I broke down and dove into Twitter six months ago, on the advice of several strangers. They didn’t have candy, but it turns out they did have good advice about Twitter. Here’s why their advice was good:

First of all, I don’t use Twitter to talk to my friends. Twitter’s a big place where anyone can read whatever they want, and I don’t have anything to say to my friends that I want millions of other people reading. If I just wanted to talk to my friends, I’d never touch Twitter. I’d go to a bar, like we always do.

I use Twitter to connect with people who are interested in the same things I’m interested in. That’s mainly writers, agents, and publishers. I sometimes look for actors and food service workers, which are pretty much the same thing. I find them and follow what they tweet. Sometimes they follow me, and a-hah! We’ve made a connection.

I don’t tweet that I just ate a sandwich or that I’m waiting for Popeye to show up on Once Upon a Time. Some people like to do that, but I don’t. I try to share things I think will be useful or at least interesting to more than three people.

Unlike Facebook, a Twitter profile reveals little about you. You can share a photo if you want, you can write a 160 character bio, and you can list a website, which frankly can belong to an auto body shop and no one would know or care. That’s all. I don’t worry about creepy strangers following me. All they really know about me is what I choose to tweet. If I tweet my address and where I keep my stash, then I deserve a home invasion.

The 140 character limit isn’t a pain in the ass like people think. If I have something cool to share, I tweet a brief explanation plus a link to the full thing. A lot of people do that. For example, right now someone just tweeted “Like Gargoyles?” plus a link. Ooh, and “I wept blood after talking to my agent” plus a link. Next I’m looking at “A sadist uses trained monkeys to torture his victims” plus a link. You think I’m kidding, right?

If I’m following a thousand people, I don’t have to scan the tweets from all of them all the time. I can make a list of just the independent publishers, or only the agents, and I can follow that list when I want. It takes a tad of effort, but it makes the Facebook list creation process seem like rebuilding a Corvette t-boned by a dump truck.

Hashtags make things easy. A hashtag looks like this: #hashtag. If I tweet about humor, I might stick a #humor hashtag in my tweet. That way, anybody searching for that hashtag would find my tweet. I also like to use #mentalillness, #dumbass, and #vampirecows. If I want to see what people are saying about science fiction, I can search #scifi. It’s a good way to find cool links and to find new people you want to follow, or who might be fooled into following you.

I can manage my electronic space pretty easily in Twitter. I drop in when I have a few minutes, and I check out tweets on topics about which I’m interested. I spend far less time on Twitter than on Facebook, but I get a lot out of Twitter. I can just look at the things I’m interested in rather than wading through my friends’ religious manifestos, pictures of lions hugging bunnies, and notifications that this was the worst morning of their lives. I love them all, but it’s a lot to read through when I only have five minutes.

Twitter doesn’t try to sell me shit. Sometimes people send tweets that try to sell me shit, but I can just stop following them.

To sum up, if I just wanted to hang with my friends, I’d never use Twitter. For finding people and information that interest me, it’s been the WD-40 of social media. Well, maybe not that good—let’s say it’s been the crescent wrench of social media.

Oh, and one more thing. It’s a lot harder to flame someone or write an insane rant if you’re limited to 140 characters, because you have to write with discipline. That alone is worth its weight in kittens.

Visit me on Twitter at @BillMcCurry.

“Is it ok to wear red shoes with a green shirt on a #bicycle after #laborday? #fashion #roadkill

Photo by Mo Riza.

Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I gouged out part of my soul and hurled it into a wood chipper the other day. It was no fun, although I did get to eat pie while I did it. It happened because I’m trying to write something longer than the instructions for assembling an armoire made in Korea, and hopefully with better grammar. I’ve been racking up the word count, developing characters and making them suffer, and following my plot storyboard. Then a few days ago I wrote a scene that I adored, and I read it to my wife. That’s when it happened. After I was done, she paused and said, “It doesn’t really add anything, does it?”

Writers, like all artists, are by definition insane. They don’t perceive the world the way other people perceive it. People may or may not agree that I’m a writer, but I do have a piece of paper that says I’m crazy, so there. My wife had spoken the evident truth, which forced me to do the crazy thing and destroy those words, each one a child of my creative spirit. I wanted to make a surgical excision, but in the end I slaughtered them with all the finesse of a mustard gas attack.

I found myself a bit unmotivated after that. But motivation and inspiration should make no difference to writers. You write unless your hands have been crushed and you’ve been kicked in the jaw by a horse. So I sat at my keyboard, Diet Coke at my left hand, and discovered the Five Good Reasons Not to Write.

  1. My tools are defective. My monitor is dusty, and it’s giving me a headache, so I’d better get the Windex. I should wipe down the kitchen counters while I’m passing through the kitchen with Windex in my hand. Oh, and Windows is telling me to install a security update, so I should do that to avoid losing all my work through insecurity. I’ll defragment my hard drive too, just to be safe.
  2. My work environment is oppressive. The jumble of picture frames on my desk is breaking my concentration, so I should organize them. But I need to find places to put half of them, so I have to rearrange the bookshelves and move the printer. I’ll have worked up a sweat by then, so I should install the ceiling fan that’s been sitting in a box since I bought the house nine years ago.
  3. My thinking apparatus is under-fueled. I have a headache from staring at the screen in impotence until my blood sugar drops to single digits. I need a sandwich. However, I only have ham in the fridge and am trying to watch my cholesterol, so I have to go to the store. I should also get everything else on my weekly grocery list since I’m already there.
  4. I need to document my life. My cat’s sleeping amongst the orderly picture frames and looking cuter than any creature on Earth, including bunnies. I have to take a picture because this will never happen again. When I reach for the camera, my cat moves, so I have to wait until she reassumes a cute pose. It may take a while.
  5. There’s this thing called the internet. For my story I need to research how expensive bribes should be in Bangkok in 1948. Wikipedia has an invaluable entry on Southeast Asia, and on Google I find a photo of elephants dressed like panda bears. That has to go on Facebook right away, and while I’m there I like a bunch of posts, wish I could dislike a bunch of posts, and post about my sandwich. Now I’m hungry for Thai food.

Oh yeah, the sixth good reason. Update my blog.

Yeah, you thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

Photo from the L.A. Times

I realized that my wife truly loved me when she threatened to kill me. We were still living in sin at the time, we were poor, and I had a pretty sharp eye for a bargain. As we sailed down the grocery aisle one day, my wife said, “Look, root beer.” She said it like she might have said, “Look, white whale,” if she’d had one leg and looked like Gregory Peck. She hove to and cut a small bottle out of the pod.

I objected right away. It’s not that I didn’t want her to have root beer, but I didn’t understand why she was buying a small bottle. Root beer in the small bottle cost 4 cents per ounce. Root beer in the giant bottle cost 3.8 cents per ounce. No economic logic could justify it. She might overpay by as much as twelve or even thirteen cents. I presented my position in detail and with determination. At last she grabbed the giant bottle and said, “Fine. But when this root beer goes flat I’m going to pour the whole bottle down your throat,” which would have soon resulted in my death from acute root beer poisoning. At that moment I knew it was real love and that she was the girl for me.

I said all that in order to say this: I’m still a pretty sharp shopper, but my wife taught me there’s more to shopping than price. So when I saw the words “50% OFF” this morning, I did not snatch the item like a snot-stained toddler full of Froot Loops and jam. Instead, I eased my 14 liters of Diet Coke out of the aisle and pondered this opportunity. These were candy bars. Fate was offering me half-price candy. Where I come from, turning down half-price candy is like poking your finger in God’s eye. Life will not offer you anything better that day, unless you stumble across Liv Tyler in a chocolate Ferrari full of cocaine.

As I reached for the candy bar, trembling when I realized it was a giant-sized, two-piece bar, I scanned the wrapper for any promises of extra nuts or a prize inside. What I saw astounded me more than if this candy had been Bluetooth enabled. The wrapper said that this candy contained “4 GRAMS of PROTEIN”. “PER PIECE”. That’s 8 GRAMS of PROTEIN. TOTAL.

I am not kidding.

That was a lot to comprehend. I tried to imagine why someone thought a “high protein” label would make people desire this candy even more. It’s already candy. If candy had directions for use, those directions would say, “Remove wrapper. Place candy in rusty spoon and melt over open flame. Inject candy directly into vein. Repeat until dead.” No person on Earth can be convinced that this is healthy candy just because it has 4 grams of protein in it. What brains came up with this sales tactic?

Then I realized that I can answer this one. During my patchwork of vocational adventures, I have sat in meeting rooms where people thought up ways to sell stuff. Based on my experiences, I imagine that the conversation at the candy company went about like this:

BOSS: Only half the people in the country buy our candy. How do we make the other half buy it too? Let’s brainstorm here, people.

LACKEY: We could make it taste better.

BOSS: I said brainstorm, not throw out crazy ideas! Go get me some coffee.

TOADY: Hey, we put ‘em on sale! Instead of ninety cents each, we sell ‘em three for $2.80.

LICKSPITTLE: That’s horrible. People would be paying more for three than for one at a time.

TOADY: That’s the great part. Most of the morons can’t divide by three.

BOSS: It’s not a bad idea, but we need to reach the cheap bastards who don’t already buy our candy.

LACKEY: Here’s your coffee. Maybe we can just toss candy bars over everyone’s back fence and then charge them for the candy on their utility bill. Nobody ever looks at their utility bill. They just pay it.

LICKSPITTLE: That will never work. It’s fraud. We’ll all get put in jail.

BOSS: Maybe… put it on the parking lot and I’ll run it by legal. What else?

TOADY: We slap a “Made in the USA” tag on every wrapper! A red, white and blue one!

LACKEY: Do we make them in the USA?

[EVERYONE LOOKS AT EVERYONE ELSE]

BOSS: Probably.

LICKSPITTLE: The wrapper’s made in China.

BOSS: Shit!

LACKEY: So what do these cheap bastards who don’t buy our candy have in common?

BOSS: They’re not fat.

TOADY: Perfect! We use the time-tested marketing strategy—fear! They’re afraid of getting fat and dying, so they’re always on diets, right?

LICKSPITTLE: Um… I guess. I’m always on a diet.

BOSS: I see where you’re going with this. What’s the popular diet right now?

[EVERYONE LOOKS AT LICKSPITTLE]

LICKSPITTLE: Low carb/high protein. If my wife puts another chicken breast on the table, I’m going to shoot myself.

TOADY: Okay! We just plaster the grams of protein on the wrapper in big-ass text like it’s a huge amount of protein, and people on diets will buy like crazy.

BOSS: I see. Yes, they want candy anyway, so this is just giving them permission.

LICKSPITTLE: Wait. How many grams of protein are in our candy?

TOADY: Who gives a shit? The fewer the grams, the bigger we’ll make the letters!

BOSS: Perfect! That settles it. Great job, everyone. Pass me a donut.

I’m sure that’s how it happened. As a point of interest, if you were on a high protein diet and got all your protein by eating these candy bars, you’d consume 100,000 calories a day. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it would be enough calories to force you into your fat jeans by the end of the week.

That sales technique did not snare me, I’m proud to say. I owe that to my lovely wife, who expanded my consumer consciousness beyond questions of mere price. I can see past claims about protein, new and improved flavors, and contests I couldn’t win if I had the powers of a Greek god. I stand immune.

Of course I bought the candy. It’s half-price candy. I’m not stupid.

This morning I received a message from the illustrious Strannyi, whom I’m sure you must know as a writer, grammarian, and expert on zombie tribbles. She has graciously nominated me for the Liebster Award! Before anyone starts sending me frankincense and myrrh, let me elaborate on what this is. The Liebster Award is something for which bloggers nominate other bloggers who have less than 200 followers. There’s no actual award in the end, but being nominated is really nice recognition from other bloggers who like your work.

The origin of the Liebster Award is uncertain, but the earliest mention that anyone can find is a German blog in December 2010. We don’t know exactly how it started. But heck, nobody really knows why we blow out birthday candles, and we let the kids do it anyway.

Here are the rules. First I answer 11 questions that my nominator gave me. Then I nominate 5 – 11 blogs that I follow and think are really cool. Then I list 11 questions that these nominated bloggers will answer should they choose to participate. (No blood, no foul if they choose not to.) Then I convince my wife to take me to an expensive steak house to celebrate. So, with thanks again to Strannyi, here are my answers to her questions.

1. What was your first thought upon seeing that you had to answer eleven questions?

I’d better answer fast, I have chapters to write.

2. Why is the sky blue?

I’ll let my friend Dougal answer for me: http://wp.me/p2qiH6-1P

3. Do you think that there is a habitable planet orbiting Gliese 581?

Hell, I don’t even know if there’s a habitable motel in Lubbock.

4. Can you read Greek?

No, but I wish I could. My classical education has been lacking.

5. For how long have you been blogging?

About two years.

6. Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?

I think they’re out there somewhere. Probability, man.

7. How many roads must a man walk down?

None. We have the internet now.

8. Come up with four more questions and answer them.

Strannyi, you sneaky hound! Making me do extra work…

9. How many pets do you have, and why?

I have five cats. The reason I have five cats is that the sixth one died.

10. What do you miss most about the pre-digital age?

The big desk telephones. They sounded great, and you could put a big knot on somebody’s head with one.

11. Why can’t we have universal peace?

I’ll let Dougal answer this one too: http://wp.me/p2qiH6-2B

Okay, here are the blogs I’m nominating. I can’t be sure that they all have less than 200 followers. Some may have more. Some may have a lot more. I’m nominating them anyway, so there.

Marvelous Mo’ and Me: http://marvelousmoandme.com/

Melanie Crutchfield: http://melaniecrutchfield.com/

Yet Another Prostate Cancer Blog: http://yapcab.wordpress.com/

My Parents Are Crazier Than Yours: http://myparentsarecrazierthanyours.com/

Always Never Quite Right: http://squarepegscorner.blogspot.com/

And finally, here are the questions for my nominees:

1. How many computers, smart phones, and tablets are within 10 feet of you right now?

2. What’s the best advice you ever got?

3. What kind of cake do you like for your birthday?

4. What’s your dream car, and why?

5. What fictional character would you like to be?

6. What’s a good excuse if you come home really late and your spouse is waiting up?

7. What’s your favorite film, and why?

8. Does the Loch Ness Monster really exist?

9. What’s the secret of a successful relationship?

10. Who taught you to ride a bicycle?

11. Are we there yet?

That’s it. Thanks again to Strannyi for the nomination, and I’m extremely honored.

And just for fun, here’s one of my sister’s painting that’s currently for sale. If you’re interested, please comment and I’ll let her know. Buy it now. Before you eat or go to bathroom.

Christopher Buehlman’s new medieval horror novel Between Two Fires was released earlier this month, and it’s a fantastic read. The story is funny, historically intriguing, and scary as hell. It received a great review at Publisher’s Weekly, and I can personally vouch for how entertaining it is. It’s available in hardback at bookstores and Amazon, as well as Kindle format and audio through Amazon. The audio version is amazingly well done.

 

I’m writing this with a tequila bottle in one hand and a five dollar cigar in the other. That’s not totally true, I guess, or even true at all in the technical sense. But I could be writing with booze and smokes in my hands if I wanted, and every writer in literary history would envy me. Today for the first time I’m attempting to use speech to text software to write a real thing that real people might read.

I’m trying this in anticipation of a neurological rebellion that might hold my hands hostage, like socialist guerillas occupying a power plant, but I’m finding it a problematic exercise. For example, in the prior paragraph the speech to text software thought that the word “for” should be “from.” When I tried to edit the word, the software obtusely led me on a Maypole dance through four or five incorrect commands. The most entertaining was when I said “select four words right,” and the software interpreted it as “Open World of Warcraft.” I am not making that up. I haven’t logged on in years, so it was a surprise. Also, it’s really hard to get this program to type the phrase “Open World of Warcraft” when it thinks you want to open the program World of Warcraft whenever you say those words.

The preceding paragraphs took me five minutes to write. They took seven months to edit, otherwise known as 30 minutes, but anyone who challenges the seven months interpretation can put on this god damn headset and try it themselves. It also aggravates me that the stupid software doesn’t understand the word “obtusely.”

A quick experiment has just shown me that this program understands almost no profanity. That is a F you see Kay I in G shame, and I expect that’s going to slow down my words per hour considerably.

Holy frijoles! (I just found out it doesn’t understand Spanish, and I had to type “frijoles.”) I don’t know why, but all on its own this software just tried to take something I said and post it to Twitter. I hope it wasn’t “F you see Kay I in G.” That’s a little bit scary if you ask me.

The biggest problem I’m having is that I’m not verbally oriented. I have a hard time learning things by listening to people, especially if they’re really boring people like most of my college professors. I learn things by doing them. That’s handy when you write by typing on a keyboard with your actual fingers. But in order to speak the words I want to write, I have to stop and think about every phrase before I say it, so that it doesn’t come out sounding like a Neanderthal on Quaaludes. (Holy crap! This program understands what Quaaludes are. I bet that’s because the people who use this program have to take them a lot.) So, for these few paragraphs that would normally take me about half an hour to write and edit, this program has demanded an hour and a half, a liter of Diet Coke, and a surreptitious pull off the Cuervo bottle. (I see it understands Cuervo too.)

Despite all that, I admit that this would be better than not being able to write at all. So I’m going to call this test successful, maybe have a party, and definitely have a celebratory bag of peanut butter M&M’s. Technology is a damn fine thing, but I will say that I never want to have software integrated into my body, no matter what technologists say. It would take me 45 minutes to pee.

This was my facial expression the seventh time I said, “jump six lines down,” and it typed something horrible about cocaine and clowns.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

I love the fact that stories make my real life look like the dim cousin with snot on his cheek. Things that happen in stories don’t happen in the real lives of real people, and that’s kind of the point. Stories are so unreal we can sink into them without squirming. Come on, nobody wants to be told about real life when they have a real life of their own to deal with.

We don’t live in stories. We’re not going to bring down a corrupt government with nothing but our pistol and a three-day beard. We’re not going to get seduced by some leather and lace vampire prince crime lord saxophone player assassin. We don’t wield magic swords that sweaty fan boys buy replicas of to wear with their fake chainmail and cheap boots. These things are not going to happen to us. We’re going to update spreadsheets, build houses, mow the yard, eat junk food, chase our kids, watch bad TV, go to the bathroom, and sleep. Maybe we’ll drink a margarita. And die. Not from the margarita I hope.

Stories resemble our real lives in almost no way at all, but still we want to understand our lives through stories. Life is big and scary, but fun little stories unfold in familiar ways. Stories strip the detail off our flabby lives and leave us with the polished bones.

Let me demonstrate. I’ll summarize the well-known tale of Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars film.

Normal Life. Luke’s a whiny, reckless farm boy on a boring planet hot enough to melt all George Lucas’ Oscars. He wants adventure and glory more than anything else, so he bitches about his chores and drives his uncle insane.

The Adventure Begins. Luke meets wise but scruffy Obi-Wan, and then the evil Empire turns Luke’s family into medium-rare lawn art. Luke makes his first decision. He joins Obi-Wan and right away gets into trouble in a bar. It’s all he can do to avoid tripping over dismembered arms.

Loyal Friends Appear. Luke flees the planet just ahead of the Empire, courtesy of cynical Han Solo and his wookie friend, Chewbacca, who’s like a huge, psychotic shih tzu. We find out that wookies tear off people’s arms, and that Obi-Wan can be given a migraine from a hundred light years away, even when he’s in hyperspace. Luke gets to show he can use his mystical powers to outsmart levitating D&D dice.

Bad Decisions and Worse Results. Luke has recklessly followed Obi-Wan and is rewarded by getting sucked into the arms of the evil Empire, particularly the villain Darth Vader. Then, like a moron, Luke recklessly decides to save the princess. That results in:

  • being trapped in a room with a dozen maniacs shooting blasters
  • almost getting crushed after some garbage monster humps his leg
  • getting stuck on a ledge with storm troopers shooting at him, or at least at the walls near him, and being saved only by heroic wire work and an incestuous smooch.
  • seeing Darth Vader murder the beloved Obi-Wan, producing a disappointing lack of gore.

Setting Up the Big Fight. Luke escapes from the Death Star after a two minute space battle that could have been replaced by footage from any film about WWII air combat. However, he’s leading his enemies right back to the rebel base. Luke’s crappy decisions have now endangered the base and the entire rebellion made up of every white male extra in Hollywood. What does Luke do? He rolls up his sleeves and does some determined moping. Luke and his friends reach the rebel base, and the rebels plan the ultimate assault on the Death Star, which all the pilots agree is pretty much doomed.

The Dark Moment. The assault goes poorly, if getting 95% of your force wiped out can be considered a poor showing. When the rebel base is seconds from annihilation, when the deadliest villain in the galaxy is about to give his son Luke the ultimate time out, when things could not possibly get any worse, and it’s all Luke’s fault—Luke grows up. Rather than recklessly relying on his targeting computer, he trusts his instincts and obeys the disembodied voice of a dead man. Luke fires an awesome sci-fi torpedo into a port the size of a wamp rat. I still don’t know how big that is, but it blows the Death Star into a jillion cheesy 1977 special effects bits.

Wrap Up. Luke gets a shiny medal from a cute princess with whom he has an ambiguous relationship, and about 5,000 rebel soldiers watch while wondering what the mess hall is serving for lunch. And hoping it’s not wamp rat. Luke gets adventure and glory because he changed from a whiny, reckless youth into a confident man with mystical powers and a badass black wardrobe in the sequel.

The story is clear and structured and non-threatening. It’s a nice way to understand things. But here’s my take on real life for Luke Skywalker.

Real Life. Luke’s a whiny, reckless farm boy who wants adventure and glory. He works on his uncle’s sand farm, until the sand market crashes and they go broke. They move to the city where Luke sells deep fried wamp rat on a stick. He does well, opens his own wamp rat stand, and then opens a few more.

Luke meets a girl who can stomach the aroma of wamp rat, she marries him, and they crank out some kids. He recklessly opens a blue milk smoothie franchise, and he loses everything except one broken down wamp rat stand. He recovers by adding grilled wamp rat and wamp rat fingers to the menu.

Luke grows up, stops making reckless decisions, and saves his money, even though there’s nothing worth a damn to buy on this stupid planet. As the kids grow, they take family vacations to the planet’s other squalid cities. Things seem really good.

The kids leave home, and Luke turns the wamp rat business over to his son. His wife gets tired of hearing his stories about the droids he owned when he was a kid, and he spends more time in the garage rebuilding classic land-speeders. He breaks his leg in a horrible bantha accident, and he never dances again. The city raises the taxes on his mud brick hovel, and his idiot son runs the business into the ground. Luke and his wife move to a small sand farm and rarely see their kids. Not only does Luke never leave the planet for adventure, he ends up back where he started, on a sand farm. I could go on, but you see where I’m headed with this.

Luke’s story and Luke’s real life both contain lots of references to wamp rats, so they’re alike in that way. Also, Real Luke and Story Luke both learn to stop flailing off to rescue every princess that comes along, getting their mentors killed and/or sending their blue milk smoothie franchises into bankruptcy. The difference is that Story Luke takes 121 minutes to learn that, while Real Luke takes half a lifetime. That’s a lot fewer trips to the bathroom, even with 64 ounces of Dr. Pepper inside you. Of course, Real Luke doesn’t get any medals, or mystical powers, or a light saber, but restoring land-speeders is probably fun.

If Real Luke saw Story Luke’s tale, would he understand more about his real life? Would it help him grow up and stay away from schemes involving blue milk? Would it convince him to stop wasting his time on land-speeders and go have some adventures? I think it might, but I could be wrong. I guarantee one thing though. It would convince him that you should never let anything bigger than a beagle hump your leg.

After seeing these cute babies, how could you eat wamp rat? Well, maybe with some Ranch dressing…

Photo by Bradypus

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