Thursday, May 29, 2014

Writers! Retreat!

So July 5th will mark my first foray into a semi-credible circle of actual, factual authors.
Yeah, I'm talking about a writer's workshop, where I'll be going to meet with other like minded people
to critique and get critiqued.
So that'll be fun.

Wildacres, up near Spruce Pine, NC, is where it's at. From the photographs on the website
it looks like a relaxingly bucolic spot, all secluded back in the woodsy Blue Ridge mountains the way it is. It sounds like it could be the ultimate getaway...or like the lead in to a horror story...

"Ah, Wildacres: t'was an immense and scenic structure, ringed by bountiful green grounds of which each individual shrub had its own transportive hypnotic quality about it. Set high and alone upon the forested mount, seasoned and aspiring writers alike flocked there in droves, ready with their proverbial pens in hand, and their all too keen sensibilities regarding the observe-interpret-report methodology, that is most basest in the author, quite sharp. But, amidst the luring calm of the green trees, there lurked a presence, a visage waiting in the unspoilt woodland warrens, waiting for the lights to fade acceptably and thus for its chance to aggressively ingress upon those that tread atop its wild domain..."

I've been reading Lovecraft recently, so I'm ready for anything. But, in the slim off-chance that some crawling chaos born of hellish stars that drive men made by their mere appearance does NOT show up to crash the party, Wildacres looks to be promising, and a very helpful and meditative experience.

I'm mean for Chrissakes, they've got a sketch comedy show where those in attendance of the workshop get in groups and, with props and costumes, perform like it's Saturday Night in New York. If that doesn't blare fun-in-a-bun on its face, it's hard to imagine anything that does.

I submitted an excerpt from one of my novels, The Boys are Dying, in the (duh) novel class, and so now it's just a matter of marking X's on a calendar until it's time to make that drive up to Spruce Pine and see what the wide, wide world of writing is really, truly all about.

It'd be apish to try and lie and say I'm not nervous. Most likely the words would bubble like rabid foam in my mouth and I'd fall to the floor, quite confused and overloaded. The fact is, I'm pretty damn well near past nervous, graduated to fearful. I realize there's no rationale behind it, but it's mechanical: I get skittish when the thought of wholesale critiquing of my work gets brought up.

The best thing to do, I guess, is to relate to myself every day, like a Muslim prayer, that it's for the good of the mission, and that that old adage about "get as many eyes on it as you can," isn't just piss being swept up and thrown away through raging and indifferent hurricane winds.

Rereading these last few paragraphs (yes, I stop mid-writing, reread, and make meta-comments on what was just written), I'm kind of laughing. It's silly to even suggest I'm THAT worked up over the whole thing. It'll be fun. It'll be insightful. And, if anything, it'll build character.

Let's do it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Talk Gets Published

First piece published! Very nice!
So my friend, Luke Whisnant, let me in on a publication called Dialogual that runs dialogue-only fiction.
Recently, I submitted a piece called 'Tomb' that got picked up and'll be printed in the October issue of the publication.
So. Pretty stoked about that.
Here's the link for Dialogual in case anyone's interested in reading of submitting anything:

Check them out sometime: did wonders for me!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday Nightsunday Morning

There’re the identical nights
Spent talking up the “Good Fight,”
Spent going out, getting the useful gear
To go further and batter ourselves sleepy,
And then, in bright concussed states,
We dream of falling whilst laughing
Until, aching, we wake.
Those’re the beautiful nights, right there.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fins in Electric Water

Fins in electric water

Find me, how in the hell do they

Find me, how in the hell do they

Do what they do?

But they do.

Find me, that is.

Paper trailing from my wounds

And pockets, protracted investments

That smell of pulp, of worth.

The fins stooping in landfills

Puzzling out the ideal combo,

Gathering it in their bloodhound noses

Like chum to fins, then fins to chums.

It is all so very interesting,

Arresting like their balletic eyes,

Eyes armed with rawhide catchpoles

As they chew my hands and heart

In the tinniest off-dark.

Calling it in is no easy task;

We hate them for it, hate them all,

But were it not for what they do,

We might not be here with our

Air-conditioning and power steering,

Fair conditions and racketeering.

O ye fins in electric water,

And sometimes seas of paper too:

How is it you do just what you do?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring Things

Spring's here, despite the out-of-place cold in eastern North Carolina (a nice little refresher clocking in at 50 degrees on the thermometer), and in honor of the season I've taken the liberty of penning a little ode. It's the reworking of lyrics to a song I wrote about a year ago around this time, but here it is:

Spring Things

(I’m cleaning her house.)

House: grinds, shades, butts, aquarium filters.
Dust mites, porn mags, spoiled milk.
All that trash: “Out!”
What, on the curb?
But the heat, it’s ab-SURD!
She goes, “Haven’t you heard?
“Sitting there looking fat,
Man, she really told ME off,
So I go outside and I lose the cough.
And bitches sing, “Spring things!”
Spring brings allergies, itches, nothing more.
It goes.
(Now I know I’ll get a ringer or two,)
(But I’m so sick and fucking tired)
(Of playing ‘rebound’ and shit-faced horseshoes.)

Trash: socks, cups, slides, stale pizza crusts.
Piggy banks, bottles, bud leaf dust.
All the trash: out.
On the curb
Is her ex, standing,
Singing, “Here’s the word!
“Boy, you'd better STEP OUT
“On the driveway, SHORT SPOUT!
“Man plus a baseball bat
Man, he really loves to shout.
So I go outside and I lose the pout.
My finger twitches, springs sting.
Spring brings him blood, stitches, maybe more.
He goes:
“Bite it off, buddy! Go ahead and chew!
“I know that she’s gone from me now,
                        “But let’s see if she laughs the same with you.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Not For Everybody

So I put up a short story on Wendig's blog for the "Life is Hell" challenge.
It was less than 1000 words, but originally it was a 3 grand tale. After sufficient trimming, I got it down to around 2,700.
Of course, being flash-fiction, it needed to be 1,000 or less to be viable for the whole "Life is Hell" thing, but I felt 1k words wasn't good enough for so enticing a concept as hell.
I kept all versions, and I eventually submitted the polished 2,692 word version to this writer's workshop I'm involved in.
Now the way these sessions work is that copies of the short stories are handed out to everyone before the workshop, with the understanding that all involved read the piece beforehand. The day of the reading comes and we discuss what's working and what isn't.
So today, 4/14/14, was the day we would focus on my piece, 'My Shadow and Me.' I was nervous, I was excited, all these different things going on at once. I mean, I didn't know how well my contemporaries would react to the malign, chaotic rendition of hell I'd decided to make, but, being the last workshop story I was eligible to submit, I decided to go out with a bit of a bang.  
So this one girl, let's call her Mrs. Orange, decided that, being from a more classical school of thought, she hated it. HATED it, I mean right out of the gate she held a rather accomplished filibuster railing against it. Funny since the leader of the workshop laid out a rather simple paradigm at the beginning:
"Start with the pros, then go to the cons."
Pretty easy system to adapt to, right?
First hand up, who's is it?
Mrs. Orange.
First words about the piece?
Cons, not pros.
I wasn't overtly surprised, seeing as the reaction was just Mrs. Orange keeping in character.
"Looks like you used a thesaurus and just--TRANSCRIBED it, word for word, like you started on page one and just-just went FLIPPING right along like a happy little new-reader! I was just so-- SO appalled by the broken overuse of adjectives."
And that's a direct quote, more or less.
Well now how in the hell (no puns) ELSE would one describe hellions WITHOUT adjectives? I mean I suppose you could argue the whole simplicity-of-language/less-is-more/leave-it-to-the-imagination thing, but what if that's not the point? The story was explicit, the story was supposed to be a portrait. If that's not okay, that's not okay. Some people are into feet, some aren't.
But I refrained from commenting, partly because that's how workshops are carried out and partly because I hadn't heard anyone else speak yet.
I'd said I was nervous about it: I didn't know if everyone else in the workshop felt similarly to her. I mean, I've always dealt with a sort of crushing fear of rejection, I won't deny that. So I just bore it and nodded, trying to come off as though I were taking in her profound wisdom like she was the sage and I was the novice.
When she got all her deconstructive criticism out, the room was silent. Everybody in the workshop shuffled their papers. Then this other guy across the room, big guy in a Misfits t-shirt, coughed. This guy, let's call him Man-o-war, is a nice, albeit bombastic, guy.
He said, "Well, I don't mean this to come off as offensive or anything, but--"
And that was it, I'd thought I'd bought it. I was digging in, preparing for the biggest write-off since the blank checks the military cashed after 9/11.
But Man-o-war continued, said, "I felt really uncomfortable, like, in a psychedelic way."
I perked up.
"Yeah, the big, dense descriptions of all the creatures, it made me feel like I was in a Hieronymus Bosch painting!"
Slow murmurs around the workshop circle, slow nods of assent.
Mrs. Orange stared at her feet.
The workshop leader, let's call him Ringleader, nodded after Man-o-war finished providing his commentary and said, "I agree, this piece was very intentional in its madness, I believe."
It all went up hill after that, and I was being carried there.
One by one, we went around the workshop circle and everybody nodded and provided their insight into the sensations they got from the story, and I was ECSTATIC that it came off the way I intended.
I always labor over that, as to whether or not the readers will pick up the intent, and it's always so, SO pleasing to see it in action.
While it was all being made official, all being decided that the story 'My Shadow and Me' was a success, Mrs. Orange had been scribbling with an orange marker in the margins of her copy.
When it was finished, she asked to speak, and made the addendum, "Perhaps I, uh-- wasn't your target audience."
And she wasn't.
And this isn't a rabid denouncement of Mrs. Orange and her 'classical' disposition, but just an observation. That'll happen, you missing your target audience. Some people will read you and say aloud, "What in the gracious name of the gods of literature is THIS?"
It's unavoidable, about as unavoidable as rejection, and about as unavoidable as praise.
But there's a service naysayers provide, and it's an invaluable one.
In the context of the workshop setting, I got extremely lucky when 99.9% of the rest of those that read 'Shadow,' found it a wonderful piece. But even if 99.9% of the workshop HAD sided with Mrs. Orange and her detestation of the story's "broken overuse of adjectives," the .1% that did enjoy it enjoyed it. And that made writing it worth it.
It was easy to visualize the fact that naysayers can be outnumbered, they can be niche. But even if they're not, I've concluded, who cares? Naysayers, in most events, aren't there to provide feedback, that's why they're called 'naysayers.'
They say, "Nay, nay, take it away!"
They're like hecklers, they're like zealots clinging to whatever faith has brought them to hating your writing. And that's okay, they can have that, because that just means they've missed the point.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Life is Hell

            For the 'Life is Hell' challenge over on

             Over the dusty, azure horizon scampers a guy in a baseball jersey who died last night.  Lips taught, teeth clenched, fists pumping, he swings madly down the blue sand as big band swing booms overhead. He glances back frequently at the dust devils kicking up behind him.
Countless oddities pour over the dune: dump truck-sized white buffalos, trilobite faced spearmen, pygmy dragons spitting pyroclastic vomit, nuclear-fried skeletal salesmen, anorexics with distended jaws, obese, naked lepers, preemies in party hats, lumbering pink slime colossi, centaurs in leotards, bipedal pigs with crowbars.
The swing music makes it seem like one big dance.
Two screaming steam locomotives on centipede legs try crushing him. Scarified volleyballers on polyurethane and palm leaf wings dive at him. A guillotine blade thrown like a Frisbee misses him as he retreats from knights on goatback tossing Greek fire filled disco balls.
The music quickens tempo, spurring the horde. He’s exhausted, bathed in sweat beads the size of immature grapes. He can’t remember why he can’t remember his past, but the hacking and wheezing imply a lifetime of slothfulness and cigarettes. 
“WHAT THE HELL, MAN!?” he screams over his shoulder.
In the blue sand, black rocks appear. Pterodactyl-sized pigeons roost atop some. A rocket shatters one boulder, sending its huge bird squawking into flight. Ahead materializes a ghetto of decrepit buildings and smote cathedrals, their windows glassless, their walls grayed with rot. Roadways rise, and on them the hordes chase him into the dark, hollow town.
Horrors roam the streets. Cassowaries walk nude, tattooed androgynes on leashes. Eyeless street urchins hurl infectious hypodermics at a drunken leopard seal. Suavely dressed bodies with Chattery Teeth heads talk indecipherable snap-snap-snap to ancient hags in flapper garb— and the crones laugh.
The horde speeds along in hot pursuit, covering the disheveled road behind him. Ululating, they roar forth like floodwaters, and his knees begin to buckle.
“Son—of—a—bitch, sonofabitch,” he wheezes.
The guy’s quivering, his vision blotting with dark spots. He can’t keep this pace forever. The omnipresent jazz frenzies: trombones whinny, honky-tonk pianos chop, saxes laugh, percussion claps, vilely syncopating through the streets.
Spotting light in a cobwebbed alley, he goes for it. After dashing the alley’s length, it opens into a parking lot, and he stares dejectedly at the light source: the jagged, spotlighted roof of an infernal discotheque swarmed by hedonistic phantasms.
Outside, frowning clown bouncers eject a drunken Nazi who shouts, “Ihr Schweine! Ich bin Himmler, verstanden? Himmler!”
The clowns reply, “Yeah, yeah, Himmler, back a’da line!”
The guy hears the horde storm past the alley and smiles manically, whispering, “YES! Homerun, BABY!”
He claps blue sand off his hands and gets so far back in line that he can’t see the front. As he stands there, trying to calm down, to remember why he smells so strongly of vodka cranberries, something whispers, “Pssssst!”
He turns. A mousy man in a plaid suit lurks behind a rickety fence cordoning off the discotheque’s rear. The guy studies the man, gasping at the bloody brain spread like a toupee on his head.
“No thanks,” the mousy man says. “I’m fine, yaself?”
The guy, appreciating the nature (or lack thereof) of his surroundings, shakes his head.
“No, I’m NOT— FINE! Okay, I need help!”
“I’ll say. Who dressed ya, some funny little flit?”
“No,” he hisses. “Now, I need out of this place.”
“Back a’da line’s for schmucks. Listen: I’m inda business—a gettin’ you—outta the spot you’re in.”
“Really? Awesome, then get me out of here!”
The scalped man pushes the fence open.
“Right dis way, chum.”
The guy checks for a clear coast before following him to the nightclub's back, a bland cinderblock wall with a solitary door. The mousy man leans beside it and says, “Here’s your out.”
“That’s it? That easy?”
“What’d I tell ya? I’m inda business!”
The guy stares at him, red scalp to wriggling tail, before pushing his face against his palms, crying.
“Whoa!” says the mousy man. “Wit da waterworks?”
“I—dunno— how I— got here!”
“Ya didn’t wanna be at the back a’da line’s how ya got here!”
“No, here! Here, this— FUCKED UP PLACE!”
The man’s rodent nose cringes as he tugs his coat and swings his tail.
“Pal, nobody does! That’s da point.”
“I mean— I just— I don’t—”
“Well—I know who I was.”
“Sure! See, cause I like ta help people get places, and I ain’t gotta scalp, see dat?”
He slicks his hands over his mutilated scalp.
“So before down here I figya I was one’a them scalper types, see? Just gotta figyit out on y’own s’all.”
He pats the guy on the back, getting him standing upright, and says, “So you gonna go true dis here door’a what?”
The guy wipes his nose, looks up, and nods.
“Yeah, sure.”
“Atta boy,” the mousy man says, pushing open the door. “That’s da spirit!”
The threshold glows hot red, so bright the guy holds a hand over his squinting eyes.
“I can’t believe I’m in— hell.”
The mousy man takes a step back and snickers.
“What’s funny?” the guy asks.
“Hell?” laughs the mouse man, slapping his knee. “What d’you mean ‘hell?’”
“That’s where we are! Right?”
The mousy man’s face is redder than his raw scalp. He wipes his eyes.
“Kid, this is LIMBO. You ain’t seen NOTHIN yet.”
The red doorway howls, the jazz skewers into unrecognizable din. The guy clutches his shattered ear drums.
Claws shoot from the man’s fingernails. He rips his suit off, skin with it, rearing up as a ten foot tall Justinian rat.
The guy’s mouth works wordlessly. The rat stares down with tumorous, black eyes, lunges, snaps the apoplectic guy up with yellow chisel-shaped fangs, and leaps through the shrieking red threshold.
The door slams behind it.
            In the empty alley, the big band is again a simpering echo. Creatures slither to the discotheque in the blasted town, itching to raise Hell.