, or otherwise compromising my vision for the sake of satisfying the ever-fickle mainstream. And it is because I write for the love of the thing itself that I can say this with confidence. And as long as I have readers who can enjoy my work (however few that may be), I can be glad knowing that my work has provided at least a small amount of enjoyment. As artists, what more can we ask for?

Sorry again for those who have already read parts of this rant from me before, I will try to contain my disdain of things relating to this topic from now on.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Waking Time: Part One

This is part one of a two-part story. As always your comments and critiques are most welcome. Enjoy.


I am lying in a room with a cream-colored ceiling, an open window to my left, above my head. Outside it is sunny, a soft cool breeze fluttering the thin blue curtains and brushing against the dark hairs on my arm. I watch them wave with the moving air, convincing myself that I can feel the sensation against skin warming in the sun. The sudden urge to pee overcomes me and I must stand.
           
Walking is not fluid, steps like from inside a thick suit, missing parts, and I’m standing above the white, lifted seat, hand steadying my shaking body against a wall. I think of you. The two small rooms are bright with light, but it is tainted, dull, as if a film has been pasted across every surface. I stand by that open window and attempt to peel my eyes with my fingernails but there is too much pain for the attempt.
                 
There are parts that don’t happen but do. At the door is a tray of food – an apple and bread with cheese and a thermos of cold water and a plastic container of homemade chili, beans and meat and still rising steam, the smell reminding me of something old – served with a rounded metal fork. I eat it all ravenously, my hunger waking up after the first few bites. There may be more food in a few hours, just before I wake up again. Until then I am stuck in this room, unwilling to leave it, unable to face the things outside it. I stare at the slow-moving street outside, the green and yellow yard and the sparse trees, always the same.
                 
 I read a book, then a magazine. They are always in the room, the same ones on a shelf. I read the words and understand them but can’t remember them now, they form meanings and stories but little ones that seem so flat and unimportant. For a long time, I sit on the edge of the bed and stare into the ground, into the floor, studying the texture of the wood grain, the swirls in it. At last I feel tired, feel my eyes begin to droop, and I fall into the softness of the bed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Would That I Could

Bitter is a good word to describe the 
Way I've felt about my hands, 
That they were not made to shape,
To form things of beauty in the way
Human or natural form, that they were
Not given the delicate touches
That can give life to flat lines and
Smeared pigments upon unmarred
Surface.

In vain did I try to make short fingers,
Thick lips work upon instruments,
Brass and ivory and string,
Only able to bring forth rudimentary
Noises, the semblance of aural pleasure
But nothing of its soul, the heavy-
Washing river running sometimes gentle,
Sometimes rushing, sometimes raging,
Alongside internal breastplate rhythms.

To have one look at my work and have instantaneous connection, revelation, devotion
To and against it, would be a dream unattainable,
A thing that these ugly blocks of symbols, letters, never able to arouse, a secondary middle man
Between the flow of untainted emotion and the tangible world,  never approaching the embodiment of.

Friday, January 20, 2012

One for the Road

The beer, finished before the guzzler takes off from the parking lot,
Can't be bothered to throw it out,
Yet courteous enough not to just chuck it,
Toss it haphazard, crushed, to clatter against the dark blacktop.


No, place it upright, carefully on the yellow-painted line
Like a tiny monument to fermented drink,
Untouched in an empty flat plain
Glimmering from a stadium light glow, corona, crown.


Saddening to think
Eventually it will be kicked, sent soaring somewhere far and cold
Or worse yet, given no such glory
But merely tossed to lay crumpled among trash.