Friday, June 29, 2007
If you aren't old enough to remember the first time you purchased something like Sgt. Pepper's, then let me describe it for you. First you took the shrink wrapped package from the bag and peeled it off. It clung to the outside of the album and to itself, static electricity. Then, after staring at the front forever, and with Sgt. Peppers, there was a lot to stare at, you opened the album. Inside, more pictures. Vibrant. And when you slipped the album sleeve out, to remove the vinyl for the first time, sometimes those sleeves had more art and lyrics on them, sometimes the lyrics were on the inner cover. And once the music was playing, once you had settled back with your favorite recreational drug, then you could explore the cover again at your own leisure, letting it become part of the musical experience. Oh....oh yeah.
And then there were the interactive covers. Rod Stewart's "Ooh La La" (the eyes and mouth opened and close when a tab was pulled);Led Zepplin's third album had a wheel inside the cardboard so that you could turn it and watch different pictures pass by cutout windows (you had to be there);Jethro Tull's "Stand Up" album had...well....a picture that stood up when you opened the album. I'm not saying this was brilliant, but it gave you something to do while waiting for the lava lamp to warm up.
I love mp3 and I love cds. But I miss the album art.
Here are some of my favorites for you. I'm not calling them the best, just my favorites. Enjoy them. Then, go to this website...it's well worth the visit.
Jon and I studied the price of gas.
"There has to be a better way," he said. I nodded and pulled a page from a magazine from my pocket. He raised his eyebrows. I shrugged and said: "I come prepared."
"So what is it?" he asked.
"When gasoline hit three dollars a gallon..."
"When the 'forces that be' determined it would cost that," he interrupted with bitterness. "Lord knows they don't follow supply and demand. That they actually closed a refinery in Bakersville to keep their profits up. I think..."
"Anyway," I said, taking back the conversation, "I came across this article."
Jon took the paper from me and skimmed it. "This was written three years ago."
"I know, but I've been keeping up on it. They have plants that are producing this, showing that it is feasible and maybe desirable to use garbage to create crude. Right now the cost is probably about sixty dollars a barrel. Oil is around seventy dollars a barrel. If the Bushies took the money going into Iraq for one year and mandated a "Manhattan Project" style effort to find an alternative form of energy (and I'm not talking about ethanol--all that does is drive up our food costs), I think we could be energy independent in the next few years, not in the next few decades."
"In a country where the corporations rule and the interests of Wall Street are held above the interests of the people, you can't possibly think any of this could come to pass."
"I can dream," I said.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
"That's what they say," said Jon. He peered from the dugout. We were in rain delay and if things didn't clear up soon, the umps were going to call it. I bounced a ball off the back of my hand. We were down by two runs, but I knew if we resumed we stood a chance. Keltner, their leftie had started throwing nothing but junk.
"If I wrote what I knew, I wouldn't write. I've tried. I think what works best for me is when I incorporate true elements of myself in my work. For instance, if I write a story set in the eighties in Montana, I obviously don't know squat about Montana and not a whole lot about the life of mountain men at that time."
"Stands to reason," said Jon.
"So, I research the state and the life of those individuals and I write about it. But the things they feel, the loneliness, the closeness to nature---I can write about that by drawing from my own experience."
The manager walked by and gave me an evil look.
"If you're gonna keep hittin' like you've been, try holding the bat by the other end."
Some of the players chuckled. Jon smiled. "Don't let him bother you," he said.
The manager snorted. "Yeah, good advice, Zech. This coming from the 'Error King'."
"Me? I write more from experience," said Jon. "When I wrote my 'Buck and Tangee' thing, that was more closely related to my life. I have trouble writing crazy stuff like you. I like taking this person, then that person, and putting them in a quiet, ordinary setting and seeing what happens. I like spending time on description and detail. Painting a picture."
I nodded. "Again, I don't think it matters if you write about real life so long as you're writing about real people."
Zech looked at me. "I like that. Say it again."
"It don't matter if you write about real life so long as you are writing about real people."
The umps called for the managers and we could tell by looking at the ground crew that they were getting ready to pull the tarp from the field. The sky looked menacing, but it had stopped raining.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Jon Zech climbed down from the mare he had ridden to check the herd in the north pasture and handed it off to one of the boys. I watched him saunter to the campfire. He bent over and picked up an old can which he would use as a cup and poured himself coffee. Before sitting down, he stirred the fire and added a log. I watched him for a moment, leaning back in the hammock and smelling coconut.
"When I was a kid, I used to think a story had to have an ending, or a twist. It had to have the reader throw hands into the air and leave them speechless," I said.
"That's the 'Twilight Zone' syndrome," he responded. Jon, who couldn't play a violin to save his life, began to tune one, plucking the strings and wincing with each untrue note.
"I loved those stories. You remember how some stories had the last line italicized in some of the magazines. You know, like: ....and then he realized he wasn't looking at a mirror!!!!"
Jon laughed. "Yeah."
"Now I think the ending should just be a logical point. It should give the reader closure, or resolve the issue or conflict one way or another."
"Oh, I don't know. I think there are some stories that don't have natural endings. Some stories are snapshots. The point is to illustrate character or theme, not necessarily resolve a plot or conflict."
A shooting star passed above.
"I don't hold to that sort of writing. I think a story needs to have a story. Not just be a jumble of events or things...not just stroke the writer. You might as well call it poetry."
Jon shook his head. "Well some writers write for different reasons. Not everyone writes to try and get published in Playboy."
"Now you're just talking crazy," I said. "Look, I'm just saying that an ending should have something behind it. I think some writers are just in a hurry to get things over with, or some have an idea, but they have no idea how to finish things up. I always like to start with some sense of beginning, middle and end when I write."
"I know some people who just like to start writing and see where the creative writing process takes them."
"How many times have you seen a story ruined because the ending just sort of came out of nowhere or because the writing just trickled into nothing?"
"I've seen it," he said.
I didn't say anything else for the rest of the night. A coyote howled and Jon threw the violin onto the fire. Jim finally came riding in, but by then we were too tired to care.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
There's a reason Dick Cheney has had a nine percent approval rating (wait, I'll let that figure sink in), the man's arrogance and probable complicity in constitutionally illegal activities will be something future history and political science classes study for years to come. Never has a vice president had this power.
I know, I know...people get bored with political posts, but I think it is worth pausing to consider a recent news story. Apparently, in an attempt to block the government process that allows checks and balances and oversight, Cheney had declared his office is not part of the executive.
I'll let that sink in.
Furthermore, the president has agreed with him.
One wonders therefore which part of government Cheney considers himself to be part of. The legislative? The Judicial?
Perhaps he is planning a new layer? The monarchial branch?
Hey Dick, have you read this? It's from the Constitution:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows---
The story broke when Cheney threatened to axe the agency that monitors national security documents (I didn't think he had that power). Apparently they have been trying to get information from since 2003, when he stopped providing them what they wanted. 2003...now why does that sound familiar? Ah, isn't that when we started our attack on Iraq????
So how would the rightwing conservatives answer this? I went to the National Review...nothing. I went to the Wall Street Journal....nothing. I swung by NewsMax, another right zilch. What about The Spectator? No. Fox? I was astonished to see that their website covered the story. Well, at least sort of, Fox gave it a paragraph on their website burying it in the political section (compared to a massive column with links raging at a disputed story which, according to right wing Sen. Inhoffe [the man who believes global warming is a worldwide left wing conspiracy] Boxer and Clinton made about right wing radio---three years ago)
I'm done ranting for now.
At least I didn't mention Ann Coulter.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I should be writing a story right now. I should be doing lots of things. However, here is something I've been thinking about. I have a great idea for a story, but it refuses to become a story. I'll repeat that: a great idea, but no story.
I think several people do that. They write something which has tremendous potential, a setup, a situation, but then it never matures into anything. The story I'm suffering with? A Hemingway fanatic finds an unpublished copy of a new Heminway novel on a book shelf. Or rather, it's been published, but he knows there's no record of the book. Taking it to the front of the store, the owner admits its a fraud. What we discover is that there is something magical about this bookstore and unpublished, or rather, unwritten works, keep appearing on this one shelf. Books by Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Berry, Baum, etc... And when these works are read, the reader finds oneself incredibly unfulfilled.
"These are the dreams that never blossomed," explains the owner. "These are the seeds that bear false fruit."
Great idea, great setting, great characters...and after three pages of waiting for the story to happen...nothing. Instead, I sit there and think: So what? So this guy finds this book? So the work is unfulfilling? So the shelf keeps replenishing with never before published manuscripts. So? So? So??????
It's a great set up, but I've yet to hook on the delivery. I'm a master at set up, but still a wee one at delivery, I think. And yet? And yet I've read several short stories by the likes of Bradbury, Bloch, Bentley, and King which seem all set up.
I'm returning to my notebook now to see if I can swing that bat and make that delivery. Here's to all who are plugging away at something, trying to find that nugget in all that fool's gold.
Friday, June 15, 2007
"I'm trying to work on something. I want to try writing pulp."
Jon, who loves all things Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, half-turned toward me. "Yeah?"
"How would you define it? Pulp, I mean. What are the primary characteristics of it?"
He reached out and fingered a copy of a Mickey Spillane novel on the tv tray in front of him. "Well," he said, "I suppose it's mostly action oriented."
"And the character's are archtypes. I mean, the authors don't do a lot of character development. It's pretty much plot driven, wouldn't you say?"
Jon nodded and we started naming off authors who we thought would be good examples. "Mickey Spillane," I offered. He nodded.
"Robert Howard, the author of Conan. What about Lovecraft?"
I shook my head. "I don't consider him pulp. He's written some stories that fall into that vein, but I wouldn't call him pulp."
"What about the Doc Savage stuff? The Shadow?"
"Would you consider pulp as stuff written for children?" I asked.
"No. I mean, not today. Not all of it. Maybe some."
"Some romance literature is pulp. Especially the harlequin romance sort. We think of pulp as the province of manly men but women read a tremendous amount of it."
Hunger, real or imagined, drives away most intellectual dialogues. We went out to dinner and left the discussion in the family room. Still...the nature of pulp in literature brings me in and I find myself returning to a lantern jawed character in a leather jacket, sitting in front of a fire in a Hooversville, looking up as the government agents approach him to once again play the role of the reluctant hero.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Here are the offered assignments. Please go and enjoy them, offer constructive feedback. I will post links as received through Friday morning. If I have missed anyone, drop me a line.
Stewart Sternberg's short work about a soldier caught in by an IED in Iraq
Jon Zech's story about something in the woods
Donkey's Heart of Darkness dealing with the despair of the third world
Deslily writes about slipping into madness and isolation
Travis serves up the world of shadow through a snippet about vampirism
A dark shop that deals in shadow from "A Wee Cuppa Tea"
SQT has given us a story about my favorite theme: Redemption. And a character named Father Stewart. Gotta love it.
GUGON has made a return and given us something in a Lovecraftian vein..I hope Gugon makes an appearance this coming Thursday
This last one is from Jon The Intergalactic...not really fitting in to the assignment, but I'm posting this as a fun example of pulp, something I am working on capturing right now. So Jon, thanks for the inspiration.
Light came first, followed by darkness. He never heard the blast. Waking slowly, wishing he could drink something, Pvt. Richard Malloy opened his eyes. He looked around, not moving, not able to feel anything below his waist. The memory came back in a jittery rush, the jeep bumping toward Hamadi Fayadh, then the whiteness.
“Take it easy here,” Buddy said before the hit.
“We just came through,” said Richard.
A group of children on the side of the road waved to him, then as they passed, the greeting changed to shoes turned soles up, the ultimate insult. Buddy laughed, a mirthful rumbling.
“Take it easy here. We just want to get home, you know?”
Richard pulled himself into the present. Shouldn’t there be pain? He tried moving his legs, hoping to push himself into a standing position, but nothing.
“You’re dying,” a voice said. He couldn’t move his head far enough around to see the speaker. “We’re dying.
“IED?” Improvised Explosive Device. Maybe the children had set it up, but he doubted it.
“Yes. Blew you to hell. I was standing too close.” The man swore to himself in Iraqi.
“Someone will be by soon,” said Richard.
“Someone already drove by; they turned their heads. I think they were private contractors. They never see anything they don’t get paid to see. And even then.”
“When we don’t show up at the checkpoint, they’ll send someone.”
Richard knew he sounded frightened. He closed his eyes, not wanting to doze, but not being able to remain conscious. He might have dreamed. Children whispered to him, some tugging at his hands, others washing him with sweet water. He moaned, remembering something that happened to him as a child.
His father had parked the old Ford by the side of the road, hood up, emergency lights blinking. The heat seemed to ripple in front of them. The sun, directly above, cast little shadow. His father wiped at his forehead with a sleeve, then turned toward the town, some thirty miles away.. They had called emergency service over an hour ago. Except for the road, there was no sign of civilization. No car had come this way since they broke down. Seeing his father’s face, Richard was stunned to see a bit of worry there.
“Are we gonna be okay?” he asked.
His father took some time before answering. “We’ll be fine. We came the wrong way. We shouldn’t have come out here. Something must have happened. I’ll call again in a few minutes and see what’s wrong.”
“What if they don’t come?”
That’s when they heard the vehicle approach. It came along at a fast clip, a pick up truck with faded green skin. It had a crane attached to the back and lettering painted on the side in white. As it approached, the driver slowed, leaning forward over the steering wheel to better see them. Richard remembered the man’s squint, a stupid expression which could be either puzzlement or disapproval. His father waved to the driver, then pushed Richard out of the way when the truck veered. Metal ramming bone and muscle into metal made an unimpressive sound.
“A preacher used to scare us when we were children,” his father once said. “He’d look down and say: ‘I’ve seen things in darkness that no one should see by light of day.’”
His father laughed at his son’s confusion.
“Yeah, that’s how I felt when I first heard it. I took it to mean that no matter how horrible things are, there’s always worse. That there’s no peace. Ever. Pretty cheerful. I guess that’s why we fell away from the church.
After seeing his father’s eyes when he died, Richard searched the sun until blindness burned away the image.
“You should pray,” said the Iraqi.
“I’m not a believer.”
The Iraqi laughed. “Infidel even to your own.”
Richard couldn’t disagree. He wriggled around until he found his sidearm. He figured he didn’t have much time to shoot the Iraqi before blacking out. It didn’t make sense, but reason was an idiotic prerequisite for action.
“What are you doing?” asked the Iraqi. The man sounded amused. “Stop. It’s over. What’s the point?”
Richard struggled to drag himself around. No one. He turned the other way. No one. The other man was obviously moving with him, staying out of sight and out of range. Richard lay back down, crying in frustration.
The game over, the Iraqi laughed. “What a waste,” he said. “When you’re dead, you’ll look back and remember this moment. Then, you’ll turn and see things in darkness…”
“That no one should see by light of day,” said Richard, completing the sentence.
“Yes,” said the Iraqi, sounding surprised. “It makes me weep that you won’t be buried at home.. Do you know what will happen if the children come and find you? They’ll tie you with ropes and drag your body through the streets, singing. They’ll dismember you and set you on fire for a warning. But then what does that matter to you? Infidels never care about the darkness.”
Richard again began moving, trying to find the man behind the voice. Pain now engulfed him, agony like he had never known. Something strong, with horrible teeth, tore at him, devouring large chunks at a time. Screaming, he fired the sidearm, aiming indiscriminately until the clip emptied.
When his last bullet was spent, he lay back and stared at the sun, waiting for the blindness.
The following words were removed
Blast for explosion
Searched for looked into
Weep for cry
Skin for paint
Sweet for cool
Expression for look
Ramming for crushing
Sunday, June 10, 2007
My parents died of cancer some years back.
The other day, while doing dishes, I saw a picture of my mother and thought: "I'd like to talk to her." It's been close to twenty years since she passed. It was a strange thought. Just a phone call. Just: "Hi, how's it going?"
I mentioned this to my wife. She asked about conversations I had with my mother when she was alive. I smiled. "If I called my mother, we would talk for about twenty minutes, and after that I would be asking myself why I had placed the call in the first place."
"And your dad?"
"I would probably talk to him for five minutes before he became so frustrated with me that he would mumble: 'here, talk to your mother' and pass the phone."
"Why would you argue?"
"Who knows. He would say: 'You should go back to school and be a cartoonist.'"
I would roll my eyes: "Dad, it's not like there are a ton of people out there begging for people who can draw."
"Then be a teacher."
"I don't want to be a teacher."
"Then you should go back to school and take law."
A pause. "Actually dad, I've been thinking about becoming a professional pirate. Can you lend me a couple hundred dollars so I can buy a parrot. A pirate isn't worth his salt without a parrot."
"Here, talk to your mother."
All that being said, I'd still like to call and say hello.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Today I opened "The Detroit Free Press" and read this: "About 4 p.m. Wednesday, a caller told police dispatchers, “You are not going to believe this: There is a semi truck pushing a guy in a wheelchair on Red Arrow Highway,” state police said in a release."
According to the story, a 21 year old man was accidentally pushed down the highway for four miles by a semi going 50 mph. His wheelchair had become lodged in the truck's grill while it was parked at a service station. Well, yeah, I guess I can see how that can happen.
The state police managed to end the ride by intercepting the truck. The gentleman was unharmed and according to the police: "The man spilled his sodapop, but wasn't upset."
I understand that next week he's planning on lodging himself in the undercarriage of jumbo jet.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Monday, June 04, 2007
William Jones in a comment to another post wrote: "I had a stance before I read the responses. Now I'm no longer sure. :) I guess I'll take a different approach. Instead of guessing what the reader will skip, is it possible to guess what the editor will skip? These two I'd say are slightly different. Getting past the editor gets the story to the reader. Or is that too commercial, too mercenary?"
How many people do you know who have read "Gravity's Rainbow" by Pynchon? What about "Rabbit Run" by Updyke (Jon, I'm sorry, I tried reading it again and had to put it down). What about "Ulysses" by James Joyce?
Too commercial? Too mercenary?This comment inspired me to consider the different literature that is read by a large number of people and literature which is praised by the few people who critique for a living and a handful of academics. Should a person have to dig through a work, fighting and slogging paragraph by paragraph for meaning? Does that make it great? Can we argue that a novel which is easily accessible, with layered depth of narrative, has a greater chance of being a work of art?
After all, if a writer doesn't write to be read, then what's the point? Mercenary? Yes. Hell, yes. But making your writing marketable doesn't mean sacrificing quality. Maybe the greatest novel ever written is still out there, but unless it is readable (and that doesn't mean written at a sixth grade level), unless it gives people a chance to embrace it, then that novel will continue to go along winning the award: The Greatest Unread Novel.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Is the headline of a story by Dan Rozek of the Sun Times. According to the article, three students were recently arrested as a school food escalated into an unruly mess (is there any other kind?). According to Rozek, things began innocently enough, with a senior hurling his french fries across a cafeteria at West Aurora High School in Aurora, Illinois.
Madness ensued, with everything from pizza to slushies being launched. But the law came down and while students ducked for cover or tried to flee the area, a local police officer and several school officials tried to restore order. Furthermore, the police officer received a minor injury during the event as well as one school official..
According to Rozek's article: "At least "several hundred" students appeared to be involved, a law enforcement source said.
School officials reacted by shutting down the cafeteria for the final days of the school year."
Mike Chapin, a spokesman for West Aurora School District 129. was quoted as saying:"There will be consequences for the students involved." Several dozen seniors believed to be involved in the fight will be barred from Tuesday's graduation ceremony.Okay, let me say it: this isn't funny.
I see things in darkness that no one should see by light of day.
That quote? I have no idea what it means. It's a quote that has been rambling around in my mind for years and presumably it's my own. I assume it means that I have seen things in my dreams that should never be realized. In sleep the ID is king, but in the day, we stop the evil child and control ourselves. To some degree.
I offer up an assignment to the Chesterfield group, and of course to the rest of you should you care to participate: take the phrase above and incorporate it directly into either a work of poetry or a work of short fiction. I will put a word limit on it of 500 - 1500 words. Usually an assignment is geared toward some aspect of writing, this is no exception. I have been talking with some people about word choice.
After this has been written, pick a minimum of ten words from the text, then use a thesaurus to find ten rich words to take their places. Be sure the new words enrich rather than detract. When submitting your work to the group, be sure to identify which words were replaced and what they were replaced by.
The deadline is June 12 th...as always, send me the links to anything you post and I will post them here so people can share and critique.
I will be sure to post a reminder or two about this....
Before I go, I received a meme by Angela. Although I try to not do these, I will here. Angela is a conservative who has to suffer my left wing political comments on her blog.
The meme: eight random things about me: 1) I think I would like to have lived in a time where I could have worn cordorouy pants, boots, and a lace shirt with flowing sleeves; 2) I am a passionate gamer and am halfway through "Resident Evil 4"...I thirst for an XBOX 360; 3) I don't like lotion...it gives me the willies; 4) I am a slob ; 5) I am the youngest of five children; 6) I hate hockey.
Friday, June 01, 2007
I have a reputation for being a rather vile individual, bereft of those elements that elevate man from the muck from which he evolved. But I want to change. Dearly.
To make that next step on the evolutionary ladder, I must do a good deed. You can help me embrace the inner teddy bear by helping me make bail by giving to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Just click on this website and shake loose some change. I'm talking to you Wayne, Sidney, Charles, SQT, Travis, Deslily. I'm whispering to Kate, Jim Miller, Jon Zech, and Sue Miller. I'm calling out to Crunchy, Pat, Gem, Bond, Spyscribbler, Rick, William, Deborah, Chuck, and to all the others who occasionally come visit and comment.
And in addition, I'm asking that you also do a posting on your own blog, directing them to help you help me in my plight by donating to this cause. Please feel free to paste the above link to help direct them. Show that the blog community is a real community and that giving isn't out of style.