Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Manly Man

There is something about manly men. You know the type, the guy's guy who can wear a mullet and make you believe his hair has integrity. He's the guy with the leathery skin that says: "Skin cancer...up yours!" Manly men, Gutsy guys, Sardonic Studs. These are the guys who can quote from lines from old broadcasts of "The A Team" without missing a beat. These are folk who argue with authority about who was more kick-ass: Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, Jack Bauer, or Freddy Prince.

Without them, where would the Nascar industry be?

So to you pillars of crystallized testosterone, accept this news story from the Associated Press:


JERUSALEM - A man clad only in underwear and a T-shirt wrestled a wild leopard to the floor and pinned it for 20 minutes after the cat leapt through a window of his home and hopped into bed with his sleeping family.

Du Mosch's pet cat was in the bed with him at the time, along with his young daughter who had been frightened by a mosquito in her own room.

Shapira said the leopard was very weak when park rangers arrived at Du Mosch's home after the surprise late-night visit. He said nature officials would likely release it back into the wild.

Du Mosch said he probably would not have been able to control the big cat were it in better health. As a nature guide, he said, he was familiar with animals and did his best to hold down the leopard without harming it. He said he took it all in stride, "but the kids were excited."

Oh yeah...here's to you Du Mosch. Here's to you and to every man who ever put a little bit of toilet paper on his chin to stop the bleeding after a close shave. (pictured, an AP photo of vets examining the sedated animal hours later)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ideas

I'm back. In case you're wondering what that means, it means that I've lost two posts and have been unable to log into google. I was frightened I was about to suffer the same fate as Wayne Sallee who got blocked out of his original blog and had to kickstart things with "Frankenstein 1959". The two posts you missed? One was about the Gallup poll information recently released which showed a correlation between literal belief in the bible and level of education (seems the more education one had the less one believed in a literal interpretation). The second post lost was about a Memorial Day memory from a Vietnam War protester. Ah well. Both are gone, so there is no use crying over spilled posts.

Instead...

I woke this morning writing. I woke and thought: "So the story starts with an older man, maybe in his sixties, and a young woman, ripping through some part of town, with the old man driving like a maniac. He's about to commit suicide."

I actually woke up this way. I turned over, thinking: "So he is deliberately trying to kill himself, and so is she, because they belong to a group..a cult?..who believes that it is possible to enter another world at the moment of death. Both have talismans that let them do this."

And that is about as far as I got. Then, I woke and got ready for the day.

Ideas.

I'm betting other people get up with story ideas fully blown. I'll bet some people drive along, and as the scenery passes their minds are going: "So..this guy...he is at work when he realizes that everyone is gone. They were just there a moment ago..." Of course, the problem with ideas is that if you don't do anything about them, or write them down, they tend to go away. Some musicians claim their best work disappeared because they were unable to put it on paper.

Jon Zech once gave me a great idea for a short story. I wrote about five pages longhand, and was pretty happy about it. It's gone now. I have no idea where it went. Jon himself lost a good deal of text, I believe. A computer accident? Or a lack of saves?

I'll bet Charles Gramlich or Wayne Sallee have lost their share.

And of course, it's easily avoidable. Write things down. Save what you have.

Me? I'm going back to sleep and see what happens next to those two people who are about to kill themselves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

High Seas Cthulhu!!!!

I'm sure you know I am an enormous fan of Lovecraft. I have recently written and had accepted a short story inspired by that old gentleman from Rhode Island. The tale is called "The Others" and will be coming out soon in an anthology published by Elder Signs Press.

The collection is aptly entitled: "High Seas Cthulhu".
If you're a fan of supernatural horror, you're going to enjoy these stories.

Not only do I get the thrill of having a mythos story published, but I am excited to be included in the company of Allen Dean Foster, John Shirley, Tim Curran, and Darrell Schweitzer.

So, that's my great news for the day. I hope you'll buy a copy and enjoy some unsettling horror. I hope you read it and stay up at night, watching the shadows on the wall and wondering if they're really just shadows.

cthulhu
lovecraft, mythos

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rub My Belly

Several years ago, while driving along a street in Detroit, I leaned out my window and called in an annoying sing-song fashion: "I can see your underwear." The two gentlemen, probably unable to get to their guns fast enough to draw a bead on me, shook their heads and continued discussing the relevance of string theory.

It's been about twelve years, people...and yet...young urban males, and many suburban ones, are still sagging their pants. Time to stop.

Sagging, for the blissfully ignorant, is a style that came from prison life, where gang members allowed their pants to sag to their butts. Somehow this translated to cool. Of course. Makes sense. Don't we always look to prison culture for some definition of style?

However, it's been twelve years.

Time to stop. Time to change.

Styles do that, you know. They evolve. Long hair becomes short. Clean shaven becomes bearded. Plunging necklines become turtlenecks. We are people who enjoy variety.
So what's with the sagging still going on?

This year, this year in rural America, I have had to deal with sagging by kids who think they are ghetto. Yes, nothing says ghetto like walking bow-legged in front of a corn field to keep your pants from falling to your knees. Nothing says ghetto like someone named Billy Bob or Cyrus Jay wearing his baseball hat to one side and trying to talk as though he's just stepped out of a rap video.

It's truly a beauteous thing to see someone dressing and acting thug while hanging out at the Four H Club booth at the County Fair, or in front the local feed store, or checking out the action at the granite quarry.

So, city kids...do you really want to be associated with your country cousin? It's time for some creativity. Hell..how about really freaking people out and go nude. No..on second thought..no.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's The Economy,




My friend Rick and I have been arguing about economy in writing. It's an old bone we chew on, growling at one another until the bone is hardly worth the fight.

Here's my stance.

I guess when I write, I see a short story as a photograph, a novel would be an entire album. For me the story begins with much of the action already in progress (it still has a beginning, middle, and end). However, the short story limits what facets of action the writer wants to explore.

We could write forever about something, exploring different perspectives until the reader collapses with exhaustion. But unless those details are essential they should be removed. That's what I call economy.

As an exercise, I once sat down with a story and tried labeling each sentence to see how that sentence served the story. I think I was responding to something I had read in Writer's Digest.

Of all the writers' quotes that have impacted me, two come immediately to mind.

First, Poe's quote that (I paraphrase badly) "each paragraph, sentence, word..should forward either plot, character development, theme, or setting." Of course, Poe is often credited with codifying the the short story, but I think that's a bit too much to give the old boy.

The second quote comes from Hemingway.

Hemingway:
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing….

And finally, I recently have become enamored by a quote from Elmore Leonard in his Ten Rules for writing. Leonard wrote that one of the best things a writer can do is "leave out the parts that readers skip".

I love that line.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Tigers ...Ouchies


I don't like to complain about my baseball team...but last October I thought: "Offseason? Well, we're going to need some power, and maybe a reliever or two."

What did we do? We got two old men: Gary Sheffield and Jose Mesa. That's it. I couldn't believe it. I think one reason we were able to get Gary Sheffield was because he was on the mend. Something the Tigers tend to do. Rodriguez was on the mend when we picked him up. As was Ordonez. As was Planco. What the hell.

Now we stand with Bonderman on the DL, Rogers out until some time in August (if he comes back) and Zumaya gone for about six weeks. Boy, those offseason choices have come back to bite us on the butt.

Will the Tigers return to the championship? I still think they stand a good chance. But Boston is a behemoth to overcome. And our own weaknesses will haunt us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Your Right To Know

The money wasn't good, the hours were horrible, but all that aside, there were other reasons I chose not to go forward in my journalistic career.

I remember it was November 1st and I parked my car and walked a block to get to where the television cameras were. A man stood outside his house, tears running down his face, washing the soot from his cheeks. Four or five reporters were present along with three camera crews.

"What are you going to do now?" asked one reporter, nodding toward the burned out husk behind the man.

"I don't know, " he said. "Everything I owned was in that house. I don't what I'm going to do. I just don't know."

"You didn't have insurance?"

"I had some, but not enough. Not enough."

"So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

"Is there family that can help you out?"

"Do you have any idea who would have set the fire?"

"What did the police say?"

The man sat down on the sidewalk, wrapping his arms around his knees to rock back and forth in his misery. The questions kept coming, the cameras moved closer. I started to walk away, but stopped, turning to one of the reporters who was struggling to make out the address on the burned out building.

"Got to get the address right," he said. When someone is victim of a crime, the newspaper usually prints the address and the person's name. The person who commits the crime usually hides behind a wall of anonymity to protect his civil rights. The reporter finished scribbling the information and shut his notebook.

"Got it," he said.

"I'm sure that's information no one can live without," I said.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Conceit

When first exposed to Shakespeare, I raised my hand and challenged the teacher: "You're reading too much into it," I said. "No one is going write that way."

We were arguing about symbolism. I had a notion that writers wrote, that it was fluid and not a tortuous process in which sentences were constructed like tonka toys. I turned up my nose at the idea that some writers mixed words with the deliberateness of an artist mixing oils on a palate. My belief was that English teachers were trying to justify their jobs by putting fur on ducks and calling them dogs.

In short, I was an idiot.

Time passed, and so did my appreciation for literature. Nothing helps one appreciate the deliberateness of writing though like engaging in writing itself. What I discovered was that Bradbury did indeed deliberately use the 'hot' and 'cold', 'summer' and 'winter' motifs in "Something Wicked This Way Comes". I acknowledged that in "Grapes of Wrath" that there were all manner of religious allusion as well as a sound undercurrent of Marxist respect for the dignity of the proletariat. I came to believe and accept that Hemingway in all his glorious simplicity and pared back narrative created the most basic metaphor for life in "The Old Man and The Sea".

What I also learned was that symbolism, motifs, and foreshadowing, while enriching the novel, did not necessarily have to detract from the narrative. In important works of art, they were actually intrinsic to the narrative.

In my unpublished novel "Palpable Illusion", I have carefully inlaid a Norse mythology motif [by the way I am not comparing myself to Shakespeare, Bradbury, Steinbeck, or Hemingway]. It echoes the idea that the corrupt may seek redemption, but until they forsake that which makes them corrupt (in the case of the Norse gods that would be power) that redemption is impossible. To illustrate how I introduce the motif, here is a scene from the beginning of the novel.

Promises were made to be broken,” said James Maloney, the man driving.
“What?”

“Promises were made to be broken,” Maloney repeated, nodding toward the giant twin cooling towers of a nuclear power plant.


These few lines are a direct reference to Wagner's Odin (king of the Norse Gods), who breaks his promises to two giants who build his royal palace--a break that leads to the fall of Asgard and the arrival of Ragnarok (the end times). The line is actually used several times throughout the novel. It is also the first line spoken by the villain of the story and it is an obvious clue as to his character.

Now, will readers catch the allusions to Norse mythology that run through the novel? Maybe not. Probably not. But they are there, and in my opinion, they enrich the work. They allow it to operate at different levels. They add to the motivation of the characters, they solidify the theme. They do not interrupt or distract.

What about the works of modern popular writers? Do Laurell K. Hamilton, Robert B. Parker, or Jim Butcher use symbolism? What about Dan Brown? Clive Cussler?

Graham Greene, the English novelist who gave us "The Power and the Glory", wrote that he considered his work to fall into one of two categories: literature and entertainment. Literature was deliberate, thoughtful. Literature attempted to be uplifting and to address the human condition. Entertainment was a diversion. It was meant to be disposable.

I've looked at my own writing that way. Sometimes I try and write literature. Sometimes, I just try and tell a story.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Night Terrors

Sleep terrors. I got them.

Every so often I wake up screaming, flailing my arms, sometimes falling out of bed. I have apnea, which contributes to the problem, but the terrors continue regardless of my beloved bipap machine, a device that keeps my throat from closing while I sleep.

My wife is used to this. When she hears me scream from the bedroom, if I go to sleep before she does, then she'll usually check in on me to make sure things are okay. After a minute or so of screaming, I settle back down and go to sleep without any memory of the event.

She is a patient woman, don't you think?

My ex-wife wasn't as patient, but I won't go into that. Instead I'll tell a story about her and myself and my terrors.

We were at an art cinema's screening of Akiro Kurisawa's "RAN". It's a long film, with subtitles and many slow moments artfully put together. Dream sequences almost. I sat on the end of the aisle. My exwife sat one in, sandwiched between myself and a friend Jim, who was visiting from Alaska.

We sat, we relaxed, the movie droned on...and on....and...

I burst from my seat with a high pitched scream, not just any scream, but a protracted scream of profound horror. Still shrieking, I ran up the aisle of theater, exploding into the lobby. The friend from Alaska lost his popcorn. He and everyone else in the theater. He turned to my ex, who was looking ahead as though nothing had happened, and asked: "Is he going to be okay?"

She at first pretended like she didn't know what he was talking about. Then, she shrugged and said: "He's fine."

Me? I returned a few minutes later, with a popcorn, candy, and a soda balanced in the crook of my arm, as though that had been my intent all along.

This incident sometimes haunts me when I attend live theater.

I guess I could pass it off as performance art if it happens again.

Looking For Ghosties


From Ghoulies to Ghosties, To Long-Legged Beasties, To Things That Go Bump In The Night, May The Good Lord Deliver Us!!!

As I get older, I get harder to scare. There was a time when a stroll through a cemetery on a gray afternoon would raise goosebumps along my arms and raise the hair on my neck. Hell, I could freak myself out by just sitting on the front porch of my house, watching the darkness gather over the neighborhood and listening to the dayworld give way to the world of the Night.

Now that old graveyard is just a graveyard. The front porch is a place to sit.

Is it that as we get old, and I'm talking about fifties and sixties, that the approach of our mortality makes the supernatural world less frightening? Or is it that as my belief wanes, my lack of spirituality, that I don't have the same experience? Perhaps my fears have been replaced by other fears. Maybe I am more alarmed by the prospect of having a stroke and becoming helpless and a burden on loved ones. Maybe I am more terrified by dementia or Alzheimers. Perhaps I fear the infirmity of old age and the dread onset of a realization that so many hopes and dreams can never be realized, that disappointment is a mocking friend that whispers in the ear.

Strangely, I want to be afraid. I want to feel the first prickling of horror at the unexplainable return. I want to be terrified of the boogeyman. I write about fear all the time, now I want it back.

When I first started writing this blog back in August of last year, I wrote about an experience I had with fireflies that set me searching for faeries. Maybe this summer, I need to return to the search. I believe the human spirit is an amazing thing and that it is possible to renew a sense of wonder and discovery. I believe it possible to revive the part of the soul that has quieted or been set aside.

Maybe in addition to looking for faeries, the search should now include the things that go bump in the night.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Are You Serious?

"Well, I used to write in high school," the words came with a demure look. "I always liked expressing myself."

"I always wanted to write, so I thought...why not?"

"So much has gone on in my life that I thought: Hey, my life would make a great book."

Ah, the soft sounds of the would-be writers. Listen to them, the serious scribblings on notepads, the endearing frowns, the dedicated thrust out of lower lips. And is there anything more endearing than the offering of their work for your approval?


I have some advice for people who want to write. It's simple.


1) First if you're serious about writing, tell people you're serious. If you're not, then tell people that as well. It will save a lot of frustration between you and anyone who is reading your work. If you're not serious, then they can pat your forehead, give you some "feelgood" patter, and send you on your way to bother your next victim.


2) Before you offer your work up for examination, learn the fundamentals of grammar. I mean it. Take a grammar class. It will make a world of difference. There is nothing more embarassing for me than to read someone's work and make grammar edits every other line. What I really want to do is crunch their work into a ball.


3) Take a writing class or read some books about writing. If you take a writing class, check out the instructor first. There are some out there who are loving, nurturing people..and will applaud your every piece. Avoid these people. They serve little purpose other than encouraging mediocrity. A writing teacher, in my opinion, should cover the fundamentals: plot, character development, and theme. The teacher should also demand that students produce work. If a student isn't working up to expectations, then I hope that the student will be referred to a grammar class (see #2), or told to hit the road.


Unfortunately, many of the creative writing teachers I've known tend to coddle students and build a cult of personality about themselves. And of course, there is the other extreme, the teacher who is a writing elitist, making students suffer through the avante garde of fiction (you know, formless fiction...formless poetry--don't get me started). So what you want is someone between the two. Good luck.


It all comes down to this: Are you serious? If you're serious about writing, then you will strive to improve. You'll read, self-assess, join writers groups, take seminars and classes, attend work shops. If you're not serious. Go away. Or go blog.
You'll be a big hit on "Wordless Wednesdays".

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sadie


The vet had looked at Sadie with concern; there was something wrong with her back. At first we thought it might be a muscle strain, maybe she had fallen somehow and caused damage. My other dogs, Myrtle and Duchess looked on with impatience. They simply wanted to be out of the office and back in the car. I told the vet I would watch the seven year old black lab and led her gently from the office.

Sadie was special to me. I have always been a dog person, but this animal and I had a special connection. I got Sadie from a hunter who found her useless: "She swims great," he said. "She just doesn't like the taste of feathers in her mouth."

His loss was my gain. I decided that since Sadie had already received fundamental training, I would take her the rest of the way. I spent the next couple years working with Sadie each day, at least an hour's worth of time. When Myrtle came along, she joined our workouts. Then Duchess, Sadie's puppy, became part of the pack. Each day the three of us would work on some aspect of behavior until the three of them were like a machine.

Taking them to a field, I had them off leash. From at least two hundred yards away, I gave Sadie her hand signal to come. Sadie gleefully charged across field, dropping at the halfway point when I gave her the gesture. Then came Myrtle at her hand gesture, also dropping at the "down" signal. Finally Duchess, who ran like a madwoman, hoping to get as close to me as possible before the "down" command came.

Working with a dog each day, spending time on teaching them behavior builds a special bond.

When Sadie couldn't stand up a few months after that vet visit, I was crushed when we took her to the vet's again. I remember having to carry her out on a board. She was alert and in a good mood but unable to move. The other two dogs looked on, unsure of what was happening, but disappointed that they weren't being allowed to join us in the car.

"I can do surgery on her," said the vet. "She's seven though, and I can't guarantee anything. She'll be in a tremendous pain, and might not get better at all. Putting her to sleep is the best."

I nodded and gave consent. My ex-wife and I went into the back while the medication was administered. As Sadie was being prepped, my ex stroked her.

"When this is over, you can go to park with Dad," she said. Sadie's tail thumped, her eyes brightened. The doctor administered the needle. The last thing that filled my Sadies' mind were images of the park and the promise of a run through the grass.

I have three dogs again: Matilda, Leo, and Bernie. Matilda and Leo were my current spouse's dogs before I came along, although Leo has adopted me as his own. Bernie we got a couple years back. He goes to school with me each day. I still think of Sadie though; still have her ashes and a small statuette of a black lab which sits on my desk.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Open Letter To God

Dear He-Who-Stands-In-Heaven-Looking-Down-At-Us-Who-Are-So-Miserable-And-Unworthy-Of-His-or-Her-Gaze:

Please, Lord...I admit it, I watched a season or two of "Survivor". I've watched "Big Brother" and I've was fascinated by "Joe Schmoe". I've even finally caved and watched an episode or two of "American Idol". But Lord....it's time to make it end.

I had thought with Fox's "The Littlest Groom", a painfully bad show that pitted vertically challenged women against tall models for the affections of a little person, that it had hit bottom. No, Lord, it didn't. Instead, each year brings another "Survivor", another "American Idol", another (gag) "Dancing With The Stars". Each year. Each year. And it gets worse and worse.

So Lord SMYTE THEM. Bring your torrential rains, your fire, your vengeful spirits, your plagues and cataclysms and I will lead a handful of the holy into a new covenant. We will embrace your new teachings, whatever they may be, even if they somehow include the abolition of power tools and the color mauve, and we will cherish your words no matter how unclear or open to interpretations.

No more reality shows. I beg you. NO MORE REALITY SHOWS!!!!!!

Your loving servant. And about the hemorrhoids...

Born Again

There's an old saying that "everything old is new again".

On his blog, Charles Gramlich wrote a posting about characterization, noting that Morrell argued it was harder to write stories around types than around three dimensional characters. Charles, of course, took the opposing point of view.

This made me stop and consider, which of course led me to a totally different topic: why should the two be mutually exclusive? Why can't one be the foundation for the other?I would argue that types are actually a great foundation or starting point for development of a memorable three dimensional character.

As some people may have seen, I enjoy taking something old and rethinking it. I have written and posted on this blog retellings of The Frog Prince and King O The Cats, both timeworn fairy tales. Why not? Why not take a stereotypic or one-dimensional figure, such as Robert Howard's Conan and use the character as the jumping off point for something new. Why not reinvent the character?

Some will argue that to do so is to steal someone else's ideas. I don't agree. Recently I was watching Showtime's "ROME" and thought: What if I retold the story of Julius Caesar by making him a corporate figure who has just succeeded in clawing his way to success over the body of Pompey. Why not reinvent Brutus as a hungry vice president, formerly loyal to Pompey, perhaps even related to the fallen CEO through marriage?

Borrowing characters and reinventing them is done all the time. Look at "Jaws" by Robert Benchley. The great white shark and Peter Quint are a reinvention of Moby Dick and Ahab. And I hate to pull this motheaten example from the high school curriculum, but how many of you had to sit through "West Side Story" as a retelling of "Romeo and Juliet"? What about "Apocalypse Now", Coppola's masterpiece of Vietnam? It's a brilliant reinvention of Joseph Conrads' "Heart of Darkness". Give me a few more minutes and I could come up with at least a dozen more examples.

There are only so many stories that can be told by a writer. One should find inspiration where they can? I know Charles was thinking of something entirely different when he wrote his posting, but one thought leads to another and to another and here I am. I completely agree that three dimensional characters are the stuff of classics, but the type, or the archtype, has a place. And at the heart of all three dimensional characters, peel away enough flesh and bone and you'll find the type anyway.