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

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.

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

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 3.0 Unported

Inspiration sucks. It’s like that five dollar macchiato you drink every morning to get yourself going. Then one day the cat barfs on your shirt and makes you late, and you don’t have time for Mr. Macchiato. You can’t get yourself going without it, and at work you just stare at an imaginary point hoping no human comes near you before noon. The professional writers say that inspiration is for suckers. Just start working and let the work take care of itself.

So I felt really bad today when I sat down at the keyboard uninspired, depressed and communing with that imaginary point rather than attacking the keyboard like I was John Henry. I squirmed in my chair and felt shame that I was attempting to use the same alphabet used by Mark Twain. I’m a man of my time, so when I have a problem I do what the people of my time do. I go to Google. I searched Google for inspiration. By the way, the word “inspiration” produced 107,000,000 hits, and I don’t think any of them are at all inspiring.

After a while, like a lazy, willful mule, I started looking for anything I could use as an excuse for not writing at all. I landed on bipolar disorder. That was promising. I figured I could whine about it for at least a couple of paragraphs and be done. But then I found a page listing the best things about bipolar disorder, which isn’t your normal kind of post about a mental illness.

I think the “best things bipolar” list contained some fine and illuminating stuff, but it didn’t quite capture my experience with my friend bipolar. That’s what led me to create this alternate list of The Ten Best Things About Being Bipolar.

  1. Since you’re manic sometimes and depressed at other times, bipolar can be claimed as the reason for almost anything you’ve screwed up or don’t want to do.
  2. After being manic for a while, you can tell people what it’s like to write the sequel to Lord of the Rings, invent the perpetual motion machine, and fly without an airplane.
  3. You have a wide selection of pills in decorator colors, so there’s no need to remodel the bathroom.
  4. You can finish a day’s work when other people are still asleep, and you can think faster than reality occurs.
  5. When depressed, you get plenty of health-enhancing rest for long periods of time, in rooms darkened by curtains that block out harmful UV rays.
  6. You can openly pay someone to put up with your shit and react in a patient, thoughtful way, because it’s more acceptable to do this with a psychiatrist than with a prostitute.
  7. There’s no substitute for being the smartest, most charming, most articulate, sexiest and most creative person on Earth for a while. It’s worth the embarrassment of later looking back at what you did and wondering what the hell you were thinking.
  8. If you make bizarre money decisions, buy ten thousand pairs of bowling shoes, lose your home and possessions, and cause all your family members to abandon you, that’s just an unambiguous sign that God wants you to become a monk.
  9. You give your spouse lots of opportunities to develop patience, tolerance, and the discipline to not hit you in the face with a frying pan.
  10. You get to identify with scads of famous people who might have been bipolar too, like Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, and Tigger. That’s got to be good for your self-esteem.

So there’s a poke in the eye for you, inspiration.

It sometimes surprises me how many people like their bipolar experience just the way it is. Yet plenty of people don’t like bipolar, and they can get pretty angry that anyone might say positive things about it. So, I’m happy to see your comments, but please try to keep them civil, or at least more civil than a religious war.

The suspected-of-being-bipolar President Theodore Roosevelt. Is he manic here? Depressed? You decide.

My hands shake all the time now. Well, that’s a lie. They don’t shake all the time. They just shake when I try to do something with them. It’s partly because of the otherwise harmless lesions hanging out in my cerebellum. It’s hard to describe. Think about it as if my cerebellum is the bottom floor of the fraternity house in the movie Animal House. The lesions are John Belushi and Tim Matheson and those other wacky guys throwing a party down there. My hands are that kid Pinto upstairs struggling to unhook a bra, which is hard when Otis Day and the Knights are making the house vibrate like a Dodge Charger with a 426 engine and straight pipes. The good thing in this scenario is that the lesions never make so much trouble that Dean Wormer shuts us all down, unlike in the movie. So, it could be a whole hell of a lot worse.

The other perpetrator of this shaking nonsense is the undercurrent of stress swirling beneath my daily activities. I’m waiting to find out whether I worked for a year to produce a repugnant pile of shit. You see, I wrote a novel last year, and this spring I had the amazing luck to pitch it to a cool literary agent. At least I feel she’s cool because she asked to see some chapters. I wanted to send them five minutes after she asked, but I made myself wait a couple of days so as not to look desperate.

A month later the agent emailed me a fantastically helpful note. She liked the first chapter, but nothing after that would make anyone want to read the awful, nasty tome. That’s not entirely true, I guess. She didn’t say awful and nasty. But she did give me some specific advice and say that she’d not be averse to looking at it again after a “thorough rewrite.”

I’m not quite positive what percentage of a book needs to be changed in order to qualify as a thorough rewrite. I can say that over the past two months I’ve changed a bunch of it. After rounds of editing that would qualify as OCD behavior, I sent the first three thoroughly rewritten chapters to her a few days ago. And now I simmer like gumbo.

I like the book, which I suppose is a good thing. It’s a comic fantasy novel, although not in the traditional fantasy mold. It contains just one magical being, and magical things happen about once per 50 pages. There are no magic rings, enchanted swords, effeminate elves, depraved wizards, or poems in dead languages that are so pretentious you want to beat yourself to death with the book.

What the heck does my book have then?

A hero who can’t keep his mouth shut, tries to bite off his enemy’s ear, and earns everything he ever wanted while suffering dreadfully along the way.

Three appalling villains, one with mythically destructive feet.

A vivid depiction of how it feels to be so in love that you’re the craziest person on Earth.

A number of shocking and nightmarish deaths.

The most bureaucracy-afflicted fairy in the history of literature.

Horses.

It also includes what I believe are a lot of laughs. Everybody’s sense of humor is different, so that’s no guarantee you’ll be laughing until you choke on your own spit.

For example, I like the line, “People are as crazy as three chickens in a sack.” I read it to my wife last night. She said it was understandable. Although she didn’t laugh, she did say it sounded better than “three chickens in a bag,” which is undeniably true.

Maybe the final test is one of my favorite sentences:

“Had the thing stood up and produced blocks of sweet Gouda cheese from its ass I could not have been more astonished.”

Yes, that sort of sums up the product of a year of my labor. Maybe you can understand my stress after asking an agent to pass judgment on a book that includes ass cheese.

This gorgeous photograph depicts none of the scenes appearing in my book. But isn’t it cool?

Photograph by Robin Müller.

Wild horses in Erlebnispark Tripsdrill, near Cleebronn, Germany

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license.

This week I refrained from crushing a surly cashier, even though the Dr. Pepper cases stacked behind him into an Olympic torch were the perfect weapon. I showed immense restraint, and I would like a cookie as a reward. I didn’t even speak harshly to him, although I silently called him a marrow-sucking cluster of rat filth scraped from beneath a refrigerator. I could have come up with something better, but my ice cream was melting. And what thing did this blemish on the butt of Tom Thumb do? Not a single damn thing except for being a bit snotty about my rewards card, which might have been a little bent if you want to get technical, so in the eyes of some pedantic people it could have, maybe, been kind of my fault.

So, I was nice to him, even though I wanted to pull out his entrails, wrap them around my shoulders, and have someone drive me up and down the street while I stood on the hood and screamed, “I’m the King of the World!” I even thanked him after I bagged my own groceries, so yes, god damn it, I deserve a cookie.

I don’t often have this anger problem, but this week my brain has decided I need to be enraged at each individual molecule in the 46 billion light years-wide observable universe. I have a separate grudge against each one of them. My brain decides to do this once in a while. I think this irrational anger phenomenon is well known to many of us who have brains. It may happen a little more to some than to others, but I’m not sure that makes much difference. One thing I am sure about is that I’ve been on alert for anyone who screws up in some tiny way, so I can leap on him like a tiger with a chainsaw tied to each leg. When no one is around who might provoke me, I spend time imagining situations in which I’d be justified in being so mean to someone that they would just cry for the rest of their life.

But I haven’t been acting on those things either.

I have been vicariously enjoying expressions of inappropriate rage. Last night a woman on live TV said something that got bleeped. Even though her gaffe was just a couple of seconds long, I told my wife I thought the woman said, “Jesus g*d d**n f*****g Christ on a m***********g crutch!” My wife patted my leg but didn’t say anything. She’s seen my brain like this in the past, and she doesn’t even look up anymore unless I swear using at least five curse words, two bodily functions, and a barnyard animal.

I try to be nice to people when I’m like this. Just because my brain is mean as a Gila monster, being randomly cruel to people is unfair. It’s not that I really care about what’s fair, or about most people either, but I have learned that acting angry doesn’t help me much in most cases. I say stupid stuff I don’t mean, and I have unhappy, resentful people to deal with afterwards. It’s like building a chemical volcano in the living room. It’s fun for a minute or so, but a whole lot of mess to clean up for the next few days.

So far this week, I’ve refrained from excoriating, assaulting, and murdering about 150 people, so what do I do with all that anger I’m not expressing? Exercise? Scream when I’m looking at Facebook? Grow an extra organ from the stress? Those sound pretty good, except for the organ one, but I believe that anger and creativity make a fantastic combination. When I’m deranged with fury, that is the time to do something creative. For example, I’m rewriting a story now. In this past week the villain has gone from being cruel to being nasty, vengeful, and horrific. Even better, the hero was a nice, creative guy who was reckless. Now he’s a nice, creative guy who’s reckless and happy to plot the murder of someone just because that person might kill him first. It’s a family story.

Soon I expect my brain to stop vibrating with anger and sending out waves of fury to bounce around inside my skull. That’s less fun than it sounds, and it doesn’t exactly sound like Jim Beam and a hayride. Until then, I’ll see if I can incorporate some more vindictive rage into my story. Also, when I’m around real people, I’ll catalogue the ways in which I could make them regret existing in the same universe as me, all while smiling at them and maybe saying nice things about their shoes.

This sure is a lot of fun. To hell with the cookie. I want a trip to Vegas. And a pony.

Ponies fighting over the privilege of belonging to me. Or maybe they saw a bug. Hard to say.

 

 

Do they smoke dope at an elvish solstice festival?

I know it sounds like a frivolous question, but I grappled with it for several hours yesterday. You see, I’m writing a story about Santa Claus, and he’s an elf, and the next thing that happens in the story requires a bunch of elves all together in a jolly horde. So, I needed to create an elvish solstice festival. Obviously. But then I had to describe the damn thing.

What do big groups of elves do for fun? I’m not talking about those gangly, pasty Tolkien elves that creep me out, and that would creep you out too if you met one of the pouty, immortal bastards. I’m talking about happy elves that clean your house in the middle of the night and make toys and steal your firstborn child if you can’t guess their name. You know, elf hijinx. But what do big gangs of them do for a good time?

I thought of lots of things they might do. Dancing around elf-sized solstice-poles, holding shoe making contests, dueling with candy canes, and so forth. None of it seemed right. I liked the image of the teenage, future St. Nick and his friends hiding behind a giant toadstool and smoking a joint. But that didn’t seem right either. I felt like a crummy writer. I hated my brain, and I wanted to beat it to death with tequila.

My fourth tequila shot reminded me of something I learned in improvisational acting. When you want to start a scene, don’t think about something happening. Go with an emotion.

Okay, you may not relate to that, so try this. Think about when you were five years old and you wanted to tell a fib. Some enlightened parents call it telling a story. My parents called it being a lying little shit. Whatever you call it, you needed to tell something that wasn’t true. It’s just like being a writer, except that five-year-olds don’t get paid, and writers don’t get paid either, but they get lots of rejection letters that make them think about tequila and smoking dope.

Anyway, your five-year-old self may start his lie with, “What happened was, I was standing in the kitchen, and then I was just playing, you know, and just standing there petting the dog, and then the dog jumped on the table and then knocked the baby on the floor…” You know the whole time you’re talking that you knocked the baby on the floor when you climbed the height chair to grab a fist full of cake frosting. This pathetic lie ends with you locked in the broom closet for a week and fed only spaghetti noodles slid under the door. All because you just talked about stuff happening.

Instead, go with emotion. You should start your lie with a hurricane of tears, and then shriek, “The baby’s going to die! Don’t let the dog kill me too!” This is more like it. Your mom is so freaked out that she never considers you might be a lying little shit. This lie ends with the dog tied to a stake in the backyard and you getting a popsicle.

So how did Mr. Tequila help my five-year-old self create an elvish solstice festival? Instead of trying to imagine what was happening at this festival, I took each character in the story and wrote about his favorite thing at the festival, and why it was his favorite thing. It didn’t exactly write itself, and the four tequila shots didn’t help. But when I’d finished it felt right and made sense, and I had a realistic place for my characters to do some dumb stuff. Well, as realistic as an elvish festival can get.

And no, they don’t smoke dope at an elvish solstice festival. Snorting lines of pixie dust is another matter.

Yeah, we know what’s in that pipe, Sparky.

Some of my friends tell me I think too much when I write posts for my blog. I can’t say they’re wrong, because I haven’t tried to just whip off a post. So, here goes.

I’ve started working on another novel. Smart writers convinced me that I need to stop editing the two novels I’ve written. I met some unpublished novelists like me a few weeks ago, and they invariably told me one of two stories. A startling number had finished their novel, but they needed another month to “polish” it. That month of polishing had lasted anywhere from several months to several years. The rest had finished polishing their novel, and they had engaged someone to edit it. Now they were fighting with the editor, who clearly didn’t know a god damn thing because he kept making stupid suggestions. Some of these writers had fired their editor and were now working with their second or third editor, who was also a moron.

I heard about a whole lot of novels that were 99% finished. So to hell with that. I’m declaring my novels 100% finished, and I’m moving on. I’m shooting queries to agents all right, but I’m not waiting around for responses. And I’m not spending all of my time on social media to build my “platform.” (A platform is the group of people out on the internet who think that you’re kind of neat and who theoretically might buy a book you wrote.)

One of the coolest things I heard recently is that “books sell books.” You’re a lot more likely to make fans if you have five books on the shelves than if you have one book on the shelves. Plus, you’re likely to become a better writer with every book you write. So, I can’t ignore all that platform stuff, but right now my mission is to write more books, and I’d better not forget it.

I don’t have a working title for my new book yet, but I can tell you about it in one sentence. It’s the story of how Santa Claus went from being a juvenile delinquent to being the world’s best loved jolly old elf. I’ve done a lot of character and plot work, and I started writing last night. Just for fun, here’s the first draft of the first couple of paragraphs. I expect that by the fourth edit these paragraphs will be quite different. I might not even use any of the same words, including “the” and “as.”

*****

Santa Claus is a bastard.

I mean that literally, since his elfin mother once sat under the moon with an earnest fellow just as young and dewy as she was. They had a jolly time, although maybe it was a bit too jolly. Even that would have been fine, except he had the bad manners to walk off into the forest one day and never come back. When she at last found a husband and became Mrs. Kringle, she brought along her son Kris, who was just like that useless bowl you can’t throw away when you move into a new cottage, because it was a gift from a wealthy aunt.

In addition to being a bastard, Kris Kringle can act like a bastard. At least he’s a bastard to me sometimes, and I’m his friend. In fact, the first thing he ever said to me was, “Stop rolling around and whining, everybody will think you’re a baby.” This was out behind the Aething House, where teenage elves learn their trades and bully each other with minor tricks like making someone’s shoes shrink to the size of a goose egg. That’s not as much fun as you’d think when it’s your feet in the goose eggs. On that particular day my feet were the ones being crushed, and I did roll, whine, grunt, claw, and plead in the snowy yard behind the house.

*****

So there you go—a blog post I whipped off in a few minutes. It was kind of liberating, in an “I have no idea whether that sucked” kind of way.

Since this is a kind of random post, I kind of randomly tossed in this photo I took of my wife.

 

 

 

I will infiltrate the DFW Writers Conference this weekend. I hope to make important contacts, find people who tell me how great my work is, learn writing and publishing secrets, and meet a an agent who thinks my novel is so marketable they’ll run over orphans while rushing to get it into print. That’s what I hope. I expect to meet writers who are struggling as much as I am, find people who drop into a coma after the first sentence of my pitch, learn what stupid mistakes I’ve been making, and take a vicious pounding from agents about how much my idea, my writing, and my haircut sucks.

It’ll be fun.

In addition to taking in all the classes such as “The Wild West of Publishing” and “How to Write for Boys,” I will pitch my humorous adult fantasy novel Six White Horses. I think I’m ready. I’ve practiced my one minute pitch. I’ve practiced my elevator pitch, which is short enough for a ride from the exhibit floor to the floor with the buffet. I have business cards with my name, photo, contact info, and my tag line: “Fantasy so sarcastic it bleeds laughter.” And my pitch is printed on the back of the card.

I’ve prepared a number of flash drives containing important documents, just in case anyone sees the brilliance beneath the blotchy skin of my first novel. They contain a one page query, an overview, a synopsis, a full proposal, and the first three chapters of the book. The conference organizers warned me in authoritarian terms to bring no paper copies of anything, and to bring no full manuscripts whether on paper, flash drives, or burned into the skin of a buffalo. Electronic media it is.

The conference encourages agents and writers to mingle at a reception Saturday evening, on the patio, weather permitting. Barring a tornado or a barrage of hailstones, I hope to chat in a casual yet professional fashion with everyone in sight, if I can do it without looking like a mule’s scabby hind-parts. I may hold a drink, which I think would make me look worldly and literary, especially if it’s not a bottle of Bud Light. I’ll be able to identify the agents by the writers swarming around them like German fighters around an American B-17 bomber. I don’t think I can push my way through them without looking desperate, though. Maybe if I offer them free drinks they’ll go away—at least that’s the way it would work in a bad novel.

Like I said, it’ll be fun. And if it’s not fun, then I bet it’ll be educational.

I couldn’t find any open license photos for the conference, so here’s a photo of Tolstoy and the rest of his Ukranian Oompah band in 1856. If only they could attend this weekend.